Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22nd, 2020

Text: John 9 The Message (MSG)

True Blindness

1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

6-7 He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!”

But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”

He said, “It’s me, the very one.”

10 They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”

11 “A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”

12 “So where is he?”

“I don’t know.”

13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.

17 They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

24 They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”

25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

30-33 The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

34 They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

38 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

So here we are, on the first weekend of our self-imposed coronavirus quarantine. You might be feeling an entire range of emotions – anxiety, fear, annoyance, frustration, loneliness, anger, and maybe even more than a touch of boredom – unless, of course, you’ve been home all week with your school-age children, owing to schools being closed. I think there’s a special place in heaven for you!

Well, all those emotions, and more, are to be expected, and I feel them, too. We are without a doubt experiencing what one version of the Lord’s Prayer is getting at when it states “save us from the time of trial.” We are, not just as individuals, not just as a nation, but as an entire global community, facing a time of trial that has not been seen for generations – I have heard this coronavirus pandemic likened to World War II, but I tend to think it is more directly parallel to the influenza pandemic of 1918. In any case, however you might describe it, this current situation is unlike any the world has experienced for a very long time.

What to do? We have already taken the precaution of suspending worship and meetings, as so many other churches and groups have also done. Beyond that, the only thing we can do right now, it seems to me, is to continue to do exactly what we are already doing: Staying indoors, avoiding exposure to potential carriers of COVID-19, washing our hands – in short, following the recommendations and guidelines that have been set out by the various authorities and health experts.

No doubt there are many people today who are wondering just where God is in all of this. Maybe that question has also crept, unbidden, into your mind, as well.

If this applies to you right now, you are in good company. It is a normal human reaction to uncertainty to ask such a question. Even Jesus on the Cross apparently had a moment of angst and doubt very much like that, when he quoted Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
    Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;
    and by night, but find no rest.

I say that Jesus “apparently” had a moment of despair, because Psalm 22 concludes on a note of triumph as loud and as clear as the call of a trumpet:

All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before him.[e]
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 Yea, to him[f] shall all the proud of the earth bow down;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    and he who cannot keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation,
31 and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
    that he has wrought it.

Where is God? The answer is: God is right here with us. Right now. And FOREVER.

In moments like this, moments of turmoil and chaos, moments when we are unsure of where to turn or what to do, the incredible truth of the Incarnation is highlighted in sharp relief and becomes crystal clear. “Incarnation” means “God became flesh” – God became human, God took on our frail human frame, God knew (and knows) exactly the life we know. God is not some distant judge, not some impersonal puppet master pulling our strings, a God who, like the gods of the Greeks, plays with us and then tosses us aside; rather, as Psalm 46 tells us:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present[a] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
    God will help her right early.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.[b]Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
    he burns the chariots with fire!
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I am exalted among the nations,
    I am exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.[c]Selah

There’s no doubt there about just who is running the show! Here are a couple other powerful and comforting passages to help us in the living of these days – the 23rd Psalm and Romans 8:31-39:

The 23rd Psalm (RSV)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;
    he makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;[a]
    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in paths of righteousness[c]
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[d]
    I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
    thy rod and thy staff,
    they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil,
    my cup overflows.
Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
    all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    for ever.[g]

Romans 8:31-39

31 What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34 who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?[a] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 23 has given comfort and courage to people since the time of King David, who reigned from around 1055-1015 BC – that’s a long time! And I never tire of reading Paul’s thunderous proclamation of the unshakeable truth of God’s abiding love for us. In  our darkest moments, that truth bears us up when all else seeks to crush us.

These passages tell us that God is with us always, God never forsakes or abandons us, and nothing can ever separates us from God’s love and grace.  

And, additionally, here is the Epistle lesson for today from Ephesians (5:8-14):

[F]or once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; 13 but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. 14 Therefore it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give you light.”

Setting aside for a moment all of its other implications, for us this day, we can understand the phrase “arise from the dead” as a metaphor for casting aside those fears and anxieties that we’re feeling now, so that the light of Christ – the hope, the confidence, and the courage we have in and through him – can shine forth like a lighthouse in a storm in and through us.

Ours is a God who cleansed lepers, who made the lame walk, and the blind see; a God who showed mercy and love to a Samaritan woman; who healed the servant of a Roman centurion…

… a God who conquered Death itself!

And so, today we sing full-throated:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind, but now I see.

Against that mighty God of grace, no puny virus can ever hope to prevail.  At the end of the day, we, not the coronavirus, hold all the cards!

In the Name of God, the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.


Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Savior Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do God’s will working in you that which is pleasing in God’s sight; through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. AMEN!