Posts Tagged ‘Blind’

A Regular Guy on a Regular Day 3-30-14

This sermon comes from John 9:1-41. This is the story of Jesus healing the man born blind and the resulting controversy that surrounds him after the healing.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/a-regular-guy-on-a-regular-day

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was another one of those weeks…another Friday at home with the kiddos…which means I adjusted my schedule so that I wasn’t “working” on Friday, yet knowing full well that my mental coffee pot would be percolating on what to preach about this morning.
And there was a lot of different things that I felt like I could focus on…this week we have another marathon gospel lesson, similar in size to last week…oh and just a warning…next week is pretty long too…but today we focus on the…rather lengthy…account of Jesus healing a man born blind.
And so, last Friday as the day passed by I found myself being mentally pulled in different direction. On one hand, normal household activities like laundry and dishes and cooking lunch took my focus. Other times I was zoning in on the kiddos, at times sharing some time gaming or curled up watching a movie together…but all the while, Jesus kept trying to get my attention, and the blind man kept swimming up to the front of my mind…he was an annoying little bugger…and just wouldn’t leave me alone.
So that was my day…mental switching from one thing to the next to the next…never really staying focused on any one thing for very long…and then it happened…I was in the kitchen, just finishing cleaning up after lunch when I looked out the window and saw an unfamiliar car pull into the church parking lot.
Now, living right next door, I see most of the cars that pull into the church, and unless I’m really busy with something, I typically stop to see who’s stopping by…but the weird thing about this car was that it pulled into the parsonage side of the parking lot, right next to my car which was sitting in its normal spot…and low and behold…about the time I was muttering under my breath “who the heck is this now?” the front doors opened on both sides of the car and the parents of one of my best friends in the world got out…they wanted to swing in and say hi…check out the new digs and pay a quick visit to one of the several “adopted kids” that their kids brought home.
It wasn’t a long visit, but it was totally unexpected…out of the blue as I went about my regular daily activities…and with that…the blind man from today’s story came swimming back up into focus one more time…and I found myself thinking about his circumstances on the day featured in the gospel lesson.
Now as a blind man, his regular day to day activities probably involved sitting alongside the road…just trying to stay out of the way…and hoping for the kindness of those around him as he would sit begging day after day. And this day was a day like any other…when an amazing interruption happened…unexpected and out of the blue…an interruption that changed his life forever. (pause) Because on this day…Jesus came walking by.
As I think about this scene I find myself wondering exactly what happened as Jesus and the disciples happened upon this blind stranger. Did Jesus notice him or did the disciples? Did the man ask them for some money…or was he just sitting there silently? We really don’t know the full details…but apparently something about his situation caught the attention of the disciples…and they ask Jesus a question centered around an old understanding that physical ailments or impairments…his blindness in this case…is the result of sin. (pause) But that’s not what Jesus tells them is it?
And in a truly…odd situation, we find Jesus setting the disciples straight with a statement punctuated by hacking a loogy on the ground. (pause) Just imagine it…imagine Jesus calmly professing “I am the light of the world” (hack a loogy)…and then not only that, bending down, mixing up some mud with said loogy…and smearing it on this blind man’s eyes. (pause) Think about how crazy that would look…and now think about how crazy it must have sounded to this random blind guy as he sits there listening…You hear conversation…you hear a slight rebuke…you hear a guy spitting, which unfortunately was a sound that this man probably heard fairly regularly as strangers would spit on him…but then you feel a gentle set of hands smearing cool mud over your eyes…something that would have probably been very unwelcome for this blind man…until he hears the gentle voice tell him Go…wash your eyes in the pool…
And then the stranger stands up and walks away, taking his followers with him…leaving this blind man alone with mud all over his face. (pause). But then…imagine what it must have been like after he made his way to the pool…and washed his face clean…and for the first time ever, opened his eyes to see the world. (pause) It’s not enough to say that this was life changing for him…though it certainly was…but I’d say its safe to call this an earth-shattering thing…and the crazy part is…you have no idea who did this for you. (pause) Think about that for a moment…because that is exactly the situation that this guy is facing now. Blind his whole life…some random stranger comes by, smears some mud and leaves before the man can see who helped him.
And that is an interesting point right there…because for the next 27 verses…Jesus is gone…Just like Nicodimus from our Gospel lesson a couple weeks ago…right in the middle of the story…the LORD HIMSELF…disappears…and this is precisely the time that the man, once blind but now able to see…could have used a little divine backup.
Because this encounter with Jesus…as much of a blessing as it must have been for this guy to go from being blind as a bat to being able to see and care for himself…as great as that must have been…things get a little rough for him.
As the man is walking back home, he begins to encounter his neighbors…people who have known him his entire life…but they can’t recognize him… “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” He looks familiar but that man was blind…this cannot be the same man…and we see a sort of isolation begin to occur around the newly healed individual…as those around him fail to see past one physical trait that has defined him throughout the entirety of his history…they just can’t see past it…despite his continued assurances “hey guys…really, its me.”
And as bad as that must have been for this man…to not even have the ability to celebrate with is neighbors…we see him essentially put on trial. “What happened?” (pause) I don’t know…this guy put mud on my eyes, told me to wash them, and I could see…but I don’t know who he was.”
And things escalate…and he’s taken before the Pharisees who look down their nose at the fact that this all happened on the Sabbath…WHAT? HE MADE MUD ON THE SABBATH…HE PERFORMED A HEALING ON THE SABBATH…Surely not…he must be a sinner…Quickly now…tell us how this happened.
And the guy has to explain…again…Mud, eyes, wash…not blind anymore…and they bicker amongst themselves…some being swayed and others not…and they ask him again…HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? (pause…take a deep annoyed breath). Blind, mud, eyes, wash, not blind…yes we got that but who is the man…he’s a prophet…can I go now?
But he can’t leave…because the elite aren’t satisfied…and they bring in his parents…and what happens there? Well, we see the man further isolated because of the fear his parents experience…they don’t want to be kicked out of the synagogue…and so all they’ll say is “well, yes that’s our son and he was blind…BUT WE DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT IT…ASK HIM!”
This is getting ridiculous for the man…first he’s healed, but he’s alone when it happens…then his neighbors and friends fail him…then the religious leaders fail him…then his family fails him…and then to top it all off the religious leaders haul him back in for a second round.
Tell us again…how did this happen? (pause) After the day this guy is having, perhaps its understandable that he gets a little snarky with them. HEY…I already told you…why do you want to hear it again…planning on learning from him or something? And low and behold, he’s kicked out of the synagogue because of his situation…and then…only then…do we finally see Jesus come back on the scene…and for the first time, the formerly blind man is able to look in the face of the one who offered him this great gift…but he doesn’t know it..until Jesus asks the right questions…and gradually opens the man’s understanding to know the truth…that he is the Son of Man…and the man believes. (pause)
Now take a moment to think about all this that’s happened. In the midst of the normal routine of his day, Jesus utterly changes his life…and that change causes two completely different things to happen to the man…as we’ve seen, it creates a brand new isolation from him as he loses the relationship with his neighbors…and then with his parents…and finally with his “church.”
And that can happen…for some…the radical change brought upon them by encountering Jesus can cause the loss of old relationships…because the light of Christ shining in their lives drives away darkness…perhaps you’ve experienced that in your own life…but in the midst of this growing isolation…we also find a change coming over the man…and this change has to do with his testimony about Jesus.
First, he’s just the man that smeared mud on my eyes and told me to wash…but I don’t know who he is…but then, as the man continues to speak about the truth of his own experience…he calls Jesus a prophet…and then he starts getting really bold in his testimony. We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, so if he were not from God he could do nothing…Yes, this man comes from God…and then finally, he comes to know and believe that Jesus is the son of God…Lord I believe.
And Jesus gives this man a new found relationship in the face of the loss of his old relationships…and this is the relationship with God himself…the one that send Jesus into the world…and that is a reality that we all face.
In one way or another, we encounter Jesus Christ through our experience with the Gospel…one way or another we have each heard the good news that God loved us enough to overcome the sin that stands in the way of our relationship with him by willingly coming to Earth to live and die a brutal death on the cross…so that in the end, we will not face the consquences of our sin…
But sometimes…often I think…our encounter with Jesus Christ puts us on a path that causes rifts in our old relationships while at the same time granting us the courage to speak truthfully about our own experience with Christ…that’s all this man did…throughout all the trials and the hounding…this simple man spoke a simple truth of his own experience.
GIVE GLORY TO GOD, We know that this man is a sinner. (Pause) I do not know whether he is a sinner…I only know that I was blind and now I see. (pause) For this one many who lived and died all those years ago…his encounter with Jesus brought physical sight to blind eyes. But for us today…our encounter with Jesus illuminates our eyes, blinded by the darkness of sin…darkened by the lack of understanding of the truth…but praise be to God that he has sent his Son so that we may be freed of this blindness…and we too may have the courage to testify “Lord, I believe.”

 

Who Is the Church For

Here is my sermon for Sunday September 1st in both text and audio form. The gospel lesson for the week is Luke 14: 1,7-14. Jesus instructs us to invite those that have no way of repaying us.

Hear the sermon here:
http://soundcloud.com/revdalen/who-is-church-for-9-1-13

Here is the text file. As usual, disregard the strange punctuation and the indications to pause. I’ve gotta remind myself of that somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
Several different times over the course of the past two months, I’ve had the opportunity to show people around the church…most recently, just last Sunday when Bishop Prois from the Western Iowa Synod was here to preach and preside over my installation as pastor.
Each and every time I’ve shown people around, they have expressed wonder at the beauty of our church, and particularly our sanctuary. Go ahead, take a look around. (pause) The walls are nicely painted, the plush carpet and pew cushions add color. The ceiling is wonderfully stained woodwork. We have very fine examples of wood carving along the walls. The alter is beautiful…truly, we have a sanctuary worth being proud of…worth inviting people in to see.
Our church is a place that we are excited to show off. We love to invite people in…and we love to play host to them…well, most of the time anyway.
A week ago, I bumped into one of those times where I wasn’t quite so excited to be the host…and the invitation, felt a little forced.  A week ago Friday, I got the phone call that I was dreading. The phone call that I knew was going to happen sooner or later.
I was sitting in my office, and when I picked up the phone, I was greeted, very enthusiastically, by an individual that was stranded in Underwood along with his wife…and he was looking for help. As he explained his situation to me over the phone…I experienced a single emotion…panic…
How could I help this guy? What could I do? (pause) On one hand, I felt like I needed to offer some sort of assistance, but on the other hand, we know that we need to be careful in situations such as this, and I was hesitant to involve the church…and in what was likely the first of many epic fails in my ministry…I stalled. I had the guy’s phone number and I told him I would call him back.
I spent the next hour or so trying to contact community service organizations…thinking that if I could just find the right contact person, I could call him back with a phone number…and I could pull myself out of the situation having helped…but without having to do very much.
It didn’t work…try as I might I couldn’t connect with anyone that could offer this guy the help he needed…and I knew that after he ate the lunch that a kindly stranger had been nice enough to buy, that he and his wife would be walking over to the church, hoping that I would be able to help them out in some way.
In the end, that’s exactly what happened. They came to the church…they came in my office…told me their story once again…and when it got right down to it, I couldn’t turn them away. I gave them a ride out to the Underwood Motel next to I-80, and I paid for a room for them for the night.
We ended up in the office of the motel, having a conversation with the manager, and in the midst of that conversation, the man said to me. “Well pastor, I know where your church is now. If we’re ever coming through here on a Sunday, I’ll swing in for worship.” That was the end of the conversation, and he walked out of the office to his room. As I was driving back into town, I found myself praying for the man. Praying that the ride that was supposed to be coming his way the next morning would make it…and in my second epic pastor fail, praying that he wouldn’t still be around, come Sunday morning.
I found myself wondering what the response would be from all of us if he and his wife walked into the church for worship in their unwashed clothes and slightly uncivilized manor…and I found myself wondering what the Bishop would think, and if it would mess up his first impression of our church.
Admittedly, not my finest moment, and as your pastor I ask for your forgiveness for harboring a very non-pastoral attitude, even if I didn’t express that attitude in the face of man.
But regardless of how that situation played out, it does raise the question…just who are we willing to invite into our church? That seems to be the question that Jesus is discussing in today’s Gospel lesson…and it’s a question that I’ve been pondering on a lot in the last week…Just who is church really for?
One of the activities that has been going on recently has been cottage meetings. I’ve met with quite a few of you already, and one of the things that we’ve talked about has been how you as individuals came to Underwood Lutheran in the first place.  Many of you were born and raised here…but many of you also came into the church as an outsider and almost unanimously I’ve heard these individuals comment that they were enthusiastically welcomed into the church…welcomed into worship…and welcomed into the congregation…As a newcomer myself, I can also offer that reaction.
But what if I was a different person? What if I wasn’t Pastor Scott…and I didn’t have a suit on? What if I was homeless…and hadn’t had a bath in awhile…what if I was scruffy…and my clothes were rumbled and dirty from constant wear without being cleaned? Would I still be welcomed? Would I still be fawned over?  Would I have been invited, last Sunday following worship, to walk downstairs and share in the fabulous meal put on by several of our church ladies? Would church…be for me then?
In today’s story, Jesus is sitting at a banquet…he’s a guest…but the way he takes over the scene, leading the conversation…you’d think he was the host of the gathering…but then, that’s how Jesus tends to operate. Especially in Luke’s gospel, we often see Jesus, gathering around a table to eat and drink and be merry with the people that he’s interacting with…and it irritates some people.
Jesus is called a glutton and a drunkard…apparently when he hits the tailgate party…he likes to eat a lot and have a few cold ones…hmmm, I’ve got those same tendencies myself…anyone else?
But apparently that’s not Jesus’ only problem when it comes to hosting a party. His guest list also seems to be suspect. He eats with sinners…he welcomes the unwelcomed…and here in today’s story, he tells us to do the exact same thing.
“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you.” Perhaps at first glance, this seems easy to absorb. Of course, Jesus is telling us to care for the poor. That’s a no brainer…until we think about it…or until we’re faced with it…and in situations just like I faced last week…how often to do we follow through with the invitation…how often do we really care for these people that Jesus himself cares so passionately about?
Well perhaps we fool ourselves into thinking that it doesn’t really apply to us. Maybe we are helpful when faced with a situation of someone in need…but we don’t go looking for it when we aren’t faced with it. Does that count? Is our attitude good enough. Well, it would seem here, that Jesus is telling us no…its not good enough.
Because Jesus instructs us to go out and invite the undesirables…the ones that have nothing to offer back to us. (pause)
And so I pose this question to you. Who are the undesirables? Who is the church for? (pause)
Perhaps its easy to sit and think…us…its for all of us…well no…sorry…the church is not here for you…because when we think about it for a moment, we remember that we ARE the church. WE ARE the body of Christ on Earth…and as such, we have something to offer. And that thing that we have to offer is the invitation to the other that Jesus is talking about.
Each and every one of us as a member of the body of Christ is called to go out into the world and invite those that have nothing to offer, just as we were once invited…because you know what…at one time or another, you were the outsider…you were the other who had nothing to offer the host of the banquet…and I’m not talking about some fancy dinner party here…but rather I’m talking about the host of the heavenly banquet. God himself.
We have been invited, by God himself, into eternity…into life ever lasting…into the heavenly party that is beyond all of our understanding…but we have no way of paying the entry fee…none of us do…but God invited us anyway. Broken as we are, dirty as we may be…sinful as we are, with nothing to offer our host beyond our gratitude were still invited by Jesus Christ into that banquet. Each and every one of you, when you were named and claimed by God in baptism was invited….You were the poor….you were the crippled…you were the lame…and you were the blind…but you were still invited.
And that, my friends, is what we are called to do. Not only to, quite literally, invite everyone to come and see…to come and hear this good news of Jesus Christ…but also to be the hands and feet of our Lord here on Earth. We are the body of Christ….WE…ARE…THE CHURCH. It’s not here for us…It IS…US.
But as I raise that point I also feel the question coming on, “So what do we do with that?” Do we need to go out and find the homeless and bring them to Underwood Lutheran? Do we need to empty the church bank accounts to feed the hungry or stock the local food banks? Is that what we’re supposed to do?
Well, to be perfectly honest…I don’t know? I don’t know what God is calling each of you to do…but I do know this…God’s going to bring the uninvited into your path…so how are you going to respond to that situation?
Are you going to brush it off…or are you going to take a long look at that person…and see them as God sees them…a beloved child of God…and someone who, just like you, has no way to repay our Heavenly Host for the banquet that has invited us all…into?  Amen