Monday, March 20, 2023

How bad can it get?

Sermon for Lent 4 (A), preached on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

e think we have it bad or that things in our live spiral downward but this poor fellow in the Gospel had it far worse.  He was born blind.  Can you imagine the pain and disappointment that attended his birth only to find that he was handicapped by blindness!  As if it were not bad enough, what about a life in which you were the subject of whispers and gossip by those wondering what sin occasioned this blindness – the sin of the infant or of his parents?  When Jesus appears to offer hope to man born blind, the Lord of heaven and earth spits in some dirt and covers the man’s eyes.  Then when it all begins to look up and Jesus has gracious given this man his sight, the man is attacked by the enemies of Jesus, and his parents, and the Lord Himself.  How bad can it get?

The world and probably many Christians are more interested in answers than in healing.  Everyone wants to know why but knowing why seldom comforts anyone. We cannot hear the Gospel without raising questions.  Some people insist that the Trinity does not make sense or creation does not square with science or time lines in the Gospels might not match up perfectly or the details of the Scriptures mesh with other accounts or historical record.  We are forever putting a BUT before faith yet our questions do not affect God in the slightest but distance us from Christ and from the Kingdom.  

You want answers?  Blindness is the result of sin but not individual sins – rather original sin.  There is no healing power in mud.  Jesus is the healing power.  There are no medical answers for Jesus’ healing nor are the reasons to explain why He healed some but not all.  Many, even most of those whom Jesus healed did not have faith beforehand and Scripture does not say if they came to faith afterwards.  Faith is not a choice you make or anyone makes but the Spirit empowered response to God’s works and His Word.  Does that make you feel better?  Probably not.  Then let me heap some more pain upon you.  There are none so blind as those who will not see.  Or, to use Jesus words, “For judgment I came into this world so that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind.”

In the end this is not about eyes that do not work but hearts and minds that are broken, crippled by sin so that they cannot believe.  Onlys the Spirit works faith but we can reject the Spirit.  This faith is not looking at the answers and deciding that it is credible to believe in them.    
Faith trusts what the eye cannot see, the mind cannot reason, and the heart cannot desire.  Faith is the work of the Spirit.  If you were here last week, you heard it first in that sermon.  So because we are like those who want answers rather than faith and those who want to render faith into a reasonable choice, we must hear it again.  

To modern ears words are like spit – cheap, ordinary, unimpressive.  How can God depend upon words to do His work?  But it is not simply the words but the voice that speaks them and the Holy Spirit that works through them.  Scripture is not just words because the speak of those words is the Word made flesh and the power in those words is the power of the Holy Spirit to kindle faith within us, cast off the works of darkness, live in obedience to God’s will, and keep us to everlasting life.

To modern eyes, water is like spit – cheap, ordinary, unimpressive.  How can God work through water to do His work?  But as the Catechism reminds us, it is not simply water but water with the Word through which the Spirit is at work.  St. Paul points us to this work.  By baptism we die with Christ, joined to His cross, and are raised with Christ, by the power of His resurrection, to new and everlasting lives.  The new life we live is not our life but Christ’s life in us, working in us that which is pleasing to the Father and reflective of our new identity as the children of God.

To modern ears, the absolution is like spit – cheap, ordinary, unimpressive.  How can God work through the voice of the Pastor addressing the individual privately or the congregation in public?  But, of course, it is not Larry Peters’ voice.  It is Christ speaking through the mouth of the pastor to bestow that which belongs to Christ – forgiveness for our sins which He won by His suffering and death and which He alone has the right and power to administer.  Even when Christians forgive each other, it is Christ who is acting in us and through us.

To modern mouths, the bread and wine is like spit – cheap, ordinary, unimpressive. How can God put Himself into bread and wine and why would He work through something as common as eating and drinking?  Here again the catechism reminds us.  It is not merely the eating and drinking but what we eat and what we drink.  The bread is the bread identified by the Word of Christ as His flesh for the life of the world.  The cup is the cup He has set apart to be His blood that cleanses us from all our sin.  What we eat and drink are not what we define them to be but what Christ has spoken and promised.  Again, we eat and drink forgiveness of sins.

What caused blindness?  Illness?  Death?  Why do we suffer so in body and spirit? The offensive answer is sin – the original sin that we were born into and the actual sins we commit in thought, word, and deed.  But where is our healing?  This also offensive.  Like Naaman who thought there were better waters and better ways for his healing, we look at the Word and Sacraments as cheap and easy things, mere symbols, and hardly worth believing.  But these are the means of grace, the very answers we seek and the healing power of God.  We worry that what God offers is not up to our needs but His grace is sufficient.  All we need is faith.

The world is not friendly to Christ or the things of Christ or the people of Christ.  The enemies of Christ and of our faith work together to disdain and diminish what Christ has given and what Christ does through these means of grace.  We are this blind man, living lives that are constrained by original sin to be at odds with the Lord, in love with the moment, and left to make peace with the darkness and death.  We have been this blind man since birth.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  But Christ has done for us what He did for this blind man.

We see with a vision of faith, through ordinary means made extraordinary by the work of God and the power of God.  We have no explanation.  Only faith.  What we witness to the world is not what we think or what we feel but what Christ has revealed through these means of grace.  The fruit of God’s work in us is the same as the man born blind:  Lord, I believe.

How bad can things get?  Pretty bad and maybe worse.  Sin has made us blind from birth.  Though we want an impressive show of God’s power, all we get are His Word and Sacraments.  As the world taunted Christ to the cross, so does it taunt you with the cross of doubt, fear, and a curiosity for answers.  What do we have to say?  It was Jesus.  It is Jesus.  It always will be Jesus.  I was blind but now I see.  In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.

No comments: