4th Sunday of Lent - "One Thing I Do Know"
Today is the Fourth Sunday of the season of Lent---the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. This is a season when we can prepare ourselves for our journey with Jesus--forty days of letting go, and taking up.
And on this Fourth Sunday of the season of Lent, we're going to be talking about how we can prepare for our journey in Jesus footsteps by taking stock of what we can know for sure when it comes to our faith story.
In the faith communities I grew up in, we would call the moment you decided to become a Christian "getting saved." People would ask you, "when did you get saved?" And you would respond with "I got saved when I was twelve, or twenty, or last week."
But the critical aspect of this was that you be able to remember a moment when it happened. Because that moment was the moment when you would pray what was commonly known as the "Sinner's Prayer," and invite Jesus to "come into your heart."
Unless you could remember the exact moment you did this or something like it, the inference was you probably weren't "saved."
I remember hearing about a pastor in the evangelical wing of the Church, who had a job offer rescinded because his wife couldn't recall the moment she got saved.
The problem with pointing to one particular moment is that it doesn't actually work all that well. I was six when had my moment. At six all you want to do is be like everyone around you, and so that's why I prayed the prayer and did the stuff to get saved.
But my conversion story is actually a messy, meandering journey that took me in and out of faith, through hardships, horrible mistakes, triumphs, tragedy and so much more.
And here's the secret about all of this... my messy, meandering journey toward salvation is still underway. I wake up every day of my life with things I need to die to and repent of so that I can be raised to new life again.
One of my favorite preachers and authors, Nadia Bolz-Weber, says that when she is asked the question "When did you get saved?" She almost always answers. "This morning." And occasionally she'll throw in "Two thousand years ago."
And after all of these years of wandering, all the stops and starts, and the complicated situations that I find myself in... I have come to the conclusion that there is one thing I know for sure...
I don't know much, but what I do know is that because of Jesus, I'm not the same. Jesus ruined my life in all of the best ways possible. All of my plans, all the things I thought I wanted, the life I thought I wanted to lead... Jesus turned all of that upside down.
Despite all of this, I know that I wouldn't have it any other way. Stumbling after Jesus is my life's work.
And that's a story I can keep telling. It's not about a moment. It's about the faithfulness of Jesus toward an often faith-less guy who falls flat on his face over and over again, but keeps getting up and stumbling on because the story isn't over, and I'm not saved yet.
I read this amazing quote recently by Rachel Held Evans, a young theologian, author and influencer who passed away tragically this past year. It kind of sums up how I feel about my own story. She wrote:
The story of Jesus is still the story I'm willing to risk being wrong about.
- Rachel Held Evans
You might be sitting here today and you grew up like I did where you needed to have the moment memorized. But the rest of your journey is out of joint. You focused so much on the moment that you neglected everything else.
And you feel like you don't know all that much.
Or maybe you don't have a moment. You can't recall a time when you said a prayer and did a thing and got saved. You might have always said, "I've kind of always been a Christian, I guess?"
And you feel like you don't know all that much.
Here's what I want us to hold on to today: You may not know much, but what you do know could change your life.
Our guide from Scripture today comes to us from the Gospel of John chapter 9, a passage which is commonly known as the Story of the Man Born Blind.
Blindness and sight are prominent themes in this text--obviously, right? But it's deeper than that. It's not just about the one guy who was blind and then can see... it's about how those that can see are actually blind.
The disciples are with Jesus and they see the man, and ask him:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus replies to the disciples:
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
The disciples were working off of an old paradigm where blindness was tied to some kind of ethical shortcoming. There had to be a reason why this happened to him, so it must be connected to a sin he'd committed, or something his parents had done, which led to him being accursed.
But Jesus deflects all of that and sets up blindness as a space that is occupied with an option to either open your eyes or keep them shut.
So Jesus takes mud and smears it on the guys eyes and tells him to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash it off. It's kind of a play on words, because Jesus sent the guy to the pool that was named "Sent," which is what Siloam means.
The guy is healed and given his sight, and eventually causes a stir because the word spreads that a miracle has happened. Naturally, the religious elites want to know what the heck happened so they can suck the joy out of it, which is what overly religious people do all of the time to everything, right?
So they ask the guy:
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
The word "how" appears six times in this story. All the religious elites want to know is "how" it happened, rather than focus on the fact that the guy was blind and now he can see.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
There's something interesting happening here with the man. Because when he's asked again about Jesus a bit later he changes his response:
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
Because Jesus "worked" by putting mud on the guys eyes and then asking the guy to do "work" by washing it off---he technically violated the Sabbath.
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
Then the religious elites bring the guys parents in to question them, and they balk. They are scared of being thrown out of the synagogue, being ostracized by the community, and so they deflect everything.
And so the next day the religious elites bring the guy back in and have this exchange with him---can you believe this investigation is going on so long?
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Isn't that fantastic? See how the man born blind has progressed. His physical sight was restored, but it has taken him a while to gain his spiritual sight. Meanwhile the religious guys just keep closing their eyes tighter and tighter.
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
Ha! How great is this? And look at that last word in the verse. Do you want to become his disciples, too? He's realizing more and more what has happened to him demands a response, and he responds by throwing himself in with Jesus, despite the consequences.
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
The religious elites don't want to hear the man's story because it conflicts with theirs. They are the ones who dictate what is right and what isn't. They have given themselves the privilege of naming sin, and dispensing grace.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Here at the last, the man fully recognizes not only what Jesus has done for him, but who Jesus is to him. His sight has been restored, but now he can truly see.
Then Jesus sums up the whole story like this:
39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
In other words, if you think you know everything, if you have become the arbiter of what is sin and what isn't, the dispenser of grace... you have taken over a role that doesn't belong to you. You've become blinded by your ambition to be like God, to speak for God, to act for God.
And likely, your spiritual blindness will keep you from seeing the truth.
It's not about a scripted moment, it's not about being able to say the right things, tell the right story, act like you have it all together.
What we learn from this story is that Everyone fails the man born blind--except for Jesus. This is the one thing that he can bear witness to.
So let me ask you a question... what do you know? What is that you can say that you know for sure. Something that you can bear witness to, share and carry with you with confidence.
Well, your story of how you are being saved is your story. But I can help you figure out how to know what to tell.
First, Seeing is Revealing.
Seeing revealed who failed the man and who didn't. His religious institution failed him. His family failed him. The Community failed him. The only one who didn't fail him was Jesus.
When your eyes are opened you see things as they are. You begin to realize that any attachments that you have to to the things or the people that you thought would bring you happiness---those attachments are probably keeping you from being able to see clearly.
It's only when we are able to admit that our fulfillment, our identity, our destiny are not defined by the things of this world that we will finally begin to see that our identity, destiny and fulfillment are all defined by Jesus.
When you begin to live your life with a Jesus worldview, it changes everything. You will find that you can finally truly love others because you are not putting unrealistic expectations on them. You can move more easily in the world because you will be free from anxiety and dread.
Seeing is Revealing.
Second, Seeing is Believing.
What we see revealed here in John 9 is that when you see, you come to believe. But that belief is complicated because it's personal, and specific.
I've always been amused when Christians will try to dictate to one another what you need to believe in order to be a Christian. We may be in the same ball park when it comes to our beliefs, but it will be impossible for us to be in the exact same space.
God comes to us, Christ comes to us in ways that make sense to us, that reach us where we are. Which makes trying to explain your beliefs to someone for the purpose of getting them on board with your beliefs an exercise in futility.
And so confess Jesus---don't try to explain him.
Remember that question that got asked six times during the story... the question "How?"
How do you explain the "new" self that you have become? How do you explain the new life that you are leading because of Jesus? How do you explain that you were blind, but now you see.
You don't. You tell your story. Because that's what you know. Just like the man who was born blind---you know what your life was like before you met Jesus, and you know what it's like after...
Story of Isaac Newton
“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am” - John Newton
Walter Brueggeman once wrote about this story from John 9, and he said that it presents us with a choice every time we read it. We are given the new chance of gospel possibility as opposed to old managed truth.
Each day we are given the chance to live into the hope of the people God is shaping us to be. And the stories we tell about ourselves in our journey of stumbling after Jesus---those can change the world.
Each day we are given the opportunity to see more clearly, love more dearly and follow more nearly. This is what you can know for certain.
Because you may not know, much but what you do know can change your life.