Fourth Sunday of Lent - Those Who See
This is the Fourth Sunday of the season of Lent and we're at the midway point so to speak of our journey through the wilderness with Jesus.
There's a photo that I've used in the past and used it again with a class I'm currently teaching that helps me to envision what I'm going to tell you next. Here it is:
We might be journeying with Jesus through the wilderness both symbolically and literally depending on how you feel about recent days, and the wilderness can often be a place that feels devoid of life, barren, dry, or so wild that it defies imagination.
But there is life in the wilderness. There is hope in the wilderness. And we can grow in the wilderness, in spite of everything.
So today we're going to focus on a story from John's Gospel that highlights the importance of having your eyes opened to what God is doing around you. And more specifically being aware of the miracles in your midst---especially miracles that bring healing to the world, and to us.
Let me ask you a question. Why do you think that we miss the miracles that happen in the world around us? Because they're happening, believe me. Miracles aren't just things that happened in the past, recorded in the Bible as fantastic stories that are just illustrations... They happen. They are happening.
We just don't see them all that often. Why is that?
Well, we tend to see what we want to see based on our own biases, and preconceived notions. Psychologists believe that there are two kinds of responses to the things we see and experience that tend to shape the way we interpret them.
First, there is Perceptual Bias, which is a kind of top-down way of interpreting what you witness. It's based on motivation, and more specifically the motivation that exists for us to reinforce our own worldview, long-held beliefs, community stories, and the like.
The second response is actually called Response Bias, and it is shaped by our desires to control an outcome, get what we want, see what makes sense to us, and basically disregard the rest.
Basically, we can actually witness miracles, incredible things, healing, restoration, Divine intervention, you name it... and then explain it away or ignore it based on our own beliefs and desires.
Let me illustrate this with an example from church-y world. In fact, Christians have a pretty bad track record when it comes to these kinds of things. This is why there are so many odd prophets with their own internet shows nowadays---all purporting to see the signs that back up their inane predictions.
But even regular Christian folk seem to struggle with this. They have preconceived notions about the way things ought to be, and then don't see the miracles of healing and restoration that take place through the movement and the power of the Spirit in the world.
Let me explain:
Story of Towne View Baptists Church in GA.
What keeps us from experiencing the miracles of healing around us? What keeps us from being willing to see? Maybe we need to spend some time in the wilderness with Jesus---maybe we need to have all of our preconceived notions stripped away, our comfort, our long-held beliefs, and biases...
As we move forward, here's what I want us to know:
The Wilderness is a place to participate in healing.
1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
The man hears and obeys before he sees---Jesus said earlier in the account that "my sheep hear my voice, follow and obey."
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
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!”
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?”
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.
Let's be clear about what happened here. The disciples were right on the money with their question at the beginning of things. The blind man would not have been able to fully participate in the religious life of the community because of his infirmity.
And then they kick him out anyway.
They see what they want to see--their firmly held beliefs keep them from seeing the miracle of healing and restoration right in front of them.
This was a wilderness moment for these religious types. They got shook.
The wilderness can be a disruption right in the middle of our comfortable biases and beliefs---a disruption that gives us a choice: to see or not to see.
So what can we learn from the Pharisees in this story?
First, no one wants to be a Pharisee. So we typically don't see ourselves in that role. We easily see how others fit into it, though.
What needs to change in order for us to see more clearly? We need to realize that God is not bound by our rules, or doctrines, dogmas, or even our interpretations of the Bible, no matter how well-intentioned they might be.
Jesus loved to tell stories that would often give his listeners hard choices as to who they would want to identify within the story. Story of the Pharisee and the Publican.
Grace is radical. Bob Goff---Grace is like God drawing a circle and saying that everyone's inside it.
Second, healing is going to happen with or without us. We can either be part of the celebration or we can sit outside the party and sulk, like the Older Brother in the parable that Jesus told about the two sons.
We can live out our faith in such a way that we are always ready to celebrate what God is doing to bring healing and restoration to the world, and to people---some of whom we may not have all that much in common with.
We can become the gatekeepers to the miraculous.
So when these disruptions come, and they will... When we find ourselves in a wilderness moment where our beliefs are challenged, our worldview is turned upside down and we see grace abounding, healing happening and miracles afoot... we can join the party.
Because The Wilderness is a place to participate in healing.