The following are sermon’s from at Solor Lutheran Church
March 30, 2014 Sermon by Chris Wogaman
Sermon on John 9 (All)
Solør Lutheran Church
March 30, 2014
Chris Wogaman, Supply Pastor
Let us pray: God of all healing, from you come all good arts, and the art and science of healing is among them. Sometimes the road ahead is hard to see; give us vision, O God, to see the path that comes from you. Send your Holy Spirit, we pray, through these words and through our hearts, to heal what is broken, and see your kingdom anew this day. Through Jesus we pray: Amen.
Just being able to see doesn’t give a person vision; sometimes it takes looking at things in a different way before they become clear to our eyes.
I would imagine that most of us have seen those puzzles that look like they are one thing, and then if you look at it long enough, or in another way, a completely other picture emerges. Sometimes they are people’s faces that appear to be seen from the front; all of a sudden, when you see them a different way, they seem to shift to be seen from the side. Sometimes this kind of puzzle is what looks like two faces in one moment, and an elaborate cup in the next. These puzzles show that the obvious is not always so obvious.
I would imagine the vision of God’s working was not immediately apparent to many present on that day so many years ago, when Jesus intersected with one of the pressing questions of his time: “Who sinned, this man who is blind or his parents, that he would be born blind?” The underlying question here is, I think: Does God punish people for sinning? Does God bring down buildings to show that a society has been sinful, or help initiate wars, or cause mudslides, or earthquakes, or tornadoes, or does God punish individuals with strokes, or heart attacks, or cancer? Who sinned, this person who was born with only half a left ventricle, or her parents? Who sinned, this man who was shot in front of his house, or his pastor? Who sinned, this woman who developed breast cancer or her children?
Perhaps the most pressing question about God in any age is exactly this: Will God lay waste to our bodies, our towns, our societies, or our churches, because of what God may consider a sin? And if so, what can stop God’s wrath?
This picture of God is indeed one that would bring fear into even the most intrepid and sincere Christian’s heart, because every sin that one commits could be the one to bring down the wrath of God, and that includes sins of omission—not doing the right thing, or failing to stop the wrong.
Much has been made in the last couple of weeks of the death of Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas, who died at the age of 84, after years of spreading homophobic hatred all across this country in God’s name. He is known also for creating a family of those who will carry on his example after he is gone. “God hates fags,” in fact, is exactly what the signs that he and his people carried to churches, prominent intersections, and indeed many funerals, including of soldiers who died defending our country, and the name of their virtual home on the internet. And with every one of those signs, he and his people were talking about me, and about you, and about everyone who was not part of his clan. Indeed, his campaign of hate was so successful, that his own family turned on him when he repented of failing to live up to loving his neighbors, not long before his death. His own children condemned him last fall with the same words that he used on others for so many years.
At the center of the persecution wrought by the Phelps clan in the name of God and Jesus was this same question: Does God punish people and indeed societies for sin or not? What sins does God punish, and how does God carry out this punishment? And how will God punish our whole society and indeed our whole race because some were thought to have sinned?
These questions have real answers in the way that people live out their lives and their examples. And sometimes, these ways of trying to live out the Gospel, or the Law, take down more people than they build up. Sometimes, these messages go off like a drunk man holding a machine gun, who is unable to control it, spraying off deadly missiles at random. Sticks and stones can break our bones, and cursed words aimed at our souls can really hurt us. And whatever words we have had used against us, or have used towards others, in our lives, bring the need for God-sized healing.
“For of the Most High cometh healing.” Those words from the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus are carved into the entrance to the main building of the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, where I worked briefly when I lived in New York many years ago. In our story today, the healing and personal transformation that Jesus brings comes through a mix of Jesus’ spit and dirt, along with a good wash in a venerable pool, one which had washed clean the Old Testament general Na’aman at the behest of the prophet Elisha.
What kind of healing comes to the man born blind? This would sound like an obvious question to which there is an obvious answer—he regained his sight. Indeed, he gained his sight, because he had never had it before, and everyone thought that his condition must be a punishment from God for some kind of sin.
In being healed, the man born blind uttered the line we have sung for the last over 200 years—“I was blind, and now I see.” It was as simple to him as that. There were no deep theological arguments behind it, no protestations that needed to happen over a punishment being lifted from his shoulders (or away from his eyes), no need for a gang of 1st century protesters to come with signs proclaiming that “God Hates Blind People!!!”
No. To the man to whom this healing came, it was simple. But it threw a schism up in the community—this man’s healing seems, on the surface, to have literally DIVIDED the community. How can something as good as gaining the use of one’s eyes bring on such a reaction? Because a new direction has begun, one in which those who can’t walk can walk, those who can’t see can see, and those who can’t live, who have crossed over to the dead, can live once again. And new directions are scary.
Last Sunday at Solør, we had a conversation over the frequency of celebrating communion that was, I think, on the whole, helpful. It also revealed something of a division here in what the new direction of Solør might be. Towards the end of that conversation, I heard one congregant mention something that I think is truly at the heart of the feelings around changing communion practice from twice a month to something more frequent: that people stopped coming to Solør when changes started happening not many years ago. This was probably the most helpful thing said in the whole conversation, and I wanted to repeat it today, in case it was lost in the conversation last week.
So here is a pointed, and poignant question: Has God punished Solør by striking down our attendance, and by doing the same at many churches throughout the country? Solør is not the only congregation that once had its pews filled, but now is kept going by the faith, hard work, and valuable financial and in-kind resources of fewer people.
This is a hard question. And it is a question that might receive a variety of answers here, as did the question, “Who sinned, the blind man or his parents?” in John’s Gospel. Who sinned, Solør’s pastors or Solør’s parishioners?
Jesus says, “It was not this man who has sinned, nor his parents, but so that the works of God may be made visible in him.”
I want to repeat this—these are vitally important words from Jesus. “It was not this man who has sinned, nor his parents, but so that the works of God may be made visible in him.”
Hold onto these words for a moment. Repeat them out loud, to yourself, to the person who is sitting next to you, to the air in front of you. It was not this man who has sinned, nor his parents, but so that the works of God may be made visible in him.
These words are, on their face, as they were on the blind man’s face, simple: the healing of God came through Jesus, through the mud, and through the pool, and through the Spirit of God, and this man was restored. What will be the means of grace of God’s work for the restoration of Solør’s ministry? This question assumes that God wills abundant life and abundant ministry within these walls and starting from here, taking this ministry out the doors and into our homes, workplaces, and into the world that needs to hear messages of grace, amidst so many experiences of fear, division, panic, and misery. The Holy Spirit of God works through such simple things as dust and spit, as we see in today’s Gospel. Jesus looks more like the 80s TV icon MacGuyver than a pastor or bishop. If God can work healing through spit and dust, of which we have some around here today, through what will God work the future of God’s ministry here at Solør? Because God didn’t bring you this far just to leave you.
“I was blind, and now I see.” I wish I could ask this formerly blind man what it is like for him to see for the first time in his life. No doubt, he had heard about seeing over the course of his whole life. He knew what he was missing out on, but this sense could not be integrated into his reality. He could have known sound pictures, but the colors green or red or aquamarine would have meant nothing like the way we who can see or have been able to see at some point in our lives, before he could see them with his own eyes.
Through the art of healing and generating sight in this man’s eyes, God gave him eyes to see the future of God’s work through Jesus—work which would upset the way things had been, and work that would chart the course of God’s future work in the world through each of us, God’s work through our hands, through our mouths, through our hearts, through our little church with something to say.
So here it is: God’s got the healing and grace if we’ve got the spit and the dust, and the trust. And we do. None of us are miracle workers like Jesus, but with faith and trust in God, miracles can happen. And happen here. And not only miracles like sight being generated in those who could not see, but in much more ordinary things, like seeing something or someone we have never seen before, right in our midst. But what will that look like? What will those new colors of God’s grace in this place be?
I’ll be honest when I say that I understand that this is a difficult prospect. I identify with your ministry here, with your resolute faith, with your fear of change, with your curiosity for what is to come. This is so much like my own journey in ministry, which has gone through a wilderness time, because many churches are afraid of the change that having me in their pulpit might bring. But wilderness time is not bad time. It can be the time in which significant work is taking place where we can’t see with the eyes we have now, but may be able to see with the eyes that God will give us.
Lent is itself the wilderness time of the church year. It is the time in which hard questions can perhaps more easily be asked and considered. It is the time that the faith that God has worked in us and in our communities can be particularly tested, because it is in fact OK to test that faith. That faith is stronger than we might be able to see with the eyes we have now.
I usually open sermons with a centering prayer—today I will close this message with a sending prayer: Let us pray,
Gracious and healing God: Hold and heal us with your powerful grace. We pray especially today for our brother Denny. Show your healing power through Denny, and restore him, O God, to the place of health and presence with us. You are a mighty and powerful God who works through everything to bring your Kingdom’s grace into this hurting world. We pray this morning for the eyes and vision to see the road ahead, the path that we walk with Jesus, the path on which those who are blind are given sight, those who are lonely are given comfort, those who are doubting are given strengthened faith, and those who are lost are found. May we be your hands, O God. Walk with us, talk with us, sing with us, and send us, O God, into your world that needs to hear your message of love and grace. Through Jesus’ name we pray: Amen.