Sermon on John 9:1-41
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
April 3, 2011 (The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Series A)
There is an old saying that goes, “There are none so blind as those who do not want to see.” In other words, people who physically cannot see usually still want to find out what is really happening around them, and often they will get a pretty good idea by using their other four senses, especially hearing. However, when someone, whether physically sighted or blind, does not want to admit to the reality of something, they will find all sorts of excuses to pretend that they haven’t just seen that thing. A child is asked to clean up the mess his room, and one of the first responses, in many cases, is, “what mess?” (Men often respond like that to their wives, too.) Sinful human beings will deny reality itself before they will admit to even plain and obvious facts that point out their own sin or their own duty that they would rather avoid.
This is the meaning behind what Jesus tells the Pharisees at the very end of today’s Gospel lesson. It is those who claim to see reality but deny it that are guilty, rather than those who know their blindness and wish to be enlightened. It is those who think that their relationship with God is on pretty good footing on the basis of what they do, that are most likely to ignore the very first Commandment, namely that God is the giver of everything, including salvation; God is the one in whom we are to trust for all good things. Those who know themselves to be poor, miserable sinners who cannot see God with their own reason or strength are the ones whom God has already prepared to receive the good news that God has come down to us by grace, in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, and in bringing that same Jesus Christ to them in water, words, bread, and wine, by the Holy Spirit’s power.
Our sinful, selfish pride causes us to be like the Pharisees. We want to do it ourselves. We want God to be pleased with us on the basis of our own works. We want Him to see all the things we are doing for Him, and congratulate us, pat us on the back, and tell us we’ve earned a spot in His kingdom, or, if you believe Rick Warren, that we’ve earned a better spot in His kingdom than we otherwise would have had. We want our own eyes, our own reason and strength, our own good works, to be good enough to get us something from God. And whenever it is pointed out to us that even our best good works, even our most ardent zeal at witnessing or volunteering for the Church or whatever, is like filthy rags as far as God is concerned, that offends us and just makes us angry. We want to ignore the fact that by trying to earn something from God we are breaking the First Commandment, the most important one from which all the others flow, and so it doesn’t matter how good the things we may be doing are for our church or our fellow human beings, God is not pleased. We become blind as only anger can make us blind, and will not see the evidence that only He can, and has, bridged the gap between us and God.
But He has, in fact, bridged that gap, not from our end, but from His. It was not because of anything special in the blind man that he was able to see. It was a pure gift. That’s what God does. He gives gifts. He’s not in the rewards business. You can’t earn enough points with him to earn a little extra benefit. Yes, the Scriptures do say that there will be different positions or vocations within eternal life, just as there are here on this earth, and that who we have been given to be in this world to some extent will be related to who we are given to be in eternity. But it’s not a rewards system per se. It’s a free gift system, because who we are in this life is determined by His gift of providence in placing us in our vocations, and so who we are in the next life is also determined by the uniqueness of who we are and where He has placed us in that world. Focusing on rewards for our own works in heaven, even if we admit that getting there in the first place is a free gift, is still a selfish focus on what I can get out of the deal, and not a focus on love for God or the neighbor. I’ll be blunt here: Rick Warren is simply dead wrong on this point, and he’s leading millions of Christians into a false motivation for doing good works, one which denies and forgets that God is a Father who loves to give gifts to His children, and instead makes Him into a rewards machine.
God is a giver. God is the creator, which means that He is the one who gives restoration of that creation. He will sometimes open the eyes of the blind, either through the purely miraculous, as we see here (though even here, notice how it is that He uses ordinary and even, well, yukky things to do it), or through the gift of technological and medical advances, or whatever. All the blind who trust in Him as their Savior from sin, death, and the devil will have their sight completely and miraculously restored in the resurrection at the last day. Even those of us who simply need glasses won’t need them then, and we will see Him clearly, face to face, in His glory. We can’t ever do enough to earn that. Thank God, we don’t have to. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +