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Worship and Sermons
March 26, 2017

 

“In Plain Sight” by the Rev. Don Wahlig

Year A / 4th Sunday in Lent - 1 Samuel 16:1-13  •  Psalm 23  •  Ephesians 5:8-14  •  John 9:1-41

THEME:  Be open to others whose lives have been turned around by Jesus Christ -  and be open to his ability to change us.

 

          Have any of you been to Disney World?  What’s your favorite ride there?

          Mine is “It’s a Small World.”  It’s one of Disney’s oldest rides and it’s become iconic.  It’s available at every one of the Disney parks in the US and abroad. 

          If you don’t know about it, it’s a water ride in the dark through landscapes populated by hundreds of mechanical dolls.  They’re dressed in traditional costumes from various cultures around the world. 

          It’s meant to promote world peace and international unity.  Music is a big part of the experience, as well.  Once you’ve been on it, you’ll never again be able to forget the song “It’s a small world after all”! 

          8 years ago, the Associated Press reported on a major hullabaloo surrounding this ride at Disney Land in Anaheim, California.  The Disney Company noticed that attendance at the ride had dropped. So they decided to give it a modern makeover.

          They added a host of new dolls of characters from various Disney films:  Alice in Wonderland and the White Rabbit, Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket, Aladdin and Jasmine, Mulan and Mushu, Ariel and Flounder, Lilo, and Stitch, Nemo and Dory, Woody and Jessie from Toy Story, and a host of others.

          The hope was that this would make the ride appeal to a new generation of youngsters.  It fit squarely into Walt Disney’s original vision for the theme park.  One of Disney’s directors of Imagineering, recalled that Walt Disney was fond of saying “the park would always be changing as long as there was imagination in the world."

          Well it seems that a significant and vocal portion of Disney enthusiasts, however, resisted the change.  They complained to the company.  The company wasn’t surprised.  According to Walt Disney, these die-hards resist any improvements that alter the Disneyland experience of their childhood memories.

          We’re all a bit like that, aren’t we?  Deep down, all of us are reluctant to embrace change.

          Even when things change for the better, we aren’t always quick to trust it.   We hesitate to believe that the change is really a good thing.

          That’s especially true when the change happens in a person we know.   We knew them one way; and now they’re different.  It makes us uncomfortable. 

          How much more so, when they change in fundamental ways.  We ask ourselves can this really be the same person I once knew?

          I think that’s exactly what’s happening in our gospel story. 

          Jesus has come across a blind man begging in the street.  He uses this encounter to teach his disciples.  The man’s blindness is not the result of sin, as was commonly assumed, but rather so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  That’s exactly what happens. 

          Jesus makes a rather unusual poultice of mud and saliva and applies it to the man’s eyes.  And it works.  After the man washes the mud from his eyes, he can see for the first time in his life.  He is overjoyed.  Everyone else, however, is in an uproar.

          The villagers see him walking in the street, his sight fully restored, and they ask incredulously, “Is this really that blind beggar who sat in the road all those years?”  Some refuse to believe it.  “No way, it’s got to be someone else.”

          Others want to know “who did this for him?”  The formerly blind man himself has no doubt:  it was the man called Jesus. 

          Well, this is all too much for the Pharisees.  “Jesus, you say?  That can’t be – he cured your vision on the Sabbath, so he can’t possibly be from God.  Yet, only someone from God could do such a thing.”  

          Then the inquisition starts.  The Pharisees summon his parents.  “Was he really born blind?”

          For a second time, they summon the man. They ask him to explain - once again - how he was healed.  

          Far from being intimidated, the man offers an even bolder witness now.  “I’ve already told you, but you didn’t believe what I said.  Maybe you want to become his disciples, too?”    

          The he gets down to brass tacks.  “‘Where does he come from?’,” you ask?!  Of course he comes from God!  No one could do this unless he comes from God. Can’t you see that?”

          That’s just the trouble:  they can’t.  The Pharisees, who were born with full vision, can’t see what is in plain sight.  While the man born blind can see clearly who Jesus is and where he comes from.  And so he worships him.

          Isn’t the irony delicious?

          But, before we get too smug, it’s worth considering whether we might have more in common with those blind Pharisees than we think. 

          At one point or another, haven’t we all been skeptical of someone whose life has turned around so dramatically?

          My brother Ken, was a good example of that.  All of us went to church growing up, but Ken took a darker path.  He was volatile at home and often in trouble at school. He just never felt he was good enough.  He was restless and angry much of the time.  Then, after high school, he continued to get into trouble.  He even ended up on the wrong side of the law once or twice. 

          But then, God stepped into Ken’s life and turned it around.  He got married and had a family.  He became one of the best, most compassionate and loving  fathers I’ve ever known.  

          Even then, it was hard for the rest of us to believe it.  We knew the old Ken and, much as it pains me to say it, it took a lot of time for us to trust that his life had truly changed.

          There are examples of this in the church as well.  In fact, some of the greatest figures in the church are those whose early lives gave little indication of holiness. 

          The apostle Paul comes to mind.  Maybe the most famous example, though, is Augustine of Hippo, the 5th century Bishop and one of the church’s greatest spiritual and theological lights. 

          As a young man, Augustine lived a licentious life. In later years, he described his younger self as a slave to lust.  At age 19 he fathered an illegitimate child.  The child’s mother would remain his mistress for the next 15 years, even as he made plans to marry a ten-year old heiress.   Thankfully, he never did.

          Intellectually, he was gifted, but restless.  His mother was a Christian, but he went on a quest for truth and meaning elsewhere.  He followed various philosophers, only to become disillusioned and reject their teachings.  He dabbled in various religious sects and ideologies, but still couldn’t find what he was seeking. 

          Finally, at the age of 31, God changed the direction of his life.  He was inspired by a Christian friend’s description of the famous account of the Life of Antony, one of the earliest and greatest desert Fathers.  His heart began to change.  The preaching of his local Bishop, Ambrose of Milan, prompted him to reevaluate his life.

          Then one day, sitting in a garden with a friend, Augustine a child’s voice saying “Take and read; Take and read.”  Suddenly realizing that this might be God talking to him.  He opened the Scriptures at random and landed on the Letter of Paul to the Romans, where he read

          “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.  Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. “

          Augustine suddenly felt like his heart was flooded with light.  He turned away from his old life, and was baptized, along with his best friend and son.   Even so, those who knew him best, doubted whether his conversion was real.  

          We can all understand that reluctance to accept such a dramatic change, can’t we?   So before we go pointing our fingers at skeptics, maybe we should look inward first.

          The real issue here is this.  If you and I are not open to Christ’s power to transform the lives of others, then there’s no way we can be open to the possibility Christ can transform our own.

          And so our doubts come around full-circle.  We’re like those Pharisees who simply cannot believe that Jesus could be the source of life-changing healing in the man born blind.  Consequently, there’s no way they’re going to let Jesus change them, and their lives.  They weren’t even open to the possibility.

          Friends, that’s the challenge for you and me.  We have an advantage over those Pharisees.  You and I know we need to change, sometimes in fundamental ways.  We may think we can do it by ourselves, but the truth is, we can’t.  We need Jesus to help us.

          As the pastor Rick Warren puts it , “God never wastes energy. In other words, if you didn't need a Savior, he wouldn't have sent one.  The very fact that God sent a Savior means you need one.”

          There is no better time than now, at the height of Lent, to consider that need. But here’s where we have to ask ourselves a critical question:  Do we trust Jesus can make that change happen? 

Last Published: July 3, 2017 11:28 AM
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