Saturday, March 29, 2014

Disruptive Grace--How Sweet the Sound!

Disruptive Grace—How Sweet the Sound!
John 9:1-41
Hope Lutheran Church, Fergus Falls, MN
Lent 4—March 30, 2014

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Let’s start with a multiple choice quiz.    Which of the following statements comes closest to the truth?

    A. Having Jesus come into your life makes everything better.

B.  Having Jesus come into your life disrupts everything.

C. Both A. and B.

I wonder how this man in our gospel lesson would do on this quiz.

Having Jesus come into his life certainly made everything better.  Here he was a man “blind from birth.”   Jesus comes into his life, fashions a mudpack for his useless eyes, sends him to wash off this mudpack in a pool known for its healing qualities.  And when the man does that—lo and behold!--he can see for the first time in his life!

I’d call that a very good day—to be blind from birth and then—all of a sudden, able to behold everything and everyone, whiter whites, brighter brights, the whole amazing universe suddenly alive and in focus!  Amazing!

Yesiree—when Jesus comes into your life everything gets better!

But wait.  There’s more here in John 9.  

What should have been the best day in this blind man’s life got very complicated. 

·      For all at once his life became a topic of interest, a source of speculation for his nosy neighbors.
·      His healing was brought to the attention of the local authorities who opened up an investigation and interrogated the blind man repeatedly.
·      His parents even got dragged into the situation and badgered by the powers-that-be.
·      The upshot of all this consternation is that the blind man winds up excommunicated from his community of faith--all because Jesus healed him, all because the man told the truth about the great thing that had happened to him.

Wow!  Having Jesus come into your life can disrupt everything, all in a day!

And Jesus himself—who’s off-stage for much of this long story—sums it up this way:"I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind."

The answer to our little multiple choice question is “C” don’t you see?   Jesus coming into our life makes everything better….but only because Jesus disrupts everything, first.

And thank God for that!

Because, you see, there are all sorts of things in our lives that need disrupting.  

First of all, our “natural” assumptions about how the world works and how God does business with us need to be disrupted.   That is apparent right at the start of this story when the disciples notice the blind man and ask:  Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

The disciples give voice to what I like to call “Maude theology.”  Maude, you’ll recall, was a TV show back in the ‘70s about a blunt, outspoken woman whose catch-line was:  “God’ll get you for that!”

God’ll get you for that!   Left to our own devices, that’s how we think of God—as a law-and-order, demanding Boss whose job is to keep us on our toes and under his thumb.

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" the disciples ask.  Their question allows them to keep their distance from this blind man.  They and everyone else took no notice of the real, live human being in their midst.  What the blind man’s neighbors knew best was his diagnosis—he was a man infected by sin and therefore "blind from birth."

No wonder the man’s neighbors seemed confused about his identity after he was healed.  They’d been so focused on his condition that they never saw him as a brother in their midst.

Does anything about that sound familiar to our ears?   Who are we oblivious to, even though we may stumble over them every day?  Who do we know as a diagnosis but not a person?

Jesus came along and disrupted that mindset.  Jesus’ healing action forced folks to notice a man they really didn’t know that much about.

But there’s more that Jesus disrupts here in this story.  The local religious authorities, rather than rejoicing in the miracle of new sight, became obsessed with the where and the when of the healing miracle.  

For it was the Sabbath day, the day to cease all work and activity in the world.   Folks were hung up on that when Jesus walked the earth.

In fact they worked very hard to make sure and everyone avoided work on the day of rest!  They transformed the gracious gift of rest into a huge cause for anxiety!

Does that sound familiar to us?   We know that obeying the rules and doing good works can’t make God love us any more than God already loves us…but really, don’t we still like to keep a few accomplishments tucked tucked away in our pockets, “just in case.”  

That needed disrupting, too—all the ways we turn God’s good gifts into do-it-yourself projects.  That cock-eyed way of thinking needs disrupting in our lives too.

And then there’s the fixation here in John 9 on the question of community—Who’s in and who’s out of our community of faith?   

This story in John 9 winds up with a man who’d been left out of the circle of community because of his disability…and in the end he’s bookted out of his community of faith, purely because he happened to be in the path of the Son of God, who heals all our diseases and makes all things new.

The blind man ran afoul of a religious community hell-bent on being an enclave of the like-minded, who agreed that “anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”

That inward-focused, self-centered, “one-bad-apple-spoils-the-whole-bunch,” pinched view of God’s people needed to be disrupted….even as it needs to be disrupted in our time and place.

I love the story about Ole the Norwegian who was stranded on a desert island for 30 years.   When he was finally discovered by persons on a passing ship, they were amazed to see how Ole had constructed a whole village on his tiny island—complete with stores, a school and a church.   But as Ole’s rescuers toured his “village,” they noticed another church building, just a few yards away.

“What’s that?” they asked Ole.

“Oh, dat!” Ole replied.  “Dat’s the shurch I USED to belong to!”

That way of thinking and imagining the church needs to be disrupted, which is precisely what Jesus does when he comes into our lives….calling into question our insulated tendency to associate only with persons who’re exactly like us—even in the church!

Pope Francis names this crucial reality when he says: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security….More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, 'Give them something to eat.'" [1]

When Jesus comes into our lives everything does get better….but only because when Jesus comes into our lives FIRST he disrupts everything—everything that needs to be disrupted, everything that distorts how we understand God and God’s way with us, everything that blinds us to the neighbor in our midst, everything that even hints we can play “let’s make a deal” with God, everything that causes us to become inner-directed, inwardly-focused on ourselves in the church.

All of those tired old dilapidated ways of thinking, seeing and believing…all of that needs to be disrupted, set aside, cleared from our path…so that Jesus might have room truly to walk in our midst, opening blind eyes, forgiving all our sin, and wooing us into a gracious, merciful community focused, laser-like on following Jesus in his mission to restore and bless the whole world.

This, my dear friends, is the rhythm of Lent, this wondrous season of preparation for the Easter joy that shall soon be ours.    Jesus still walks among us, upending all our rotten assumptions, and setting us free for the life and the future he intends for all his people.  

Jesus’ grace is amazing, but only because it first disrupts everything that needs to be disrupted--so that we might be set free, free for God, free for our neighbors, free for this good earth, free for the future that Jesus Christ is bringing to us as a sheer gift.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.