Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent 03/22/2020

Images of light and darkness are all over John’s gospel; it’s probably the most pervasive image of all the ones he uses and it seems like a pretty good image to think about as we continue to deal with a situation unlike anything any of us have ever experienced. We’re getting a pretty steady diet of darkness and fear these days, darkness and fear that includes many things, like church, shutting down for social distancing purposes. It’s a good time then, to be reminded of Jesus as the light of the world. It’s also a good time to be reminded of the words from the opening verses of John, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it,” we could amend it a little and say that “the darkness does not and will not overcome it.”

It’s a good verse to keep in mind not just today but in the days and weeks ahead. We don’t know what’s going to happen, how all this is going to play out; the darkness may get darker still and it’s sounding like it may last for a while, but we always remember the light that won’t be overcome by darkness. While I’m not at all sure that I can come up with anything to say that is just what you need to hear, my goal today, and however long this goes on, isn’t really all that different than it always is as I will try to use the assigned biblical texts to perhaps shine some light into the darkness.

John does introduce the image of Jesus as light at the beginning of his gospel and then in today’s story of the man born blind Jesus more or less repeats what he said in the previous chapter when he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Keep in mind that in general terms, in John, light has to do with God, with life and with knowledge. Darkness then is about the opposites of those things, the opposites of God, life and knowledge.

In today’s reading about the man born blind, John includes the image of light in what, on the surface, is essentially a healing story. Anytime light is mentioned though, usually there is a contrast with darkness. In this story, darkness is mostly about a failure on the part of various characters in the story to understand who Jesus is. It is a healing story, but the actual healing only takes up two verses of this long reading. The other 39 verses are about the darkness of confusion and not recognizing Jesus as the light of the world and actually, Jesus himself is mostly absent, off stage as it were, for 27 of those 39 verses.

The confusion starts with the disciples. Their confusion isn’t so much about who Jesus is, more about wanting to understand how the world works. So they ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It’s a very human question. Somehow life is easier to make sense of if we can assess blame, you know, cause and effect. I remember that there were those who wanted to see events like 9/11 and hurricane Katrina as God’s punishment on some group of people who were perceived as sinful. Unlike the disciples though, they didn’t have to ask who sinned, because they knew. I haven’t heard that kind of blame regarding the coronavirus although maybe it’s been floated by some; lots of blame concerning the effectiveness of the response to the virus but I haven’t heard anything about it being God’s punishment on anyone.

Note though, that Jesus wasn’t willing to satisfy the disciples’ need to assess blame. For him, their question was an example of darkness that his light would overcome. He goes so far as to say that the man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

That’s just the first example of darkness in the form of the wrong question being asked. The neighbors were also in the dark following the healing of the man. I don’t know if John intended to include a little humor in the darkness of the neighbors; we don’t usually think of Bible as being a funny book, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to read their confusion that way. One assumes that they’ve seen this man sitting and begging for years, but when he is suddenly able to see, they decide that it can’t be him that it must just be someone who looks like him. They were unable to see the power of Jesus at work. Even after asking additional questions, they remained in the dark.

Another element of intentional or unintentional humor in this story is the way characters or groups of characters come and go. I compared it once to a play I saw years ago called Noises Off, where on stage there were several doors and throughout the play characters would come though one of the doors and then go back out, another door would open and someone else would appear and it went on; you get the idea.

In this story, the next group to come through the door are the Pharisees. They too add to the darkness as they ask the wrong questions, the majority of their questions having to do with “how.” Five times, in slightly different ways, they ask, “How did this man open your eyes?” Stuck on the darkness and blindness of “how,” they entirely missed out on the light of “who,” instead seeing “this man,” Jesus, as a sinner because in their eyes he didn’t properly observe the sabbath.

They then decide that the whole thing is a hoax, that the man had never been blind in the first place even after questioning his parents who say yes, he was blind although they are afraid to say much for fear of being kicked out of the synagogue. The Pharisees insisted that Jesus had to be a sinner and in a final act of darkness, they drove out the formerly blind man after he rebuked them saying, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

After 27 verses, Jesus comes back and the story ends with the man born blind not only able to physically see, but to spiritually see Jesus as the light of the world as he says, “Lord, I believe,” and he worships Jesus. The Pharisees however, remained in the dark.

So you have the darkness of the disciples who don’t understand the nature of sin; you have the darkness of the neighbors who can’t imagine the possibility of what Jesus is able to do so they look for a more rational answer; you have the darkness of the Pharisees who kind of combine the two, unwilling to imagine the possibilities, stuck on the letter of the law, only able to ask questions that keep them in the dark. Meanwhile, in the midst of all that darkness, Jesus as the light of the world is never far away.

Maybe that’s enough of a connection to our current situation, that in the midst of this coronavirus darkness, Jesus as the light of the world is never far away, if we have eyes to see. Another thing I thought though, is that at the end of this story, the man born blind has become a child of the light. Another light and darkness reference in John comes in chapter 12 when Jesus says, “Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you…While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Perhaps a good question for any of us to ask at this point is, “How can we be children of light in the darkness we’re experiencing?” You know that I am not in the habit of dispensing advice and telling you what to do because I think that for each of us the answer is different. In this case though, I think that for all of us, the answer begins with taking seriously what scientists and medical people and government officials are telling us and cooperating with what they are recommending that we do. Even if you don’t feel that you’re at great risk, in this case, “Love thy neighbor” means to be aware of those who are or might be.

Moving forward, as a church we will want to be aware of how we can provide assistance, especially for those who, because of businesses shutting down, are not working and not getting paid. All of us are being impacted financially in some way, but there are some for whom the impact could be catastrophic.

It gets repeated over and over because it’s true, but we are in uncharted territory. With the news seeming to get worse every day, I’m mindful of a book I think I’ve mentioned before called Saving Images, a book in which the author encourages pastors to preach on the images the Bible gives us. I do think it’s helpful to remember the images, in this case thej images of Jesus as the light of the world and images of those who follow him as children of the light. As children of the light, we are people of resurrection hope and the mission to which we are called really doesn’t change; Love God and love the neighbor and…walk in the light.

Another image to keep in mind is that of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. On this day when most churches are shifting into a new version of reality that may last a while, it’s probably not merely coincidence that the appointed psalm is the 23rd, the best known of all of them, one that has provided comfort forever, in all kinds of situations. It’s a good way to end today.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.

You restore my soul, O Lord, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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