To everyone who has faith or needs it, who lives in hope or would gladly do so, whose character is glorified by the love of God or marred by the love of self; to those who pray and those who do not, who mourn and are weary or who rejoice and are strong; to everyone, in the name of Him who was lifted up to draw all people unto Himself, this Church offers a door of entry and a place of worship, saying ‘Welcome Home’!
LENT AND HOLY WEEK 2023
Palm Sunday - April 1 at 6:00 p.m. and April 2 at 11:00 a.m.
Maundy Thursday - April 6 at 7:00 p.m.
Good Friday Community Cross Walk - April 7 beginning at 12:00 Noon in the Sanctuary
EASTER! Resurrection of the Lord - April 8 at 6:00 p.m. and April 9 at 11:00 a.m.
Sermon Message for Saturday, March 18, 2023 & Sunday, March 19, 2023
Prayer For Illumination: Gracious God, illumine these words by your Spirit that we might hear what you would have us hear and be who you would have us be, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen.
Scripture Lessons: John 9:1-41 (page 1074) and Ephesians 5:5-20 (page 1176)
Sermon Message: “The Question That Counts”
This past week at our Monday evening Bible study, we were reviewing some of Jesus’ parables. Did you know there are 49 recorded parables of Jesus? At our meeting we discussed the parable of the prodigal son. Perhaps you recall some of that parable; a man had two sons, the younger one asked his father for his inheritance (previous to his father’s passing) then went off and spent that money on drunkenness, partying, and in general, living the ‘wild life.’ He was carefree…for a while. Eventually the money ran out, as it most often does. He found himself feeding the pigs for a living. He was both hungry and humiliated. He decided to go back home, apologize to his father, and ask Dad to take him on as a hired hand, not as a son. He made his way back home. The dad sees him coming, rejoices, welcomes him back, kills the fatted calf for a festive celebration, places a robe across his back and a ring on his finger. His older brother who had ‘stuck by’ Dad all those years heard about it. He was so bothered he asked his dad, “Why? I’ve been faithful to you all these years and you never once did anything celebrative for me and my friends yet when this son of yours who has wasted your money comes back home you throw a party.” WHY?
That elder son did have a point. He seemed to have a ‘right’ to ask such a question. Gently, yet firmly, that father replies, “This, your brother, I thought he was dead, but he is alive. He has come back home. All that I have is yours but this one who came back to us is worth celebrating for.”
Sometimes really ‘odd’ or perhaps ‘unique’ occurrences also happen in our lives that make us question things.
Years ago I was a part-time student pastor just outside of New Castle. There were two churches, set a few miles apart. I preached at one of them around 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning, and then I got in my car, drove a few miles to the second church and preached at 11:00 a.m.
Admittedly, I wondered ‘why’ God would have me in this remote area far from my home base at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. I met Carrie just a few weeks after I started preaching there. She had a real challenge walking, even though she was a whole 8 years old. Carrie had to look way up at me because I was so tall and she was so small. Her grandma watched what happened next. Carrie made her way over to where I was standing and extended her hand to shake mine. Carrie is a unique soul. She was born with legs that kind of crisscrossed each other. She had both hands but no arms. They told me her father had served in Vietnam and came into contact with some horrific chemical. Thus Carrie’s birth and life challenge. I grew to appreciate the scripture lesson of the man who was born blind. Why did Carrie have this challenge? Why was that man born blind? We all do ask questions, especially so when we do not understand.
At the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry the religion of the day provided some answers and possible insights into life’s most perplexing questions. As evidenced in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus’ own disciples questioned why this man was born blind. Was it the man who sinned or his parents? The prevailing thought was ‘sin’ caused people to be blind or suffer any of a number of other ailments, diseases, and even emotional disorders. Those disciples thought their question counted for something because that’s all they knew or understood.
Hear again Jesus’ response, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus went on to say “we must do the works of the Father while it is day. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world I am the light of the world.”
He that is blind has no enjoyment of the light, but he that is born blind has no idea of it.
Jesus let his disciples know they were asking the wrong question.
There just aren’t a lot of references in the Bible of Jesus ‘spitting.’ But here within today’s scripture lesson we read of Jesus spitting on the ground, making some mud with it and putting this mixture on the man’s eyes. Jesus then told the man to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. So the man did wash and came home seeing.
Something really good happened. It just didn’t happen the way significant ‘others’ thought it should happen. They ‘questioned’ extensively so, how this man got better. They questioned ‘why’ Jesus did this. They questioned why Jesus performed this ‘work’ of healing on the Sabbath. They went on to question the fellow that was healed, over and over again. They even questioned his parents.
This remains a story and a testimony of Christ’s compassion. I think Christ’s compassion should kindle ours.
The question that counts is NOT “Who sinned?” Blindness or illness, physical disability or natural disaster are not about moral failing or sinful behavior. The question that counts is “How is God present in this man’s life?” Jesus Christ affirms that his condition is an opportunity for God’s work to be revealed, and then Jesus proceeds to heal the man of his blindness. That’s when the wrong questions really start flying.
The guy’s neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?”
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” Strange how we ask the wrong questions when we fail to understand God’s presence and movements. Even though the fellow told them, ‘testified’ as to what Jesus did for him, they just could not ‘wrap their head’ around this.
Through the years it has been my pastoral privilege to visit and pray with lots of different folks dealing with illness, anticipating surgery, and just fearing the worst. I’ve experienced these same things personally. The common question is ‘Why?’ Why did this have to happen? The next question is, ‘What if?’ And we tend to fear the worst. Perhaps we should work at foregoing the fantasy of fear and strive to embrace the strength of faith. Sometimes the better question we should ask is “What happens if I get better? What happens if the procedure, the prayers, the medications work?” What then?
The question that counts is, “What has faith revealed to us?” Jesus Christ affirms the works of God are displayed even in the most trying afflictions.
Eight-year-old Carrie would sometimes sing in our small church choir. When she did, her singing became the most glorious testimony of a life well lived and a light, a very precious light, shining in our world’s darkness.
God re-created Carrie. God re-created the man born blind.
God ‘re-creates’ people’s lives.
We learned a few weeks ago of Nicodemus, sneaking at night to find Jesus and talk with him. Jesus teaches Nicodemus, and us, “You must be born again.” That means to be ‘re-created’ from your old self into something new.
We also learned of the woman at the well who was hiding away from others in broad daylight because she felt so guilty and ashamed by her sins. Jesus speaks to her about ‘water.’ He references ‘living water.’ Water, in the Bible, is often times a reference to cleansing, re-birth, and re-creation from what was sinfully wrong into something gloriously new.
Jesus came into the world not only to give sight but also to give light. Look to the light of Christ. It is shining in our world. It remains shining in this Church. His light shines even in our gravest darkness. Jesus charges his disciples to let our light shine.
Like the man born blind you may be questioned when you give your testimony or just simply live your life the Christian way. Some folks may question ‘why’ you are so patient? Why do you remain calm? Why don’t you get angry like the rest of us? Oh, but the question that counts, perhaps even the ‘unspoken’ question is, “How has God moved in your life that enables you to live this better way?
Another little girl I once knew felt God helped her family. So it was she became a bit more compassionate at school. During lunchtime she would sometimes seek out the kid that was sitting all by themselves and just go sit with them. When the meal was over, she placed her leftover containers in the recycling bin instead of throwing everything away together. Hers was a quiet yet sincere example of a young life re-created by God’s presence.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, speaks of dealing with our destructive habits. He references impurity, immorality, and greed leading a soul to idolatry. Then the Apostle Paul reminds us “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.”
Each night on the news we learn of major incidences that have a profound effect on people’s lives. Pray for those people and events as you learn of them. One day they could impact you or me. The question that counts as you pray is, “How, God, can you please help these poor souls?” Not “why did this happen to them?”
God re-creates people’s lives. Jesus shines His light in our world and in our lives. We are all ‘the better’ because of this. Yet we should recall there are none so blind as they who will not see. Asking the wrong questions is kind of a spiritual slumber that has little or no benefit to anyone. There are some things we need to ‘awake from.’
Some Christians have a hard time controlling their bad language or restraining their vicious tongues in gossip. Some Christians experience difficulty as they begin to raise the percentage of their financial giving toward a tenth and then to giving more. Some have difficulty reining in their anger. Others struggle against lust and pride. For many Christians it’s a hard step in faith to look beyond our own interests, destructive habits, and ‘know-it-all’ questions.
We need to turn to God for the power to stop our destructive habits and also to allow God to open us to more and more of God's blessings in this good world. In Lent, we get into the habit of inviting and urging each other to advance further into the light and life of Christ: "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
Following the time that Jesus healed the man blind from birth, the poor fellow was questioned extensively, also his parents, and eventually thrown out of the church, the synagogue. Jesus found that poor soul who just wanted to be happy for the miracle of sight he had received. God moved in his life. Jesus heard about this, found the man, and asked him the question that counts the most, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
We'll never on this earth learn enough about God, study the Bible as we might. We won't understand perfectly what God would have us do, pray as seriously as we can. We'll never be the people in this world that we're going to be in the next, although we speak as honestly as possible about how God is working within us now. Yet, despite the circumstances around us, we are light, nonetheless, not for ourselves but for others. That also is a summary of Lent. Let us grasp the joy and shoulder the task of our Christian life. "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Amen.