Sermons from St. Stephen's Lutheran Church
Northglenn, Colorado, Sunday, March 22, 2020
The Fourth Sunday in Lent (Cycle A)
The Word for This Day
FIRST READING - 1 SAMUEL16:1-13
1The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
SECOND READING - EPHESIANS 5:8-14
8Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
GOSPEL - JOHN 9:1-41
1As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
"Five Vision Tests"
Today’s readings all have to do with sight. They’re almost like a kind of spiritual eye exam. What do you see? How do you see? In today’s Gospel we hear this wonderfully told story about a man who receives his sight for the first time in his life by being healed by Jesus. Part of the joy of this story is to watch this man see more and more clearly. Sight creates insight. And we understand the increasing clarity of his vision as we hear him speak about the identity of the one who healed him. In other words, his visual perception is linked to witness. We encountered the same reality last week with the woman at the well; she did not enter fully into the truth until she went public and began to tell others about her experience.
In today’s First Reading, the prophet Samuel has gone to look for a new king for Israel. Would you know a king if you saw one? Perhaps. But maybe not—at least you might not see the king whom God has chosen, for we are told in this wonderful story, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” What we really need to see might be more than what is visible from surface appearances. We need to learn how to look beneath the surface in order to see into the heart of things!
The Second Reading also offers help. There we hear these strange and mysterious words: “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.” Please notice that it does not say that once we lived in darkness but now we live in the light. No, it says we are light—we have become light! Does this seem similar to last Sunday’s Gospel? Last week Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at the well. He assured her that the Spirit could “bubble up” within her and become a stream of living water that flows from her into the lives of everyone else around her. Now, in this week’s Second Reading, Paul says “in the Lord you are light.” Jesus said the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount several weeks ago. Remember? “You’re the light of the world.” We are meant to be living water and God’s light. God gifts us not just so that we can be gifted, but so that those around us are refreshed with water and illuminated with light.
Right now we are trying to practice “social distancing.” But it may be true that there was never a time in our lifetimes when water and light were more needed, not only for ourselves but for those around us. Social distancing does not cut you off entirely from those who need water and light! Do you have a telephone? Or email? Now is the time to offer your support to those around you. My husband Dan and I are spending a half-hour each weekday with two of our grandchildren to help them with projects and schoolwork that will give their parents some time to try to hold down their jobs working from home. Our grandkids live more than a thousand miles away but we can still care for them! I’m sure there is a neighbor or a friend here at St. Stephen’s that could use a call from you. Water can bubble and light can shine even when we cannot give hugs or shake hands.
I think, most of all, the Word for this day wants us to see with new eyes—just like what happened with the man in today’s Gospel. We need to see ourselves differently. We need to join Samuel in seeing things as God sees. And in order to do that, I would like to give you five “vision tests.”
Is it a pair of faces or is it a vase? It is both, but it is impossible to see both simultaneously. The images snap back and forth in our brain, and we cannot hold both of them together at the same time: saint and sinner, law and gospel, divine and human. They seem mutually exclusive to us but not to God. Something similar happens to us as we look at people who seem different from us. Very often, the way we look at other people is determined by our own attitudes. We may not be able to see people clearly because all we ever see, really, is the “vase” that separates me from my neighbor. When it comes to seeing clearly, I suspect God can see the faces and the vase simultaneously. Sometimes we simply have to trust God to tell us what-is when we cannot see it for ourselves. And God tells us that, no matter what we think of ourselves or of those around us, we all are beloved sons and daughters in God’s family. Maybe, in truth, God is the vase between us all.
The glass of water—is it half full or half empty? Of course it’s both at the same time, but how you define it makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes how we define what we are seeing actually determines what we see! Here are some important questions for you: Would you know a miracle if you saw it? The Pharisees in today’s Gospel had trouble seeing one, even though the evidence was standing right in front of them. Could that happen to us, too?
Would you know happiness if it was staring you in the face? How often do we define happiness in terms of some dream we have of the future, some imaginary vision of how our lives ought to be once the glass is totally full rather than seeing the wonder of life and love that surround us here and now? How much will it take to make you happy? And why can’t you be happy now with what you have—here, today? Should you try looking at what-is in a new way?
What do you see in the cross of Jesus? Maybe more than anything else, Jesus’ death on the cross is God trying to shock us—educate us—into seeing everything a new way. Jesus’ cross is the picture of a God-forsaken loser, a man executed by being tortured to death. But if we allow the scene to be interpreted by his last meal the night before his death—that this is his body broken for us, his blood poured out for us—this gruesome horror becomes a divine love song. Could you let this light shining in the darkness help you to see the difficulties in your own life a new way? And if you saw those difficulties a new way, don’t you think perhaps you might have a good story to tell others?
This is the vision test for Easter. What if you came to a tomb and you saw...nothing? Could you look at emptiness and think you were seeing God’s new day? Could you look at nothing and become convinced that everything had changed?
Finally, Test #5:
Yes, it’s the coronavirus. Four months ago I could not have recognized this at all! Now it is an image all too familiar. But here is the question I would like you to think about this week: How are we going to look at what happens to us here and now? The other four vision tests—and the readings for this day—invite us to see with new eyes. Like the test with the face and the vase, is it possible to look at Covid-19 not only as a deadly tragedy happening to us, but also as a way to affirm deep truths like these:
- The present moment is a precious gift we should not waste.
- We can express our love for those around us here and now.
- We can see ourselves as living water and God’s light for others.
- We can take better care of ourselves and each other—not just during the crisis but after all as well again.
If we see with new eyes, we may discover that our glass-half-empty is also the glass-half-full.
We need to also remember what the cross of Jesus reminds us: that God is never distant from us, especially in those places in our journey that seem God forsaken. If things become difficult, we need to remember that God knows from the inside-out what we are going through. We also need to remember what the open tomb of Jesus tells us. First, that God raises the dead—not only at the end of life but here in the middle, over and over. When we come to the place of emptiness, it is a sign that God does extraordinary things to give us hope.
You see, Lent is an exercise in learning to look at everything through the eyes of God—training our vision in God’s ways of grace and truth. The disciplines of Lent are lessons in seeing. Fasting helps us to get rid of the clutter and visual noise so that we can focus on what is really important. Prayer invites us to see ourselves and others in the light of the God who can save us and raise us from the dead—learning to see the world with hope. Acts of kindness propel us out of ourselves and take us to our neighbor so that in our witness they too can see the love of God. And always, through everything, shines the light of God in the face of Jesus, the one who invites us into the light, to be light—the one who gives us sight. So open your eyes and take a look, in the name of Jesus.
Sermon by Pastor Ron Roschke