John 9:1-7, 35-41
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.
35Jesus heard that they had driven [the man] our, 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 worshipped 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.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spent what you get on your pleasures. 4Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. 9Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
This is the Word of the LORD
It's good to be back in my pulpit after a week away at Presbyterian CREDO. I missed y'all. It was wonderful to reconnect with a group of pastors who have become a wonderful support system for me over the last year, and to reevaluate the work I did last year. I flew back in to Charlotte Monday evening and was most excited to see Leah and William, but was also spiritually refreshed and ready to continue the ministry this congregation and I are doing together.
We started this journey through James on Ash Wednesday, three and a half weeks ago. We read how we are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. The Sunday after that, James taught us that faith is a verb, something we do. Hearing the Word of the LORD, as we do every Sunday, is not enough, we've got to Do the Word. Then, on the second Sunday in Lent, I wrestled with James and the relationship between faith and works. Faith that doesn't find expression in works doesn't do anybody much good. If we have faith, then we will live it. If we faith Jesus, then we will follow him, no matter where he leads us.
It's good to be back in my pulpit after a week away at Presbyterian CREDO, and as beautiful as Loranger, Louisiana, is this time of year, that's not the end point to which Jesus is leading me.
Although there are many good and pleasant oases on our journey following Jesus, they are all along the road to the cross. That's where Jesus is headed, and as followers of Jesus Christ, that's where we ought to be headed as well. The focus of the Lenten season is preparing ourselves to join Jesus at the cross.
James is here to prod us along on our journey. “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?”
No congregation that’s been around longer than about eight years is a stranger to conflict. Even in the New Testament, as soon as we got a few years into the church, fights start popping up. Most of Paul’s letters address some problem or another. It’s not original to the Church either, think about how long it took the Israelites to start grumbling and fighting amongst themselves after God brought them out of Egypt.
No matter the time or place, people are people, and conflicts will arise. Different folks fight about different content, like the color of the carpet, or whether or not to throw out an old, broken, decoration, or what kind of paint would best show the crosses and other decorations.
Sometimes the content of the conflict revolves around less trivial issues: the order of worship, who is welcome to participate or lead in the church, or stewardship.
James totally bypasses all the content. He does not seem to care what we may be in conflict about, for him it’s all symptoms of our sinfulness.
Coming from CREDO, I got to hear stories from my brothers and sisters about the kinds of conflict that wrench churches apart. All of us were able to share a story or two, conflict within a community is normal, "...if everyone observed moderation, they would not have disturbed and annoyed one another.” Some of the stories, however, crossed into some really nasty acting out, both from the congregation and from their pastor. After all, we Christians are forgiven, but we’re forgiven sinners. The relapse rate is 100%.
Our congregation has had its share of conflict too. Sometimes it even has gotten heated. James doesn’t much care what we fight about, he cares why we’re fighting. For James, our conflict comes from our sinful cravings and from our obsession with the rewards of the world, as opposed to seeking the service of the LORD.
I’ve spoken a couple of times this season about my trouble with James, but this is a place where James and I agree. The human tendency is towards sin. We’re instinctively drawn to selfishness and short-sightedness. It is only through the guidance of God the Holy Spirit that we are able to accomplish good. James assumes this to be true and sees our conflict as the symptom of the sin that tarnishes all our actions. "Those who acknowledge their dependence on God will receive the grace to overcome the passions that distort human life...Left on their own, human beings would not be able to see beyond the unruly passions that dominate their life.”
James takes a pretty hard line on this kind of thing. “Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Conflict in our community is evidence that we have been unfaithful to the one we claim to be following. Faith is made complete by works, so what do our works show our faith to be in?
In our gospel story this morning, the disciples ask Jesus to settle a theological debate. The thinking of the time was that any physical infirmity was God’s judgment on this sinful. So for a man who was born blind, was he born already guilty of sin, or was God punishing the parents by blinding their child? “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus, of course, totally sidesteps the question about sin and illustrates the power of God to do amazing things. He spits in the dirt, smears the mud in the mans eyes and sends him off to wash and be healed.
Almost the entire rest of the chapter is a fight in the community. God has done this miraculous thing in their midst, and they spend an astonishing amount of a very long chapter arguing about whether the man was actually born blind, whether this was actually the man they knew, and who actually did the healing. Their faith was in their tradition. In the habits they had developed for understanding the world around them. Their faith was so strong that they were completely blind to the what God was showing through this man who had his sight, not restored, but created for the first time in his life.
They end up driving him out, rather than being changed by the works God has revealed through him.
That’s the enmity of the world at work. That the sin that gives rise to conflicts and disputes. That the adultery that James is calling out. Our desires lead us to worldly gain, to human position, but those are short-lived promises, and they run contrary to the covenant we have with the one who made us and who loves us without fail. ”James meant briefly this - that our desires ought to be bridled: and the way of bridling them is to subject them to the will of God."
This passage is more than a scolding, this is good news. Even though we have been unfaithful to the LORD and have pursued worldly passions, the end is not rejection, but renewed connection with God through the grace of Jesus Christ, shown most clearly on the cross.
That’s where we’re headed. That’s where this lenten journey and where our study of James is leading us. We set aside the things that lead us into the wilderness of sin and draw near to God, knowing that God has already drawn us close, and is drawing nearer to us with every step on the road towards Jerusalem.