Scripture - John 9:1-25
Recently the Chamber of Commerce in a little town in northeast Colorado ran some magazine ads. The little town was very comfortable & settled in, it wasn’t growing, wasn’t losing, & was doing fine when suddenly it found itself sitting on top of rich deposits of coal, oil & gas. It’s now a boomtown. The population has quadrupled, with people coming in day & night. They live in tents & trailers. They’re living upstairs, downstairs, in basements & whatever they can get. It is truly a boomtown.
The Chamber of Commerce, not wanting the town to be overwhelmed, trying to bring some order & stability to the community, has created an advertisement making a strange request. What are they advertising for? “Some good churches.” They would like for some good churches to come to that town. I don’t think they mean anything derogatory about the churches they already have; they just want some more good churches.
Do you have any idea what they want? They said good churches. I don’t know what they want. My guess would be that the Chamber of Commerce there is like the Chamber of Commerce is in many places. They like to put up a sign at the edge of town that says, “Good schools & good churches.”
That is a worthy objective & a sensible desire, good schools & good churches. Everybody wants it. Even people who don’t go to church want good schools & good churches. If you ever, because of your work, must move to another town & the big truck comes, & gets your furniture, the mover will likely say, “We’ll have your furniture there promptly in 3 months.” And you’re in your SUV, you’ve got the kids & a few lampshades & the St Bernard & you are driving on ahead. You reach the brow of the hill just before coming to your new home, & the first thing you do is search the horizon for spires & steeples. Good churches. And if you don’t see a spire or steeple you won’t live there. You must have good churches. I wouldn’t live where there weren’t good churches, even if I didn’t go to church.
I know because people tell me, including those who never attend, “You gotta have good churches. You gotta have an institution that preserves our values & takes care of things. You like to go out on Sunday morning, 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning in your bathrobe to pick up the morning paper & hear the church bells ringing. You like to know that somebody somewhere is doing the right thing. You want the kids to know the stories of Jesus. You like to know that somebody’s singing the hymns. I like to spread my morning paper & get my good hot cup of coffee out on the patio & know that somewhere there’s some people saying, ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven & earth.’ Somebody needs to be saying that & I just wouldn’t want to live in a town that doesn’t have good churches, to preserve the values we all hold dear & not let disruptive forces in.”
There are, however, some people who believe that a good church is a church that witnesses to the very clear possibility & some actual cases of life being radically changed, a community changed, a family changed, people actually changing their habits, their speech, the way they spend their money, their values actually changing radically. Now not all church members expect this. I find church members as surprised as anyone else when there’s really any radical change in anybody.
That’s the story in our text for today, John 9. It’s the story of the healing of a man who was born blind. And it’s the story of a religious community that had absolutely no expectations. God isn’t going to do anything different. We have a nice community but nothing unusual is going to happen. There is a man sitting by the road. He’s blind; perhaps he was begging. The disciples see the man & they don’t expect anything to happen, for him to be healed, for anything to be different. What they want to do is discuss it. Who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents? It was a very common opinion in that day & among some people today that if anything goes wrong in your life, you did something wrong.
I know a pastor who, when he called in the hospital, would say to the person in the bed, “What sin did you commit that this happened to you?” He entered the room of a woman with breast cancer & said, “Well, what sin have you committed?” I thought her husband would hit the preacher – who is now retired.
Some people believe it, some don’t. But what the disciples wanted to do was not help the man, not look to Jesus to change the man’s condition, but discuss it. Everywhere you go there are people like that. They’ll change the kingdom of God into a discussion group. “Who’s going to make the coffee next week?” And the church becomes a great book club.
We don’t really expect anyone to change but isn’t it interesting? It is interesting, isn’t it? Who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind. What’s your view on that? “Well, my view is, what book can we read? Let’s pick a good book & take turns chapter by chapter.” Here we are. Nothing’s going to happen. The man himself did not expect anything to happen. He’s sitting by the side of the road & I want you to notice he doesn’t say, “Jesus have mercy on me. Jesus heal me.” He doesn’t know it’s Jesus, & he doesn’t believe in Jesus. That’s important for us to remember, that God not only answers prayer but God answers some people who didn’t even pray. Sometimes God will do something for you that you didn’t ask for. You wanted it but you didn’t want it.
And the man is there suddenly discovering himself under instructions & his eyes are opened. He didn’t ask for the blessing but now he can see & he starts home. The next thing we know, the neighbors are looking out the window. Isn’t this the man that used to sit & beg?
Some said, “It is,” & others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him. Notice how he walks. He doesn’t have his dog or his cane.”
“Well, it sure looks like him. Does he have a brother?” “No, I believe that’s the same one.” “But he didn’t stumble at the curb.” “But it can’t be the same one, the other one’s been blind since he was born.” “But it looks like… no, it’s not the same one.”
It never entered their minds that he could be healed, not once. What is so surprising about the story is all of these are religious people who are shocked when somebody is different. “Well, that can’t be the same one.”
“Well, it looks like him. It must be his brother.” “No, this man looks a little taller.” “I think he looks a little shorter.” “I think it’s the same one.” “I don’t think it’s the same one. Watch him at the curb.”
Well, the authorities go to the family. And they ask, “Is this your son?”
“Yes.” “Born blind?” “Yes.” “How can he now see?”
We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, & we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. And the family gives the man absolutely no support. Isn’t that extraordinary? You would expect the family to be the first to support anybody who had just been blessed by Jesus Christ. But no, no, no. I learned a long time ago that sometimes if you are genuinely Christian, & I’m sorry to say this, it distances you from people in your own family.
There was a certain church in which the young people as Christmas approached wanted somebody in the church to play Santa Claus. They went to this one man who was a leader in the church, a banker, very, very tight with his money, but very faithful in the church. They went to him & said, “Will you be Santa Claus at our Christmas party?”
And he said, “I guess so.” It was in a moment of weakness that he said that. They didn’t ask him because he was generous or had the qualities of Santa Claus. They asked him because of his shape. He’d make a good Santa Claus so they asked, “Will you be Santa?”
And he said, “Sure, I’ll be Santa Claus.” As the day approached, he got nervous; he growled about it at supper every night. He said to his wife, “I can’t do this; I can’t be Santa Claus.” “Sure, you can, dear; just put on that silly suit & pretend. It’s no big deal.”
The night finally arrived for the church Christmas party. He was so nervous he could hardly get in the suit. “God, help me to be a good Santa Claus,” his wife heard him pray. “Dear, you are taking the fun out of it. Relax.”
He went to the church & by the end of the party he had given to the poor all he had.
“But, how could you?” his wife cried. “Nobody expected you to be Santa Claus, for God’s sake!”