"What Knowledge Frequently Lacks"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 2, 2008
This morning’s Gospel lesson is filled with themes upon which pastors could easily create timely messages for their congregations. For example, from our lesson we learn from Jesus that illness is not the result of sin or the sins of parents. We learn that healing occurred for a man blind that had not requested it. We learn how a physically handicapped man could remain invisible even to those who knew him. We learn that a blind man who received his sight was not enough physical evidence to convince religious authorities that Jesus' power came from God.
The lesson that I want to touch on this morning may be a life-issue for a number of us. We can become so resolute in our knowledge, faith and beliefs that we will not listen to any points of view that do not fit neatly into our universe of understanding.
In our lesson, the Jewish authorities chose to look upon Jesus as a sinner rather than recognizing that a man blind since birth had just had his eyesight restored. How could such thoughtful people miss the obvious? The answer is that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. To the authorities such an act translated into a major transgression of the Law of Moses. We can hardly imagine that knowledgeable people could become so entrenched in their understanding that they could not grasp the significance of what had just happened in their community.
History has generously given us countless well-known illustrations that lift up this kind of mass blindness. The first illustration deals with the Scriptures. In 1526, a renegade priest named William Tyndale dared to publish an English version of the New Testament. His Old Testament began to appear in pieces in 1530. He was coaxed out of hiding, captured, arrested and was tried for heresy. In 1536, Tyndale was strangled to death. To make sure that the message from religious authorities was abundantly clear -- that no one unauthorized person should ever translate the Scriptures -- his remains were burned publicly.
Had Eugene Peterson published his paraphrase of the Scriptures called, The Message, centuries ago, no doubt it would have cost him his life. The guardians of the strict interpretation of certain Scriptures are most uncomfortable with Peterson's work. Accelerated change, however, is causing many Christians to rethink how they understand the Scriptures. The clinical title for this wave of new thinking is called Modernity, a word that means modern.
The second illustration was a fierce exchange between Galileo and the Pope. Galileo had worked with mathematical findings of Copernicus and confirmed that the earth rotated around the sun. The Papal authorities taught that the earth was the center of the universe and all heavenly bodies were in orbit around it. There was a clash of scientific evidence and a belief.
In 1633, Galileo was tried by the Inquisition and found guilty. He was sentenced to house arrest. It made no difference that he and the Pope had been college roommates, the sentence stood. It was only in 1992 B 16 years ago -- that Pope John Paul II asked that Galileo's conviction be overturned. The Pope concluded that church authorities had used the best knowledge that was available at the time in making their decision but they had been mistaken. He further went on record to say that greater care would be taken in the future when the Church considers matters of science and faith.
A third illustration was when Doctors Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur teamed up in the 1870s to make it mandatory that all surgical procedures use sterile dressings. Carbolic acid was used as the sterilizing agent. All physicians were made to wash their hands before treating patients. Lister and Pasteur were viciously criticized by both the British and American medical communities, even though their recommendations dramatically reduced infection and death.
What knowledge frequently lacks is openness to other possibilities. For example, right now we are facing a rare opportunity to witness the unfolding of a unique drama in American culture. We have a presidential race that will be settled eight months from now. There are a number of hot button issues facing most Americans. Will we be able to focus on the issues or will we choose our candidate for the presidency because we are thinking more about the age, gender or ethnicity of the front-runners?
Regardless of what side of the political aisle upon which we sit, listen to the political ads, to the rhetoric, to the spin candidates put on each other and the issues. Most of what we will be experiencing in future months will be attempting to manipulate how we think. Learn to watch the form in which the issues from the external world will be trying to shape you in their image. Politics is only one of many venues where the external aspects of our world have the power to do this.
Remember, this is Lent, a period of 40 days of self-reflection. This means looking at our attitudes, our thought patterns, listening to the words we use and the decibel level we achieve in expressing them. Watch how effortlessly we communicate to everyone exactly who and what we are each time our passions become inflamed and run away with us. Most of us believe that we have little in common with the Pharisees that continued to badger the formerly blind man. Let us tune in to that drama once again.
The religious authorities were still interrogating the man about the nature of Jesus. In frustration he said, “Look, I don't know if Jesus is a sinner or not. The one thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” They continued to insult him and find fault with his testimony. Finally their frustration also reached a threshold and they said, “You were born and brought up in sin and you are trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out of the synagogue. Isn't that just the best? They would not see the obvious because they remained convinced of a different truth -- nothing of God could come from someone who had broken the Law of the Sabbath.
The Pope threw Galileo off the stage. The medical community tried to throw Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur off the stage. Christian authorities burned Tyndale and threw his remains off the stage. Regardless of what we know, feel and believe, we are always like a spilled glass -- what comes out of us is precisely what was within us.
We have to remember as evolving disciples of Jesus Christ, we cannot give away skills of spirit that we find impossible to use ourselves. Jesus told us to keep watch. In order to teach others to have vision we must show them that we live in a reality that Jesus said was possible for all humankind. Are we doing that? Are we radiating what the spirit of being in heaven looks like, or are we radiating our variety of truth, i.e., our vanities, stubbornness and values? Only the former communicates what Jesus came to reveal. Amen.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Each of us is humbled, O God, when we consider your faithful, unfailing love for each of us. Help us during our time together to consider what others may observe as they see the spirit by which we live. When we believe our faith has matured, the presence of an old habit reminds us of the distance we have yet to grow. Our responses to being hurt remind us of sensitivities that have not yet healed. The unkind words we say reveal how easy it is to give utterance to our loveless thoughts. Help us to remember, O God, that we are students here, learning from our life experiences. While we fail many times in revealing the love of which we are capable, your encouraging spirit still inspires us to stretch toward new beginnings. Our growth reminds us that there are levels of consciousness we can still reach. Thank you for teaching us how to make all things new. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
"Merciful God, may Sunday not be the only occasion this week when we remember that we are in Lent. As we consider placing our lives under our personal introspective microscope, may we pause to examine our pettiness; our expressions of frustration born from a world that will never be the way we want it. Help us to recall the smiles we chased from the faces of loved ones because of words we spoke in haste. We thank you, God, for creating us with the ability to change how we think, to reframe our attitudes and to replace our fears with the far more powerful skills of trust and faith that life is unfolding in a way that enhances who we are becoming.
Help us to remember that faith means believing in and trusting in a world that we cannot fully understand or interpret with our five senses. And yet, how powerful the guidance is that comes from the voice that beckons us toward kindness and generosity, the voice that helps us silence our anxieties and fears, and the voice that tells us that compassionate living is a priceless gift that we can give away.
As we experience our moments together this morning, we pray for those who are sitting beside us. We pray for our national leaders B many who are in the throes of transition, for our troops stationed around the world and for those of us who have followed our calling by using our vocation as a place to be in ministry and mission. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus who taught us to say when we pray . . .