“Sometimes A Mirror Helps”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – March 26, 2017

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 23; John 9:13-34

    This morning we are going to reflect on what has preoccupied countless people for most of their lives. We are going to examine what sharply divided opinions do to us.  

    Today we are keenly aware of these divisions partly because of the way our news is presented. Years ago, the news anchors simply reported events.  These reports were given by CBS's Walter Cronkite (1962-1981) or NBC's The Huntley-Brinkley Report (1956-1970). Today news reporters not only report the news but they editorialize with some analysis of what the news might mean.  In the past we did not have labels like liberal and conservative given to our news commentators.

    The Pharisees in our lesson today are an example of a point-of-view that they could not abandon.  They were adamant that a blind man could not have been healed by a sinner.  Once again Jesus had broken the law by healing someone on the Sabbath.  No one among the religious authorities was celebrating the fact that a man had been healed. They were only interested in criticizing the one who did it.

    The authorities had actually become so angry that a blind man could now see, that they held hearings and did their own investigation about the blind man's identity.  John's lengthy description of this event captures his fascination with the Pharisees' insistence that they were dealing with fake news.  

    The blind man became so annoyed by the continued questioning from the religious authorities that he said:

What about receiving my sight do you not understand?  I was blind and now I see. It is that simple.  No one has ever heard of a blind man receiving his sight when he was born blind.  Unless Jesus was a man of God, he would not have been able to do this.   (John 9:30f)

    The Jewish authorities replied, "You were born and brought up in sin -- and you are lecturing us?"  After saying these words, they threw him out of the synagogue.  (John 9:34) There was no way that the truth would have persuaded them to change their minds.

    What causes the minds of many of us to become so insistent on our variety of truth that we remain blind to all other points-of-view?  We can become so committed to what we see that we personalize events that are not to our liking.  On numerous occasions our passions can become so involved that we suspend our common sense. Someone needs to hold a mirror in front of us when we get like this so that we can see what our beliefs and passions are doing to us. 

    For centuries, Christians have drawn battle lines between each other over the authority of the Scriptures.  Seminary professors have been terminated because of what they were teaching.  For many Christians, the Bible must be understood as coming from a word for word dictation from God. The Scriptures have become their God.  From their point of view, those who believe otherwise are lost.

    When the Church held secular as well as sacred power over the lives of citizens, the institution actually killed individuals for teaching points-of-view that were counter to the teachings of Scripture.  No one dared to hold up a mirror in front of the religious authorities and ask, "Why have your beliefs turned you into murderers?"  Nothing, however, has stopped the flow of new information that continues to erode the accuracy of the Biblical narrative.

    Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618) was a mariner. When he landed in South America, he encountered many species of animals that had not been identified in Europe.  In his journal, he questioned, "How could Noah have gotten these animals into the Ark?"

    On February 13, 1633, Galileo (1564-1642) faced the Holy Inquisition and was tried for heresy by Pope Urban VIII. His crime was that he confirmed the findings of Copernicus, the astronomer, who found the sun and not the earth was the center of our solar system. He was sentenced to die unless he retracted his statements.  Galileo publicly announced that his findings were mistaken.  The Holy Inquisition, however, confined him to house-arrest until his death.   

    Charles Darwin (1809-1882) shared scientific evidence that humanoids roamed the earth 600,000 to a million years ago.  Hence, the studies in the evolution of man produced questions about the accuracy of the two creation stories found in Genesis.  His discoveries started the fierce debate between the Creationists and the Evolutionists.

    Sir Leonard Woolley (1880-1960) was an archaeologist that did extensive excavations in Mesopotamia.  He scientifically documented that a universal flood could not have occurred.  He uncovered massive mud slicks that demonstrated that there were massive floods, but hundreds of miles from those flood sites there was no evidence of a flood having occurred at the same depths.   

    Egypt had extensive, accurate historical records during the period recorded in the Bible when Moses led the Exodus of the Jews. There is no mention in Egyptian records of the ten plagues or of the drowning of Pharaoh and his charioteers. (Exodus 14:6-28)  In 1881, the mummies of Ramesse II and his successor Merenptah were found. 

    As scientific discoveries continued to expand, the authority of the Scriptures declined as well.  Many people began to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The building of the massive cathedrals in Europe stopped at around the end of the 13th Century. People were becoming disenchanted by what had ruled their lives for centuries.

    What has not declined in the Bible's narrative, however, is its accuracy in describing human relationships that communicated like today's headlines.  Jesus' teachings have literally shaped the course of many western societies. Our psychological make-up today is near identical to those of our ancestors. 

    Our Bible Study has just concluded our review of the story of David and Bathsheba.  King David had made Bathsheba pregnant.  So that he could have her as one of his wives, he made arrangements to have her husband killed in battle. (II Samuel 11:14)   Word of David's behind the scenes activities was leaked to the grapevine media. 

    After learning of David's heinous crime, the prophet Nathan came to the King and told him news of two men that lived in the same town.  A rich man had lots of cattle and sheep.  A very poor man had one sheep that had become an intimate part of his family.  The rich man had an out-of-town guest come to his home.  Instead of preparing a meal with one of his many lambs, he went to the poor man's house and took his only lamb and slaughtered it for his guest.  The poor man was inconsolable in his grief. (II Samuel 12:1-4)

    David became so enraged after hearing this story that he said, "I swear by the living God, that the man who did this ought to die.  For having done such a cruel thing, his family must pay back four times as much as he took."  Nathan had been holding a mirror in front of David during his story-telling but the king was blind to seeing himself as others saw him.  The reality of Nathan's parable only became apparent to David when the prophet said, "You are that man."  (II Samuel 12:1-7)

    Lent offers us an important time to look at ourselves in the mirror.  Sometimes it helps us to realize how much energy and passion we are investing in our smoldering resentment over issues that are beyond our control.  Life is what it is and we are the players in a drama that began with the dawn of civilization. The cast of characters and the issues vary; the plot of division, however, remains the same. The only changes that people can make are to their spirits and personalities that they present to the world.

    Again, what do our beliefs, our political points-of-view, our passions and our attitudes communicate?  Are they enabling us to move forward or have we become captive in a prison of our own creation by a drama that is unfolding?

    Last week a friend of mine sent a series of humorous comments that held up a mirror that reflected many typical responses made by seniors. One of them fits into my message today.  It said:

Old age is not as bad as I thought it would be.  It's a good feeling when I just don't give a hoot anymore about the things that once bothered me.  Now that I am older and have grown up, I become ecstatic just to wake up in the morning with no stiffness in my joints.  

    All over the world, people are protesting about something.  They hold within themselves some discontent about issues that have tied their internal organs in knots.  Their attitudes have chased smiles from their spirits.  What can any of us do with a concern that is making us unhappy?  We can hardly imagine the solution that was reached by the author of what took place last week outside of London's Parliament. 

    Think of it.  History is going to unfold as history has in the past. It will do so regardless of the strong emotional responses of those who resist the direction in which it is unfolding.  As followers of Jesus, we should have one goal -- to rise above the drama that others create in order to play our respective roles as lovingly and as peacefully as we can. 

    We can only do this when we personally pledge allegiance to living in the Kingdom of God. So much that matters to us really does not matter.  Jesus could easily have said to his detractors, "So what if I broke the laws concerning the Sabbath.  A man that was blind can now see."  Responses like these come as a result of emotionally detaching oneself from a world where everyone has their own points-of-view that are given birth from holding controlling opinions.

    If we look carefully we can see that Lent holds a mirror in front of us.  Never once did Jesus surrender his loving presence during his arrest, the lack of justice during his mock-trial, his sentence of crucifixion and his suffering on the cross.  It was as if Jesus was holding up a mirror in front of future generations and asking:    

Can you love in the face of being betrayed and abandoned by your closest friends, after experiencing a gross miscarriage of justice and after hearing people telling lies about you?  Can you love while suffering on a cross?  Look at what the unfolding of history and its interpretation has done with my death.  My dream was that it would help men and women to consider their own reflections in a mirror that I am still holding.  

    Even in the midst of living in a world where right and wrong appear to dominate, love in all its many forms still triumphs.  We must express this creative energy as often as we can.  This is who we really are. We never know what God can create through what we do.



What peace comes over us, O God, when we understand that you love us just as we are.  We are so much like students who have come to the Master carpenter to learn how to build a life.  We thank you for inspiration and guidance.  We thank you for the ability to change our minds, to refine our thoughts and to set our sights on more wholesome horizons.  Spare us from attitudes that make us complacent, comfortable and satisfied with who we have become.  Help us to remember that each day is a gift, each relationship is a treasure and each moment of uncertainty is a time when we can allow our trust in you to become visible.  Use us as channels of healing during our moments with others.  Amen.



Eternal God, as we experience these days of Lent, for many people they have merely been like other days of Spring.    Yet for us who have actively looked within ourselves, we have found much to think about, particularly if we have been interested in changing the spirit by which we live.           

We have wrestled with a desire to exert more control over our destiny.  Jesus invited us to bloom where we are planted.  We often love, expecting to be loved in return. Jesus taught us that authentic love expects nothing.  We have cried "unfair" when our idea of justice has not prevailed. Yet we are reminded by Jesus' trial and murder that sometimes justice, fairness and truth are not a part of everyone's experience.  We confess that quite often many of our responses are more of a knee-jerk reaction rather than a thoughtful response.  We remember that when it was the righteous that crucified Jesus, you did not intervene.  You turned the other cheek.   

What a joy it is for us to understand that Jesus came to teach us, to lead us and to liberate us from the poverty often generated by our own thoughts and beliefs.  As we follow his guidance, grant us confidence as we enter our tomorrows with a deeper understanding of our calling to be faithful during all circumstances.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .