Monday, March 27, 2017

Sunday's Sermon - It’s Not Where You Start; It’s Where You Finish!

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 26, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


John 9:1-41

Image result for Jesus man born blindAnd as he was going, [Jesus] saw a man who was blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, him or his ancestors, so that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he sinned nor his ancestors, but so that the work of God might be revealed in him. We must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as in the world I might be, I am the light of the world.”

After he’d said these things, he spat and made mud from the spittle, and he smeared his mud on the eyes and he said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means “sent”). Then he went and washed, and he came seeing. Now the neighbors and those who were used to seeing him when he was a beggar said, “This is the one who used to be sitting and begging, isn’t it?” Others said, “He is.” Others said, “No, it is another like him.” This one said, “I am.”

Then they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” This one answered, “The man who is called Jesus made mud and smeared it on my eyes and he said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then after I went and washed, I could see again.” And they said to him, “Where is this person?” He said, “I don’t know.” They brought him to the Pharisees, the person who was once blind. But it was the Sabbath day when Jesus made mud and restored his sight. Then the Pharisees also began [to ask] how he could see again. But he said to them, “Mud he put upon my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Then certain Pharisees said, “This person is not from God, because the Sabbath he didn’t keep.” But others said, “How is a person who’s a sinner perform a sign such as this?” And they were divided concerning him. Then they said to the blindman again, “What do you say concerning him, because your eyes were opened?” And he said, “He is a prophet.”

Then the Jews didn’t believe him, that he was blind and couldn’t see until they’d called the parents of the one who could see and they asked them, saying, “Is he your son, the one who you say was born blind? Then how can he see now?” Then his parents answered and said, “We know that he is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now can see, we don’t know nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said these thing because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that if any might acknowledge the Christ, then he was out of the synagogue. For that reason, his parents said, “He is of age. Ask him.” Then they called the man who was blind a second time and said to him, “Give glory to God. We ourselves know that this man is a sinner.” Then this person answered, “If he is a sinner, I don’t know. One thing I do know, that though blind, now I see.” Then they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “Already I said to you and you don’t listen. Again, what do you want to hear? You don’t also want to become his disciples, do you?” And they abused him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We ourselves know that God has spoken to Moses. But this one, we don’t know from where he comes.” The man answered and said to them, “For in this is an astonishing thing, that you yourselves don’t know from where he came, and he opened my eyes. We know that to a sinner, God doesn’t listen, but if a person might be devout and might do his will, then this person he hears. From eternity, it has not been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person who was born blind. If this person is not from God, then he could do nothing.” They answered and said to him, “In your sins you were completely born, and do you teach us?” And they threw him out.

Jesus heard that they threw him out, and found him and said to him, “Do you believe in the son of man?” This person answered and said, “And who is he, Lord, so that I might believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “And you have seen him and the one who is speaking with you is that person.” And he began to say, “I believe, Lord.” And he worshiped him. And Jesus said to him, “For judgement, I into this world came, so that those who don’t see might see, and those who see might become blind.”

Some Pharisees who were with him heard these things, and they said to him, “We’re not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, then you don’t have sin. But now you say, ‘We see.’ Your sin remains.”

It’s Not Where You Start; It’s Where You Finish!

Well, here we are, the last Sunday in March, and y’all know what that means. Now, I’d be willing to bet that what I have in mind is different from what most of y’all are thinking. I mean, some of y’all are thinking about things like spring or warm weather, maybe Easter, you know something like that; that’s what the end of March is all about. But you know, if you were a teenage boy, growing up in the heart of ACC country or a young preacher living right between IU and Purdue, man, the coming of March meant just one thing that can be summed up in one word: Madness.

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In other words, we’re near the end of the NCAA basketball tournament and about to crown a new national champion. Now, I’ve got to admit, I was a whole lot more fired up about that in the past, you know, when I was younger. But still, even though I don’t think I’ve watched a whole college basketball game this season, I’m still looking at the brackets, and I read the box scores, and take it to the bank, I’ll be watching the final game. And I’ll tell you, winning that game, man, it can transform an entire season. I mean, it really doesn’t matter how mediocre you’ve been all year, if you can pull it together at the end, if you can figure out how the game is played and if you lift up that trophy, you’ve had a successful season. You are a winner. Because as anyone in basketball will tell you, it’s not where you start that’s really important. It’s where you finish.

That’s just the way it is in basketball and all sports and you know, I think even in life itself: where you wind up at the end of the journey, good night, even where you are right now, whether or not you’ve learned from your mistakes and grown, how you’re treating people today and will treat them tomorrow, that’s what’s most important. And I don’t care if you’re talking about the work you do or the relationships you have or the kindness you show, where you finish, or even where you are, well, that’s really important. Of course, how you can get there...man, that’s the challenge, isn’t it? And you know it’s interesting, I think we see the same kind of in the passage we just read a little while ago, you know, the story about Jesus healing a person who was born blind.

Image result for Jesus man born blindYou see, in this little story, something really neat happens: while one person starts physically blind but gradually regains his sight physically and spiritually, until in the end he said to Jesus, “I believe, Lord;” we also have a whole group of folks, the Pharisees and later the Jews, who start with all kinds of insights,  you know, vision but who, during the course of the story, become more and more spiritually blind, leading Jesus to say, “For judgement, I into this world came, so that those who don’t see might see, and those who see might become blind.” Now that’s what happens and I’ll tell you, that’s why I think this story just reenforces the idea that it’s not where you start that’s important; it’s where you finish. And you know something else, because I think this idea is right here in the passage, by looking at what the two sides did and didn’t do, well, I think we might get some clues that just might help us figure out how we can end better than we started, you know, how we might become stronger in our relationship not just with God, but also with one another.

For example, given what happened in the story, if we want to move up and on, maybe we should avoid the example of the Pharisees, you know, the ones who started strong but ended up blind. In other words, maybe we should dodge some of the attitudes and actions that caused them to lose ground, opinions and behavior that I think a lot of us do all the time. I mean, just think about what happened.

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First, right from the beginning those guys were absolutely certain that they were right, weren’t they? Man, they immediately made some assumptions that they never questioned regardless of what came up. Remember, after the guy was given his sight and he was brought to the Pharisees, they realized that the healing had taken place on the wrong day, this wonderful, incredible act of love and grace had occurred on the Sabbath, and immediately, those fine religious people made an assumption that they never questioned, that what Jesus had done was wrong; therefore, Jesus must be one bad hombre. Remember they said, “this person is not from God...” Why? “...because the Sabbath he didn’t keep:” period, close the book, Elvis has left the building. Man, with nothing more substantial than their own assumptions, these guys were absolutely certain they were right. And you know, I just wonder, how many times I’ve gotten into trouble, and I’m talking about trouble at church and certainly at home, because I was just as certain that I’m right. And I’m glad Debbie’s not here, because I think she might be able to give you a number. I’m right about what we should do. I’m right about what I said. I’m right about what she thought. I’m right, by gum, and if you can’t see it... Man, it’s mighty hard to grow, when you think you know it all already. That’s one problem that I think we share with the Pharisees.

Image result for ignoring truthAnd second, as they went about their business, you know, as they investigated the healing, they seemed a whole lot more interested in proving themselves right, than in finding the truth. Now, on the surface, their investigation of what happened would sure seem to be thorough, that is, until you look at the kind of questions they asked. I mean, this was wild. First, they tried to get his parents to say that their son wasn’t really blind, and when that didn’t work, second, they tried to pressure the guy healed to say that Jesus had done some hocus pocus to accomplish the healing. Man, they weren’t looking for the truth; they just wanted to be right. And don’t we do the same thing, don’t we do the same thing when we’re in a discussion and we throw out some odd little fact to catch the other person off guard or maybe an unrelated past hurt to made them feel guilty or a well-timed shot to make them mad. Let’s be honest, the goal isn’t to learn or grow, it’s to win. It’s to be the one who is acknowledged as right. And just like it was to the Pharisees, that’s what’s important to us, regardless of what it does to us or to others or to our relationships. That was another problem.

And third, when they reached their conclusion, they rejected anything that didn’t fit in with their beliefs. Jesus was bad. Forget that God would never give this kind of power to a sinner. Forget that we’re talking about a person born blind. Forget that “from eternity, it has not been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person who was born blind. If this person is not from God, then he could do nothing.” Forget all that. He healed on the Sabbath; therefore, he’s a sinner, case closed. Don’t bother me with the facts. Forget that I’ve been late to work three days this week; my boss has it in for me, right? Forget that they bought me a car; my parents don’t love me, right? Forget that he works forty hours a week plus; my husband doesn’t appreciate me enough, right? She, they, he’s a sinner, case closed. Don’t bother me with the facts. The third problem.

Image result for blind phariseesAnd I’ll tell you, after reading it, I’m not at all surprised those guys ended the passage as blind as a bat. In my book, not an example we should follow. But of course, thankfully, that’s not the only example, because right here we’ve got the example of someone who certainly finished strong, a person who grew in his understanding and his faith, a guy who went from blindness to 20-20 spiritual vision. And of course, I’m talking about the man born blind, who can, if we let him, serve as both an inspiration and an example for us all. I mean, just look at what he did and didn’t do and imagine what would happen to us if we did the same thing.

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For example, first, from the beginning and throughout the passage this guy was really honest about what he knew and didn’t know. I don’t think anyone could accuse him of making outlandish assumptions. My goodness, as I read his responses, it sounds like his giving Grand Jury testimony. Talk about sticking to the facts. Jesus smeared on mud and his eyes were opened. That’s what happened, and on just about everything else, he simply said, “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.” I saw a poll a few weeks ago about fixing our tax code and about 95% of the people polled had an opinion and 5% said “I don’t know.” Well, I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know. I don’t know the best way to fix the tax code or health care or illegal immigration, anymore than I know why the church attendance is kind of spotty. And I sure don’t know why sometimes Debbie is uncomfortably quiet over dinner. I just don’t know why, that is, until I ask her. And I think asking is whole lot better than just assuming. And just remember what people say happens when you assume. Frankly, none of us may be as smart as we think we are; therefore, like the blind man, we need to be honest about what we know and don’t know. That’s one trait we can claim.

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And second, I want you to notice how he took his time before he came to his conclusion. While the pharisees were jumping, he was taking one step after another. Man, he was listening and he was thinking and he was waiting until he understood what was going on, before he concluded. And you know something, maybe we need to do the same. We just plain need to take our time; we need to listen and think, man, we need to read before we close the book. Now having said that, I know that runs against what our society teaches and promotes. For reasons that I don’t understand, we put a much higher value on decisive action than patient study and careful planning. And maybe that explains why we tend to make plenty of mistakes and we make them over and over again. I’ll tell you, before we decide to run with the herd, maybe we should slow down and remember what Lincoln said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” The guy in the story was quiet before he spoke, he was patient and maybe so should we. That’s number two.

Image result for open to changeAnd third, when that formerly blind man reached his conclusion, he was open to change. Man, he moved from, “I don’t know” to “He’s a prophet” to “I believe, Lord.” Now, that’s change. And for us, maybe we need to be open to change as well. Now this may be a shock to y’all, but no where in the Bible do I see stubbornness listed as a virtue. In fact, it’s just the opposite. You know, we’ve all been called to confess our sins, in other words, to recognize and admit that we’re not perfect. And you know, the word repentance means “to change one’s mind.” And conversion is one of the most important things that can happen to a person. Now you tell me, how is a person able to confess, how is he able to repent, how is he able to convert, if he’s not also willing to recognize that he may need to review, revise and reform. Like that blind man, we need to be open to change. In him, we have an example to follow.

And you know, it’s interesting, when it comes to March madness, I’ve changed. I’m not mad anymore. And this stuff about change, I think we can see the same thing in this passage, a passage in which, on one hand, the Pharisees assumed they had the answers and focused on proving themselves right and disregarded everything and everyone that didn’t fit into their assumptions and they became more and more blind. And on the other hand, the former blind man, who was honest about what he knew and took his time and was willing to change throughout the story, he gained more and more sight. You see, along the tournament and I’ll tell you, life in general, I think this passage reminds us that it’s not where you start; it’s where you finish; that’s what’s important.

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