Monthly Archives: March 2017

In sight?

This week many British churches will be taken up with Mothering Sunday (and there is a Dialogue Sketch on that theme here), but the lectionary provides a reading from John 9:1-41 for others.

It is a story of a blind man coming to sight – and a great deal more than just physical sight (remarkable as that was, and is, in someone who have never been able to see).  It is made clear that the healing of his eyes is only a start.  He then has to struggle with some heavy questioning before he finds Jesus in a new way, and is able to “see” more profoundly.

Alongside this happy story is another, of increasing blindness.  By verse 41 Jesus has harsh words for those who say they are spiritually able to see, but cannot.  The division is there in v16, and has hardened by v24.

Is this still true?  Yes.  There are those today who are finding “sight”.  There are also others, even within religion, who are not.  We say that we walk in the light.  What happens if that isn’t true?

  • the occasional failure can be repented of and forgiven
  • but when we fail to recognise God at work, and persist in that opinion -!

The challenge is to speak of what we know.  We are intended to know God.  If we fail to know, become complacent, or imagine that God must work according to our traditions, that is far worse even than physical blindness.

Evangelism Masterclass

Jesus has had a hard day.  Walking in the hot sun, he is glad to sit and rest, even without a drink.  Yet, tired and thirsty, he can find the energy for a conversation. (John 4:1-42).  His disciples will be surprised to find him talking to a Samaritan woman, and one who came to the well at midday to avoid company.  Soon she finds his perception hard – these are things she didn’t want to talk about, but still does.

People coming to new faith may face up to things otherwise forgotten by choice.  Christians coming closer to God as they turn away from all that is wrong may also find the process challenging.  Though they cannot begin again, each day brings the choice of going on, or not.

Jesus didn’t want the effort, but took the opportunity.  The woman didn’t like being so well understood, and created a distraction (the proper place to worship – the Samaritan or Jewish centre), but Jesus avoids it.  The conversation continues until the woman leaves to bring others.  They begin in curiosity, but as Jesus stays, they gain a faith of their own which no longer depends on second hand reports.

Jesus has taught us three things about being changed – converted.  First, we have to face facts, even hard ones.  Second, we need to avoid distractions.  Third, the experience has to be their own for each person; second hand won’t do.  This is true for our own conversion, but also for our going on in faith day by day, year by year.  It is equally true for evangelism, as we try, with courtesy and urgency, to share faith with others around us.

Perhaps the twinning of this story with Exodus 17:1-7 (and its echo in Psalm 95) is fortunate.  We don’t easily face up to hard facts about ourselves and our faith (or lack of it).  Evangelism, and repentance, are for many a hard place.  But when we find God there, the benefits flow like water in the desert.

Good – but not enough!

Nicodemus deserves credit (John 3:1-17).  He comes to Jesus – yes, at night, which might look embarrassed, but also allows him to ask questions freely.  He already has a life of disciplined goodness.  We suspect Pharisees, and some were guilty of pride and religious red tape, but for others the life meant knowing and living the Old Testament Law in detail.  Perhaps most important, he wants to know more.  That is good.

So, why does Jesus ask him such difficult questions?  We might have thought this polite man an ideal disciple – or church member.  But it seems that he won’t do.  Why?  Jesus refers (v13,14) to his ministry and his coming death.  What Nicodemus knows is not enough – for him, or for other good people.  Christian faith depends on what God does and gives – Jesus and his sacrificial death.  There are real benefits in living a good life, following the commandments, but that is incomplete.

Nicodemus goes away puzzled, but doesn’t give up.  He reappears in the pages of the gospel story at John 7:50, and again at John 19:39.  Sometimes the most important changes come “between events”, as the Holy Spirit works.

Our passage hasn’t finished.  v16 is one of the best known in the gospel, but we should read on.  John 3:16-21 goes on to speak of judgement.  This picture does not see God handing out suffering and pain (a deity we would find it hard to worship!)  It seems that Nicodemus was ready to come into the light.  We have to ask if we are also ready to be examined, and perhaps embarrassed, in order to receive the gift.

Target?

We begin Lent with the story of Jesus temptation.  He has just been baptised by John (Matthew 3:13-17), recognised not only by the Baptist, but by the heavenly voice affirming him as Son.  Then the Holy Spirit leads him away from the crowds to the wilderness, and we read Matthew 4:1-11.  It is as if the heavenly father adds, “But before anything else, there are a few things you need to sort out, Son.”  His forty days of fasting and struggle, the origin of our Lent, remind us both of the cost of Jesus’ ministry and also the strength he brought to this work.

Sometimes we focus on the three particular temptations – things which have so often made leaders corrupt and compromised:

  • there is the temptation to make life comfortable, a compensation for the stress of leadership.
  • there is the temptation to be a celebrity – to use power to make people take notice and obey.
  • there is the temptation to be the person who makes God do miracles.

Some of these affect us, too, and we can usefully be warned off.  But there is another thing here we can miss.  Jesus is struggling.  There is a real fight – but against who?  Many expected a Messiah to fight the Romans, but we don’t hear Jesus attacking Pilate, the Roman governor.  Herod was criticised by John the Baptist, but Jesus will not be his enemy.  He will warn people against the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, religious teachers, but they are not to be fought.  Even Judas receives kindness.

We have to understand that the fight against temptation is a fight against evil, but not a fight against other people.  (Paul says this in another way in Ephesians 6:12). No matter how stupid, how difficult to deal with patiently and in love, the enemy is not another human (for whom Jesus lived, died and rose again!), but the evil at loose in the world.  Evil will appear as pride, anger, self-pity, or in many other disguises eg as if concerned about the rights of others.  The grace is to recognise evil and temptation as cheats, with half truths and false promises.  Then with God’s help, we can go the way of real life, and freedom.