Sunday, March 30, 2014

“Damn if You Do, Damn if You Don’t” (John 9:1-41)

One of the great frustrations I have in life is being doubted.  I once borrowed the family station wagon when I was in high school so that a group of us friends could go to a movie.  As was the usual procedure, my father gave me the strict lecture about responsibility and not doing anything stupid . . . like going out and hot rodding, or drinking and driving.  The usual lecture that made me feel like Charlie Brown listening to his teacher . . . yada, yada, yada.   In one ear and out the other.

So the adventure began.  I picked up my friends—who all happened to be members of our church’s youth group—and proceeded to the movie theater.  After the movie we headed out for some pizza before heading home.  So far there was no hot rodding . . . no drinking and driving . . . and, then a flat tire.  The tire just suddenly went . . . whop, whop, whop.  Three of us hopped out, changed the tire, and threw the flat into the back.  I dropped every off and headed home. 

The house was dark when I got home, so I went straight to bed.  A couple of hours later my father barged into my bedroom demanding to know what in the world I was doing the evening before . . . was I out there hot rodding around in the family station wagon (Now, you tell me, how much hot rodding can one do in a station wagon?) . . . had I been partying, drinking, and then driving?  In my drowsy state I said, “No.  Just got a flat tire.”  He did not believe me.  He was sure that I had done something.  I told him to call my friends . . . he just laughed and said something about a collaborative story.  Nothing I said . . . nothing I produced . . . could change his mind.  He was certain that I had been up to no good.  Even twenty-five years after the fact he still believed I had done something he told me not to do. 

Damn if you do, damn if you don’t.
I cannot think of anyone who enjoys being doubted . . . enjoys being questioned when telling the truth . . . likes being called a liar . . . being told that they are wrong when they are clearly in the right.  No one! 
Which brings us to our scripture reading this morning . . . Jesus healing a man who had been blind since birth.  As Jesus and his disciples are walking along they encounter a man who is obviously blind.  The disciples pose a question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  That is a fairly legitimate question considering the mindset of the times . . . the mindset that calamity, disability, and even hardships were caused by sin . . . sin either by the person or the relatives of the person.  The disciples had inquiring minds and they wanted to know, is this man’s blindness due to his own sin or the sins of his parents?
Jesus answers them bluntly . . . neither.  Then he proceeds to spit on the ground, make some mud, smear it on the man’s eyes, and tell him to go and wash the mud away.  The man does as he is told and suddenly he can see.  Filled with great joy at being able to see, he heads home.  His neighbors don’t believe it . . . it must be someone else, but the guy insists that it is him and he can see.  He tells them the whole story . . . every detail . . . and, he tells them that it was Jesus who did it.  He tells them that it was an act of God . . . a miracle.  They don’t buy it.
Because they don’t believe the man, they haul him before the local Pharisees to get down to the facts.  Again, he tells the story . . . word for word what he has told his neighbors.  The Pharisees don’t believe him . . . tell him that it could not be because no person—especially a holy person—would do such an act as this on the Sabbath.  They don’t buy it.  They demand that the man’s parents come and prove that this is their son . . . the son who had been blind since birth.
The parents come.  They vouch that this is their son.  They do not quite understand what is going on, but they tell the Pharisees and all those gathered that this is their son.  Then they state that he is of age and can speak for himself—ask him if you don’t believe us.  And so, the man was brought back before the Pharisees again, questioned again, and stood by his story.  He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see!”
From there is turned into a mess.  The Pharisees started calling the man all sorts of names.  They started putting down Jesus.  They lectured the man about his affront to their senses . . . told him, how dare he lecture them since he was a sinner.  Then they threw him out.
Tell me . . . is this not a good example of:  “damn if you do, damn if you don’t”?
Frustrating, isn’t it?  Frustrating when you know . . . when you know deep down in the deepest reach of your soul that you are right and telling the truth . . . and, no one believes you.  We encounter this in our daily lives, and we encounter this in our spiritual lives . . . people who doubt the truth that guides our lives . . . and, it is frustrating.  Nothing we present, nothing that we say, will sway the doubters to believe us or believe that we are saying.
Yet, we are called to carry on. 
Imagine how that man must have felt after sharing the greatest thing in the world happening to him . . . gaining his sight after a lifetime of blindness . . . and no one wanting to believe him.  Imagine how that man must have felt when his own parents, not wanting to rock the boat, basically abandon him to fend for himself.  Imagine how that man must have felt after being grilled by the neighbors and the local religious police, being ridiculed and insulted, and then throw out into the streets.  I do not know about you, but if it had been me, I would have been pretty low.
And, he was . . . but, the story didn’t end there.  Jesus caught wind of what had happened to the man, and came to visit the man.  The two of them talked . . . Jesus confirms him, and the man affirms his belief.  The man is on the right track whether anyone else believes him or not . . . Jesus believes in him.  Overhearing the conversation, a couple of Pharisees do not care for what Jesus is inferring about those who think that theirs is the only way.  They ask Jesus whether or not he is referring to them as being “blind”.  Basically he tells them that if the shoe fits . . . wear it.
We are called to carry on.
The season of Lent is a time of exploration of our spiritual lives.  It is a time of delving into understanding who it is that God created us to be.  It is a time of intimacy in the presence of God and discerning what claim . . . what promise . . . what call God has placed upon our lives.  It is a time of standing before the truth, accepting it, and living it.  And, as we all eventually discover . . . it is a time of frustration as we embrace this gift and share it with others.  We hear questions.  We hear doubts.  We hear ridicule.  We hear laughter.  We hear denial.  No one believes us when we share that we are going to live our lives as God has called us to live them. 
The result?  The honest result?  Is that we begin to doubt . . . doubt ourselves . . . doubt our call . . . doubt our God.  With such doubt it is difficult to carry on.  Then suddenly we find ourselves in that nexus between “damn if you do, damn if you don’t”.  That, too, is a part of the adventure of Lent . . .
Well, I can assure you that I never lied to my father whether he believed me or not.  I cannot change the truth and if he went to his grave believing that I had done something I shouldn’t have done that night to cause a flat tire . . . well, that is his issue to grapple with.  In the meantime, I carried on the best that I could through life.
Same goes for the man who received his sight after a lifetime of blindness.  He experienced the truth . . . he shared the truth . . . and, if no one believed him; well, that is their problem.  The question Jesus raises is who is really the blind in the story.  That is an issue that they must grapple with.  All the man could do is to carry on with what was God’s call upon his life.
That is all that any of us can do . . . we carry on.  Sure, it is no fun being doubted . . . no fun being stuck between the rock and the hard place of “damn if you do, damn if you don’t” . . . but, that is what Jesus wants us to do.  Here in the season of Lent we have this opportunity to step before those who doubt us . . . to step before ourselves with our own doubts . . . and to affirm God’s call upon our lives . . . to carry on.
Jesus asked the man, “Do you believe?”
The man responded that, yes, he believed.
Then carry on.  Amen.

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