The Blindness that Stalks America
“The One who is the true light, who gives light to everyone …” (John 1:9) “…They loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. They hate the light … They stay away from the light…” (John 3:20)
In John 9 a man born blind receives his sight by washing mud off in a pool. Just like that! But the religious leaders who question the man never do see. This story’s line culminates in the extinguishing of that Light by the blind but the Light’s rekindling by God. Those who embraced that Light saw and were forever changed.
Each of the gospels reveals the progression of blindness in the minds and hearts of those who did not want to see. Like the woman whose cataracts were removed and then spent the next week in exhaustive house cleaning somewhere inside most of us have some trouble with light and what it reveals to us about ourselves.
Mark’s gospel (2:1-3:6) reveals a progressing darkness; from an honest questioning, “Who can forgive sins but God?” (2:6) to “…the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to discuss plans for killing Jesus.” (3:6)
There is an open door of questioning and discussion about race, budgets, healthcare, welfare, taxes, sexuality, and the like. When the darkness of partisanship, denominationalism, conservatism, liberalism or whatever ‘ism’ you want to call it, closes that door the result is a desire to extinguish light. This desire to put away opposition or the light of another’s perspective now characterizes our national and local political discussions. Like the crucifixion of our Lord, no matter who ‘wins’ the end will likely be ugly. Whether theologically or politically; may we embrace light, a willingness to allow that light to question us, our true motives and our heart’s desire. We may be less popular or accepted but we will sleep better at night and in eternity.
This morning I read in Matthew 2:3-5 of the interchange with Herod and the priests and teachers regarding the birth of the Messiah and where He was to be born.
What strikes me is this: These leaders studied the Scripture and they knew, THEY KNEW, that the Messiah was to come and from where He would come.
But there is no evidence they worshiped Him or followed Him. There is no evidence that as Herod mounted a military campaign to destroy this Messiah they lifted a finger to try to prevent this carnage of the innocents.
Today there is no shortage of ‘priests, preachers, scholars and teachers’ who study the Word of God and who may even be consulted for their knowledge.
But the greater question which is posed by Matthew is this: What do we do with this knowledge ? Do we have courage to do what is right even when our position or repuation are in question? In the midst of life and all that comes with it our true motives and priorities are challenged by what we do with what we know.
Our world is racing into oblivion. We are killing each other and our world. If we know the truth, if we understand the implications of the Scripture and the Gospel, how do we respond when proclaiming that message threatens us, our importance, our position, or our well being?
As we stand in our holy attire, wrapped in a feeling of righteousness because of what we know, are we stading silently to gain the favor of Herod as he inwardly hates all we stand for?
Herod was more concerned with preserving his own power and status and he used religion when it was convenient to him or ignored it when it got in his way.
When it is inconvenient to be known as His follower or if acting and speaking the Truth in Love means loss, do we lose our voice and do our feet and hands cease from obedience to His call?
Do we belong more to Herod and his kin than to the Suffering Messiah?
Lord, I fear that in my comfort with my religion I may be more like these tepid, cowardly followers of Scripture and law that I would like. If my understanding of Your Way does not cause me to live a life of courage and power then perhaps I may be unknowingly participating in the ‘murder of the innocents’. God help me, help us to abandon our quiet lives for lives of courage out of love for You. Amen.
An Old Crumpled Map
I remember the ‘good old days’ of crumpled maps and highlighters guiding us along the highway toward our desired destination.
One Sunday morning, my very first Sunday serving a new appointment in a rural church, I found myself lost on my way to my first sermon at the first of three churches and three sermons that day. My confusion arose from the fact that I could not find my current location on the crumpled map in my hands. Though I had been to the church I was following a different route I was assured was faster and better. However, with each passing moment my anxiety grew as the appointed time approached! Joyfully, a member of the church, recalling that their directions were inaccurate and concerned that my following them would never bring me there arrived and led me from there to the church just in time!
Reading Scripture this morning and thinking of the spiritual condition of our modern ailing church I wonder why a similar sense of alarm at being lost does not resound resulting in heartfelt pleas for direction and guidance.
Thinking back to that time of being lost, my anxiety was driven by the fact that I knew what the area around the church should look like and what I was seeing was nothing like it at all!
Rather than take an honest gaze at where we are as a church or as individuals we would rather have a ‘virtual’ picture of our own creation. In this fantasized view of who we are and where we are we are able to add and subtract our own impressions of our spiritual ‘location’ so that we no longer feel ‘lost’? The result of this is that no matter what our actual spiritual ‘location’ is we can feel that we are not lost at all! This is indeed the worst of all positions. Had I not known I was lost, I would have been unwilling to follow someone who understood where we were and where we needed to be. In humility I focused on the back of her car and determined not to turn or stop until she did. The result was that my anxious thoughts were replaced with true joy and peace as I saw the church and knew we had arrived.
Today we have abandoned the ‘roadmap’ of Scripture. Today we have replaced the images of what our spiritual ‘location’ should resemble; the lives of Jesus, the Apostles, intrepid pilgrims before us in favor of more ‘modern’ models. Our current mental portraits of what our spiritual location should look like are shaped by money, things, budgets, popularity, in short… our culture.
Because we are gazing at the wrong picture and we are following the wrong map we no longer feel lost. On that Sunday morning so long ago, no amount of fantasizing or wishing could have changed my lostness. Only with an understanding of the reality of my lostness and humbly following someone who knew more than I would bring me to my desired destination.
Lord help us to become honest. Grant us humility to admit that we are wrong. Grant us a willingness to lay down our crumpled cultural maps and pick up Your Divinely inspired Map. As we read of our lostness grant to us a willing mind and heart to abandon our own misguided sense of direction and follow Your Spirit whom You have sent to safely guide us home from whatever corner of this fallen world we have hung our hope. Amen.
Sitting, reading, meditating this morning before the beginning of the work day and realizing its great value I think of those I meet in the course of the day.
The world around us is driven by action and by gain. The world we live in grieves because ‘the economy’ is not performing as it should. Even the church grieves the loss of the economic engine which drove its budget.
Yet in the midst of this lost of ‘economic engine’ we have continued to receive the same gift of time, 24 hours in each and every day, to be and to become.
Our loss of this economic engine, or more accurately, its sickness, has arguable given us more of this 24 hours in each day for the pursuit of being and becoming.
Yet instead of using this gift we seem stuck in a mode of lament over our loss of what the activity of this world gives and decline in money. This is the single greatest lament I hear from those in the church.
When I take time for ‘being’ I hear no applause. When I take time for doing, visiting, launching a new program, participating in the performance of music I hear applause of some kind.
Those in the church who reap the greatest accolades are not those who focus on being present for the Lord and abiding in Christ but those who make things look good, sound good and feel good whether they are good or not.
For this reason, increasingly, success in the eyes of God in the church today will look like failure in and to the church. The ones who are praised are the ones who put on the ‘best show’ at any cost. They receive the recognition, the money, and the accolades. They are the ones who are valued, esteemed and prized for their efforts.
Therefore, time and resources are set aside for them. Their praise is upon the lips of those around and their stature grows and becomes, with time, even legendary.
While this is happening, the one who focuses on the Living Christ and takes time, precious time that could be used for doing, is considered of lesser worth and in fact at times even considered a burden or blight to the church! This is a modern fulfillment of Jesus’ experience of rejection by the religious world of His day also in which quoting Psalm 118 He says, “The stone which was rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone’. (Matthew 21:42)