The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:
s015g05 Lockleys 6/3/2005 Lent 4 Mothering Sunday
"Your sin remains". John 9.41
We have some long gospel readings at this time. They are important words, they are crucial for our understanding of the gospel.
The length of our gospel reading is entirely attributable to the stubborn and continual refusal of the people in authority to see, despite all the evidence put before them. They were so wrapped up in the correctness of their own theology that they refuse to admit the evidence that was before them, something that was plainly obvious to everyone else.
Time and again, I have been lead to reflect how so much damage is done; by the very people who are entirely certain of their own orthodoxy, innocence and rectitude, especially those who are in positions of authority, like we assume ourselves to be.
The man who had been born blind did not ask to be healed nor did he intend to become a disciple of Jesus or debate with the authorities. It is the authorities who question him; not to find the truth, but to dismiss the healing as an aberration. They are like a dog worrying at a bone; they will not let it go. It was vitally important to them that nothing disturbed their perception of the truth and their exalted status in the eyes of others. They stubbornly refused to see the good that had been done or rejoice with the healed person.
In Australia we pride ourselves in being contemptuous of politicians, though I suspect it is not confined to Australia. Synods of our Church have often been moved to pontificate on what governments should or should not do. It is, of course, right and proper that we express our opinions; but we should always do it in a spirit of thankfulness that our political system actually allows and encourages us to do so. I have sometimes suspected that the Church has come across to the government as a nagging spouse, someone who is never satisfied.
We, in the Church, have not always been good at seeing that the directions society is taking towards a more egalitarian one with opportunities for all, as good. We have been more concerned about our waning influence and authority. But if we are simply and always critical and recalcitrant, why on earth would God want to magnify our influence? We have got to do what God wants if we want God's blessing, and we have got to want to see the blessings God gives others or we will be no different from those who debated with this cured blind man and his parents, so long ago.
It should not escape our notice that the steadfast refusal of those in authority to see the good in others, when it was, as one would say, as plain as the nose on your face, leads to the condemnation: "Your sin remains". This means that the words: "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" are not a useful way to live a guilt-free existence. They define our very faith. Our faith inevitably leads us to see the way God blesses and forgives people other than ourselves, those who think and worship differently to us; otherwise we too will be steadfastly refusing to accept the evidence that is so clearly around us. And in doing so, our sin will likewise remain.
I am lead again to the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, because he perceived that his brother's offering to God was more acceptable than his own. It was all about who God would bless and who God wouldn't bless. Cain's sin was the refusal to see that God blessed his brother as well as himself.
If our religion is about who God can bless (us) and who God can't bless (others), then, guess what, our sin remains, for all the time we might spend on our knees, praising God and reading the bible.
So the question before us is can we actually call ourselves Christians without seeing that God blesses Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, agnostics, atheists, as well as politicians?
The letter to the Ephesians says: "Sleeper, awake!" The authorities were not condemned because they happened to be resting at the time and something escaped their notice. They were in a self-induced coma!
A search on the Internet reveals that the proverb: "There are none so blind as those who will not see" (the most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know) has been traced back in English to 1546, to one John Heywood.
It is clear that the impetus for blindness of the authorities lies not with God or any failure on the part of the divine to bring enough or convincing evidence, but in the refusal of those whose positions of power were threatened, because God accepted people other than themselves. Again and again those who opposed Jesus asked for a sign to make them believe, when it was them who chose to be offended that Jesus associated with people other than themselves. This was the only sign, that God loved all, that Jesus was able to give and it was the one that was so offensive and rejected.
This is the season of Lent; and without wishing to dismiss the importance of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, if these are done to assert our devotion in order to avoid the legitimate claims of love by others, then our sin will also remain.
In fact, of course, two of these are about our relationship with others. Fasting implies forgetting about our own sustenance and almsgiving means helping feed others. It is not just material food that we give, but spiritual. We give dignity to people who think and worship differently.
When it comes to the importance of orthodoxy, I am not saying that I believe that Jesus did or did not claim divine status. I am happy to acknowledge Christ and to recite the Creed, as long as they don't become ways to disregard the legitimate concerns of people who do not acknowledge Christ or who cannot understand the creeds.
"Your sin remains"; these are chilling words. Sin therefore is primarily defined, not as inappropriate intimate behaviour, but the refusal to give other people, who think and worship differently to us, an appropriate dignity. We must get this message, one and all, or the words will be as equally legitimately directed towards us and our version of "Christianity".
I have been recently been moved to compare someone who hits someone else over the head with a baseball bat, and someone else who implies someone else is less than beloved using the words of scripture. The first victim is physically injured, but at least there is the possibility that the culprit might be put in gaol and the episode will not happen again. The person who hurts another spiritually is free to repeat the exercise time and again. Indeed most often he or she thinks that they are doing God's work.
The impetus for both of these crimes is the perception that others are somehow less, expendable, that they don't measure up. This is why their "sin remains", and it is why spiritual domination is more to be feared than physical threats.
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