Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
March 26, 2017
Text: John 9:31
Old Testament: Psalm 23
New Testament: John 9:1-41
All around us are congregations whose sanctuaries are void of the Cross. These newer sanctuaries reflect an architectural decision made by church designers and congregations trying to appeal to young people. They’re practicing the Golden Rule of a new Christianity. “Don’t let your Christianity show!”
It’s a different world today than when Scottish Reformers banned the Cross from church sanctuaries. Then, the Cross was considered a form of church idolatry symbolized the Church’s priesthood. Today, the Cross is considered a turn off to the unchurched.
The thinking goes the unchurched won’t come to a sanctuary where old symbols of Christianity stand. They want a church that doesn’t look like a church. They don’t want to see a cross. The Cross is a turn off.
It’s ironic how young Christians misunderstand the Cross.
Today’s passage from the Gospel of John is about a man who was born unable to see a cross, let alone THE Cross. He was blind. But he lived with the burden of the Cross. Even though he could not see it, he could feel it. It was God’s punishment for the so-called sin that made him blind. Ex. 20:5, 34:7, Num. 14:18, and Lam. 5:7 are just a few of the verses that teach this theology.
Today’s passage is also about men who COULD see a cross. They demanded THE Cross to punish a sinner. The Cross was the Pharisees’ instrument to make sure everyone knew Jesus was a sinner. It would resolve the problem they had with Jesus’ sin. What they didn’t realize was the Cross was also God’s way God to resolve the blind man’s problem.
The blind man’s condition had been from birth. Jewish law taught his blindness was the result of either his sin or his parents’ sin. Physical disabilities were a punishment for sin. God had condemned the man to blindness because of sin. Someone had sinned. The condition of blindness was living proof of sin.
The blind man’s condemnation by the judgment of sin forced him to a life of begging on the streets. Daily he plead with his fellows Jews for grace in order to survive. “Show grace upon a blind man, you who live in righteousness because you see. Have mercy upon me – a blind man – you who think I’ve sinned.”
Most people would find such a life a terrible burden.
The blind man lived under a burden of sin he couldn’t escape. It was right in front of everyone to see. His sin, or his parents’ sin, or his grandparents’ sin had put him under God’s punishment. The blind man was not equal to his fellow Jews who had sight. Their sightedness showed they were righteous, good – above sin. They obeyed God’s Law and so God wasn’t punishing them with an affliction. At least that’s what the Pharisees thought and taught from the Torah. Everyone knew unavoidable infirmities were consequences for sin.
The same burden of sin led the Pharisees to demand Jesus be punished with the Cross. Jesus was leading other people to sin by suggesting He was the Messiah. Jesus sinned by pretending to be God. He was teaching idolatry of the worst sort – presenting Himself as equal with God. It was blasphemy against God.
The blind man and Jesus were charged with sin by the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. They were castaways in a religion of righteous believers.
There are lots of people who come to churches feeling like castaways. They’re under the scrutiny of Christians who look at the speck in the castaways’ eye without seeing the log in their own. Many scrutinizers are faithful worshippers. The castaways seek relief from judgment. In a throw away society, they don’t want to be thrown away by their family, their neighbors, or their church. They want to be accepted for their contrition, their hopefulness in the face of condemnation, their trust in the grace and mercy of God. Jesus calls them the poor in spirit. Then He says, “Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
When they arrive in a foreign church sanctuary, they want signs of grace and mercy, not condemnation and judgment. Their need for hope is so great, so real, so compelling, that new church designers believe showing them the Cross would hurt them. Church growth gurus believe the Cross will offend them. The Cross stands between the religious seeker and the grace and mercy they yearn for from a loving God.
What makes the Cross offensive isn’t its presence in a sanctuary. It’s what righteous believers do with it for the castaways. The Cross wasn’t meant to condemn castaways to despair. The Cross was meant for castaways to receive hope! It’s for those who worship God to make sure the world’s castaways know the Cross’ true purpose. The Cross IS the path to grace and mercy!
Jesus shows the blind man and the Pharisees the man’s blindness isn’t God’s condemnation for sin. It’s God’s opportunity to reveal His grace and mercy. This man’s suffering under his community’s condemnation for sin was meant to reveal God’s power to overcome sin’s burden.
Jesus is how the burden of the castaways’ Cross actually frees them to receive new life. It changes the future of life’s castaways who are seeking a gracious God.
The Cross is the second greatest symbol of hope in Christianity. It’s been abused by Christians who carry it before them to destroy unbelievers. It has been burned to intimidate the weak and oppressed. It has been embossed on judicial sentences to punish the sinner.
The Cross’ proper place lies among the castaways of life, who know Jesus understands their plight. He is a castaway, like they have been, misjudged, cast off with public scorn.
But where there’s a congregation where love and mercy flow like an everlasting stream, where hope and promise are offered in Jesus’ name, the Cross is a weather vane that points with the winds of Christ’s spirit to new life and communion with God. It’s the signature piece of a loving God who is there for the blind, as well as the sighted, and blesses all with grace.
Many years ago, Julie and I knew a physician and her husband who went to Croatia to adopt a little girl who was born blind and orphaned. Her mother had been killed during the Balkan’s War. The little girl had been saved from her mother’s womb despite being hit by shrapnel that had killed her mother. The shrapnel robbed her of her sight.
Although this girl has never seen the light of day, she has never felt condemned by God. Although she carries the Cross of a sightless life, she rejoices in God’s blessings God for her. She goes to church each Sunday with a cheery voice and a happy disposition. She never sees the Cross above her in her sanctuary.
But she knows God has shown her love from it that has made her blindness an opportunity to experience God’s grace. Her name is Sakira. Sakira is happy to be alive. Her smile reveals her sight of God’s love. Her family, her church has shown her the power of grace to give her a beautiful vision of God’s love.
We’re surrounded by people who live in darkness, blinded by the criticism of religious people. But it’s not the architecture of Jesus’ Cross in a sanctuary that keeps them away. It’s the architecture of Christian hearts that needs to show God’s grace. Where Christian grace is built with the timber of Christ’s Cross, people are drawn to worship Jesus Christ as Lord.
Jesus’ grace in the words of repentant sinners makes new disciples. May we always offer Jesus’ Cross in such a way that others can see the glory of God’s grace. Amen.