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Occasionally you hear talk of karma. The idea that the good that you will do will come back to you and the bad that you will do will also come back to you. Good karma. Bad karma. Things are said about what karma is that I can’t repeat here. A lot of it is pretty negative really. I saw a bumper sticker recently that said “Karma is life’s way of saying ‘How do you like it?’” I saw a picture recently that read like a letter: “I am keeping notes – Karma.” In this way, I suppose karma acts a lot like payback. Which leads us to what I think is a good question – “What is your motivation for doing good?”
One day coming out of the supermarket which Nicole and I frequent, it came to light that there was a jar of hamburger sauce (secret sauce) in the cart that had not been checked through with the other groceries. I’m not saying I’m a paragon of virtue but I do try. I went back to the customer service desk and explained what had happened. The young lady there rang it in and as I was leaving said “That was such an honest thing to do. Good karma for you.”
Now I didn’t want to get into a theology discussion right then and there – I felt it might have been intrusive (not that I’m against such things of course). This is my issue with the idea of karma. I get it. I get that we want to be able to explain why things happen – both bad and good. I know that karma is often discussed in terms of the good that can come back to one and is often used as a motivator for moral action.
The problem that I have with karma is that it would explain bad things as being a result of bad things that you have done in this life or in a past life. I don’t see the universe as that simple and it seems like a bit of a monstrous thing to suggest to someone that they are suffering because of ill that they have done. The world is one crazy mixed up place and we are right to be skeptical of those who offer easy explanations. The Bible never shies away from dealing with the reality in which we live. It’s a world where, for example, people are born blind.
Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem, likely near the Temple As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. For the disciples it’s not even a question of if this man was suffering due to some sin, it was a question of who was to blame, him or his parents. As I said this makes sense from the point of view that we want the world to make sense. NT Wright in his book on John writes “We have to stop thinking of the world as a kind of moral slot-machine, where people put in a coin (a good act, say, or an evil one) and get out a particular result (a reward or a punishment).” This is not to say, of course, that sin does not have consequences – consequences that can often be pretty dire. Someone else has said that you can figure from sin to suffering. In other words, we can see where doing wrong brings bad results. What we must not do, however, is to presume to draw a line of causality from suffering to sin.
According to Jesus, his disciples aren’t asking the right question. It’s not about who is at fault here.
Jesus does what God does. Jesus is about his Father’s work and he goes about doing what his Father does. He goes about setting things right. Jesus does not get involved in a philosophical or theological or moral debate. God did not set up a heavenly council in Genesis 1 when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. God didn’t convene a heavenly council to try to determine why this was. God spoke. “Let there be light,” were the words. Here we have the Light of the World. The Word. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” God making things right. God setting things to right. Suffering is not a problem for us to solve. That doesn’t mean that we’re not called to come alongside suffering. It doesn’t mean we are called to turn our faces away from it or not seek to help and comfort. What are the questions that we should be asking in the face of suffering? What are the questions that we should be asking in the midst of a pandemic? Someone has put it like this – “God, what are you doing in all of this and how can I join you in it? What are you saying and how can I hear you better? What are the works of God waiting to be revealed in me and in each of us through this COVID-19 global crisis that affects each of us so intimately and personally?”
In the midst of suffering, God takes creative and decisive action. In two weeks we’re going to be looking at the creative action of God through Christ on the cross of Calvary. Everything is transformed in the light of Christ.
Who is the Light of the World. Who is the light by which those who believe in him are able to see. “Walk in the light,” we sang. That is our invitation. We accept the invitation. We extend it to others. If you’ve never accepted it before in your life then hear and accept it this morning. Walk in the light. It has ramifications. It is a joining in with God in God’s saving work. Not that we save anyone but God invites us to participate in God’s saving work. “I must work the works of him who sent me” is the line (9:4). “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:5) “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says at another point (Matthew 5:14). To follow Christ – to be in Christ - we are illuminated to be illuminating through Christ’s creative saving light-giving sight-causing work. To be sent daily.
When he had said this he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). (9:6)
Who does this? The same man who dies praying Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing. The Light of the World is who does this.
Having an encounter with Jesus changes us. It might make us unrecognizable. Have you known this? “Isn’t this the man that used to sit and beg?” “It is!” “No, but it’s someone like him.” The man is testifying. He’s telling his story throughout this account very plainly and very simply. “I am the man. This is what has happened to me.” We’ve talked about the seven signs in John. The seven miraculous signs that point to something else ultimately. Water to wine was not just about water and wine – number one. Bread and fish to feed more than 5,000 people was not just about bread and fish – number 4. Recovery of sight to the blind (number 6) is not simply about being able to see. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus says. The light that was coming into the world which changes the way in which we see everything. The light that is grace is truth. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
We light candles on Christmas Eve to welcome the Light of the World, but why should we only do that on Christmas Eve?
By his light we come to see everything else. It’s a process. It was a process for this man who was healed. “He is a prophet.” Then “I don’t know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” Then “Do you want to become his disciples?” There’s this idea of following Christ going on. Then finally “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
This man is testifying the whole time. Testifying. Witnessing. What does it mean to testify? It means telling of how your story has been caught up in the story of God in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. What have you come to know about Christ through the years? How have you learned about God and the Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit? What have you come to know in your heart that you didn’t before? How have you come to see people differently? How have you come to see creation differently? What have you learned in church? In a small group? In school? At a retreat centre? Through prayer and reading on your own? Through music? Through all the different ways we encounter God?
There’s a great C.S. Lewis quote in line with this image of Jesus being the light of the world. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.” How is it that we’re coming to see everything differently in the light and life of Christ?
The world can be a crazy mixed up place and the Bible doesn’t shy away from this. This story we read isn’t all sweetness and light. There is opposition to the Light in our story. There is opposition from established religion. There is opposition from people who do not want the status quo upset. There will be opposition to the light and it may cost us. For the blind man, it meant expulsion and he still kept testifying. Sometimes the opposition comes from within ourselves. We’ve been talking about examining ourselves in the light of Christ this Lenten season. If we’ve been following Christ for any length of time we know that some of the beliefs and practices that we have held have been challenged and changed. Following Christ is not about blind conformity to a religious tradition. Following Christ is not about having to fear the unknown or the unfamiliar – as difficult as that can be. The good news is that we’re not meant to be unfearful on our own. “Perfect love casts out fear,” is how John will put it in his first letter. In what ways are we being invited to see God at work in the midst of all this uncertainty and fear? In what ways are we being called to join God in this? May we be coming to see possibilities in the light of Christ who causes even the spiritually blind to see. How hopeful do I find that!
May we respond like this unnamed man. We often talk about the meaning of names and the meaning of names in the Bible. There’s meaning in someone not being named too. We put ourselves in his place. What I know is that Jesus made me see. What I know is that he is from God. Call him Lord and worship him. Ask him to help us to see. May these things be true for each and every one of us.