March 6, 2005

4th Sunday of Lent

"Eye Opening Faith"

(John 9:1-41)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn


Years ago, I remember hearing a speaker or reading an article about the Wycliff Bible translators in Africa. They always used the local people to help them translate the Scripture. In one particular area, the people were helping but without a whole lot of enthusiasm. No one even seemed to even be the least bit interested in the story of Jesus. Until they came to this passage and then the whole village began to buzz with excitement. The translators couldn't understand why, so they asked and were admonished for not telling them how great Jesus was before. They still didn't understand.

Finally, one of the villagers told them that amongst the men, one of the feats of skill and prowess that a man's greatness was measured by was how far he could spit. It turns out they were in awe of Jesus because his spit was so powerful that it could heal a man who was born blind and give him back his sight. It was that opening that helped that village hear the Word of God and bring them "Eye Opening Faith," like the unnamed man born blind in today's Scripture.

The Passage containing the full story is long, verses 1-49. I want to focus on just the first portion, verse 1-11, but I encourage you to read the entire passage in context.

John 9:1-11 (NRSV)

[1] As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

[2] His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

[3] Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.

[4] We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

[5] As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

[6] 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,

[7] saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

[8] The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?"

[9] Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man."

[10] But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?"

[11] He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight."

The man born blind truly had an "Eye Opening Faith."


A. But it was eye opening for the disciples as well. Unfortunately, they asked THE WRONG QUESTION FIRST, so, it became a great teaching moment for Jesus.

You see, their question was about the cause of the man's blindness. Was it because he sinned or was it because his parents sinned. Curiously, Jesus didn't even attempt to answer their question. He refused to get involved in the theological debates over the cause of disabilities.

Instead, Jesus told them that the man being born blind had absolutely nothing to do with sin at all. It had everything to do with what God was going to do with his blindness. Jesus shifted the talk from the cause to how God can use our problems for God's glory.

That doesn't mean that God inflicted blindness upon this man at birth just so he could be an object lesson. Not at all. God let nature and creation, established when God created this world, to run their course. But God then turned it all around and through healing Jesus was able to show the power of God over everything, not just sin.

B. We often ask the wrong question, don't we. For example, while I felt honored and privileged just to be asked to serve on this International Walk to Emmaus team, I kept asking God, "Why me?" There are a multitude of other clergy far more qualified. But the only answer I ever got was that I was chosen. I was the one put on my friend Vaughn's heart by God. He was adamant about that.

I accepted that but still questioned my involvement in helping begin the Walk to Emmaus in Ireland. I wanted to know what I was supposed to do. I had a deep sense of being chosen and set aside for this ministry. And felt that there was a purpose for my involvement, but that purpose has always been somewhat unclear in my mind. I knew and I felt that I needed to go completely in a servant's role, which I did, but I thought there was something else, too.

That was confirmed the Sunday before I left by one of you who told me that God had something for me to do over there. They weren't sure what it was, but it was something that only I could do. I still don't know what that was but I do know that it kept me very focused and very much in that servant attitude the whole time I was there. I wanted to be ready. And I kept asking myself and God, is this it? Is this what you wanted me to do?

And over and over again, I found that it was this servant attitude that made the greatest impression on the team, on the pilgrims, on our hosts and even on some of the local people.

I was asking the wrong question. You see, this Walk to Emmaus experience I've been privileged to be a part of, was never about me. Just as the healing of the blind man was never about him. It was about bringing glory to God.

I should have been asking, "How can I serve You, Lord. How can You use me to reveal Your unconditional love, grace and mercy to others in my service and in my life through this experience?"


A. It helps if you ask THE RIGHT QUESTION. I think maybe that was the major lesson I was supposed to learn, I'm still not sure. There are lots of lessons I've learned from this experience. Some are small and some are large. Some were lessons I learned from lessons learned by others. And there are a few that were just for me.

One of the lessons I learned was the same one the disciples learned through this encounter with the man born blind. You have to ask THE RIGHT QUESTION.

It wasn't about who sinned. It was about what God could do with the circumstances of this man's life through Christ.

B. And that's the question we all need to be asking our selves every day. "What can God do with the circumstances of my life through Christ? How can my situation, good or bad, be used to glorify God?"

Let me give you an example. Brenda Burgett, one of the team members from Tennessee. Told how she and two of her coworkers, who were also Christians, had decided that they would start a Bible Study in the cafeteria of the company they work for during the lunch hour. Unfortunately, her boss overheard the conversation and rather than ask about it, ran to personnel.

Over the next week all three of the women were called into personnel and told that soliciting was against company policy and if they invited anyone to their Bible Study, all three of them would be fired, immediately. Brenda and her coworkers were obviously shook up, but they prayed about it. They prayed separately and together. And they decided to hold the Bible Study anyway, with just the three of them.

Brenda said that after a couple of weeks of meeting in the corner, away from everyone else, so they wouldn't disturb them, people began asking what they were doing. The group told them, "We're holding a Bible Study but we can't invite you or we'll lose our jobs. But we can invite you to eat lunch with us."

Brenda says they now have between 20 and 25 every day. No one has gotten fired. And neither personnel or her boss has ever questioned them again.

They persisted and succeeded because they asked THE RIGHT QUESTION. The Bible Study was never about them. It was always about bringing glory to God and how God would use them and the circumstance in which they found themselves.

The same is true for us. We have to ask THE RIGHT QUESTION. It doesn't make any difference what kind of difficulty we find ourselves in. It doesn't even make any difference whether or not our burden is removed, God is still at work.

God can and does use our experiences to help advise and encourage others who are going through similar or even the same problems.

God can and does use our suffering, our challenges, even our failures to break through the hardness of someone else's veneer and bring about change in their hearts and lives.

God can even use our unresolved issues to motivate others to keep searching for a solution from which others will benefit.

God can and does use our endurance in the midst suffering rather than the suffering itself to be an encouraging example to others.

All we have to do is ask THE RIGHT QUESTION.


When we ask THE RIGHT QUESTION, then we become a part of that "Eye Opening Faith" which the disciples, the man born blind and the community around them witnessed. Ask THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.

You and I are challenged to ask THE RIGHT QUESTIONS: "What can God do with the circumstances of my life through Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit? How can my situation, good or bad, be used to glorify God?"

When you ask those questions and similar questions, you'll experience that same sort of "Eye Opening Faith" that can only come through Christ.

As we come to the table this morning, ask those questions. Ask God how your life can bring Him glory.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.







Other References Consulted (Copyright, Richard Niell Donovan, 2000) (Richard Fairchild Lectionary Resources)

Homiletics, (Communications Resources, Inc., Canton, OH)

Lectionary Homiletics, (Lectionary Homiletics, Inc. Midlothian, VA)

Dynamic Preaching, (Seven Worlds Publishing, Knoxville, TN)

The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions, Inc., Inver Grove Heights, MN)

Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)

Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)

The Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1953)

The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)

Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 2002) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Miracles, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1998) SermonPrep Version.

Preaching the Parables, Cycle A, (CSS Publishing, Lima, OH, 1997) SermonPrep Version.