The Good Life: Golden rule?

Sermon: Lent 4 March 30, 2014.

The Good Life

John 9:1-41

As he went 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 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.8 His neighbours and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.“I don’t know,” he said. The Pharisees Investigate the Healing 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”The man replied, “He is a prophet.”18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. Spiritual Blindness 35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.39 Jesus said,[a]“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

A GOLDEN RULE FOR A GOOD LIFE?

There is a whole branch of psychology that has arisen in these last decades. It is called “positive psychology”. I have heard a positive psychologist say that when it is all said and done, the good life is really centred on the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

Positive psychologists are not the only people who have said that! I have heard parents at school, coaches at sporting clubs, and the most avid non-Christian person hold up the Golden Rule as the foundation for behaviour, attitude and community.

Jesus gave this golden rule himself. Many people might say that this is the only thing he said that they get or that was worthwhile! Christian or not, many people hold this up as the very foundation of the good life.

That’s not a bad thing. Treating others as you yourself like to be treated is better than just the pursuit of personal happiness and a human centred wholeness at the expense of others. At least it is “other” centred and acknowledges that living life to the fullest includes your relationships and your personal responsibility for your own behaviour in them.

But, on the other hand it is still a rule and can only give what a rule can give – a guide line or ideal but not the perfect keeping of that rule.

So, is the golden rule good enough for living the good life we are all trying to live? Can we keep it enough? Is that what the mind of Christ is for the good life? Is doing to others what you would like done to yourself is the basic foundational attitude and value for life with Jesus the Crucified Messiah?

Friends, I hope the Crucified King brings more than a rule – even a very good one! This is because I have noticed that often when people bring out this golden rule it is not very freeing. Often it is in fact brought out to judge people.

For example, when my Dad, who would not call himself a disciple of Jesus at all brings out this rule he is using it to judge others. “They don’t keep the golden rule”, he might say. “Don’t they know that they should treat people like they want be treated…” The tone of the rule is law-enforcement. There is no room for grace when this rule is used as a rule. A rule without faith in Jesus’ forgiveness remains a  crushing restriction and fosters a judgemental heart.

I can see how, without faith in Christ’s love and kindness, a sociologist like Hugh Mackay or positive psychologists might get to this golden rule as a way to point people away from self-serving and toward living the good life, but I disagree that this is all there is or the very best there is for underpinning one’s life.

There is way more for us to receive to life the very best life…

We surely have a whole lot of “rule” going on here in this lengthy event between a blind man, local city folks, formal investigation Pharisees, Jesus and some other Pharisees over hearing a conversation.

A GREAT MOMENT

A wonderful miraculous moment of healing and help to a person who really needed the help should have been left at that – a great moment of divine help from the hand of the Messiah being gratefully received by thankful hearts. But it is not received this way by some.  The grace of God is received as a breaking of the law of the same God.

For the man who can now see, he is in the moment and he is a thankful man. His life has just been made a whole lot better! He was a man who could acquire no symbols of the good life and had little hope of ever fulfilling any hopes and dreams of the day. He is poor, isolated, sometimes pitied, often ignored and viewed as a symbol of the bad life – of no life…

But not now! This man of new sight and new good life does not initially even know who it is that has given him this great go at a good life. He just followed this stranger’s strange instruction to cover his eyes in mud and go down to the pool and wash it off!

But the Pharisees know who Jesus is – well, in a certain way – in a threatening fearful way. Jesus is a threat and he has to be pushed outside acceptability. After grilling the man with the new sight and the new life for a while, in frustration, they eventually reveal their arrogant heartless and legalistic preoccupation as they deride this man who can now see.

What is the point of their frustration?

They have questions for Jesus. How can a man who has broken the law of God do anything good? How can a bad man say anything about the good life? Jesus did this so called healing (which they are finding very difficult to refute!) on the Sabbath day when no such “work” is to be done – by direct command of Moses.

As far as the Pharisees can see, Jesus has deliberately broken this most central law, which was put in place for God’s people and their good life. Jesus is disrupting God’s people, God’s rule, God’s promises to make Israel the place in the world where the good life is to be lived!

What’s the problem here? A complete over-emphasis on the law of Moses and a complete blindness to the promises of God to bring a new relationship between he and his broken people not based on keeping rules they are unable to keep, but on God’s gracious and undeserved love revealing itself in this man Jesus.

As with any form of fundamentalism, the main aim is to provide one’s self others with certainty. The Pharisees were so pharisaical because they insisted on certainty. Of course the “things” they demanded certainty about were not certain! Things like suffering, sorrow, the divine…all mysterious to us by nature.

They wanted answers, as we all do. Drawing on their detailed analysis of the Scriptures they created an extensive and ever-evolving code by which they believed God would have us live the good life he wants.

Then they placed their faith in their code and that was where their blindness (and ours) begins. They, like us, often sense the need to transform faith in the mysteries of God’s grace into certainty. They wanted to be so clear in their convictions that they removed the capacity for doubt. That is fundamentalism of any kind.

What this drive for certainty in the things of God does is turn the very people who thought they were guiding the people in God’s ways into actually becoming blinded to God’s possibilities, his plans, his voice, his new creation promised to them.

They become like a person who holds up the golden rule which is meant to help us all live in friendship and care into a means to judge others, thus breaking the very rule they want others to keep! Instead of using the rule to work for harmony and friendship and a more self-less and accepting life, it becomes to cause of judgement, intolerance and self-aggrandisement.

Jesus and these community leaders are on a collision course. We see it right here. Their focus on the law and their own power in being keepers of the law has turned them into oppressors of God’s people. They cannot rejoice with a man who can now see and now live the rest of his life in thankfulness to the God of love and grace. That is a direct challenge to their certainty and they cannot see it or let that in.

What about you? Can you let that in?

Friends, the good life of God then must mean an openness to God’s newness, his creation, his leading, his loving possibilities for us. The good life is not to do with the keeping of a rule, the avoidance of all uncertainty and doubt, or the construction of codes and rules to try and build certainty, but rather, the God-life we have been miraculously given in our “new sight” moment – baptism, is the new sight, the new love, the new presence and peace of this man Jesus. Just ask Doubting Thomas!

As we believe in God’s grace given in his Son who has come to free us and save us from legalistic oppression and joyless life we will live our lives with the thankful laughter of this man who used to be blind. He says, “Lord, I believe”, and lies prostrate before Jesus in complete humility and faith.

Friends, we have a God who goes deeper and more completely than any human wholeness or positive psychology could ever go because he speaks and acts in more than rules – even the golden rule. He speaks of making us holy, clean, acceptable, forgiven, hope-filled in the presence of God our Creator.

And just to drive this home we end with actually looking at that “golden rule” for the life we called to live…

When Jesus himself gives his version of that rule it is not what we think.

First of all it is the second commandment under the direction of the first – the love the Lord with all of heart and mind and soul and strength is the primary command from which this other command comes.

So, as we love the Lord with all our heart and mind it becomes possible to love ourselves and then others. And Jesus does not limit this golden rule to just “doing things” but doing from a heart of love.

And that is what turns up this day on the city by the pool – the man of love. Love fuels the rule. The rule is impossible and unfruitful without his love.

Friends, the good life God has given us is about much more than one golden rule. Before that comes this crucified king – the living breathing presence of a gracious God giving his gifts of healing and love and life, even when we don’t understand it or know too much about it.

In the end the way we live this life best standing in Jesus suffering love. And what makes it good is Jesus and his gifts and his love for you.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. Share a high and a low for your week and then have four people read the text – one being “narrator”, one reading the “Blind man’s” words, one reading the Pharisees words and the other reading Jesus’ words.

  2. Try and capture the concern of the Pharisees. What are they scared of? What are they wanting Jesus to do or not do and why?

  3. Try and capture the Blind man’s situation. he does not seem to be scared at all – even when “interrogated”. He does not really know Jesus in the beginning, but eventually has a personal encounter with Jesus. is that how it often is for people you know? They sort of know of Jesus from a distance and may even have some kind of spiritual experience but they don;t actually know him personally?

  4. We have been talking about “the good life” and how all of us are trying to live the good life in some way. We have been asking what the mind of Christ is on this “good life” we enjoy in Australia. What do you think this man who can now see would tell us about “the good life”? Share your thoughts….

  5. People often speak of “the golden rule” – Christians or not. We said that it is a good rule. it must be because Jesus gave it! But we also said that if this is all we have got to base our lives on then it will make us like the Pharisees. We will hold up a rule(with good intentions) that is impossible to keep and in the very act of trying to make life better we will fall into judging people and our efforts will become quite oppressive for those around us. We noticed that when Jesus gave this golden rule there was a more important “rule” given before it – the one to love the Lord with all our heart and mind. Can we see that the golden rule is dependent on the love of the Lord – both his love for us and our love for him? Share your thoughts on this and on how you have used the golden rule in your life……

  6. We end up marveling at the power and love of Jesus for a man who now has new sight and a new life – not because he did anything much or knew anything much but because of Jesus’ action of love. The man simply received what Jesus gave and said in the end, “Lord, I believe”….and that was enough. Notice how he did not seem to need certainty about much else! he just thankfully confessed his faith. Is this how a baptised and loved person of Godwho knows the Crucified King and his forgivness and love everyday ends up living? IS this the good life at its fullest? Share your responses…..

PRAY

Heavenly Father, thank you for our life and all you give us everyday. Thank you for your forgiveness and new hope given in the death and resurrection of the Saviour, Jesus. Help us receive all he is and does and live thankful, joyful lives as we confess his name and be light to those around us. Amen.

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