Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 27:30 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is the story of a separation, and the separation begins at Siloam. The man Jesus made mud, anointed my eyes, I washed, and now I can see. When the man who was born blind comes back and his neighbors and friends see him, they are divided over him. Is this the same man? Some say it is, some say it only is like him. And they are both correct. It is the man, but it is not the same man. That man was blind from birth and was a beggar. This man sees. Slowly he is separated from his blindness, his unbelief, his old worship, and even his family. Finally, he is cast out of the synagogue as if he were a demon, and that is where Jesus finds him. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is He, that I may believe in Him?” “You have seen Him, and now see Him, and He is the one who is speaking to you.” “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Jesus.
But that’s only the continuation of the work of Jesus. The work of Jesus is to restore His creation and to bring this judgment: that those who are blind should see, and those who see should become blind. So it happens in this chapter: there is an X-shaped pattern to this passage. It reminds me of one of my favorite novels, and one of my favorite books to read during Lent, because it takes place during Lent, and the chapters are marked off by the weeks of Lent. It is called Holy Masquerade, and it’s the story of a Swedish pastor who is married to an atheist. But during this particular Lent, the pastor is slowly separated from his faith, and the wife is slowly brought, perhaps, to faith in the child of Mary. Something like that is happening in John 9, where the blind man grows into his washing in the pool of Siloam, in the direction of Jesus, and the Pharisees and leaders of the Jews grow into their blindness, in their rejection of Jesus. They move in opposite directions, and the questions asked of the formerly blind man are actually questions about Jesus. Where is He from? What did He do? Where is He now? Are you His disciple? We are disciples of Moses!
This separation that begins at Siloam for the blind man, when Jesus creates new eyes for him, and gives him ears to hear and a mouth to confess, is like your separation begun at the Siloam of your baptism. There you were washed, given eyes to see Jesus and ears to hear Him speaking to you, a mouth to confess, which is to say the same things that God says. None of us knows everything or understands everything when we are washed. We all start in different places. But more than that, our discipleship, our learning of Jesus, is never complete until we meet the author and perfecter of our faith face to face. Our faith does not find its end at baptism, but its beginning. So we grow into our new life, our new eyes, ears, and mouth, to see, hear, and confess.
And our destiny is tied to Jesus. We are daily being separated from everything that belongs to the old life, the old ways, the old world. Every single one of us were born blind, and it is only those who know it who know that they need to be washed and made new. Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Because He is the Light of the world, and once He shines on you, you can see all things rightly; when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible. You have been and you are being separated from your blindness, your sin, your death. You are being separated from your old ways of worship, and your old gods. And even if your worship was not wrong, but only incomplete, that, too, Jesus will fulfill and make right. Those who are truly disciples of Moses, or children of Abraham, will worship the One who fulfills the law and the promises. Perhaps you are even being separated from your family of birth, as you are given the new birth from above by water and the Spirit.
The leaders of Israel say that the man who was born blind was utterly sinful. That is his origin. And so he was. So were they. So were you. So was I. Everyone who is born of flesh is sinful flesh. In sin my mother conceived me. And they accuse Jesus of being a sinner, as well. But while Jesus’ origin was not in sin, He is the Lamb of God who takes on, and takes away, the sin of the world. Jesus goes where the sinners go, and He goes with the Spirit who descended and remained on Him. He was waiting for the man outside the synagogue when he was cast out. The man never asked to be healed, but Jesus healed him. The man did not find Jesus; Jesus found him. Jesus is outside, where sinners are. He was on the cross outside the city in the place of all sinners. He died there so that He could give the Spirit to sinners in a washing and a regeneration—a new birth, a new origin. The one who ascended is the one who descended from the Father as the only Son, and He gives the birth from above by water and the Spirit. Everyone who is born of the Spirit is spirit—is Spiritual. You have been born of the Spirit, so you are no longer simply of the flesh or of sin, but now Jesus has gathered you, like He gathered the man who was formerly blind, to be the true worshipers of the Father in the Spirit and in the Truth.
To be with Jesus, washed and new, means to be separated from what is not of Him. To be separated, as the baptismal prayer goes, from the multitude of unbelievers and to be safe and secure in the holy ark of the Christian Church. To be separated from all sin and unbelief. To be separated from every false worship and false doctrine. To be separated from trusting in everything that is not Jesus. To be separated from every denial of Jesus. Most likely, we don’t have to go searching for opportunities to confess Jesus. The man did not. He confessed before his neighbors: I am! I am the man! I am with Jesus, who is I AM. He confessed before the Pharisees and others. He healed me, and now I see. He confessed before his parents, who were afraid to be cast out of the synagogue. He was not. Whatever happened, he knew that Jesus had remade him, and then he saw and worshiped. This is nearly our primary occupation: to confess, and not to deny, that Jesus is the Christ, and that we belong to Him by baptism, by the Word, by the Spirit, by faith, and let whatever happens, happen. And whatever happens, you are with Christ, and that is the only important place to be.
Of course, this separation does not happen all at once. We are not immediately taken out of this world, with its false worship and false belief, its blindness and its denial of Jesus. And we are not immediately changed completely. Each of us is the person we were, and yet we are also a new person. It is the same person. No, it is someone like him. It is someone like her. The separation that began at the Siloam of your baptism was begun once, but it continues ever after. Daily, the old, blind, sinful person is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires. Daily, the new, seeing, hearing, believing, worshiping person is raised to new life, to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Begun once, and continuing ever after. Jesus has called each one of us: do you believe in the Son of Man? Yes, I believe in the Son. I believe in the Father. I believe in the Spirit. And the separation that began on that day will be completed, as the Father is working and the Son is working. It will be complete when there is no more blindness, neither physically nor spiritually. It will be complete when all our doubt and unbelief is obliterated. It will be complete when the new creation is fully seen, and our eyes open on the face of Jesus, whom we worship. It will be complete when our Lenten days come to their end once and for all, when our baptism is complete in the raising of our baptized bodies. Awake, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/18/23