The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

God’s work through disability – John 9

Yesterday I had the privileged opportunity to preach at St. Clements Anglican at Mosman. Preaching at all four services was a test of endurance. I was pretty wasted when I returned home at 11pm after being up at 5:30am. But the effort was worth while. God did amazing things as people were impacted by what was said.
To listen to the sermon, click here for the web page. I’ve provided a transcript below…
From John 9

As Australians, we can be obsessive about a number of things. One of those things is ability. We love to celebrate those who have ability. Doctors, academics, particularly sports people. Think of the amount of money sports people earn. It’s remarkable.

And so we should celebrate ability. We ought to thank God for the abilities that God gives people. But there is a dangerous flipside for people with disabilities. They are often perceived as not worth celebrating. To be minimised. Perhaps even to be avoided. They are also often perceived as not being able to work, or make a contribution. Such thinking can cause much difficulty and hurt for those with disabilities. But when we bring that thinking into the church, it causes even bigger problems. Such thinking affects the whole church community as it faces the very real prospect of missing out on God’s work – which is the touchstone of Ch. 9. What does it mean to be doing God’s work? and who can do God’s work?

In the time of Jesus, God’s work was clearly defined by the religious leaders, and it had severe implications for the disabled. If you were disabled there was a very simple explanation for it. You deserved it. You or your parents had done something to offend God, and God was punishing you with a disability. So you were perceived as rejected by God, and were ostracised by God’s people. Particularly if you were blind you were perceived as incapable of receiving God’s revelation. So you certainly could not do God’s work if you couldn’t receive God’s revelation. Hence we have the disciples’ question in v2 “Who sinned, that this man was born blind?”

Now, before we charge these religious leaders with disability discrimination, we need to understand that these beliefs developed out of a desire for holiness. These were devout honest, men who wanted to remain pure; who wanted to live up to God’s standards in keeping the law. Especially when it came to the Sabbath. For these men, the work of God meant separation from those who they considered condemned by God – erecting barriers between themselves and undesirables.

We may not go to the same religious extremities that the leaders of Jesus’ day. But our response to disability can be just as questionable. Disability can make us feel uncomfortable, and some can find disability very confronting. One reason for this is disability may remind us of our own brokenness. Once reminded, our self perception and self worth are threatened because in our culture, they are so closely tied to what we can do.

I turn 37 this week. For most of my life I’ve been trying to prove to myself and everyone else that I am not disabled. For some reason it hasn’t quite worked. I did this through cycling – I would ride anything up to 250km/week. I’ve learned to drive a car, sail a boat, and cook. I’ve travelled and camped on my own. I’ve done what most sensible able-bodied people wouldn’t do! Mostly because it was fun. But partly because I wanted to disassociate myself from disability, and show I’m just as important, just as valuable as anyone else. For the record, all that effort has failed. My importance and value has nothing to do with what I can do.

Or, another reason may be that we think we need to hide our brokenness to provide a good witness. That for God and his gospel to have any credibility, we need to appear as though God has solved all our problems. That our brokenness is mended. That as Christians, we have our life together, and we’re just cruising through life. Otherwise, if we are still struggling with brokenness, maybe there’s something wrong with our faith, or perhaps God isn’t the real deal. I know an elderly man who, when you ask him how is, he’ll answer “I’m fighting fit”. But probe a little deeper, and you’ll find he’s battling some serious health issues. For some reason, we are reluctant or even embarrassed to expose our brokenness, and can be desperate to hide it.

Often we do not have a place for disability in our Christian thinking. The result is it affects who we engage with and form relationships. We can easily find ourselves erecting barriers between us and who we regard as broken. The reality is, we’re all broken, no matter how much we try to hide it. None of us are self sufficient. All of us need God’s grace. All of us need the support of others. The main difference between many of you and myself is my brokenness is allot harder to hide. Yet, we still find ourselves erecting barriers.

Where the religious leaders and, to a lesser extent, us today see disability as a barrier to doing the work of God, Jesus does not. In response to his disciple’s question, in v3 Jesus says, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus takes this whole understanding of disability, and turns it on its head. Rather than the person being rejected and condemned by God, Jesus understands that this person is at the forefront of God’s work.

The whole aim of Jesus ministry was reconciliation. Reconciling people to God, and to other people, in his name. It’s not a wishy washy reconciliation where we get rid of anything that might cause conflict, so no one believes anything anymore. It’s reconciliation by Jesus. Ultimately, this was achieved in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But this was also being demonstrated in his earthly ministry.

This had implications for the disabled as it was through them along with other broken people that God’s grace would be demonstrated. This is why Jesus says in v4, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” Jesus time on earth was short, and in this blind man, he saw an opportunity to demonstrate God’s grace. This grace would be vividly demonstrated by removing what was thought to be a sign of God’s rejection of him – his blindness. The result was making this man a recipient of God’s revelation, enabling him to display God’s grace in his life, and to believe and testify to Jesus. In this Jesus was redefining the work of God. It was about tearing down barriers that stood between God and people, and between people themselves.

One of the biggest barriers at the time of Jesus was Sabbath. To be a person of God, you needed to observe the Sabbath tradition. But for Jesus, showing mercy and doing the work of reconciliation in his name is more important then tradition, or the way things are done. In this, Jesus changed what it means to do the work of God.

So how did people respond to this new way of doing God’s work? Well, just like people don’t like change now, they didn’t like then. In the text, we have 4 groups of people responding in 5 different ways to the news.

The first group is the neighbours in vv8-13. They haven’t a clue what’s going on. They can’t even decide if it’s the same man, and refer the whole matter to the religious experts. People today can have the same attitude toward disability – ‘it’s too hard, let someone else handle it’.

So it’s onto the second group in vv14-17, the Pharisees, the religious experts. When they hear the man’s testimony, they were divided as to whether this was God’s work. Some doubted pointing to the fact it was the Sabbath and concluded it was impossible for the man’s testimony to be God’s work. Others disregarded the issue of the Sabbath and simply considered what had happened and concluded the man was worth listening too. Yet these people felt the pressure of their peers and changed their view of the man. I’ve seen this before where people value the person with a disability, until someone with a louder opinion comes along, and people change their minds, or remain silent.

The third group are his parents in vv18-23. They readily admit the man is his son, and that he was born blind. But that’s as far as their support goes. They avoid the whole issue of the man’s testimony, otherwise they’ll run the risk of rejection. Instead of supporting their son, they’ll let him sort out his own problems. For his parents, they were more worried about what people might think if they became involved with their disabled son, and acknowledged the work of God that had occurred in his life.

So it was back to the Pharisees for a fourth response in vv24-29. They respond a second time by maintaining the Sabbath barrier. They hold fast to their own traditions, and conclude on one shred of evidence, as sure as this man is born blind, that Jesus is a sinner, and do not listen to the man. The stupidity of their conclusion is brought out by the blind man when in v30 he says, “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” This is an emphatic statement. In other words, “You have labelled Jesus a sinner, and you don’t even know where he comes from!” They are rejecting the man’s testimony when they haven’t even done the basic checks! All because of their view of a person born blind.

Four different reactions, yet with one thing in common. Whether it was general confusion, peer pressure, fear of rejection, or maintaining tradition, all four groups were not able to receive God’s work because they refused to accept this man’s testimony due to his status in life and position in the community.

There is a fifth reaction I haven’t mentioned yet, that of the blind man in vv31-33 – receiving the work of God, and becoming part of the work of God. Against the Pharisees with their one shred of evidence, he begins to stack up the evidence for his healing being a work of God. Firstly, God listened to Jesus. Secondly, no one has opened the eyes of a man born blind before. Thirdly, if he Jesus wasn’t from God, he wouldn’t have been able to perform the miracle. The man knows that to understanding his healing as a work of God, he’ll face identity issues, he’s going against religious tradition, he faces the denial of his parents, he faces banishment from the religious community, and yet believes. In believing, this man was able to do the work of God, not by performing miracles, but by testifying that Jesus was sent from God.

You see, this man was able to do the work of God, not by what he could do, but by who he believed – Jesus. When Jesus caught up to him in vv35-38, Jesus revealed himself to the man as the Son of Man – the one who reveals God. In response he worshipped him.

Since involvement in God’s work does not depend on what we can do, we, in the church, can not afford to obsess over ability like those outside the church. If we do, we run a very real risk of erecting barriers between ourselves, and those who we consider less able, and miss out on the work of God in our midst displaying his reconciling grace.

We must recognise that the work of the gospel is reconciliation – reconciliation between God and people, and reconciliation between people. This means removing barriers where ever possible. This doesn’t come natural. Allot of the time it may not be easier. It may involve going against social norms and traditional concerns. It may involve spending more time and effort getting to know someone as it would somebody else. Certainly in my case, it takes more time and effort to listen. But by removing the barriers, we’ll soon discover that all followers of Jesus are involved in God’s work of reconciliation, regardless of ability or disability.

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March 5, 2012 - Posted by | Sermons | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Jason

    I came across your blog as I was googling information on disabilities. Your story seems pretty awesome. Disabilities don’t need to keep a person back as you have well shown.

    I too write on disabilities. My blog is http://www.dismantlingdisabilities.com and my passion is to let the world know that people with disability are people first and foremost.

    Your blog brings that out.

    I would love to connect with you sometime to hear more of your story.

    Blessings,

    Michael

    Comment by Michael K. De Rosa | March 6, 2012 | Reply


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