Rev. Merritt's sermon for Lent 4A
A Season of Overcoming Expectations that Hold Us Back
Rev. Jim Merritt
April 3, 2011
The names in this story have been changed to protect the confidentiality of those in it. Jackson was 16 years old when I met him. His family members were active members of a local church. His parents were ultra conservative Catholics. During the year prior to our meeting, Jackson began experimenting with drugs; cigarettes led to marijuana, which led to alcohol abuse, which led to addiction to other chemicals. We see this pattern a lot. Shortly after his 16th birthday, Jackson felt like his world was crumbling around him, and in many ways, it was. He gave up, took his father’s loaded shotgun out of the cabinet, aimed it at the middle of his chest and pulled the trigger. Thank God, Jackson did not die and I met him at the psychiatric treatment center where I worked at the time.
Most people in his life expected Jackson to fail. I did not. With much encouragement from a competent team of professionals, Jackson’s world began to improve. He did well in therapy, he worked hard in school, he excelled in campus activities and slowly began achieving all his goals. He applied for an on-campus very part time job as a child care assistant in our children’s program. We hired him. He was amazing with kids. He talked with them openly about his own experience. He encouraged them to work hard as he was doing and to get better, and they did. Much to his family’s surprise, Jackson graduated from high school with us and at the end of the party we threw for him he came to me with this question, “What would I have to do in order to get a real job here?” I told him he would have to stay clean and sober with no relapses, he would have to get at least an associates degree in a related field, he would have to remain employed and have good references, and that if he did all of that over at least a two year period, he could come see me and we will talk about it. No one thought he would ever do all that and the members of our management team dismissed the whole idea saying, “Jim, you have lofty dreams for these kids.” They were right.
Two years and six months later Jackson showed up in my office with his diploma from Hillsborough Community College, with 3 outstanding letters of reference and with copies of drug tests from the entire period since our last conversation, showing that he was not only at that moment, but had been clean throughout the time period. Just for good measure, I had him take another drug test. He was clean. My colleagues on the management team were amazed and skeptical, and they agreed to him being hired. I called Jackson and asked him to come see me…those words, “Come see me” became famous over my almost 20 year career in mental health. I hired Jackson and he did an excellent job that both he and I were always proud of. My sisters and brothers, Jackson knew what it was like to overcome people’s expectations of him, and he did it. And I have a powerful message for you this morning, YOU too can overcome the expectations people have put on you for your whole life. Why? Because our God is an overcoming God.
Let’s be clear about one thing as we approach our gospel lesson; stuff happens. People get sick, people get hurt, people die and I am telling you on the basis of a lifetime of scripture study, when these things happen it is not a result of sin in their lives or in their parents’ lives or in their grandparents’ lives. Stuff just happens. Notice what Jesus had to say about it, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Deafness is not about sin. Blindness is not about sin. Cancer is not about sign. And by all means, HIV/AIDS is not about sin. Stuff happens and Jesus makes it clear that he came to be the light of the world, not to oppress those who were living in it. Jesus came to heal the sick, not to forgive them for being sick. So I hope that you can erase those old tapes and just throw them down and stomp on them. When you get sick, you are just sick. You are not being punished and your own sin didn’t cause it, because it is just true that stuff happens. Jesus wants to heal illness, and he is not in the business of punishing God’s children with it. That, for us, is very good news.
The religious authorities in the gospel were so intent on judging this man, by holding to their own failed expectations of him, they would not even believe he was the same person as the blind one. They called his parents in and questioned them. They said, “Your boy can’t to that, are you sure?!” They called him in and continuously implied, “You can’t do that, are you sure?” They consulted with all kinds of people in the community asking, “He can’t do that, are you SURE?” And my sisters and brothers, let me tell you this morning, they were sure. They were sure because the very son of God had intervened in that boy’s life and had healed him and had set him free from people’s expectations. He set that young man free from every word of social stigma that held him back. He set him free from the limits of blindness. He revolutionized that boy’s life in a way that led him and others to respond to corrupt religious leaders who still wanted to hold him back by saying, “Yes I’m sure. I’m sure because Jesus did it. I’m sure that I’m sure that I’m sure IN JESUS’ NAME, don’t you want some of it? Hallelujah. AMEN. Don’t you want some of it?”
Don’t you want some of it, too? I can only speak for myself right here and I want to tell you two things. First, I want some of it! I really do, I want Jesus to set me free from expectations that held me back for most of my life. Second, I want you to have it, too!
In our community we have spent way too much time meeting the expectations of people who want to hold us back. Think about this; God in my provider and my Divine supply. I will not want and I will not lack for anything because that is the way God intends for my life to be. God is my gracious source who meets every need I have even in the presence of my enemies. God causes me to succeed. God is the giver of my life and of the energy I need to live it. God renews me when people want to hold me back he gives me everything I need to live successfully beyond what the world expects of me. God is righteous in all of God’s ways and in all of God’s relationships. Furthermore, God intends for me to live that way, too. I can succeed in my relationships at home, I succeed in my relationships at work, I succeed in my relationships with my neighborhood and I succeed by overcoming the expectations a few of them and at times a lot of them have used to hold me back. Finally, God is good and God is love. God’s goodness and steadfast love will not only follow me but also pursue me all the days of my life. God will cause me to succeed by overcoming every expectation that others have used to hold me back. God will enable me to make positive contributions to my world in Jesus’ name. Neither sickness nor injury nor any other condition will hold me back because I am a child of God and I know that God expects great things of me.
A personal note, in closing this morning; your pastor expects great things of you, too. I do not embrace this thinking that what people expect of us hold us back. You can break through that in the name of Jesus and you can and will become the person God intends for you to be. Trinity MCC is and will be the church that God has called us to be because we will NOT embrace any expectation that holds us back or limits our possibilities, because Yahweh, Adonai, Jehovah God has placed a high calling on each one of us individually and as a community of faith. This is our season of overcoming expectations that hold us back in Jesus name. AMEN.
Old Testament Reading Psalm 23
Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing. In meadows of green grass God lets me lie. To the waters of repose God leads me and revives my soul. Yahweh guides me by paths of virtue for the sake of God’s name. Though I pass through a gloomy valley, I fear no harm; beside me your rod and your staff are there, to hearten me. You prepare a table before me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, my cup brims over. Ah, how goodness and kindness pursue me, every day of my life;
my home, the house of Yahweh, as long as I live!
Gospel Reading John 9: 1 – 34
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 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). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 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?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 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.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 2Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.