Giving Up Our Unrealistic Limitations
First Baptist Church · The Third Sunday of Lent
March 23, 2014
Many of us have been captivated by the two-week-old search for Malaysian Airlines flight 370. When the plane went missing two Saturdays ago, the expectation was that in all likelihood the crash had been caused by some type of mechanical failure or pilot error and that the wreckage would soon be discovered somewhere along the planned route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. Those were the original obvious theories.
But, with each passing day more and more possibilities have begun to arise. Did one of the pilots themselves steer the plane off course for some unknown reason such as suicide? Was the plane hijacked or overtaken by someone suffering from a mental illness? Did the plane suffer a catastrophic electrical failure that caused it to also loose direction and communication with the ground while veering off course? Is the debris being picked up by satellite off the coast of Australia parts of the place? Or—the most far-fetched possibility—did the plane actually land on some remote island where it still remains today with its crew and passengers possible still alive?
Again, each day has brought new theories, new possibilities and new ways of thinking about what has happened. Simply put, it didn’t take long for the obvious and most likely answers to the disappearance of the airplane to seem not only short sighted but likely inaccurate.
Thinking about the story of Malaysian Flight 370 makes me think about the story of Jesus in the gospels. From the very beginning, there arose obvious and likely answers to the question of who Jesus was and what he was about. And, quite interesting is the fact that those pat answers came by and large from those who were seen as the most religious and supposedly the most dedicated to God. For them, dissecting Jesus was simple. While according to some he might have been a great teacher at best, or, to others a misinformed and sorely mistaken individual at worst by and large there was consensus that he was not the long promised Messiah. He simply did not fit the bill.
But, as time went on and as Jesus began to do things and change lives in ways that were absolutely mind boggling, this very limited way of thinking about his identity began to feel more and more short sighted by the day. It also caused a great deal of frustration for those who were among Jesus’ critics. After all, there had to be some logical, obvious answer to the grip that he had on people and to the work he was doing. For them, there had to be some way of looking at Jesus and at what he had done that would easily explain everything.
The story of the man born blind in Mark 9 is a wonderful example of this reaction to Jesus. In an incredible way, Jesus had totally changed this man’s life by healing him of his blindness. Suddenly he was able to see again. In an instant, Jesus had afforded him possibilities and opportunities that he could not have imagined in his wildest dreams only one day before. As we might say today, his world had literally been turned upside down.
Equally amazing however is the fact that this man’s biggest detractors came from the most religious people in the story—the Pharisees. And, their skepticism as well as their inability to appreciate the obvious showed that they were actually more blind than he was.
Last week, we talked about God as it related to what God wants to do with our lives and where God might lead us. In essence, one could say that today we are invited to think about the fact that we are equally prone to be limited in our willingness to embrace what God has already done in our lives and in the lives of others. Like the Pharisees, we are prone to create alternate thoughts for what has happened in our lives and in the lives of others. We explain things away, rationalize things, create very plausible ideas all while often remaining blind to God have been at work in our midst.
Think about the Pharisees for a moment in our story for today. They had made up their minds that Jesus was not and could not be the Messiah. In turn, the things he claimed to have done must have been explainable in another way. In turn, with the man born blind, there had to be some other explanation for what had happened. First, if Jesus had healed this man it was because Jesus was in cahoots with evil not an agent of God. Or second, maybe the man never had been blind anyway. Or third, perhaps his parents were sadly mistaken—likely this just was not their son. In short, there must be some other answer.
We are prone to do the same, when God has acted in our lives. And, we are equally likely to do the same when God has been at work in the lives of others. Rather than recognizing what God has clearly done, we quickly move to other explanations, possibilities and likely scenarios.
I was fascinated this past week to hear a story about the famous college basketball coach John Wooden. When Wooden was coaching UCLA, he had a rather interesting preseason ritual. He would take the coming season’s schedule from his desk and he would look at each game one by one and assign it a “W” or an “L.” In other words, before the season began, he predicted the games he thought the Bruins would win and the games he thought they would lose. When he finished, he would take that schedule, put it in his desk and not look at it again until after the season at which time he would compare his guess against reality. When Wooden did his yearly review, the facts were impossible to argue against. UCLA had either won or they had lost. In turn he had either been right or he had been wrong, there was no arguing that he could do with himself.
Now, here is the point I want to make. I think we do something similar. We often decide in advance how God is likely to be a part of our lives. Yet what is very different for us from Coach Wooden is the fact that when God surprises us and works in our lives and in the lives of others rather than admitting we were wrong and rethinking what we just experienced and appreciating that we just encountered the living God, we argue with the truth by rationalizing our experience, creating other logical explanations and dismissing God. I am not saying that is what the world does, I am saying that if what we often do. After all, that is exactly what the Pharisees did. They had decided Jesus wasn’t God in advance. In turn, even when he healed a blind man, they assumed they were right and that the obvious answer that Jesus was who he claimed to be had to be wrong. There had to be another way of thinking about it.
Now, I am not suggesting we do this overtly or intentionally. We do this Often completely unaware. We simply don’t expect God to be present changing lives on a daily basis and so when it happens we fail to appreciate it. And yet, the question is not will God be at work in our lives today changing you or change me, no, the question is will we see it, appreciate it and be moved by it when it assuredly happens.
Now let me admit right here that I don’t think this is an incredible easy sermon to grasp. In fact, I have been wrestling for three days with how to communicate it. But, I do believe it is a very important word for all of us, me included, so let me end with a simple illustration.
This weekend, roughly 35 members of our church joined about 50 other people from Baptist churches from across South Carolina to work for the day in Allendale, the poorest county in our state. We did basic things—we worked on houses, cleaned up yards from the ice storm that was very severe there, did some painting and helped some very small churches there with limited resources. We also built relationships with folks who live there with the hope of future work and friendship.
Now, since this was work being done by churches, the fact that this was God’s work permeated the day. That was no question that we were no the ones creating positive change there, rather, God was changing Allendale through us. It was God who was at work. It was not hard to see it because we anticipated it.
And yet, every day, God is at work doing the same things. God mends lives. God uses people to help each other. God brings peace and healing. God meets the basic needs of our day through food, shelter and clothing. God gives us friends and a support network and God changes others through us. But, we were not expecting God yesterday or today and so we don’t realize that he has been here and we don’t appreciate what he has done. It wasn’t God it was just a friend. It wasn’t God, it was our ability to meet our needs. It wasn’t God it was just good fortune at the right time. It wasn’t God it was just an unexplainable peace that came over me.
This isn’t the secular world saying these things I am talking about—it is you and it is me. In turn, in light of our story today, I simply ask us a question. Are we blind? Or, do we really see? Amen.