Sermon March 26: Pointing The Finger

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Faith United Methodist Church

March 26, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  John 9:1-17, Ephesians 5:8-14

Prayer for Illumination (Unison): 

In the light of God, all is made clear.  We see how much God loves us and how much God loves all people.  We see Christ, the Light of the World, in Scripture and in our lives; and although we once were blind, now we see!

And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

Sermon:                               Pointing the Finger

The blame-game.   We’ve all played it at one time or another.   We do something risky or unwise or costly and, instead of accepting our responsibility, we look for someone else to blame, we point the finger at our kids, our partner, our coworker, the dog.  You fail the test not because you didn’t study, but because a friend kept you up late talking on the phone.  You burn your dinner not because you were careless, but because the dog had to go out and you didn’t hear the timer.  You miss your doctor’s appointment not because you forgot, but because they forgot to give you that reminder phone call.  The blame-game. 

This is the fourth Sunday of our Lenten Series “Emptying our Plates.”  Throughout this series we’ve been considering the ways we fill our lives with things that distract us from what is truly important.  Thus far we have emptied our plates of temptation, misunderstanding and regret.  And today we are emptying our plates of blame.  Psychology Today, in a September 2015 article, outlined some of the reasons we play the blame-game.

First, blame is an excellent defense mechanism.  When we blame someone else we can avoid seeing our own faults or failings.  Second, it is easier to blame someone else than to accept responsibility and change our behavior.   When someone else is at fault we don’t have to apologize or make amends.  The Psychology Today article sums up by pointing out, “Unlike other games, the more often you play the blame game, the more you lose. Learning to tell when you need to own up to your role in a bad situation will help you grow from your experiences, and ultimately help you achieve more fulfilling relationships.”  Blame can be an impediment to seeing the opportunities right in front of us. 

In John chapter 9 we find several examples of pointing the finger.  First we see a man, blind from birth, begging on the street corner.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind.”  The disciples saw something they couldn’t understand and they wanted to assign blame.  They wanted to distance themselves from this man by making him a theological object lesson.  This beggar must have done something to get himself into this situation.   Yet, as David Lyle pointed out in The Christian Century, “In the darkness we have the luxury of having conversations about the sins and sufferings of others without acknowledging our own sin.”

Jesus, though, knew the danger of objectifying other people.  When we assign blame, we lose the capacity for compassion.  When we point the finger we can feel better about ourselves at someone else’s expense.  Jesus challenged their thinking, saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  Jesus then healed the man, restoring his sight.

As the preacher Barbara Brown Taylor describes the situation, “There he is, just minding his own tin cup business when the light of the world comes along and opens his eyes…”  Like turning on a lamp in the middle of the night, I wonder if that first glimpse of light was painful.  The blind man didn’t ask to be healed, didn’t even say anything to Jesus before he was healed ~ he probably didn’t even think it was possible.

Soon, though, it seems everyone is talking about it.  The neighbors, who saw this man begging every day, suddenly didn’t recognize him.  When the man said, “Yes, it’s me,” the neighbors still couldn’t believe it, so they took him to the Pharisees to investigate.  The Pharisees, suspicious as they were of all things good, insisted that the healing could not be from God since it happened on the Sabbath.  The poor man, still adjusting to his new sighted worldview, was forced to defend the miracle that happened to him.   At the end of our lesson this morning the Pharisees asked the formerly blind man to give an account of the man who healed him.  The man, then, pointed the finger back to Jesus, saying, “He is a prophet.”

If we were to continue reading in the Gospel of John we would see his parents get in on the action.  Instead of embracing the miracle that happened to their son, they pointed the finger to him, saying, “He’s of age.  He can speak for himself.”  Perhaps they were scared of the Pharisees and the power that they held over the Jewish community.  Everyone was looking for someone or something else to blame, rather than see the miracle that had taken place right in front of them.  This became a classic case of the blind being able to see more clearly than those who had sight.

If we were to read even further into the story we would see an amazing transformation.  This man whose life was darkness was soon able to see things no one else could see. By the end of the chapter he proclaimed ~ to the protests of the disciples, his neighbors, the Pharisees, and even his parents ~ “Lord, I believe.”  Lord, I believe. 

The thing about blame is that we don’t want to be caught holding the bag.  We quickly point the finger at others so no one can point the finger at us.  He did it.  She did it.  They did it.  It’s not my fault.  Sometimes we expend so much energy proving our innocence that we miss what is really happening.  As David Lyle put it, “…when Jesus clearly demonstrates the compassionate power of God, we look for reasons not to believe.”

So can we empty our plates of blame?  Can we set aside our instinct to deflect and open our eyes to both our responsibility and the possibility that we may not fully understand?  Can we stop playing the blame-game?  Sometimes it’s just not all about us.  As Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  The truth is, when we’re always looking for someone else to blame, we may miss seeing the miracle right in front of us.   Lord, I believe.  Amen.