Open Eyes, Changed Lives

“Hey Larry, did you get a haircut? Lose weight? Is that a new tunic?”

“No.”

“Well, something’s different. What is it?”

“I was blind, but now I can see!”

Okay, perhaps that exchange did not take place for the man born blind from John 9, but I like to think that it did.  Unique among all of the gospel accounts, this one relates a large amount of the “after story.” It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that those experiencing the most amazing miracles would have had interesting encounters afterward. What was life like in the Lazarus household after the man walked out of that tomb? Did Mary and Martha break out in tears every time they looked at their brother? Did Lazarus ever feel tempted to use his unique experience to get out of work? “Yeah, I guess I could clean the gutters. Of course I was dead for a while.”

In the case of this “man born blind,” we get at least a glimmer of the repercussions that came for this man and the people around him. There are people who knew him or who at least had been around him who struggled with the whole thing. Some of them assumed that it was just somebody who looked like him, while others were just confused. “He was blind from birth.”

When the (formerly) blind man wound up in front of the Pharisees, they didn’t quite know how to process the situation. John’s account presents some pretty good critical thinking for at least some of them.

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a sinful man perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.–John 9:16

After that division, perhaps, someone came up with a possibility that could reconcile the parties. What if this guy is just faking it? Maybe he wasn’t blind at all, which would allow Jesus to be a fraud rather than powerful and theologically difficult. That’s when they summoned the man’s parents in 9:18.

The best that we can tell is that only one person–the man born blind–came to faith in Jesus out of this encounter. Presumably it changed his life as he, upon hearing that Jesus is the Messiah, refers to Him, for the first time, as “Lord” and worships Him. That’s the best part of the after story.

This after-story effect suggests the effect of the gospel as a whole. If we experience the miracle of salvation, if we allow Jesus to transform our blindness into sight, if we trot off to wash in the pool, and no ripples or giant waves come from the splash, then did we really encounter a miracle?

I ask that because I know that many people within the church are living lives similar to those “blind” Pharisees. They do religious things and know religious knowledge, but they don’t all fall down and worship Jesus as Lord. They don’t always react to what they can see right before their eyes. That’s a shame for them.

It’s a shame for me at times as well.

The Easter Warranty

Woohoo! It’s Easter (or at least it was). We all got dressed up in our new clothes and headed off to church in high spirits. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” We sang and smiled and sang some more. The preacher brought his word and people who never amen uttered an amen. And did I mention that it was Easter! Yes!

So how long does that Easter high last? It’s Friday. Is He still risen? Of course Jesus is still risen, but does your life show it? Are you still feeling that Easter thrill like you did a short five days ago?

Let me put this another way. What is the shelf life for your mountain-top experiences with God? For me, this Sunday, for all its power, had pretty well faded behind the chaos and confusion of the remainder of the day. I think it was around 2:00 p.m. when I realized that my mailbox had fallen over and needed to be re-set before Monday that my Easter warranty expired.

Part of me wants to ask how to make the mountain-top experience last longer, but another part wonders if we should expect them to endure. Think about big-mouth Peter on the mountain of transfiguration:

Peter and those with him were in a deep sleep, and when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men who were standing with him. As the two men were departing from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it’s good for us to be here. Let us set up three shelters: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he was saying.–Luke 9:32-33

In short, Peter was saying, “Lord, this is really cool. Let’s stay here forever!” And of course they couldn’t. They had to go down the mountain and deal with hunger and sickness, sore feet and hard beds. How long did Peter’s literal mountain-top experience last? We know that it didn’t keep him from denying Jesus not terribly far in the future.

Should I feel bad that my Easter thrill dwindled so quickly? I don’t know that I should. I am, after all, a ball of sinful flesh with an indwelling Holy Spirit. That arrangement cannot simply stay on the mountain, although we can hope to make the visits more frequent.

A day will come when we will dwell forever in that mountain-top realm. That experience will make Easter 2019 seem kind of anemic, and it will endure. But until that day comes, we need to treasure the mountain peaks knowing that the valleys and the tedious plains will inevitably come.

Rather than feeling bad about the speed with which the glow faded out of Easter this week, perhaps we should focus on getting back to the mountain more than once a year. Easter 2020, by the way, will be on April 12.

 

What Charles Dickens Can Teach Us about Church Music Styles

As my church moves toward merging its two divergently styled worship services, a few people are wringing their hands over how we can combine the hymns of the early service–they actually don’t sing very many hymns now, but don’t tell anybody–with the cutting-edge nature of the later service–which isn’t really that cutting edge.

People have probably fretted about church music since Bach was “contemporary” and people in the pews pined away for Gregorian chant. I recall a devout old woman from my former church who declared that “guitars aren’t sacred,” unaware that people in a previous age had said the same about the organ she played.

As we consider this, let’s look at John Everett Millais’ famous painting, “Christ in the House of His Parents.” (Click the image for a much larger view.)

What does this painting have to do with church music? Consider what Charles Dickens had to say about the composition:

In the foreground of that carpenter’s shop is a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed-gown, who appears to have received a poke in the hand, from the stick of another boy with whom he has been playing in an adjacent gutter, and to be holding it up for the contemplation of a kneeling woman, so horrible in her ugliness, that (supposing it were possible for any human creature to exist for a moment with that dislocated throat) she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest gin shop in England.

What Dickens missed or simply ignored was the symbolism and thought behind this painting. Yes, that “blubbering, red-headed boy” had received a poke in the hand. Interesting, the position of that wound, isn’t it? And the nails seen over both shoulders–are they coincidental?

The Mary of the painting, while not an idealized woman, can scarcely be called “horrible in her ugliness” nor does her neck seem unnaturally positioned.

In allowing his vocabulary to play havoc with the reality of the painting, Dickens ignored the dove perched above Jesus’ head, the slightly older boy (John the Baptist?) bringing (baptismal?) water to the scene, and the blessing-like position of Jesus’ wounded hand.

What Mr. Dickens should have said was simply, “This painting is not my cup of tea.” What worshippers, faced with changing music styles, should say is, “That’s not exactly my cup of tea.” Such a judgment is perfectly acceptable. The reality, of course, is that we can learn to worship in many styles if we focus not on the means of the worship (or the style of the painting) but on the object of the worship, that “blubbering, red-headed boy” who grew up to carry the sins of the world onto a Roman cross.

Whether guitars are sacred or not, if they sing about Christ and him crucified, they sing truth.