Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 30, 2014

2014.03.30 “Start Seeing!” – John 9: 1–41

Central United Methodist Church

Start Seeing!

Pastor David L. Haley

John 9: 1–41

The 4th Sunday in Lent

March 30th, 2014

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Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed — and saw.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!”

          But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”

          He said, “It’s me, the very one.”

They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”

“A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”

“So where is he?”

          “I don’t know.”

They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.

They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

          He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see — haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind — and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”

He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

“I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

“Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.” – John 9: 1 – 41, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson.

I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker: “Start seeing motorcycles.”  Image

It’s not a sales pitch; it’s a safety campaign.  As a motorcycle rider, I would appreciate it if you would observe it.  Here’s why.

About eight years ago, I was sitting in an intersection on my Harley, waiting for the light to turn green. I was facing a car in the opposing left turn lane, left turn signal blinking. I’m looking at him; he’s looking at me, or so I thought. The light changes: I wait, he waits. I accelerate, and he turns left right in front of me. I hit the brakes hard, skidded, and went down. At least I didn’t hit his car, because in motorcycle versus car, car always wins.  Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt. As we’re filling out the accident report, he apologized, and said he was in a hurry, because he was late for work. Which almost made me early for heaven, or at least a hospital bed. If I remember correctly, it cost him and his insurance around $1,000, and I’ve still got a dent in my motorcycle, thankfully not in my skull.

One of my fears as I get older is that someday, I too, will look without seeing, and pull out into traffic after looking right through a car coming at me.  Of course, you don’t have to be old to do this; distracted drivers come in all ages. The problem is not our eyesight; it is our brain failing to register and react to what we see. Distracted driving takes many forms; which is why maneuvering a potentially lethal two-ton weapon takes 100% of our focus and concentration, and why it also means not talking on a phone, texting, or, working on sermons at the same time.

Working on sermons, because, I had to run an errand yesterday, and – ironically – as I’m driving and working on this sermon in my head, I watched a car proceed from a side street right in front of me without stopping, which gave me a chance to hit my brakes AND the Chicago equivalent of braking, which was to blast them with my horn. I can’t say if it was a case of not looking, or note seeing. As a former driver of big red fire trucks, you’d be surprised how many people look even at them without seeing, even with all the pretty lights.  Apparently, “go right for sirens and lights” is as confusing as “start seeing motorcycles.”

But here’s an even more troubling thought: if we can “look without seeing” in this most basic, physical sense, does it not also raise the larger question of what else we’re looking at without seeing: intellectually, emotionally, morally, and spiritually?

That’s the question raised in today’s Gospel, the eye-opening story of the man born blind, in John chapter 9: who sees and who doesn’t?  Might it, in ways we don’t yet see, be us?

It is the 3rd of such encounters with Jesus we have heard, the first with Nicodemus in John 3, and last week with the Samaritan Woman in John 4. As you may know, the word Lent comes a Germanic root for length, because in the spring the days get longer. Evidently, the people who put together the lectionary want to emulate spring, because the Gospel readings keep getting longer.  At this rate, by mid-summer we’ll be here all day.

Anna Carter Florence has observed that a preacher could talk a long time about this story, which is not significant, because a preacher can talk a long time about anything. But this is a great story, one of the best in the New Testament. Scenes are smoothly connected; characters unfold before our eyes; questions are answered in a timely fashion; and above all, the dialogue, ironic at almostevery point, unveils the satire of the blind man who comes to see, only to see people who appear to be blind. The story is an enacted parable of Jesus as the Light of the World; who, while enlightening some, proves blinding to others. (Anna Carter Florence, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, p. 117)

One question we can use to access this story is, with whom in this story do we most identify with?

Some of us may say Jesus, and that would be great, but I doubt most of us do. That might be our aspiration, to be like Jesus, bringing the Light of God into the dark places of the world, through words and deeds. Isn’t it interesting the difference between Jesus and his disciples?  Where they saw the blind man as a theological problem to be discussed, Jesus saw him as a person to be helped; not a problem, but an opportunity. May God grant that we might at least be like Jesus in this respect, that while we are here, we too might be the Light of God, the face of God, the hands and feet of God in the world.  For night comes when no one can work any more.

Most of us – though we do not suffer from a congenital disability – may identify with the blind man. I cannot imagine what it would be like never to see, have you ever wondered that? Alyce McKenzie, Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist, says she has a friend who has been severely sight impaired since he was a teenager. She said she asked him how he coped with it. He replied, “For about twenty minutes a day, I feel very angry and frustrated and lament how unfair it is that I have to deal with this. Then I get up and deal with the day.”

And imagine being defined by your handicap or disease? Who would want to be known as the Man with the Scarred Face, or the Woman with No Hair? And while we might scorn ancient beliefs of disability as sin, think of all the negative expressions we use about blindness: “Blind as a bat. Blind alley. Blind luck. Rob someone blind. Blind date. Blind spot. Blindside. Flying blind.” On the contrary, we who are sighted likely take for-granted the positive idioms associated with sight:  “I see your point.  Let’s see what we can do about that.  It’s nice to see you.  I see the handwriting on the wall.  I’ll believe it when I see it.  I see.”  (Alyce M. McKenzie, “Deal With It! Reflections of John 9:1-41, Patheos, March 30, 2014)

So there the blind man was, dealing with his day, when Jesus came along. But where was the miracle? In Jesus’ touch? In the mud? In the spit? In the water from the pool of Siloam?  In his faith, which doesn’t even come until the end? What if all healing is progressive?  First, we must do this; then we must do that.  Hopefully one of those things involves going to a doctor, and another, going to church.

Post-sight, other than the man Jesus, the poor man didn’t have an explanation, any more than we do. As the blind man demonstrates, some things cannot be explained, at least not satisfactorily. You can argue with a person with an argument; but you can’t argue with an experience. If someone says they’ve experienced transformation by seeing Jesus’ image in a plate of spaghetti, and they are indeed transformed, you can’t argue with it, you can only believe it, like it or not. Of course, you could always throw them out, like the leaders threw out the blind man, like the synagogues did Jewish and Gentile Christians, when they said they’d experienced transformation through Jesus. So it’s a notable point in the story, that even after that, it is Jesus who goes looking for them. Who are those we kick out of church today?  Might Jesus be looking for them, too?

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished; transformation always brings disruption; after intervention comes the inquisition.  Which brings us to the third possibility, that while some of us may identify with Jesus, most of us identify with the blind man, none of us, I suspect, identify with the religious leaders, who could not see a healed and happy man standing before them, the light of God blazing in the world. Because, after all, they were right, just as we are right! As the old saying goes, “I made a mistake once; I thought I was wrong.” The message of this story, while consoling to some, is challenging to others: those who think they see, don’t. Those who are certain they are right, are not. Standing here in the light of God, we must admit we must admit we might be wrong; in one thing, perhaps even many things.  What truth stands before us, that we cannot see?

All of us have known, or even know now, people who are blind; at times in our lives it may even have been us. Not literally blind, but blind to something right in front of our faces. Blindness to something affecting our health, like smoking or overeating or addiction. Blindness to something emotionally obvious to others, like the waywardness of a child, or a relationship that is codependent or abusive. Blindness to something seriously hurting us and those around us.  It might even be blindness in regard to the disparity between what we believe and how we live.Unfortunately, we never have to look very far to find an illustration.

As our final song in the service, we’re going to sing one of our favorites, Amazing Grace, in one of its modern incarnations.  Is there any better reference to the story of the man born blind than the line in Amazing Grace? “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now, I see.”

Amazing Grace was written was John Newton, an 18th century English sailor and Anglican cleric. Image

Despite all his accomplishments, in one significant way, his life is an example of looking without seeing.

He was born July 24, 1725, the son of a shipmaster. His mother died before his 7th birthday, and at age 11 he went to sea with his father, sailing six voyages before his father retired in 1742.

The following year, he was pressed into the Royal Navy.  At one point he attempted to desert and was punished in front of the crew of 350: stripped to the waist and tied to the grating, he received a flogging of eight-dozen lashes and was reduced to the rank of a seaman. Following that disgrace and humiliation, he contemplated murdering the captain and then committing suicide by throwing himself overboard. Later, he transferred to a slave ship bound for Sierra Leone, West Africa. The ship carried goods to Africa and traded them for slaves to be shipped to England and other countries. There, he was left as the servant to a cruel slave trader.

Eventually he was rescued, and sailed back to England.  Off the coast of Donegal, Ireland, the ship encountered a severe storm and almost sank. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and called out to God as the ship filled with water. After he called out, the cargo stopped up the hole, and the ship drifted to safety. The date was May 10, 1748, an anniversary he marked for the rest of his life, as the beginning of his conversion. From that point on, he avoided profanity, gambling, and drinking, but he continued to work in the slave trade.

 

Newton obtained a position as first mate aboard another slave ship bound for the West Indies, by way of West Africa. There, while sick with a fever, he professed his full belief in Christ, asked God to take control of his destiny, and later said that this experience was his true conversion and the turning point in his spiritual life. But still, he did not renounce the slave trade. After his return to England in 1750, he made three further voyages as the captain of slave-trading ships. He finally gave up seafaring and active slave-trading activities in 1754, after suffering a severe stroke, but continued to invest in slaving operations.

Eventually, after 7 years, he was accepted to be ordained as a priest in the Church of England, and was appointed to Olney, in Buckinghamshire.  In 1767 William Cowper, the poet, moved to Olney, worshipped in the church, and collaborated with Newton on a volume of hymns. It included, among others, “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,”There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” and one called, “Faith’s Review and Expectation,” which later came to be known by its opening phrase, Amazing Grace. It wasn’t until 1788, 34 years after he had retired from the slave trade, that Newton broke his long silence on the subject with the publication of a forceful pamphlet “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade”, in which he described the horrific conditions of the slave ships during the Middle Passage, and apologized for “a confession, which … comes too late … It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” Newton became an ally of William Wilberforce, leader of the Parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade, and blind and near death, lived to see the passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

Knowing this gives new meaning not only to the hymn, Amazing Grace, but also to the story of the Man Born Blind:

“I once was lost, but now am found;

was blind, but now, I SEE.”

By the Light that comes to us in Jesus Christ, may we “start seeing!”

Lord, Jesus Christ, Light of the World: give us the grace to see . . .

Those by the side of the road of life, not as problems to be discussed, but people to be loved;

Those transformed by your love, not as disruptions to us and to our way of living and thinking, but as your children to be embraced.

Ourselves, as not as always RIGHT, but always OPEN to the shining Light of God, comforting us, challenging us, transforming us.  Amen.

 

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