Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | March 26, 2017

2017.03.26 “All I Know is This” – John 9: 1–41

Central United Methodist Church
All I Know is This
Pastor David L. Haley
John 9: 1–41
The 4th Sunday in Lent
March 26th, 2017

Jesus Healing Blind Man

“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.

 

After much consideration of this story, after preaching it for many years, I’ve concluded this: I’m not sure I like this story. Because the central question it asks – “Who is blind and who sees?” – raises the possibility that we might be the ones who are blind and do not see. From the outset, we may want to ask the question the Pharisees ask at the end: “Does this mean you are calling us blind?”

It is the 4th of such conversations with Jesus, the first with the Tempter in the wilderness, the 2nd with Nicodemus in John 3, and last week with the Woman at the Well in John 4. Evidently, the people who assembled the lectionary wanted to emulate spring, because as you may have noted, like the days, the Gospel reading keeps getting longer and longer. If this keeps up, by mid-summer we’ll be here all day.

To be sure, the story of Jesus healing the man born blind 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 almost every 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)

“Who is blind and who sees,” is the opening premise of the story. Walking down a road, Jesus sees “a man born blind.” Did anybody else see this man, like Jesus saw him? Was he someone everyone knew, someone they expected to be there, always in that spot, like street people soliciting at expressway ramps?

As we walk through life, it is easy to rush through our days with blinders on and not to see the people on our path. I’m not only talking about street people or beggars; I’m talking about people we pass every day: at work or in school or in hospitals or nursing homes, sometimes even people in our own families. If we could see people as Jesus saw people, perhaps we would have more healing stories to tell.

One of the interesting details of the story is that the actual healing only takes two verses. But it takes 33 verses to deal with the controversy that followed. As President Trump recently remarked, “Who knew healthcare was so complicated?”

As for what happened, it’s hard to say whether it is comedy, tragedy, or satire; sometimes it seems more like a Monty Python skit than Gospel. As we heard, it involves lots of traipsing around by the Pharisees to interview family and friends and finally the blind man himself, who in some ways knows nothing but in other ways knows a lot: “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.” The Pharisees learn what many of us have also learned: you can argue with an argument; you can’t argue with an experience.

United Methodist Will Willimon says he once had a man in one of his congregations who struggled with various forms of addiction. By struggle, he means that bounced back and forth between alcohol, pills, drugs, and other kinds of addiction. Family and friends tried to intervene, various treatments programs were applied, all failed. Then one spring night the man said, “It was as clear as day, Jesus appeared to me and he touched me. In an instant I was delivered of this demon that stalked me for so long.”

Some in the congregation snickered behind his back, “Wonder if he was sober when he saw Jesus?” Or even more cynically, “Isn’t it a shame Jesus couldn’t have shown up 10 years ago when he still had a wife!”

Says Willimon, “When I was asked to rule on the validity of this man’s miraculous healing, all I could say – as the informed spiritual authority – was, “Well, who knows, he says he’s healed, he said Jesus did it, who are we to doubt?”

When asked to explain himself, as to why Jesus cured him and not the other addicted persons in the congregation, the man replied, “Hey – all I know is I was a drunk. I was going down for the third time, I was unable to help myself, and then Jesus cured me. That’s all I know.” But he remained sober and free for his remaining years. Sometimes, like this man, like the blind man in the Gospel, when asked about our faith or our experience or even our healing, we don’t need arguments or explanations or proofs; all we need to say is, “All I know is this; I once was blind, but now I see.” (Will Willimon, “Let’s Let the Experts Handle This,” A Sermon for Every Sunday, March 20, 2017.)

But here’s the rub: “Do we see?” There are two sides in this story: there is one who was blind who now sees, but there are others who can see that appear blind, in that they can’t see the truth right in front of them.

One of the reasons I don’t like this story is because it comes down hard on people like me, religious professionals, congregational leaders. We’ve got a blind man healed here, by somebody nobody sent from the backwaters of Galilee; what do you think, we’re going to throw a party? No, we’re going to need an interview and documentation. Staff Parish needs to meet to make sure no ethical boundaries were crossed. Trustees needs to meet to make sure there are no liabilities, no mess to clean up after somebody got healed on our property. I expect there will be a new line item in the statistical reports: “People healed this year, with the following boxes: “Blind” “Deaf” “Mute” “Lame” “Other.” Nope, no cynicism here! All I know is we too sometimes overlook the obvious, the good things God does without us, sometimes despite us.

But the point of the story is that it’s not just “religious professionals” who are blind to what’s before us, it can be any of us. All of us have known, or know, people who are blind to something obvious to others. Blind to something affecting our health, like smoking or overeating or an addiction. Blind to the waywardness of a child, or a relationship that is codependent or even abusive. Blind to something hurting not only us, but those around us. I remember watching Cheers, many years ago, and remember Norm famously saying: “I sit on this bar stool night after night wondering where my marriage went wrong.”

If anything, in a society where we now talk about “alternate facts” and “fake news,” where we can have two sets of realities construed from one set of facts, the disparity of who is blind and who sees has become alarming. The New Yorker Magazine parodied this recently in a cartoon: “That was the Democratic weather report; stay tuned for the Republican weather report.” How have we gotten to this place?

The uncomfortable reality is – like the Pharisees in the story – our ability to see the truth is constrained and often captive to our personal narratives, our cultural and political loyalties, our financial and professional interests. Years ago (2004) the author and historian Thomas Franks wrote a book (later made in to a TV series) called, “What’s The Matter with Kansas?” examining how people can be made to vote against their own best interests, by convincing them they are doing the right thing, defending conservative cultural values. That has brought not only Kansas, which is in dire financial shape, but our nation, to where we are today, with dysfunctional governments that cannot govern, especially in the interests of the people they serve.

So you see why we might not like this story; while it may be a comforting story, about how Jesus the Light of the World can help us to see; it is also a challenging story, warning us that we might be the ones who are blind.

As our final song in the service today, 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.” But it is also an example of how, even once we can see, we can remain blind.

John NewtonAmazing Grace was written was John Newton, an 18th century English sailor and Anglican cleric. 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. 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 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 the slave trade.

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.

All I know is this: I want to see. To see people, to see the things God is doing, to see the truth right in front of my face. May Jesus, the light of God, shining in the world, open our eyes that we may see. Amen.

 

 

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