Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sight for the Journey (Sermon - John)

(Reading of John 9:1-7)
Don't we so often look for someone to blame when something goes wrong?  Human nature, right?  There must be a reason, and the reason must be that someone is at fault. 
No sooner had that mudslide in Washington occurred last week than reporters were quoting  experts who claimed that people had been warned of the hazards of living on that mountainside.  It must be someone's fault that so many people have been killed.
And when someone gets into trouble?  Especially a teenager?  How often do people say,
"Those parents . . . ". Or, "What's going on in that house?"  There must be a responsible party at fault, right?  If we could just drag all the parents of kids in trouble into juvenile court, we could solve our youth problems.
In the ancient world, illness or disability had to be someone's fault.  The nameless man in our story has been blind from birth, and so, "Who?" ask the neighbors.  "Him?  Or his parents?  Who is at fault?"  When a child is born blind, who is to blame?
We understand this, don't we?  We who think of ourselves as oh, so sophisticated -- we ask
the same questions when something goes horribly wrong.  What did I do wrong?  A natural
disaster – what did I fail to take into account?  A family problem – was I not paying attention? An illness – couldn’t I have prevented this?
What did I fail to see? That’s what we ask ourselves.  Instinctively, we know that literal sight, even if we score 20/20 in the opthamologist’s  office is not enough.  We need to look with  our hearts and minds as well as with our eyes, and we know that we don’t always do so well. And so we stick to the literal, and try to find someone or something to blame.
(Reading of John 1:8-12)
Do we expect the ordinary to be transformative?
Do we expect people to be changed by the ordinary?
Do we expect ourselves to be changed by the ordinary?
It's a strange story, isn't it?  Jesus uses mud, spit, and water to give sight to a blind man.  Jesus has already dismissed the question of whether the man or his parents sinned.  He has said that the man was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 
That might not sit so well with us.  Would God really make a child born blind for the purpose of revealing God’s glory through a miracle later on?  Doesn’t that seem a bit – well, mercurial and unfair and even harsh of God?  What about the years of health that the man missed out on?
Maybe that’s not what Jesus means.  Maybe Jesus doesn’t mean that God sets out to damage some of us in ways that will require God’s intervention for healing to take place.
Maybe what he means is this: That no matter how we are born or how we live, no matter our limitations, or apparent lack of limitations, we are all, every one of us, called into partnership with God so that God’s works, God’s goodness, might be revealed. We all need God’s intervention.  This man is no different from any other man or woman or child: he was born so that God’s works might be revealed through him.
And how are God's works revealed? In this case, and in others? 
Not through a dramatic surgery in a major medical center in Jerusalem.
Not through a miracle breakthrough in medications discovered in a laboratory on Mount Sinai.
Not through the power of a great force of nature -- thunder, lightning, fire.
But through mud, spit, and a bath.
Sight for our earthly journey, which might or might not be literal, physical sight, is given us in and through the ordinary.  Great gifts come in the smallest and most everyday materials and activities of life.
I’ve been reading a novel entitled The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge, and at one point the main character, Lucilla, whose life has been fraught with losses and other difficulties, muses that life is very difficult, and that we must learn to see and appreciate the small, everyday wonders if we are going to make it: a newly-blooming flower, the sound of the wind, the warmth of the sun.  In her life, the gift of healing comes through the ordinary.  In our story today, Jesus heals, unexpectedly and surprisingly, through the ordinary.  In our own lives, healing often comes through the daily, the mundane.  Mud, spit, water. 
(Reading of John 9:13-17)\
How do we respond?  When a calamity turns out to be no one’s fault, and then is resolved? When new sight brings new possibilities? When new sight comes to us in unexpected ways at inappropriate times via unfamiliar people? 
Do we respond in joy?  Do we understand that God might be at work?  That a person’s difficulties resolved might be a source of the revelation of God?
Or are we a bit uncomfortable?  Hesitant? Anxious?  Too much unexpected change, too much for us to take in?
The people who know this man?  They don't know what to make of this situation.  A complete healing, a healing by mud and spit, effected by this new rabbi in their midst, and on the Sabbath, no less.  A healing that should not be happening at all, accomplished with the most ordinary of materials, on a day when no work is to be done.
What do they do? They call in the experts.
They call in the Pharisees.
And the Pharisees, it seems, are sighted people of limited vision.  Trapped by their adherence to Sabbath rules and regulations, they are bewildered by this man who ignores the rules upon which they depend and heals in the most unusual of ways on a day on which he should be worshipping in the synagogue. They know how life is supposed to proceed, but what they see now is not at all what they are supposed to be seeing.
What kind of sight do we need, we who profess to follow Jesus?  What kind of sight do we need for our Lenten journey?  Surely sight which limits its range to that which we already know – it’s is not enough. And most definitely sight which overlooks the full range of possibilities inherent in the ordinary – it’s inadequate. 
The experts, those who represent power and authority, do not necessarily exercise the sight we need to acquire in order to see our lives as Jesus sees them.
The man himself?  He knows.  He knows that his life is designed to reveal the goodness of God. He says, simply, that Jesus "is a prophet." 
(Reading of John 9:18-34)
The people, the neighbors and friends of this man, are not been reassured by the Pharisees' indecision.  They conclude that the man is lying!  He must not have been born blind.
And so they try to pull his parents into the discussion, wanting to know whether the man has
always been blind.  The parents have to admit that he has been, but beyond that they will not go.  The Pharisees suffer the limited sight of the rule-bound;  the parents suffer the limited sight of the fearful.  They don't want to be thrown out of their synagogue, and so they say: "Ask our son what happened.  We have nothing to say on the matter."

And we understand those parents, don't we?  Haven't we all been guilty of hiding out, of not wanting to speak up, of hoping that people will forget about us before we have to tell the truth?  We don’t want to lose our place in our community – what if we were asked about something we didn’t want to reveal? We just might say, “Ask someone else.” 

Look at all these people who can’t see what’s happened: neighbors, friends, Pharisees, parents. . .  no wonder this story is so long!  It’s chock full of people who can see, but don’t.  They are so blind that they thrust the healed man from their midst.

Who is the one person wiling to see and to say the truth here?

It's the man himself.  The man who has experienced a literal transformation -- complete healing – by ordinary means, by mud and spit and water. The man who has experienced a spiritual transformation -- enlarged vision -- by an extraordinary encounter, with the Son of God himself.

Transformation breeds confidence -- trust – and awe. That’s why the man is able to speak out where others tremble.  Those characteristics – confidence, and trust, and awe -- are the hallmarks of true vision -- and true vision is the result of genuine sight.  It's that genuine sort of sight that we need to journey onward.  Not merely the sight that will enable us to see the road, to find food, to converse easily others.  But the sight that makes of us people of vision: people confident and trusting and filled with awe when we encounter Jesus --  in the ordinary.

People able to reveal the works of God through our own ordinary lives.  This is what we are designed to do: to reveal the goodness and love of God, however it is that we were born.

We are all blind in some way, all unable to see clearly, until Jesus offers us healing – through ordinary means.  Maybe not with mud and spit, but maybe through the caring of friends, or the satisfactions of work, or the beauty of nature. And when Jesus offers us healing and our sight is restored, we receive the gift of vision.  Vision that enables us to see Jesus among us, and to reveal him to others through our own lives of confident faith and awe-filled reverence. 

(Reading of John 9:35-41)

Of course, change, transformation -- they do not come merely from the ordinary. 

They came from Jesus himself, laboring among the ordinary.

Change and transformation do not come easily to the fearful, to those bound to the past.

They come to those who embrace their experience of God, those who embrace it with
confidence, trust, and awe.

What is the sight we ourselves need?

If we see only as we have in the past, if we allow ourselves to be trapped by what was, we will be blind to the new creation, to the Kingdom of God among us in the form of Jesus Christ.  Our journey will be for naught; we might as well have stayed at home.

But if we are open to the healing of our blindnesses, if we can let our limitations be eroded, if we can allow Jesus to take action in our lives, using the ordinary stuff of which they are made, if we can but let him change us into people who see -- then we may become women and men of vision, those who see the Light of the World offering us a Kingdom.

We may truly become a church on the move, a pilgrim people sent into the world to walk, as our own vision statement says, together in the love of Jesus, sharing the good news of God’s love for all – if we rejoice in the vision Jesus offers. Let’s not get bogged down in the past, in rules, in fearfulness, in limitation.  Our lives are designed to reveal his the love of God, but we need the clear sight and enlarged vision Jesus offers. We are called to embrace the abundance and love of Christ’s healing vision, and to let our lives show it to the world. Amen.


  1. I like the way you broke up the passage, and there is lots of great stuff here. Thanks, once again, for a thought provoking sermon, and for posting it.

  2. I agree with Monica that breaking up the passage is a creative way of dealing with it and also a great way to keep people's attention. There is so much packed into this excellent sermon but this sentence really resonates with me: "Transformation breeds confidence -- trust – and awe".