Sunday, March 22, 2020

From Blindness to Sight to Vision

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A
John 9:1-41

It’s an old question… and one that people ask all the time: who’s fault is it?
And we are especially stirred up right now around the questions of health and healing.
As we experience this strange time of self-imposed and government mandated isolation, when our routines are disrupted, our jobs limited and our ability to do ordinary things from school to going to the movies to weddings and funerals, it’s easy ask “whose fault is this? Who sinned?” and also to ask about how we might find healing in this moment where illness or fear of illness is at the front of our attention.
So, let’s take a look at the Gospel:
One Sabbath, Jesus and his friends encounter a blind man begging by the side of the street.
They ask “Who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus says that no one sinned, but God can use anything to do God’s work. Watch this.
So, Jesus takes a little dirt, spits in it to make mud, and then smears the mud on the blind man’s eyes and then sends him to the healing place to wash. He goes (or is taken there) and he is healed.
The religious leaders were amazed that the blind man can see, but they are offended that he was led to the healing place on the Sabbath and that someone made mud to do the healing.  So, they interrogated the man.
“Who healed you?”
“I dunno. Someone named Jesus.”
“Uhm.” They said. “Did you say Jesus?”
“Okay. You’re not really that blind man. You’re just pretending.”
“Yes, I am. Ask my parents.”
“Whatever. Let’s try this again. So, how did you get healed?”
“What’s the matter with you? Are you deaf? You asked. I answered. Jesus healed me.”
Fingers in ears. “La la la la la. I can’t hear you. You can go away now.”
Jesus shows us that there is more than one kind of blindness…but God only cares about the spiritual kind. The problem with spiritual blindness is that we don’t see what is right before our eyes.
Jesus comes to the man after he was tossed out by stubborn religious leaders. Good thing for Jesus he didn’t ask the man how he received his sight, because he might have hauled off and popped him one.  Instead, Jesus asks the man if he believes in the Son of Man—Jesus.  The man says, “show me, and I will believe.” Of course, he is being shown because Jesus is standing right there. And the man does believe.
Here’s the twist in the story: In the Gospel of John, the most religious people imaginable have their own kind of blindness because they see Jesus and do not believe. Except for this man, he was blind but now believes and sees.
Blindness can come from seeing too much. It can come from thinking we know how the world works and how it ought to work. Blindness can come from thinking we have everything under control. It can come from thinking that we can get God on our side if we are good enough, smart enough, clever enough. Blindness can come from thinking that we have—or ought to have-- in ourselves everything we need, and that we don’t need anyone else—and that we above the need for spiritual help.  Often, when we think we see the most, this is when we are the most blind.
A long time ago, I met a woman priest who once ministered this diocese and who knew my dad. My father was a deacon who came his vocation late in life—that, by itself, is a long story, but for another time—and he was assigned to the chaplaincy at the hospital where this priest did her clinical pastoral education. She told me about how wonderfully supportive he was of her and her journey to priesthood. He was a mentor to her, she said.
"Really?" I said. 

Well, I was very glad to hear that because I can remember when I was in high school and Pop heard the news of the first women to be ordained in the Episcopal Church. Let's just say that he did not take it well. He was, at that time, one very unhappy Episcopalian…he had all his arguments lined up. He was so worked up, he decided to a meeting of people opposed to the ordination of women. And, he told me later, that as he watched and listened, he realized something. All the people at this meeting sounded to him just like the people he grew up with in the segregated south: angry, afraid, and filled that scorn that comes from a kind of self-righteousness. And along with their fear of women priests, they brought all their other causes for anger and it added up to a kind of irrational rage. He had not yet changed his opinion about ordained women, but he knew that he did not want spend any more time with this group.  He told me later that the experience was like having his eyes touched by Jesus.
Just because you’re not blind does not mean that you can see. It took time for Pop to see. Over the years he got to meet and know ordained women until he met my friend the chaplain and began to mentor her as grandfather teaches a granddaughter. When I heard this story, a whole series of lights went off for me—because I got to see that if my father can move from blindness to sight and from sight to vision—then maybe there is hope for me, too? Maybe there is hope for all of us.
There is blindness and then there is blindness. There is the blindness that comes from not being able to see. And there is the blindness that comes from choosing not to see what God has put before us.
And there is sight and then there is sight. There is the sight that comes from resting in our own knowledge, our own power, and our own keen sense of the world as it is. We may think we are being realistic in our skepticism, but we may simply be locking the door on grace. There is another sight, a sight that brings vision. That is beginning to see ourselves and creation as loved, cherished and worthy of being renewed.
There is sight that sees God at work in simple acts of kindness. There is vision to see God at work in the care for the poor, the outcast and the lonely. There is light that comes from encountering the face of Christ in every person that God brings to us. We are seeing the eyes of many opened in this time of disease and self-quarantine as we find creative ways to reach out and care for one another—visiting each other on-line or by phone, doing errands for the homebound, finding new ways to connect and stay in relationship.
We have been touched by Jesus, and washed in the waters of baptism, and who have seen the Christ in faith, in sacrament, in community, in the faces of our neighbors, have a different vision. We have seen a mere glimpse of what God sees: a people capable of love, of faithfulness, and compassion, and a creation full of wonder and possibility. We don’t claim to see everything, but we know that in Christ, God removes our blindness to hope.

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