Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sermon: Going Blind So We Can See

John 9:1-41

The meaning of the passage in the gospel of John is obvious.

There is a blind man who sees who Jesus is. Compare this with the fact that there are lots of people with good eyesight who are blind to who Jesus is. It is meant to be a contrast, a contradiction of what is expected that will shake up our impressions of the world. The gospel writer is sharing this story because John wants us to open our eyes so that we can really see Jesus. John doesn’t want us to suffer from spiritual blindness.

The problem is that from our birth we have seen things a certain way, we have put things in certain categories, and it is very hard for us to change that. This video demonstrates that really well:


Our minds get caught up in interpreting what we see in certain ways. It isn’t just with 3d images. We do it with people. For example, our scripture today. The disciples were sure that the man was blind because someone had done something wrong. They couldn’t see that a good person might suffer. The Pharisees were sure that Jesus was not from God because he healed the blind man on the Sabbath day. They couldn’t see past the sin of working on the Sabbath, to realize that what Jesus had done could only be done by God.

The same things happen to us. We get caught up in assumptions about our faith. So perhaps we have always seen Jesus or Christians or even people of the church as negatives things, what would it take to change that? Or likewise perhaps we have always seen Jesus or Christians or even people of the church as purely positive, without flaw, what would it take to change that?

The fact is that both of these are insufficient. Christians and people of the church have never been completely negative, nor have they been completely positive. They have been the catalyst for great good, and they have been the source of great harm. Sadly, there are people who have experienced Jesus as a frightening figure of condemnation and hatred, when it is his desire to be a source of great healing and hope in their lives. We don’t like to admit it, but both are true.

Likewise, if we turn the picture around, non-Christians and people outside the church are often depicted as evil or backward by the church as we point out all the harm they have done, and yet they have also been the catalyst for great good, Muslims have been the source of incredible blessings, atheists have made great contributions to society.

The challenge of this passage is to open our eyes and see where

God is at work, even in places where we may not expect it. The disciples have to learn that people don’t suffer because they sinned. The Pharisees have to learn that just because someone works on the Sabbath does not mean that they are evil. In fact, that person might be the Messiah. But for that to happen, something radical has to come that will change the way they see. The same is true for us. What happens when God is at work in a place we don’t expect? How are we going to see it? That’s where Jesus comes in. What Jesus says is that he is the light of the world.

Imagine you are in a room that is nearly dark. Always your experience of that room has been in the dark. You have learned to feel your way around. You know that there is a big box in the corner, that is smooth and really hurts when you smack your shin on it. You know that there is a comfortable chair just to the right of the doorway. You even know there is a lump in the carpet that you could trip over about three feet south of the center of the room.

Into your familiar setting, suddenly there is a new light, a bright light, which changes how you see everything. The lump in the carpet is still just a lump in the carpet but you never knew the carpet was lime green. The big box in the corner isn’t just a box, it is painted in a thousand colors, depicting the scenes of joyous celebrations from your life. The chair also holds a surprise, it has words printed across the back that say, “When you are weary, I will give you rest.” Plus, you notice things that you never knew were there before. The ceiling is actually carved with thousands of flowers and animals. It was out of reach, and you assumed that it was a ceiling like any other, but it was not. It took the light to change how you viewed it all.

That is what Jesus claims to be. He is the light that will change how we see the world. The problem is, that most of us, don’t really let Jesus turn on the light. We haven’t learned to change the way we see. We have to push beyond the ways we previously thought. That was the disciples’ problem, the Pharisees’ problem, and I think it is the problem of people in every age.

From time to time I wonder

what would happen to me if I were suddenly struck blind? Would I become kinder to people, less judgmental? Would I be less concerned about how good looking that woman in front of me is, or what that guy is wearing, or the color of that kid’s skin who is walking toward me on the sidewalk, and spend more time focusing on their tone of voice, their character, and who they truly are? Would being blind actually help me see them more clearly as Christ sees them?

I do wonder that from time to time. Would it take something that drastic to shake me from my certainties so that I could really see things the ways Jesus wants me to see them?  Think about it, “When have you been pushed beyond what you once thought so certain, both in faith and in terms of what you believed about people?”[1] Was it something big like going blind or being cured of blindness? Or was it something smaller that simply had a big impact on how you looked at the world?

As you think about it, “What helped you cope with the change? What did you learn?”[2] As you think about that shift in your understanding of the world, what if Christ is saying to you, I want you to do that with everything now? I am the light of the world. In the Message, Eugene Peterson translates Jesus’ words like this, “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.”

So how does Jesus do that?

What does he show us and tell us to help us make clear distinctions so that we are not blind in this world? As you recall our drama, what is it that the situation teaches us about seeing? Well, it reminds us that suffering is not punishment for past sins. Rather suffering is an opportunity for God’s blessing and work. It then reminds us that it is our job to do the work of God, even if it breaks religious tradition and religious law. Finally, the blind man himself reminds us that the miracles speak for themselves. They are evidence that God is behind the work of Jesus.

As Christians we have no problem with Jesus being the Messiah. We accept that Jesus was from God well enough. But the heart of the argument isn’t just about who Jesus is, it is about the way that God works. The suggestion is that when miracles happen, God is present. No matter what we as humans may think of the individual or group who performed the miracle. And as Christians we aren’t as good about hearing that message. We would much rather say, no that person can’t be from God because they are breaking this part of God’s law, they can’t be from God because they have the wrong opinion on this issue, or they came from the wrong background, or worst of all they aren’t even Christian. And yet the miracle suggests that God is with them.

So Christ as the light of the world says, you claim to see everything so well, but when you don’t see what I am doing, you are still blind to how I work, and you have more to learn. This passage is meant to challenge us as religious people to realize that God is bigger than our preconceived notions. Suffering is not condemnation. People are not poor because they deserve it. People are not sick because they committed grievous sins. Suffering is opportunity for God’s people to be at work. Any and all of God’s people. So wherever there is healing, wherever there is hope, wherever there are miracles – God is there working with whoever and whatever kinds of people are there – even if we don’t think they are the kind God would associate with. Whether we want to see God there or not, God is there. Christ shines his light so that we might look and see the wondrous deeds of God, and see the people of God who do them in a new a powerful light. His light. But we may have to go blind to see it.

[1] Seasons of the Spirit
[2] Seasons of the Spirit

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