Monday, March 31, 2014

Then and Now

John 9:1-41
I don’t know why I think it is ironic that the Sunday when scripture is about Jesus spitting in the dirt, making mud and slathering it on a blind man’s eyes that that very same week in Oso, Washington 26 people are dead and 90 unaccounted for due to a massive mudslide.  I suppose I was thinking mostly about the curative effects of mud but now it doesn’t seem so relevant with this latest news in Washington State.  Mud doesn’t seem so curative now, in fact it’s shown it’s deadly face.  What once was homes and lives are no more.

I am not one to believe that things happen for a reason because things, particularly acts of nature like earthquakes, tsunami’s, hurricanes, tornados, mudslides, just happen due to very unfavorable weather conditions.  And while we might receive some insight in time from these horrific events, God didn’t make these things happen to teach us a lesson.  What kind of God would that be?  It just seems that this mudslide will be a defining moment certainly with the people’s whose life was lost and unaccounted for and those who will need to live into a new reality.  Once there were homes but now there are not, once there were lives but now there are not.

Living into a new reality is sometimes a good thing and sometimes an unpleasant and sad thing.  Sometimes we ask for it and often times we don’t.  But the fact is our realities can and sometimes change on a dime, which is what happens in today’s lectionary reading.     
Barbara Brown Taylor refers to this scripture from John about the man born blind as “a one act play in six scenes with a large cast of characters.”[i]  Indeed it is another lengthy piece of scripture with many twists and turns and people to keep track of.  The miracle of Jesus giving sight to a blind man with mud is told four times throughout this passage so I’m not going to read the entire passage today as you have printed in your bulletin but selected passages.     

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

Let’s break here for a minute or two to digest what has happened.  By now Jesus is in Jerusalem and has just come from the temple and he’s walking along with his disciples who happen to see a blind beggar.  They’re curious, they want to know who sinned, the man who was born blind or his parents.  Back then sin was equated  with suffering, that if suffering happens it must be on account of some sort of sin or wrongdoing or wrong living that has occurred with the sufferer. 

But that’s old theology and we should be uncomfortable with it because we know we can produce a very accurate physiological explanation for this man’s blindness.  And blindness doesn’t necessarily produce suffering. However we do, I think, want to explain away suffering and give blame to some thing or some one, it relieves the bigger questions of why, why me? So sin cannot be the scapegoat for suffering. This is not the case here either.  Jesus says straight away that it wasn’t sin that caused his blindness but that he was born blind so that God’s works could be revealed in him.  

This, of course, is also a curious and dangerous statement for us to ponder.  What kind of God would promulgate natural disaster or blindness in order to reveal glory?  The Washington mudslide didn’t happen because they needed to have God’s glory revealed to them.  And blindness or any other sort of otherness is not an ethical deficit in one’s being, which needs God’s glory revealed to make it right or acceptable. God doesn’t need these things to disclose glory.  A simply sunset, a warm bowl of soup from a friend, a spring flower after a snowy winter shows us that God’s magnificent grace is with us.

Let’s move on picking up with verse 8….

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

Enter inquisitive neighbors, I’m sure you’ve known a few. They new him only as that blind man who used to sit and beg from them.  At least some of them did because they dispute between themselves as to whether it was really him, others didn’t think it was him but an imposter.  But he reassures them, “I’m your man!”  And again, a retelling of the miracle.  Mud was spread, he washed at Siloam and then received his sight.  His witness does not waver.  But somewhere between the first miracle and the retelling of it Jesus vanishes.  He’s gone for a while.  It’s been said that this is the longest passage or disappearance of Jesus in the Gospel of John.  So it gives the man time to tell his story yet another time.

Continuing in verse 13……

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
So the tides change in this part of the passage.  The sighted man was brought before the “Grand Jury” of Pharisees and he is assaulted with questions.[ii]  The who, what, where and why sorts of questions and the man sticks to his story, it never wavers.  Unfortunately the Pharisees could care less about this man seeing for the very first time in his life. Perhaps that sweltering middle eastern sun was harsh on these newly sighted eyes.  But they didn’t care how it felt or what he saw.  

The Pharisees go after Jesus.  He is the ‘greater’ sinner, public enemy numero uno.  His crime?…not keeping the Sabbath holy.  He couldn’t possibly be God’s representative because he healed on the Sabbath which was a BIG no-no.  They are out to get him.  But they still were hesitant in believing the man’s testimony even when he tells them that Jesus was a prophet so they call in the man’s parents.

And finally at verse 18

The people did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

And so the parents won’t answer for their son, he’s old enough to answer for himself.  He can’t answer their question of whether Jesus is a sinner, good for him, he’s not going down that slippery path.  All he does say is that he can testify to the best of his knowledge that though he was blind, now he sees.  They taunt this man’s knowledge and testimony and determine him to still be a sinner.  Eventally they drove him out. 

Then and now, though I was blind, now I see.  This is a defining moment in this man’s life; his former life ends and he had to embrace a new life that had been given him.  A life of sight, of vision, of beautiful landscapes, of color, of belief, of faith because he had been transformed through the grace of God manifest in the miracle of Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ identity reveled that day.

This is quite a story.  The moment and act of conversion, or going from blind to sighted is not as important as the difference it made in this man’s life.  It wasn’t the miracle itself but the aftermath of the miracle.  He can’t explain this miracle to the Pharisees but he can tell the difference it makes in his life, all he knows is that he could see.  This man has the courage to tell his story four times, to say what he knows, to speak truth to the power of God’s healing grace in his life when, on a dime, his life changed.  The difference in his life was vision and a profound vision and hope for life itself and it’s infinite possibilities.

Have you ever had a crucial moment or a critical juncture in your life when you were lost, when you were metaphorically blind, when you no longer could see the light of day or feel the warmth of the sun and then all of a sudden something changed and you could see?  You could see a new reality; a wrong that is in need of righting, a hurt that is in need of reconciling, a way of life that is in dire need of correction?  That’s God’s miracle of grace working in you.  That’s what this text is all about.  Realizing that a life in Christ can give you vision, and hope to go on even when you, yourself cannot.  Blind to sighted.  Depressed to encouraged.  Mud-soaked to verdant. 

If you are in need of hope and vision, and you aren’t quite there yet, this story of grace and love is for you.  It is the story of our faith revealed to us as many times as it needs to take place, until it finds a place in your heart.

I once was blind, but now I see.

[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, “A Tale of Two Heretics”, Home By Another Way, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 1999.
[ii] IBID. p. 741 Kindle edition.

 Pastoral Prayer

O holy one, full of grace and mercy, are days are filled with unmet expectations, hurt too deep for words, and sometimes darkness that defies light.   So we come to you with open hearts begging for your reassurance and love.   We sing out praises to you and seek your divine care and guidance for our lives.  Hear us, we pray, for our intentions are earnest and we place our trust and faith in your hands.  Send your holy spirit to be upon us now as we bring before you the joys and concerns or this, your gathered congregation.

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