So... this is the text of the sermon that we recorded to put online... just in case you are more of a reader than a watcher. To each their own.
While you are home... with projects getting done... and perhaps looking for some brain stimulation... it is okay to add a comment or two and have a good theological discussion if you want. When else do you have the time to turn a sermon into a dialogue?
March 22, 2020
For our gospel reading this morning, we’re going to read the whole of John chapter 9… which is alot of information to take in all at once. So two things as we work our way through this passage… one, this may be a good time to find and open your Bible there at home and read along… and two, as you listen or read along… think about this passage as you might think about a parable. There is so much more going on here than a reporting of an event. There is subtext and lots of it. So… let’s take a deep breath and I invite you to listen for the Word of God as it speaks to you this morning from the Gospel according to John chapter 9.
READ John 9
So much blindness.
For me it starts straight off with the disciples as they first encounter the blind man. Their question is one we might ask if we were walking behind Jesus and he encountered a blind man along the way. Jesus, what is the cause of this blindness? What is the reason for this suffering in the world? Is it caused primarily by others, who in their actions or inactions are the root cause of the suffering of innocents? Or is it that innocence is highly overrated and our suffering is a result of the consequences of our own actions? Seems like reasonable questions.
For the disciples in the story, they look for the cause of this blindness in sin. That’s the understanding for the day… and as we work our way through this passage we will see lots of blindness caused by sin… right… just not in the physical way of this man before us.
Still… cause is the first concern of disciples. Who caused this man’s physical blindness? His parents and their sin? Or the sin he himself carries? What is the cause? Who is to blame?
Now… a part of me wants to let the disciples off the hook… a part of me doesn’t want to see their blindness. There’s a part of me that wants to chalk this one up to understanding the blindness during the first century. Those first century people… they didn’t understand things as well as we do today with all our advanced learning and superior knowledge… especially about the causes of physical blindness or other illnesses. All they had were their superstitious understandings of those things. That blindness or any other suffering was only a result of sin… that was the way they understood how the world worked. That was the prevailing knowledge of the day. Can I blame the disciples for being blind in that way? No.
But… the more I’ve thought about it, the more I can’t say that being first century people is the cause of their blindness. For me, the disciples’ blindness… our blindness… is revealed in what their response would be to the expected answer to their question of who is at fault… who is to blame. If Jesus had given them a standard first century answer… either one would do… the parents’ sin… his own sin… what comes next… what follows that answer? Once we’ve established whose sin is the cause… once we’ve labeled it a sin… what comes next? Had Jesus given the disciples an expected answer… this reading would have only been four verses long. Once the disciples got their answer… they would have nodded their heads in understanding and would have kept walking. What is the blind man to them? What do they care? Why should they care about blindness? A man lost to sin. A man they would continue to be blind to… just as we today remain blind to many people whom we’ve determined to be lost in their established and defined sin. Once I know who or what is the cause… is it really my problem? Can I undo what has been done? Judgment has been rendered and I don’t need to see anymore.
In the gospels, Jesus encounters a wide range of people with a multiplicity of sins. What happens during his encounters with those people? Through the church, the body of Christ encounters a wide range of people with a multiplicity of sins. What happens through our encounters with those people? Too often they remain to us “those people” whose sin we have labeled and attached through the expected answer to our question over whose fault this is. This is an interesting form of blindness because instead of just not being able to see… this form of blindness also makes the things we don’t want to see become invisible to us.
Look at us today… even though the week has been long as every day brings a change to the news and our response to this virus… remember the disciples in their blindness as the next weeks come… and be aware… be aware if your sight is dimming and growing dark.
In our story, Jesus shines a bright light into the eyes of his disciples to reveal their blindness. He sidesteps the question of sinful cause and heals the man of his blindness. Jesus turns the formerly blind man into a ray of light in order to reveal the blindness that… even though we may not perceive it… is truly all around us.
Some of the man’s neighbors can see the light immediately. They can immediately recognize a man who was blind but now can see. They can see him… they can see him as plain as they can see the nose on your face. How can you not? The truth of it is right there before your eyes. But other neighbors… so sure that a blind man cannot see… cannot regain his sight. No no no. There must be some other explanation. This is not the man… it’s someone like him… but it is not him. It is impossible that this is the same man. Even with the formerly blind man there in front of them… telling them it is truly he… no no no… that’s impossible. I won’t believe it. I know better than that. These neighbors are afflicted with the blindness that comes from not believing anything but that which you already know to be true. I can’t imagine anything outside of that which I know is impossible. This is the way it always is… it’s the way it always has been and you can’t convince me otherwise. Don’t bother trying to confuse me with the facts. You are clearly not him… you are not the man. I know him and you are not him because the blind cannot see. That is an absolute and unchanging truth.
Seems to me, this is the growing blindness that surrounds us more and more today. Everyone has their own set of truths… their own facts… and we are blind to anything else that we might encounter if it flies in the face of that self-contained all-encompassing if fragile truth… even if it is staring us in the face saying, “Look at me. I’m right here.” No no no. You don’t support my truth. My facts cannot be contradicted. I will only see what I want to see. With this coronavirus… how long did it take for us to peel off the scales from our eyes? How long did it take to see something… a real truth that had no interest in our self-contained, all-encompassing if fragile truth? Maybe we should wonder how long it will take us to return to the comfort of our previous blindness in trying to dictate our tribal will on the world around us.
Which brings us to the Pharisees. Poor blind Pharisees. The blind neighbors bring the man to the blind Pharisees to confirm their blind truth… a blind man cannot see. The formerly blind man stands before the Pharisees but they cannot see him… they cannot see his truth… nor can they see the light of Christ that is shining so brightly through him… because they are too busy looking off to the left and to the right. Sabbath… this happened on the Sabbath you say? Does that man not have any respect for the Sabbath? No disrespecting Sabbath sinner can do anything because to disrespect the Sabbath is a sign that this man has no connection to God so therefore he cannot be a prophet and you most likely were never blind to begin with. You’re probably a disrespecting Sabbath breaker too… aren’t you? For the blind Pharisees, the truth has nothing to do with what is right there before them… what they themselves can witness if they would only look… the real truth is to be found in the who. It is not true that you were blind but now can see because the man whom you claim to have done this is a sinner who has no regard for the Sabbath, clearly making him not of God… or us… or capable of this truth that you claim. Nothing good can come from this man whom we are against. That sounds very familiar for today as well. What do you think? Do you think that’s another aspect to the blindness that surrounds us today? As soon as you are against someone… they can do no good… they can do no right… they can only do what is wrong because you are against them and don’t like them… or something they’ve done or something they represent to you. You don’t trust them… but as soon as someone you trust does the same thing… well, then it’s ok and suddenly your eyes are open to the same truth that was in front of you before. The truth is the same… the blindness is conditional.
I guess that just leaves the formerly blind man’s parents for us to now look at in this parable. They are blind out of fear… plain and simple. They are blind because they fear the consequences of what would happen if they spoke the truth that was before them. They know their son was blind and now he can see. It is an event they should be shouting about from the highest mountain tops. But to say this… if they were to challenge the blindness of others around them… they would be put out of the synagogue. They would have something taken away from them if they were to acknowledge the truth. Friends may turn against them if they dared to acknowledge the truth. Neighbors… long-time neighbors may turn their backs on them if they were to acknowledge the truth. Fear. Fear makes these parents not only deny the truth and the light that is shining… but to deny their son. Their blindness is not in their eyes. Their blindness comes out of their heart.
So much blindness. So much sinful blindness. Sinful community breaking… neighbor separating… love denying… blindness. How will we ever see the light that shines? Saints, let us receive Christ’s healing of our own blindness… and let us work the works of God who sent Christ who came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see. Amen.