Friday, February 29, 2008

Blind No More

Lent 4, March 2, 2008
John 9:1-41
Zion Lutheran Church, Twin Valley, MN

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

These lines, from our favorite American hymn, Amazing Grace, were penned by an Englishman, John Newton in 1748. The hymn summed up his own transformational encounter with Jesus Christ—an encounter that led him from being a slave trader to becoming an abolitionist.

I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

These words are a kind of shorthand for the experience of conversion….a model for how most folks speak about the work of Jesus Christ in their lives.

I was lost--messed up--a goner. But Jesus found me, rescued me, saved me.

I was blind--stumbling in the dark--totally clueless. But Jesus opened my eyes, shone his light on my path, made me see what I’d been missing.

Lost and blind….now found and seeing. That’s how it is (right?) when Jesus walks into our lives.

Or is it? The blind man here in John 9 might put it this way: “It’s more of a mixed bag really. Jesus brings a lot of good, but he also messes things up. Jesus gums up life for those he transforms. When Jesus has his way with you, nothing will be the same again.”

It’s more than just moving from “lost and blind” to “found and seeing.” It’s wider, deeper, more complex than that. Jesus brings light where he goes. But light isn’t what everyone wants.

Jesus opens eyes, but sometimes we’d rather keep our eyes tightly shut. There are all sorts of blindness. And, as Jesus heals each kind of blindness, some still can’t see—can’t see because they won’t see.

This story from John 9 points out all sorts of things that lead to blindness.

First, there is the blindness of the eye. That’s all this man had ever known. He was “born blind.” Imagine that—imagine NEVER having seen a sunrise or a sunset.

Blindness had immobilized this man. He sat alongside a road, waiting for the generosity of folks who had places to go, things to see.

Unlike other blind beggars we read about in the gospels, this man asks nothing of Jesus. But Jesus gives him everything—everything he ever wanted. Making a poultice for his eyes, Jesus sent the blind man to wash in the healing pool of Siloam. And after that, the man could see. Simple as that. He once was blind—but now he saw. Saw all that he had been missing, all the big, bright, beautiful world that had been “out there” for years.

Jesus makes short work of the blindness of the eye—the physical blindness that had rendered this man’s eyes useless from the day of his birth.

You’d think that that was all this story is about.

But physical blindness is the least serious form of blindness here in this story. And, ironically, just as the blind man’s physical eyes are opened for the first time in his life, just about everyone else’s eyes are closed or clouded in some fashion.

There is, for example, the blindness of apathy in this story. Apathy is not noticing things happening right under our noses.

After the blind man’s sight is restored, it becomes apparent that others around him—the ones who are sighted—actually haven’t been paying that much attention. His neighbors hadn’t really noticed this blind man, though he sat alongside a road they all traveled for years.

The apathy of blindness shows up when passersby are confused. Is that the guy who was born blind—is that him, now up walking around, able to see? Is that him? Or is it someone who looks just like him?

Now who’s blind, I ask you?

Apathy blinds us. A couple of summers ago I took a church youth group to Maine, to the third poorest county in the country. At first glance, you wouldn’t KNOW people were so poor. We had to get off the beaten track, turn off the highway in order to meet fellows like John, an old bachelor whose house desperately needed a coat of paint. We had to slow down, stop, really open our eyes to notice John and others like him.

Apathy blinds us. Folks’ faces might even seem familiar to us—but do we know them? Have we seen them so often that they no longer make an impression on us? Have we grown so accustomed to poverty, blindness, desperation—that we shut out the images of their faces—those who are lacking in our midst?

But apathy isn’t the only thing that blinds us. There is also fear.

Here in John 9 it’s the parents of the formerly-blind man who reflect the blindness that fear can bring upon us. When the local religious leaders question them sternly, the man’s parents adopt a “see no evil/hear no evil/speak no evil” stance. They’re willing to identify their son and to attest that he was blind from birth. But they plead ignorance on the question of how his sight had been restored?

Why? Our text says it was fear that blinded the man’s parents—fear that if they told what I suspect they knew (about the manner and the Agent of their son’s healing!)—the fear that they’d be ousted from their faith community, shunned by the religious gatekeepers.

Fear blinds us, too. Fear cuts us off from possibilities and creativity and imagination. If we’re paralyzed by the possibility that we might make some mistake—why then we’ll never try anything. We’ll let ourselves become stuck in fear, blinded by our anxieties.

But even these two forms of blindness—the blindness of apathy and the blindness of fear—even these two forms of blindness aren’t as serious as a third kind of blindness.

This is the blindness of resistance—resistance to the surprising will and the unexpected working of God in our lives. The blindness of having God so securely boxed in that God couldn’t possibly act in a new, refreshing way.

Here in this gospel text, this is the fiercest, most awful blindness. There is none so blind as the one who WILL not see. The Jewish leaders, the Pharisees in our story have this most severe form of blindness.

You’d think they would rejoice in the healing of the blind man. But no! The Pharisees are so rule-bound that they focus, rather, on the fact that Jesus had broken the law—doing the work of healing on a day reserved strictly for rest.

So, everyone else in the story sees Jesus as a healer. But the Jewish leaders, the Pharisees can see Jesus only as a Sabbath-breaker, a law-breaker.

And if anyone disagrees with them—they will excommunicate him, as indeed they boot the formerly-blind man out of their synagogue. That’s what happens when Jesus walks into our lives—he throws everything into a tizzy, turns things upside down, messes everything up.

All because it is Jesus’ work, Jesus’ assignment, Jesus’ mission to open blind eyes….eyes blinded by physical defect, apathy, fear or the spirit of stubborn resistance. Whatever has robbed you of your sight—Jesus means to take care of that, to heal your blindness.

At the end of this story we’re only sure that two of the characters in it see clearly, with 20/20 vision. Jesus, of course, is one of them. And the man born blind is the other.

At the end of the story Jesus has this man right where he wants him: praising God, down on his knees, worshipping the One who healed him.

The man born blind “sees” better than everyone else—he is no longer held back by the blindness of the eye.

Nor is he paralyzed by the blindness of apathy—for he alone “notices” Jesus and responds appropriately to him—in worship.

This man is not cowed by the blindness of fear either—for it’s apparent he can’t keep his mouth shut the way his parents did.

And he is not captive to the blindness of resistance—for he alone “gets it”—that Jesus is who he says he is, the man in whom God is making all things new.

Where the formerly blind man ends up (on his knees at Jesus’ feet) is where God intends to bring us and all people--alert, alive, seeing fully in the dazzling light of Christ.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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