Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday Sermon: A Visionary Man

John 9:1-41

Last weekend my husband and I took a short trip down to Red Wing. It wasn’t our first trip there. We’ve been plenty of times, including last year during a snowstorm. It was so relaxing that we thought we’d try to go down again for a couple of days this winter. I thought I heard someone ask, before we left, if we were going to see the eagles, but I wasn’t paying very much attention. Then, after we got there, I happened to overhear someone giving directions to a couple about where to drive to see eagles. This time I got curious. I asked a couple of questions myself, and before we knew it, we were driving down along the Mississippi River, looking for eagle’s nests. On Tuesday, we stopped at a park before we went home, just to get one more look, and counted twenty-five of them, sitting on tree branches along the river. Twenty-five! They had been there all along, but I had never known to look for them. And, looking at them all, I couldn’t escape a sense of wonder – what else have I been missing? What else have I not been able to see, because I didn’t know enough to look?

It makes me wonder how the man born blind felt when he washed his eyes and saw for the first time. I’ve been told that sight is a complicated thing: it’s not just seeing, but also learning to interpret what you are seeing. I have been told that people who regain their sight after many years have to learn to recognize with their eyes things they have heard or touched or smelled before, to learn how to judge distances, things like that. So perhaps the man saw things for the first time that he had only heard of, that he had only felt. Perhaps the man saw things he hadn’t even heard of: mountains, deserts, eagles, even. How can you escape a sense of wonder when seeing things for the first time?

Perhaps there was wonder as well, at how it all had happened. There he was begging on the side of the road, probably for bread or a few coins. What else could he do? Jesus and his disciples were just walking along, and they saw him. He didn’t ask to be healed. The story doesn’t even say that he asked for anything. Jesus doesn’t ask him if he wants to be healed, either. He just makes mud, and smears it on his eyes, and tells him to "Go and wash in the pool of Siloam". And he does. And he comes back seeing. It’s a pure gift, that he received his sight. He didn’t ask for it. He didn’t pray for it. He wasn’t expecting it. But he received his sight. And you can’t escape a sense of wonder, can you, when you think about it this way: this miracle, this gift, just dropped in his lap, without him doing anything or expecting anything. Have you ever had that kind of a gift given to you? Something you were not expecting, were not asking for, but yet you received it.

A couple of years ago a Christmas, I remember receiving Christmas cards. Now that in itself was not such a big deal, but I remember receiving two Christmas cards from friends I had lost track of, as I had moved around throughout the years. Somehow they had tracked me down, found my address, and wrote to me to express an interest in renewing our friendship. The cards touched me but brought me up short as well: I had been too "busy" myself, to make the first move. That’s what I told myself. But they took the time to find me. They took the time to wish God’s blessings on me. And I saw something, when I got that unexpected gift.

We call the blind man "visionary", but just what did he see when he washed the mud off his eyes? Did he see flowers blooming or birds flying? Did he see children held in their mothers’ arms? Did he see friends and neighbors, homes and businesses? What did he see when he first washed off his eyes?

I’ll tell you what he didn’t see: he didn’t see Jesus. By the time he got back from the pool, Jesus and his disciples were gone, probably still walking along the road, on their way to the next town.He didn’t see Jesus, so he was left with the memory of that voice, and the sensation of mud on his eyes, and that sense of wonder when he opened his eyes and saw the world for the first time, so beautiful. He didn’t see Jesus, not until the end of the story. Do you think that’s strange?
We call him a visionary man, but he didn’t see Jesus, not until the end of the story. So what did he see?

Well, he saw the Pharisees. He saw them, but they didn’t see him, not really. They kept asking him questions about this Jesus, and the truth is, he couldn’t answer all of their questions, because he didn’t "see" Jesus. All he could tell them was what he knew: "I was blind, but now I see. Isn’t that a great thing?" And he kept repeating this simple testimony, over and over: "I was blind, but now I see." Oh, sometimes he added some details, about the mud and the pool, but it all came back to those simple words, "I was blind, but now I see." But the Pharisees in this story for some reason can’t allow themselves to believe that something so wonderful had really happened – they can’t allow themselves to believe that Jesus can really be "from God". In the story it’s because Jesus did his healing on the sabbath, so he technically broke the sabbath. But to be truthful, that’s really an exaggeration of the Pharisee’s beliefs. I think that's really an excuse.There was something about Jesus that made them afraid, I think, the way he went around changing the status quo, shaking things up. You know how some people like surprises, and others don’t? Well, in this story I think the Pharisees represent the kind of people who don’t like surprises, who don’t want anything to change. So they are too afraid to see the blind man, or acknowledge the wonderful thing that has happened to him.

Someone has said that the seven last words of the church are: "We’ve never done it that way before." It’s funny, but sometimes it’s sadly true: just like the story I heard about the church that had a fight over whether or not to move the piano. We sometimes are like the Pharisees, who were so afraid of change that they couldn’t see the blind man, or the truth of Jesus’ words. But change is happening all around us, in us, and in our community, we can't escape it. So it could be that Jesus is calling us to see changes in our community, to see diversity in our community as a gift, a pure gift given to us, and to be filled with a sense of wonder. We have been given new opportunities to share Jesus’ love and to learn of Jesus’ love with people from different cultures and countries. We have been given the opportunity to see ourselves and our faith in a new way. We have sometimes the painful experience of seeing our own ignorance, when we misjudge or misinterpret because of cultural misunderstanding. But we also have the experience of seeing again and again Jesus’ wide and inclusive and transforming love, for us and for all people.

We call the blind man a visionary man. But he didn’t see Jesus, at least not until the end of the story. So what did he see? He saw the sky, and the people, his parents, and the road where he used to beg. He saw the water in the pool of Siloam. Maybe he saw his own reflection for the first time in that pool. But most of all, he saw the God was working in his life. I’ll say it again: he saw that God was working in his life. And he saw God working in the world around him, the beautiful world he saw. And he couldn’t escape a sense of wonder. "One thing I know, I was blind, but now I see."

A while back I read a newspaper article about an event that happens here in Minneapolis every once in awhile. It takes place at the Mpls convention Center, and it’s called Project Homeless Connect. One day all kinds of people gathered: doctors and nurses, hairstylists and dentists, and people giving meals, clothes and shoes. One woman who was cutting and styling hair said something has stuck with me: She said that she loved what she was doing, and that her work was about "making people beautiful". What a great statement! With that one sentence, she said two things: That she saw God working in her life AND in the lives of the homeless people there.
Her occupation was a holy Vocation: making people beautiful. And the homeless people there: she saw them as God’s children: hungry, and thirsty, cold and lost – but God working in their lives too -- and she wanted to serve them.

It’s a little like seeing the eagles for the first time – to look at our brothers and sisters and to look at ourselves – and to know that God is at work in our lives. Here’s what the visionary man saw: He saw that he was a beggar, but that God was at work in his life, healing him, making him see, making him beautiful. He saw that God had put this tremendous gift in his lap

And what about us?
We too have received a gift
– eagles in the trees when we least expect them,
-- a vibrant and changing community
--bread and wine in our hands,
--forgiveness of sins, and life here and for always –
And how can we escape a sense of wonder when we see all that God has given us?
How can we not want to turn and follow him?

The picture is from The Birders' Webring (thought someone might be interested)

P.S. At the 10:00 service, a couple from India worshiped with their two-month old son. They are not sure whether they will have his baptism here or in India. I asked his name. "Nathaniel," they said.
P.S.S. At the small 11:00 service, a couple worshipped with their two-month old son. They said his name was "Ami" (I think that I am remembering right.) An unusual name, I asked what did it mean? Eagle, they replied.


LawAndGospel said...

Great sermon, and I got chills reading the PSS!

Anonymous said...

Great sermon!

FranIAm said...

Another brilliant sermon- and more longing to be able to come see you in your own pulpit one day!

I love the way you weave the thoughts of blindness and sight. Thank you for this gift.

And the ps and pss- wow!

gartenfische said...

This is beautiful, Diane. I know that I am blind to so, so much. I pray that God will open my eyes and mind and heart.

And change . . . we so often don't want it, but it is inevitable.