Monday, March 27, 2017

Close Encounters with Jesus: The Man Born Blind

John 9:1-41/ Lent 4 Year A

            Dear friends in Christ, dear people of Grace, grace to you and peace from God our father, and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

            I remember the time, several years ago, I spent the morning in the waiting room of a prestigious university hospital. 
            A member of my congregation was having surgery, so that she could begin to hear again.  A modern miracle! 
            It seemed too good to be true! 
            How can someone who cannot hear – ever learn to hear again!  It’s a procedure called a “cochlear implant” – and I read up before the surgery to see if I could understand anything about it. 
            As I found it, it is not a sure thing.  There is more involved in learning to hear than just having the implants. 
            Once you do that, your ears have to be retrained so that they know and can interpret what they are hearing.  It takes time. 
            Still, though, a miracle.  Who would have thought it?

            The woman who was having the surgery had not been born deaf.              So in that way she was not like the man in the parable, who had been born blind. 
            She had been born with some hearing, but gradually, as she got older, she began to hear less and less.  And she missed it. 
            She wanted to have the surgery so that she could retrieve some of what she had lost.  She was willing to try anything.

            The man born blind, though, did not appear to be desperate. 
            He didn’t approach Jesus, asking for healing.  He was just sitting there, an object lesson for Jesus’ disciples. 
            So Jesus, they asked, “who sinned, this man or his parents?  What caused his blindness?” 
            Jesus does not answer their question really. 
            It is not the cause that he is interested in so much as the cure. 
            For the glory of God – he heals the man.  And then the blind man’s troubles begin.

            Because:  no one believes him! 
            They either don’t believe that he was the same man (the one who sat and begged), or they don’t believe that he was really blind, or they don’t believe that Jesus could have healed him. 
            Friends and neighbors question him – even the religious authorities.  It seems that everyone is looking for a loophole – a reason NOT to believe that something miraculous might have happened.    
            No one has ever healed a person blind from birth before.  It never happened before; it can’t happen now.  
            If Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, he broke the law.  Therefore he cannot be a holy person.   
            There are so many reasons that this miracle could not have happened. 

            You have to wonder why people are so quick to dismiss, so quick to disbelieve – especially in something that seems so -- well -- wonderful… 
            The only thing that I can think is that somehow this miracle went against what they already held on to..  It upset the status quo.  It was unsettling. 
             It changed reality.  It was like an earthquake, somehow.    

            So no one believes this once blind man, and really, all he has to offer is this testimony, over and over again, “I was blind, but now I see.”  That’s it.  It’s just his experience.  
            He just keeps saying,  “This is what happened to me.” 
            And – and it took me many years of reading this story to actually notice this – even though this man received his sight from Jesus – he has not actually SEEN Jesus. 
            All of the people questioning him – they could ask him and he would not be able to tell them what Jesus looked like.  
            He has experienced this healing but he hasn’t seen Jesus yet.

            And I think that’s important.
            Because the point is not just to see.  The point is to see – Jesus.

            And that’s just where all of the rest of the people are blind, aren’t they? 
            They see – but they don’t see Jesus. 
            They don’t recognize him. 
            They have their own pre-conceptions about what a respectable Messiah will look like, and he doesn’t fit. 
            He cares about the wrong people – the poor, the outcast, the lonely, the desperate. 
            He is not so interested in cause – as he is in cure. 
            He goes around healing people without finding out first if they are worthy.

            Blindness.  What does it mean? 
            In John, it’s not just about physical blindness. 
            It’s about being blind to the presence and power of Jesus in our midst. 
            It’s about being blind to what he is up to, and who he is calling us to care about, and include. 
            It’s about being blind to his power – but also his grace.  
            It’s about being blind to injustice, blind to other people, hardened to suffering.
            It’s about being blind to how God is working in the world.

            The woman who had the miracle surgery – she was desperate to hear again, even just a little. 
            She knew what it was like, and she mourned the loss of the sounds and the voices she used to know. 
            Her parents were both hearing, so she was the only one in the family to have this  -- disability. 

            She and her family came to our church – we had a signer at one of our services. 
            And one year in Lent we learned a prayer in sign language.  We said it every week, along with the sign language. 
            I am not sure why I thought this was a good Idea, actually.  And truthfully, there were some people who didn’t think so. 
            After that year, they said, “Let’s not do that again.  It was a dumb idea.” 
            Be that as it may, every week we practiced this prayer.

            God be in my head, and in my understanding.
            God be in my eyes, and in my looking.
            God be in my mouth, and in my speaking.
            God be in my heart, and in my thinking.
            God be in my end, and in mine departing.

On the 5th Sunday in Lent, I decided to throw caution to the wind. 
            We would just sign the prayer this time, without speaking it. 
            It would be a different way to pray. 
            So there was this great silence while we “said” the pray and made the signs together.  It was odd. 

            It turns out that the woman’s parents were visiting that weekend.  They were in church with her, and afterwards they said to me, about that prayer, “It was the first time we understood what our daughter’s world is like.”

            God, be in my head, and in my understanding.

            The blind man had a close encounter with Jesus.  He received his sight.  And then – he saw -- Jesus.

            May it be so for us, as well.

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