Healing Our Blindness

Sermon by:
Rev. Terri Thorn
delivered on:
March 26, 2017
Bible Reference(s):
John 9

The cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon. When you coming home, Dad?  I don't know when, but we'll get together then.  You know will have a good time then.

You all have no idea how hard it is to just say those words as opposed to sing them.  Even as I said them, I suspect most of us were hearing the tune in our head.  What makes this Harry Chapin song timeless is that it contains a truth about life that we can't seem to grasp while we are living it. In the first verse of the song, the singer tells us his child is born and learns to walk while he was away working.  When the boy turns 10, he asks his dad to teach him how to play ball.  The dad has too much to do and tells him they will have to do it later.  Each time that the dad isn't able to be there, the son reassures him it's OK.  He says he just wants to grow up and be like his Dad. 

It is a wonderful compliment, until the dad discovers what that truth really means.  The painful reality becomes more clear as the son comes home from college and is too busy with his friends to visit with Dad.  Eventually, Dad retires, son gets married and has a family of his own.  Toward the end of the song, Dad calls the son to ask about a visit, but the son is too busy.  He reassures Dad that he would love to see him, but he just but doesn't know when he will find the time.  He promises, using the same words he had heard growing up, I don't know when but you know we'll have a good time then. The song ends with the chilling line: "As I hung up the phone it occurred to me that he had grown up just like me. My boy was just like me." Chapin describes a common pattern of family life in America to which we seem blind.  One that we don't see until it's too late to change it.  Admittedly, it could be my age and stage in life, but the heartbreaking truth captured in this song is particularly close to home for me personally - both as the parent and as the child.  I suspect I'm not alone in this. Sometimes even when our eyes are literally wide-open, and we have sight, we still do not see. Not seeing was certainly the case for the Pharisees in the story George Piper so powerfully told this morning. Unlike the man who was blind since birth, the Pharisees had the ability to see with their eyes; yet they were blind to the work and presence of God right before them.  They were so preoccupied with their interpretation of God's law, that they misinterpreted God's law of love being laid out before them in the form of a miraculous healing. Still, we should not be too hard on these Pharisees; after all, they were just doing their job.  They were the men tasked with enforcing the Torah Law.  It was their responsibility to be sure that righteousness was being upheld in the community. The Pharisees had a concrete solid notion of how things were supposed to be in the temple, in the community, and in the world.  One might even say that they were the first model of Presbyterianism; they liked things to be carried out decently and in order.  So when they encountered something that seemed to be radically contrary to their understanding of truth, they felt compelled to deny or dismiss it. The Pharisees could not see this healing for what it truly was, because in that very moment, they were blind to God's bigger picture. Despite their objections, Jesus provided a good and right thing to this man.  With just a mud spit ball in his eyes and the man's obedience of rinsing it off in a specific watering hole, Jesus healed the man's physical blindness.  Later in the story, we learn that Jesus also heals the man of his spiritual blindness as well. The blind man comes to believe that Jesus is the Son of Man, sent by God, to be the Light of the world and to heal us of all blindness.   

Clearly God is at work in and through Jesus...in and through the healing...in and through the miracle.  It is all of God.  Nonetheless, the only thing the Pharisees could see is that once again, this man called Jesus was meddling in places he should not...and once again he has broken the law concerning the Sabbath. Truth be told, the Pharisees could not fathom that Jesus had actually healed the blind man. From their perspective, there was no way that the story could be true. It did not fit the mold of what their religious teaching said about healing…especially healing of the blind. "Healing Of The Blind" was an act of God! No one could heal the blind without God's authority and no sinner who violates the Sabbath could possibly have God's authority. This is why the Pharisees were intent to find another explanation...to discover the real story...to come up with something that would be consistent with their beliefs about God. They were blind to any other possible understanding about the healing; blind to any other truth about Jesus; and blind to a different definition of power and authority. Obviously, the Pharisee's response to the miracle was not a case of the age-old adage, "I will believe it when I see it."  They saw the blind man was healed...but they did not believe it.   Instead, it was another example of the troubling, yet all too common blinder that seems to be present in our own lives.  We only see what we believe.  Think about the difference for a minute.  We claim that that we will believe something if it is revealed to us...proven to us...if we can see it with our own eyes.  Yet, that's not how it usually happens in real life.  More often than not, we can only see what we already believe to be true. This has become particularly evident in the United States as our nation has become more polarized in our thinking, beliefs, and world views.  Regardless of the situation, event, or policy, it will be interpreted in the news media, and on social media, into two divergent extremes.  The versions, if you will, are not based on what is actually seen, said, or written, but on what the interpreter already believes to be true about it. There is little room for genuine curiosity and inquiry, much less a willingness to remove blinders and consider new and different possibilities.  No, like the Pharisees, we are guilty of force-fitting things to match our own beliefs. And it's not just our politics.  In our lives, our relationships, our religion...we tend to only see what we already believe to be true. Take for example, a situation that occurred recently in a room filled with about 60 law enforcement chaplains.  We were in a training session called, "Interacting with the Muslim Community".  The course stems from the principle that law enforcement chaplains of all faiths need to be able to minster to people of all faiths...and in order to do this graciously and compassionately, awareness of different religions is essential. 

Much to our surprise, our instructor for this course was Dr. G. A. Shareef - an 82 year-old accounting professor who had immigrated to the US from India many years ago.  Dr. Shareef provided a simple one-page handout from which he reviewed the basic tenets of what he called "true Islam".   Most in the class were not well informed about Islam and were eager to hear what he had to say.  During the question and answer session, one chaplain spoke up and said he was moved to tears to discover that, although his beliefs were very different from Islam, the core tenets of goodness, compassion, and kindness were not.  He added that he realized he had more in common with his Muslim friend than he would have ever thought.  That chaplain's eyes were opened. Unfortunately, the eyes of the Pharisee-chaplains in the room were not.  Instead, they did exactly what the Pharisees in this story did.  They went into inquisition mode...interrogating the elderly gentleman...trying to "catch him" in an untruth or trip him up.  They grumped, not quite under their breath, "The God this man is talking about is not our God."  In fact, one man was clearly intent on exposing Dr. Shariff and his faith as false.   He posed a hypothetical question about a Christian chaplain praying for a Muslim victim - hoping that Dr. Shariff would say that Christians can't pray for Muslims or that we should not pray for them in Jesus' name.  Instead, Dr. Shariff said, "Yes, yes, pray, please pray, everyone should pray at a time like that."  Others in the room heard this as affirmation, but that one chaplain could not.  He was blind to the possibility there could be common ground.  He could only see or hear what he believed to be true about Islam, even when he was proven wrong. I can't tell you if it was Dr Shariff's age, his maturity, or his faith, but he was quite gracious to the Pharisees.  He just answered the questions honestly, without any attempt to persuade or convince.   In a way, he was like the blind man in this story.   When the real Pharisees demanded explanations, multiple times, the man just gave a simple, truthful statement of the facts about what happened - Jesus made mud, put it in my eyes and said go to Siloam and wash.   It is only two verses in the entire passage...yet it led to 30 more verses of questions, accusations, and demands for proof by the religious leaders. 

Still the newly "sighted" man was unwavering in his story.  He was matter-of-fact and honest in his responses.  Not the slightest bit defensive.   At one point he says of Jesus, "I do not know if he is a sinner, but I do know that I was blind and now I see."  Later he begins to push back on the Pharisees...which I contend is a result of his gaining spiritual sight as well. 

Unlike his passive parents or the uncertain people in the community, this no-longer-blind man...this willing and obedient man...challenged the Pharisee mindset.  In a straight-forward, questioning way, he confronted the Pharisees with their own truth ...that unless Jesus was from God he would not have been able to heal him.

But here's the thing you got to know about  Pharisees...then and now...they don't like to be challenged in their beliefs, their understanding, or their thinking.   So, instead of opening their eyes to see, they threw the man out of the community.  All that hope and promise of family and friends that had been restored with the healing, was once again ripped away when he was cast out of the community.  However, his new life of faith and the spiritual sight that he received through this encounter with Jesus was not. 

The Pharisees' desperate attack on the blind man, on his parents, on Jesus...it is all rooted in their belief that they were the ones who were able to "see" the truth, when in fact, they were blind to the gospel truth.  They were blinded by their preconceived notions...by their prejudices... by their fear.  They were blinded by a perceived threat to law and order...and as such, the Pharisees could not see the miracle. They could not see the good thing that had happened for this previously blind man.  They could not see God's presence and authority standing right before them. They might not have been literally blind but they definitely did not see.

Friends, as we walk our Lenten journey of discipline, it's a good time to ask ourselves, what blind spots do we have in of our own lives?   What blinders are keeping us from seeing...from seeing God at work in our life, in our relationships, in the church, in our community, or in the world?

Perhaps we are like the Dad in the Harry Chapin's song...letting our busyness blind us to the opportunities to encounter God's love in our families and friends.  They say that idle hands are the devil's workshop...if so, busyness must be his playground.  Busyness and all the lies told about significance, often blind us to the truth of what is really important in life.

Stress is a close second.    When we are stressed and worried, we are relying on our limited sight rather than allowing ourselves to open our eyes and see God present with us in unfamiliar ways.

While we are on that matter...sometimes when are blinded by busyness or stress...I think God makes a spitball of aches and pains and throws it at us to slow us down.  Nothing seems to open one's eyes to the blinders of stress than to be forced to be still.  Trust me on this.

For some, our broken family dynamics and unpleasant childhood experiences  blind us to what it means to be a child of God. 

The blinders of politics and religion often prevent us from seeing God's Spirit present in people who believe differently than we do.

Same is true for our biases and prejudices...even the ones we don't think we have.   Every time we are tempted to refer to someone as "those people" or we differentiate ourselves from others by some standard such as race, nationality, sexuality, life choices, economics, citizenship status...we might as well be putting on dark glasses because we are not going to be able to see the light of Christ in people if we can't even see them...or if we treat them as something "other than" ourselves.

Sometimes wealth blinds us to the abundance of God's love...and sometimes it blinds us to our need for God's mercy...nd sometimes it blinds us to God's call...or God's plan for our life.

Grudges held, unforgiven hurts...they blind us to the peace that God offers us through forgiveness and unconditional love.

Fear blinds us...fear of change...fear of being wrong...fear of being accountable...fear of the unknown.

The list of things that keep us blind is long...yet there is only one thing that heals.  Jesus.

Jesus is the one who gives us sight like the blind man...not necessarily with spit and mud...but by sending us to go rinse at Siloam - which means sent. In other words, it is our willingness to be sent...to go wherever God calls us to go that enables us to see.  Sent to form new relationships.  Sent to tell our faith stories. Sent to say, I'm really sorry.  Sent to study scripture.  Sent to learn about a different religion...or a different political perspective.  Sent to be the one on the other side of the table. Sent to rest and be still. 

Wherever God is sending us...when we obediently go, we may rest assured, there we will encounter God.  There we will be healed.  There we will proclaim, Lord, I see.  Lord, I believe. 

Amen.