Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Hands Up"

Message preached March 2, 2008
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon John 9:1-41

Order of Worship

(p.s. as I no longer use a manuscript, the following may change by the time of delivery)

What does it mean when someone holds their hands in the air?
                        1. Does it indicate surrender?
                        2. Is it a sign of fear ("stay away")?
                        3. Does it mean "STOP!"?
                        4. Does it convey: "I don't want anything more to do with this"?
                        5. Can it be a roller-coaster response?

            Looking at the characters in this scripture episode (see also the dramatic worship reading version of it), which option fits? Were the disciples, in their question posed to Jesus, surrendering to the "same old, same old" way of viewing things - i.e. someone must have sinned for this man to be born blind. That's just the way things are. Blame needs to fit somewhere. Find the right pigeonhole and put folks in it. Arrest the guilty parties. Hands up!

            How about those neighbors? Were they a bit un-nerved that this fellow was now like them in the eyesight department? You get used to things the way they are (surrendering to the inevitable), and then something changes. "Is this that feller?" ... "Nah, can't be. Must be his twin." ... "It is? Then, how? ... where?" It's enough to make you throw up your hands in fear.

         Side note: when that seeing blind man professes, "I am the man," he uses the same words "I am" (that's really all he says - έγω είμι) that Jesus uses for himself elsewhere in John's gospel - you know, "I am (έγω είμι) the light of the world" (9:5), "I am (έγω είμι) the gate ... I am (έγω είμι) the good shepherd" (10:9,11) etc. Golly, gee, much further back - according to the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint - LXX) - God used those same words words to describe, well, God's own self. "I am (έγω είμι) the God of Abraham..." and "I am who I am (έγω είμι ό 'Ων)." Pretty audacious stuff, if you ask me.

            And what about those Pharisees? Seems to me they had a bit of surrender and fear in their response, too, but mostly they had their hands up as a stop sign. You can't go healing people on the Sabbath! The question, "why not?" isn't in their vocabulary. It's always been this way. The law is the law, even if the Great Lawgiver is also the Great Healer. Sin is a cancer to be eradicated. Of course, exactly where is that cancer located? Back to question #1. That's where those Pharisees ended up with this fellow born blind. He wouldn't cooperate in pigeonholing his healer, so they dumped the load on him. Blow the whistle. Stop in the name of the Law! Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. (Somebody thinks they have a monopoly on the truth).

            Along the way, the man's parents were called into the Principal's office. What was their response? Did they throw their hands up over their son? "Yeah, he's ours. Yup, he was born blind. But how he turned out this way (was 'this way' a bad thing? sometimes we just don't know) is beyond us. You know kids! He's 18 now, ask him for yourself. "We don't want anything more to do with this." Scripture says that they responded this way out of fear. Being afraid makes otherwise responsible folks do silly things.

            Okay, let's turn to this young man who was blind but now can see. He wasn't exactly an instigator in this whole affair, but once the roller coaster took off, he enjoyed (if that's the right word for it) the ride. Jesus actually has only a bit part in this episode. The recurring character is this nameless ex-blind man. Jesus didn't exactly answer the question his disciples posed at the beginning. At least not in a satisfactory way. I'm not too thrilled about making someone's disability an object lesson, if that's what Jesus does her (which I'm not so convinced he is). Reminds me of several years ago when a blind fellow asked to do "disability training" at our church camp. Every week he'd "teach" the sighted kids what it was like not to be able to see. One person on staff that summer was one of our congregation's own young adults, someone who has lived since birth with less in the hearing department than most of us. To her, "disability training" shouldn't be about what blind/deaf/crippled etc. folks can't do, but about what they can do. Instead of showing why you shouldn't get on the roller coaster of life as a disabled person - you know, just surrender to the inevitable, throw you hands up - ought we not to encourage everyone that they should ride, even if they aren't able to do one thing - like see (but able to do other stuff)?

            I wonder if what Jesus said at the beginning of this story was less about explaining this man's disability (we're then still playing the blame game, only this time the fickle finger points to God), than about getting this fellow who happened to be blind (and, really, who cares why he is blind?) onto the roller coaster of life. Enough darkness! Shine, Jesus, shine! That would give God glory!

            Now here's the part I love. Kid's love it, too. It's so earthy. Ask a youngster about what's funny and they'll start naming bodily functions. The grosser the better. Haven't you ever witness an out-of-control giggle session over - putting it into polite adult language before someone raises their hands to stop me - over passing gas from the mouth or ... ('nuf said?). I can just picture a crowd of kids gathered around Jesus and this fellow. The Bible doesn't mention onlookers but, hey, I'm telling the story. Besides, children rarely are mentioned in most big people stories, biblical or otherwise - "better seen than heard," you know.

            Jesus takes some dirt and spits in it. Ewwww! Okay, everyone, let me repeat that, and allow your real reaction to come out on the count of 3. Jesus takes some dirt and spits in it. ... 1 ... 2 ... 3: Ewwww! And he makes mud and puts it on this guy's eyes. Again: Ewww! How unsanitary! How delightful! I can imagine that giggle of kids (isn't that what a lot of children are called, a "giggle"?) laughing and, when Jesus tells this fellow to go wash in the pool of Siloam, guiding him there. They want to see what happens next. Why else would parents and other neighbors get involved? After all, who pays attention to children, or blind beggars? But put them together and change a detail and - presto - adults focus in.

            The deal is this - it doesn't matter why this guy was blind. If you're going to surrender, surrender to the One who made took some dust - imagine that! - and fashioned a human being. That's what we are, you know. Dust with a whole lot of moisture. Fashioned into the image of the One who calls us to life. The roller coaster. That's the deal. This man got on the roller coaster. You know how it is when the coaster reaches the crest of the first rise and the steep decline is but moments away? Every shouts what? ... "Hands up!"  Don't grasp onto the bar. Throw your hands into the air!.. Now, I'll grant you, it's downright frightening. But, you know what? Holding onto that bar isn't going to keep you any safer in your seat. Why not experience the ride? Why not experience life as God intends it to be, to the fullest? That's what I think the once-blind fellow did.

            All his responses to his neighbors, and later to the Pharisees, exhibit a playfulness born of seeing the world through brand new eyes. He's not afraid of those who try to shut him up. What can they really do, after all? Once your eyes are open, the world is a different place. The man's testimony is simple. "I was blind, now I see." By the way, we sometimes think sharing our faith is more complicated than that. However, we're not called to share what we don't know, just what we do know. We don't have to have it all figured out. And we can have some fun doing so. "What?" you say. "Fun?" Well, what would you call it when you're getting grilled by a bunch of Pharisees, and you just ask them back, "do you also want to become his disciples?" That's sarcasm, folks, a form of humor. Not quite giggles. Maybe a snigger. Regardless, he's fully on God's roller coaster, hands held high.

            How do I know this? Well, when Jesus re-enters the picture (he's been curiously absent through most of this episode, himself unnamed), the nameless once-blind man recognizes the voice who called him to put his hands up - not to surrender to the inevitable, not to be afraid, not to make him stop, not to be rid of him, but - to invite him to step into the light of a brand new day... And, recognizing this voice, the man responds, "Lord, I believe."

            Postscript: There is, by the way, one more thing it might mean when we hear the words, "Hands up." We aren't always "handy" when it comes to knowing what to do with our hands without a hammer and nail, or a needle and thread, in them. These hands can go up and out to hug. Indeed! Some believers - and this goes way back, even to the early church - raise their hands when they worship. This may feel uncomfortable. I know it often does for me when I'm in a group of folks worshiping with their hands raised. At such times it's nice to have a hymnal to hold, you know what I mean? But let me give you a take on this that stretches me, and perhaps you. Imagine, as I've been saying throughout this series of Lenten sermons, that our life in Christ is like riding a roller coaster. Are you going to follow Jesus with your hands firmly gripped on the safety bar? Or are you going to really "live" this life? That's the question of the hour.

(para traducir a español, presione la bandera de España)


©2008 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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