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!

…but now I see

Message preached March 30, 2014
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon John 9:1-41

Order of Worship

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All of us are blind in some way. Our blindness may not be like that of the nameless fellow mentioned in John’s gospel. Our inability to see may not be something we have journeyed with since our birth. Our “blindness” may have developed over time, so gradually we didn’t really perceive it happening. We may “see” perfectly well through these ocular devices on the front of our faces, but still be unable to “see” what lies right in front of our noses. All of us are blind in some way.


This morning’s gospel story nudges us to face into our blindness, for in it the ones who are truly “blind” are those who think they can “see,” but really do not. This story begins with a chance encounter along the way. Isn’t that when most significant things happen in our lives? We don’t plan them. We simply step into them as we walk through our days. Of course, we can easily walk past and not “see” what is there for the finding. Our eyes may be shut to possibilities in our mad dash to get from here to there.


Think, for a moment, about some of the most “eye opening” experiences of your life. Did you plan for them to happen? Or were you just in the right place at the right time, or – were you simply paying attention as you journeyed through that particular day? “Learn-able” moments surround us. Notice, I didn’t say “teach-able” moments, because some of us can be so blinded by our need to teach others that we fail to see our own “learn-able” moments. For me, as a preacher, I can be blinded by what “preaches,” that is, seeing life as one big sermon illustration, or seeking in the Bible what “preaches.” It’s similar to the photographer’s temptation to view life through the lens of a camera, trying to save a moment for later viewing instead of experiencing it in real time. As I said, all of are blind in some way … even those who would be disciples of Jesus…


Along the road between here and there, this traveling band stumbled upon a blind man. Of course, John’s gospel notes that this fellow has been “blind from birth.” Now, how the disciples might know this in a chance encounter along the way is something I’ve wondered about. Then, again, I know how quickly I can put people in a box, pre-judging them before I know more of their circumstances. Certainly that’s what the disciples of Jesus do here. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The rest of the story revolves around this question, only it gets twisted into a pre-judgment of Jesus himself by those whose eyes are closed to God’s possibilities. All of us, as I said, are blind in some way, even those of us who should know better.


Now, good Rabbi Jesus answers by pushing back the boundaries of the question. I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases his response: “You’re asking the wrong question.” Jesus says to his disciples. “You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light. (from The Message) Did you catch that? “Look instead for what God can do.” Pay attention. Open your eyes. Light is shining.


The details of what happened next are so down to earth. Literally. Dirt. Spit. Mud. Touch. Water. The video we saw spent a great deal more time on all this than does the text. Maybe this is because the real blindness was not in the eyes of this man, but in the eyes of the community which surrounded him. Since birth he had been situated smack dab in the middle of his community, but his disability placed him out of sight. We can walk past someone so often that we don’t really perceive him as part of our world anymore. This is true whether that person is a stranger to us or someone we know very well. Sometimes, those we think we know well can, in truth, be strangers to us.


The disciples at least noticed this blind man, though in their hands he became an object lesson. Jesus responded to their question, but then paid attention to the man himself. Now what Rabbi Jesus did was not some religious ritual employed to instruct us in the fine art of anointing with mud and spit. This is not a “teachable moment,” though we have much to learn from it. Here are two men face to face – eye to eye, even though one set of those eyes cannot look back. The blind man cannot see, but he certainly can feel the grit of the mud which contains a bit of Jesus himself. “Go and wash.” The man does, and then he returns to his community able to see.


What follows could be interpreted as a comedy. The unseen man is seen again. He once was not really seen by his community, but now they see him. “Wasn’t he the guy who used to sit over there with his hand out?” … “By Jimini, I think you’re right.” … “No, he’s not the guy, but he kinda looks like the guy.” … Notice, they don’t talk to him at first. They talk around him, just like they probably did all his life up to this point. “Poor boy.” … “Isn’t it a shame what happened to him!” … “Wonder what his folks did to bring this about.” Sound familiar? We do it all the time, even to each other. “Poor so-and-so.” … “Isn’t it a shame she got cancer.” … “Wonder if it was      you fill in the blank      she did that caused it.”


At this point in our gospel story, the once-blind-man steps into his community, as if for the first time, and becomes a “player” (as they say). “I am the man!” are his first words in the world of sight. I can almost hear him say, “stop talking about me or around me. Talk to me.” And there’s like a collective, “duh!” as the people in his community begin peppering him with questions – queries which eventually lead him before the religious authorities. As this part of the story unfolds, it becomes evident that there are blind folks all over the place, only the ocular devices on the front of their faces work. They see, but they don’t see.


            A man who now can see stands before the Pharisees, but all they can see is someone connected to that troublemaker Jesus who didn’t seem to care about what they cared about. This, after all, happened on a day when God’s people are supposed to put work aside and rest in the Lord. With a bit of dirt, Jesus seemingly spat on the Sabbath Laws, in the eyes of these Jewish leaders. That’s all they could see: he sinned. The fact that a blind man was restored to sight on this restoration day was beyond their horizon. They were blind to God’s possibilities, asleep at the switch.


            Now, instead of diving more deeply into their blindness in this story, I want us to return to our own. All of us are blind in some way. We usually are not aware of our own blindness in the regular give-and-take of daily living, however. It’s only when we take a time-out and look back at ourselves that we are able to see. We reflect upon where and who we have been, so that we might be able to step forward into where we are going. To be honest, this is one of the purposes of Sabbath rest. It is a learnable time built into our weekly cycle which helps open our eyes to what God is doing. Of course, we can easily get lost in the logistics of it all, paying more attention to the do’s and don’ts than to the real purpose of Sabbath. Or, as is more the case today, we can toss out our need for Sabbath because of all those “dumb” do’s and don’ts, and thus fail to reflect on our days, blindly hurried here and there, never fully paying attention.


            And then Jesus just happens to come along in the midst of our blindness. We may not even be fully aware of our own need. We’ve been in survival mode, because that’s what you’ve got to do to get through your days. Along comes someone who spits and dabs mud in our eyes, not exactly a welcome experience. We didn’t ask for it. Call it a holy interruption, a Sabbath moment. We wander a bit, seeking to wash away the discomfort, and then it hits us. We can see.


            Now don’t go getting dramatic on me, as if this all has to follow some script, be done in a particular way, reach a climactic moment with music soaring toward heaven. Get real! … Truly, get real. This is down to earth, word-made-flesh, stuff. Jesus comes to us all the time, we just are a bit oblivious to what God is doing. But then come these moments of clarity. “I don’t know … much. One thing I do know: once I was blind, but now I see…


            It’s said that Jesus came upon a certain master of a ship involved in the slave trade in the 18th century. No mud in the eye in his story, but would a stormy night at sea suffice? “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see,” he later wrote of this holy interruption in what is probably the best known Christian song. Even those who know little about matters of faith are familiar with the tune, and the words to its first verse. When push comes to shove, it is sung by people to express what they have no words to speak. The author, John Newton, saw what he was doing as a slaver with new eyes and stepped away from it and into God’s future.


            All of us are blind in some way. What’s your blindness?

©2014 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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