Sunday, March 30, 2014

But…WE aren't blind…are we?

Sermon 3-30-14, MCoB
John 9:1-41
But WE Aren’t Blind, Are We?

There are lots of healing stories in the gospels. When you read the life story of Jesus as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the guy comes across as a troubadour, hiking from town to town, disciples in tow, freaking people out by healing women and men and children who have been sick all their lives: clearing up impossible skin conditions, stopping decades-long hemorrhages, making lame people walk, opening the eyes of those blind from birth and even raising people who’ve been dead for days. There are over thirty healing miracles in the ministry of Jesus as told in the gospels.

It’s hard to miss the miracles – there are so MANY of them, and they are so OBVIOUS.

You would think that stories like these, crazy, illogical, unbelievable healings and feedings, turning water into wine and mud into miracle drugs – you would think that these things would make us more attuned to the miraculous.

But somehow, that’s not how it works. Somehow, we miss the miracles.

We aren’t alone. The disciples missed the miracles, too. The temple teachers and religious leaders doubted their authenticity and grew afraid of the guy who kept performing them.

The unbelievable is happening right in front of our eyes, and somehow, we still miss the miracles.

This story from John’s gospel is a long miracle story. It’s just a simple healing – Jesus healed a bunch of other blind guys, and none of their stories took an entire chapter. But this isn’t a story about the miracle. It’s a story about missing the miracle.

Here’s how the story goes:

There was a man who had been blind since birth. Jesus happened to run into the guy in the course of his travels, and his disciples, who were always pestering Jesus with the wrong questions, asked him:

“Jesus, this man has been blind since birth. Whose fault is that? Is he blind because HE sinned, or was it his parents that offended God?”

Jesus, kneeling down in the mud, scoffs at their question.

“No one sinned, you guys. You should know by now that isn’t how the world works. Haven’t you been hanging out with me long enough to know that God doesn’t punish his children like that? No, we ran into this man who has been blind all his life so that the power of God might shine through his life.”

And with that, Jesus picked up a handful of brown dirt, spit into his hand and mixed it up into mud. He spread the spit and mud across the blind man’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man did what he was told – wouldn’t you, given the possibility of sight? – and came home able to see.

Icon from Holy Transfiguration Monastery

His neighbors didn’t believe it. They argued among themselves. “Is that really the blind guy who used to wander around the streets here?” “Nah, it can’t be him. Must just be someone who kinda looks like him. That blind guy was so sad and aimless. This guy is dancing and singing!”

The man kept trying to tell his neighbors who he was – “it’s me! It’s really me!” But the neighbors kept asking him how it could be, how he could have suddenly received his sight, something he never had. “Who could have done that to you,” they kept asking him, and he kept telling them, “It was this guy named Jesus! I don’t know where he went, but he healed me!”

The neighbors were skeptical. So they told the church leaders, who were supposed to be in charge of all miraculous happenings in the area…or, if not in charge, at least apprised of these strange goings on. The Pharisees didn’t understand what was happening, either, so they called the man in for a hearing. “How is it that you are suddenly able to see?” they asked him.

“It was this man named Jesus,” he replied. “He made mud with his spit, spread it on my eyes, and told me to go wash in the pool of Siloam. I went and washed, and now I can see!”

The Pharisees were skeptical. First of all, whoever this miracle man was, he was healing on the wrong day – it turns out that the day Jesus healed the blind man had been a Sabbath day, and no one was allowed to do any work of any kind, including healing, on the Sabbath. Inappropriate, the Pharisees thought. But something must be up with this Jesus guy. “What do you think of him?” they asked the man.

“He is a prophet.”

The Pharisees didn’t believe him. They thought maybe the man was pulling one over on them. So they called in his parents for a hearing. “Is this really your son?” they asked them, “and has he REALLY been blind since birth?”

“Yes, this is our son,” they said, “and yes, he really has been blind since he was born. But we don’t know how he received his sight – it is a mystery to us! Ask him, he’s old enough to tell you the truth himself.”

So, completely unsatisfied and getting nowhere in their inquisition, the Pharisees called the man back into the hearing and asked him a second time: “How did this man give you your sight? He must be a sinner! He must be using evil magic!” But the man only said, “I do not know how he did it. All I know is that I was blind, and now I see.”

The Pharisees kept pushing. “But what did he DO to you? How did he open your eyes?!”

The man, frustrated by now, said again and again, “I TOLD you already! Weren’t you LISTENING to me? What, are you trying to get more info so you can follow him and become his disciples? What’s your problem?!”

And still, they protested: “Look. We follow Moses. We know how God works. We know how miracles happen – you know, kids saved for leadership by being sent out on the river in a reed basket, wooden rods becoming serpents, seas being parted. THAT is how miracles happen! None of this dirt-and-mud stuff. None of this healing on the Sabbath. We don’t know who this guy is. He can’t be working miracles if we don’t even know him!”

The man answered, “Well, isn’t that something? You don’t know this guy and yet he healed me, opened my eyes, turned my life around! If he weren’t from God, how could he heal me like that?”

But still, the Pharisees would hear none of it. “You were born entirely in sin,” they yelled, “and now you’re trying to teach us, the leaders of the temple, the teachers of the land! What disrespect!” And they threw him out of town.

Jesus was still hanging around, and he heard what was going on with the Pharisees. He found the man thrown out of town and asked, “Do you believe that I am the Son of Man?” The man answered, simply, “Lord, I believe.”

And, as they stood there, the man whose eyes had been opened worshipping his Lord, Jesus said “I came so that those who are blind may see and that those who see may become blind.”

There were still some Pharisees hanging around, and they saw the man worshipping Jesus and they heard Jesus say this.

And then, those Pharisees,

the ones who heard the story of the miracle first from the townspeople and then from the man who had been healed and then again from the man’s parents and then yet another time from the healed man a second time and finally from Jesus, the healer himself;

the ones who had every opportunity to open their eyes to the miracles that Jesus was doing right in front of them;

the ones who should have been teaching about the grace and power of God available to each and every one of God’s people and instead spent their time dragging the recipients of that grace in for interrogation and eventual excommunication;

the ones who simply closed their eyes and turned their backs to the story of salvation being enacted before their very eyes;

those Pharisees turned to Jesus and said:

“But surely WE aren’t blind, are we?”

This story from John’s gospel is a miracle story, yes. It is a healing story, yes. It is a story about Jesus getting on the nerves of the religious leaders, setting up his eventual trial and crucifixion and resurrection, playing right into the climax of the Easter story that we are on a journey toward ourselves in this time of Lent.

But mostly, this story is about the Pharisees, the ones who missed the miracles.

And it makes me wonder…how much like the Pharisees are we?

Think about it. We are some of the richest, most educated, most powerful people in the world. 

We are pretty secure in our knowledge of the world, of the church, of God’s ways.

We are pretty comfortable in our habits and our assumptions.

We are pretty insistent on checking out our sources, vetting the candidates, consenting only to trust a person or a newspaper or a bit of gossip when it comes to us by way of familiar channels.

We are slow to believe and quick to scoff.

And all that caution, all that responsibility, has its benefits.

But I wonder…how much like the Pharisees are we?

How many miracles are we missing?

Because Jesus is here among us, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, setting the captives free.

A new world is coming, and I suspect that, like the Pharisees in John’s gospel, it is happening right here, right under our noses. A new world is coming, where everybody gets to be part of God’s people. The miracles are happening.

Do you see them?

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