Vision

(sermon 3/26/17)

eyes

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

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There are a lot of different ways to prepare a sermon. The way I generally start out it is to read the scripture several times and try to find, out of any number of different possibilities, the one key point, the one single message that God seems to be drawing me toward, that I want to emphasize in the sermon. I work on that thought until I can come up with a single “Sermon in a Sentence” that captures the real essence of what I want to stay focused on, and then that guides me as I develop the sermon, so I never get too far away from that point. I told a parishioner one time that that was the way I did it, and he said to me, “Well if that’s the case, on Sunday mornings why don’t you just tell us that single sentence and save us all a lot of time?”

That led to a whole different conversation about why that wouldn’t work, but in a way I wish it would this morning – because our gospel text this morning, as wonderful and intriguing as it is, is very long, and it doesn’t lend itself to cutting down without losing a lot of its meaning, so by the time you read through the whole thing, there isn’t a lot of time to preach about it if you want to get out of church on time. And that’s a shame, because this is such a rich story, and there are so many great themes that you could preach about it. There are just so many great theological points; the characters are so interesting; the story has a number of interesting aspects, of this story that plays out after Jesus’ initial healing of the blind man. There’s the disbelief of the townspeople; the division and outrage of the religious leaders; the fear of the healed man’s parents and their trying to cover their own butts; the healed man ridiculing and throwing shade at the religious leaders; and his ultimate profession of faith that Jesus was Lord.

And it all flows from Jesus giving the man his vision – vision that, we see as the story moves on, goes beyond just the physical, but was much deeper – he could see through the hypocrisy and all the rabbit holes that the religious leaders were trying to get him to go down. Just as a side note, notice that Jesus didn’t ask the man a bunch of qualifying questions before healing him. It doesn’t even appear that the man was even looking to be healed; he just happened to have been at the right place at the right time. Jesus just healed him.

It seems to me that at the core of this story is the idea that just as with the blind man, God loves us and works to heal us, and continually working to give us that same kind of vision that he gave the blind man – wherever we might be in our lives, even without our expecting it, or frankly, maybe not even wanting it.

I suspect that all of us have experienced sometime in our lives when we didn’t feel whole. Something was missing. We were out of sync with the universe, or with the people around us. Maybe you’re lonely. Or you’ve lost a relationship, or you’re broken a relationship – with a spouse, a partner, a parent or child, whatever. Maybe you’re been in the middle of a health crisis – you just got a discouraging diagnosis, or you’re facing a risky surgery. Maybe it’s a financial situation – you’re constantly living paycheck to paycheck, knowing that you’re always just one emergency expense away from financial disaster. Whatever the details, in the midst of the situation you feel almost suffocated, almost drowning in dread and depression. Everything is dark; everything is just grey. There’s no joy. There’s no hope. And you just can’t see any way out.

And then, in some inexplicable, unexpected way, something happened. Some little thing, or a series of things, fell into place, and led to a way, some way, out of it. It was like your eyes were opened, and you saw the situation in a new and hopeful way. And you found wholeness again. The truth for us is that out of love for us, God is continually working this way, restoring us, bringing us more and more into wholeness.

If that’s happened to you, maybe tight in the middle of all that you clearly sensed the divine. Maybe you immediately recognized it as a “God Moment.” Or maybe it was only over time, after you looked back on the situation with perfect 20/20 hindsight, and you recognized God in the situation.

Or then again, maybe you didn’t. Sometimes we can’t, or we don’t, allow ourselves to admit that when things like that happen, that it’s evidence of God’s presence, and God’s working within us. Comparing it back to the story, it would be as if Jesus healed the blind man by putting mud over his eyes and told him to go wash it off, but he never washed it off to realize he’d already been healed.

This Lenten season, we’re all called to refocus and reflect on our faith. As part of that, this week, I invite you to think about these things. Ask yourself if there are things in your life that you want to ask God to heal; things that you would want God to restore within you. Think back over your past, and ask yourself if in hindsight, you can see that God was at work within some situation and had healed or restored something in your life. And consider, too, whether maybe there’s something in your life right now that God actually is working to restore, to heal, but you’ve just got to recognize it and accept it – that you’ve got wash in the pool of Siloam, as it were, and regain your vision, and see how God has already been working within you.

I said I always start to develop a sermon by first coming up with a “Sermon in a Sentence.” But I never share that sentence with anyone, because honestly, a lot of times the point that other people draw out of a sermon isn’t anything at all like what I think I’m preaching about. In reality, everyone has to come up with their own “Sermon in a Sentence.” This morning, out of all the possible things that could be drawn out of today’s long gospel text, I chose to focus in on the one small thought of God’s ongoing healing work in our lives, and inviting us all to examine where God may be working in our lives, healing something within us, too.  But it’s OK if the story takes you in other directions. As you hear this story, try to ask yourself what part of this story speaks to you. What do you hear God calling your attention to, when you read how Jesus reached out in love and compassion, and told the blind man – and by extension, tells you – “Here’s mud in your eye.”

Thanks be to God.

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