John 9:1-41

March 30, 2014 by Ken Dale

??????????? Last Sunday afternoon I returned to the Alcyon Center in Seal Cove for a few days of personal retreat and spiritual direction.? Monday afternoon I took a ride down to Bass Harbor which has long been sacred ground for me.? Back in the 70?s I used to go there with a seminary classmate ? actually we had two places, the other was the stretch of shore line between Schooner Head and Great Head in Bar Harbor.? Our Schooner Head jaunt was sort of a game ? we would try to stay as close to the water while climbing on the rocks and when we got to Great Head we would free climb up the face.? When I go down there now and see where and what we used to do I am shocked ? no one in their right mind would do that.?? Is that the wisdom of age?? Bass Harbor was different ? it was level, but the granite is a redish color and the woods that border that rocky shoreline are just like walking in a storybook ? it?s so surreal.? I remember one time going down there for a day and it had been quite some time.? When I got down to the shore that I stood with my camera taking pictures of the beautiful shoreline and the awesome red granite.? I would guess they were tourists ? but a couple came up behind me and I heard one of them say ?What is he taking a picture of??? I wanted so badly to turn and look at them and say ?are you blind??? But I didn?t.

How could they not see?? But then, how much do we miss in life because we do not see ? even things right in front of us.? I know it?s a guy thing, but has anyone else ever stood in front of an open refrigerator not finding what they were looking for only to have your wife say ?you may have to bend over a look around a little.?? The other day on my way out of a restaurant I noticed a young couple sitting a table.? All I noticed of the guy was tattoos.

Our gospel lesson from John this morning is about a man who was born blind.? It seems he was only known for being blind.? We read that his neighbors and those who had seen him before knew him only as a beggar.? I wonder how many times they walked by him, maybe even dropped coins into his cup, but never really saw him as a person.? In fact when he was no longer blind those neighbors were not sure who he was anymore.? Some thought it was him, but others said no it is someone like him.? He had to keep asserting ?I am the man.?? Obviously he was never encountered as a person, as an individual.

At the very beginning of the story Jesus is walking with his disciples when he sees this man born blind.? What?s the first thing that happens?? The disciples start a theological discussion.? Why is this man blind ? is it because he sinned ? or because his parents sinned?? The preclusion is that this blindness must be some sort of divine judgment from God.? For most of us today ? hopefully, we see this world view as silly.? But at that time disaster was understood in that way.? But what does Jesus do?? He does not acknowledge the opportunity for theological colloquy ? he says neither him or his parents.?? Jesus spits in dirt, makes mud and smears it on the man?s eyes, tells the man to wash in the pool of Siloam and the man comes back seeing.

The religious officials are there ? the Pharisees ? they grab the man asking ? (well, let?s do a short version of those verses.)? Pharisees start, ?Are you going around preaching that this rabbi healed you of blindness??? And the man responds, ?Well, actually I was blind at the time, so I didn?t exactly see who healed me.?? So they seize his parents, ?Before we kick you out, answer us, is this your son who was blind??? The frightened parents respond, ?It?s hard to say if that?s our son or not.? Who wants to know?? ???Again they ask the man who healed him and he admits it was Jesus.? And the Pharisees focus on sin ? but it is the sin of Jesus who is doing this on the Sabbath and that?s not an ok thing to do on the Sabbath.? And the blind man ? the once-blind man says he doesn?t know a lot about sin ? all he knows is that once he was blind and now he sees.

Hello???? A man ? a person who has been blind his entire life and because of that ends up a beggar suddenly now is able to see.? We have 41 verses about who is a sinner and who is not and what is ok to do on the Sabbath and what is not and who would do such a thing on the Sabbath and who would not.? And it seems to me that what ? rather who ? gets lost in it all, is this man, this person who has experienced the gift of divine healing through this person Jesus.? And you gotta just love the dialogue in the last 6 verses.? Actually, he?s been driven out and we can conclude that Jesus went looking for him.? When he finds this person he asks, ?Do you believe in the Son of Man??? Remember who this once-blind guy is talking to ? and he responds ?And who is he sir, that I may believe in him??? He really doesn?t know!

Jesus says, ?You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.?? The man responds, ?Lord, I believe.?? Then Jesus says, ?I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.?? Pharisees ? the people with all the answers, close enough to hear that respond, ?Surely we are not blind, are we??? ?Are we??? I think they know the answer to their own question.

We carry on our theme in this journey of Lent ? ?looking for love.?? Today?s looked upon image is that of the shepherd ? clearly in the well-known and much loved 23rd Psalm which we sang.? The images there need no explanation. ?But do we see? ?In our reading from I Samuel as the people are looking for anew ruler ? for God?s appointed ruler among the sons of Jesse it is such a surprise who is chosen.? God chooses based not on the outward appearance but on the heart ? and unlikely David ?the youngest and a shepherd is chosen and anointed.? And in our story from John we see Jesus who sees the man, a person, while the disciples and Pharisees see sin.? We see Jesus who seems more concerned about God being revealed in his life than locating and identifying sinners.? That Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd.

Jesus reveals a God who is more into healing, compassion, and salvation than into divine condemnation.? As Good Shepherd, Jesus reveals a God who is with us, who stands in solidarity with us, who bears our anguish, experiencing even the valley of the shadow of death.? That presence is one that transforms one?s life and fills it with meaning and hope and love.

John?s gospel is full of metaphors ? last Sunday it was living water.? In today?s story John uses seeing as a metaphor for believing, for coming to see past outward appearances to the truth deep in the heart of things.? In this passage we again see Jesus as light of the world.? See the once blind man?s salvation?? His openness and growing faith contrast sharply with that fearful and hesitancy experienced by his neighbors and especially the judgmental reaction of the Pharisees ? the religious establishment of the day.? How ironic that this man born blind sees God?s truth so much better than those who spend all their time studying and talking about God. ?When the story comes to an end ? see where the man born blind now is ? and see how his neighbors and the Pharisees are still right where they were at the beginning.

Where do we see ourselves individually or collectively in this story?? Are we like the man who has experienced the grace of God in our openness and growing faith?? Or are we like the Pharisees who miss the miracle of it all ? the miracle of life and the miracle of a life come to faith and a life of faith??? I close with some of my favorite words from Fred Buechner:? The grace of God means something like: Here is your life.? You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn?t have been complete without you.? Here is the world.? Beautiful and terrible things will happen.? Don?t be afraid.? I am with you.? Nothing can ever separate us?? There?s only one catch.? Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only is you?ll reach out and take it.? Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Amen.