Sermon: Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 30, 2014

“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.”

That’s what the central character—the man born blind—insists is the whole story.  But the people around him can’t let it go at that.  A man who was born blind is healed with a little spit and some ordinary dirt and the words of an itinerant preacher?  It just seems so improbable!  There has to be more to the story than that!  Everyone from the religious leaders to the disciples to the man’s own parents has real problems with the whole scenario. The only person who seems ok with the events narrated in this story is the man who can now see clearly. He believes and worships Jesus.

Sadly, the story does not then show a crowd rejoicing that a man they’d known as a blind man his whole life is now able to see.  No one says, “Hallelujah!”or “Congratulations!”It seems everyone is curious to know the hows and whys of his healing, but it doesn’t appear that anyone simply wants to celebrate his good news.  Instead of hosting a party, shortly after this miracle occurs, various groups have start debating the question of sin.

Why do we do this?  Why do people so often feel compelled to focus on what is wrong instead of on what is miraculously, blessedly right?  Why must every good deed be followed by someone explaining how it wasn’t done “properly”?  “Whose fault is it,” ask the disciples, “that this poor man is blind? Is it his fault or his parents?”There has to be someone to blame.  It seems there always must be somebody to blame:  poor people must have made bad budgeting choices or may just be lazy.  That’s why they are poor.  Sick people ate too much or drank too much or didn’t eat or drink enough of the right stuff.  No one just gets sick or has to beg for a living.  They must have done something to deserve it.

NO says Jesus.  No. It’s not about sin at all.  It’s not anyone’s fault that this man was born blind.  But since you are determined to point the finger, point it at me! Let me show you what I can do with this man’s struggle.  The point is not who’s to blame.  The central point in this and every question is God’s divine love, mercy, and grace. Jesus takes our messes, our hurts, and our deficiencies, and—using the most improbable methods—he makes us whole, fits us for the work of discipleship.

The religious leaders and authorities just don’t believe that a miracle could have occurred. Who heals a certifiably blind beggar using spit, dirt, and a few words? Why, that’s plain crazy and completely out of order. Only the God of Abraham is equipped to heal—not some renegade rabbi claiming to be God’s son. Even the man’s parents refuse to take a clear stand for fear they’ll be put out of the synagogue.

Scholars speculate that this story is not really about a dispute over the healing of a blind man in Jesus’time, but really was put in John’s Gospel about 80 years after Jesus’death to address what was happening in John’s community.  At that time, Jews who claimed Jesus was the Messiah were being put out of the synagogue.  John might have included this story to comfort those who were being persecuted for their beliefs.  But does it matter?  Does a story have to be historically accurate for it to be true?  The Joad family may not have ever existed, but The Grapes of Wrath is still one of the truest stories I know.  Can today’s text be a true story about blindness and sight, even if it never happened, or didn’t happen in quite this way?

I think so, especially since, by the time we get to the end of the story, the problem of physical blindness is no longer the biggest issue at stake.  With all the freaking out about about laws regarding healing on the Sabbath and who has the power to heal, on top of the debate about whether or not sin causes physical afflictions, it’s almost hard to remember the man who had his sight restored.  This story is about much more than literal curing.

Remember the story of Nicodemus we heard from John’s Gospel two weeks ago?  Jesus was talking to him about being born again of water and the Spirit as a new creation, but Nicodemus kept trying to figure out how to physically crawl back into his mother’s womb. Last week, we heard about the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus talks to about living water.  She thought he was talking about physical H2O.  Jesus said that his living water would live with her forever, so she said, “Give me some of that living water so that I won’t have to come to this well every day to draw water.”  So, this week when John presents us with a story about blindness, what are the odds that he has Jesus just talking about some kind of normal, natural, physical malady?  No, it seems likely that this story is really not about physical blindness, and it may or may not have happened in quite this way, if it happened at all.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus was then, and still is now, in the business of miracles.Jesus habitually takes ordinary, sinful, yet named and claimed disciples, and through water, word, bread, and wine equips us to be his people. He takes our humble gifts and multiples our meager offerings in ways that can’t be explained rationally.

Think about it. How can a small congregation band together to raise thousands of dollars to fight malaria? Or feed the hungry? How can a few committed Christians bring about real change and hope to their homeless sisters and brothers in despair? How can a couple of families blanket our neighborhood with love and courage and hope through our meager means and limited resources?

It shouldn’t be possible in any rational way.  But miracles of hopeful grace happen every day!  As people washed in the waters of baptism, Jesus routinely opens our eyes, blinded by fear, to glimpse his glory.  It doesn’t make sense, but Jesus bathes us in the waters of Siloam and sends us out to tell our stories of new life! I don’t get how it work, but I want us to stand up and cheer whenever it does.  I vote we celebrate every single time something crazy like Jesus giving sight to the sightless using only a little spit and mud happens.  I think that whenever we encounter the  miracles Jesus can work with our humble gifts, we ought to throw a party!  Whenever we see the Holy Spirit blowing blessings to us and through us, we ought to rejoice with all that we have and all that we are.  Let’s break out the wine!  Pass the bread!  Hallelujah!  We once were blind, but now we see!  Thanks be to God!

~Pastor Susan Schneider

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