Spiritual Blindness

I gave this sermon on Sunday, March 30 with the following scriptures. John 9: 1-41, I Samuel 16: 1-13, and Ephesians 5: 8-14

It was likely the most opinionated message that I have given, but it was one that I feel very strongly about, and I feel that our church, the United Church of Christ is a very non-judgmental denomination, and that is where I try to come from. Hope you get something from this, and thanks Jessica for the inspiration. You influence me more than you know.

We who will not see

A few weeks ago, I mentioned something about how talking about the weather becomes one of those things we end up doing when we don’t know what to say. Well, we all know that is sort of out the window this winter. Talking about the weather is sort of a new or at least a different topic each day.

A second type of those, “I don’t know what to say, so I will talk about this,” topic seems to be our aches and pains. Well then again maybe this is used as a discussion starter more frequently within a family. I had a grandmother that could never answer the greeting of, “Hi Grandma, How are you?” without a complete listing of all her aches and pains since the last time you were together. Talking about our hurts seems to be something we are most able to do with those we feel most comfortable.

Of course there are some of us, like myself, who don’t admit to any physical issues. If my hip or knee gives me a fit when I go to stand, I figure it is because I sat too long. If I have a hard time taking steps, I figure it is because I overdid it the day before, or maybe it is time to shrink the weight above the knee to give it less of a load. But mostly, I keep trying to convince myself that if I don’t acknowledge my aches and pains, and if I don’t talk about them very much, they will just go away. And I am always sure that any “bug” I get is not really a germ or something of consequence, instead, I convince myself that it is something I ate, and it will go away without any real need for medical treatment. And so far I have been pretty fortunate in all of this.

The story we read for today, from the gospel of John wasn’t about a little ache or pain. It wasn’t about a minor illness or something that happened by eating food that wasn’t quite right. This story is about a man who was born blind. It was a very real disability. Because of his blindness, this man was unable to work or earn a living, and because he was blind, he wasn’t able to help himself, and he is a beggar. He was at the mercy of those who might pitch in and help him on occasion.

Now we could take lots of directions with this lesson, this scripture. We could go into issues about the healing being on the Sabbath, or we could stick to the issue of vision, especially spiritual vision. We could tie it to the vision of God that he passed to Samuel when he was able to discern that David would be the next King of Israel when Samuel went looking for the man who God asked him to anoint while Saul was still in power. We could even focus on blindness as us being in the dark while Jesus gives us the light to walk as she should.

But for today, we are going to look at illness, sickness and this blindness. It is a physical blindness which the poor beggar has. He is that way from birth, but healed by Jesus at exactly the time when the leaders are very upset with him. It seems that Jesus has this ability to really test the patience of those Jewish leaders, and somehow in doing that, he gets his point across, and we are able to see the truth of what he is saying.

This story is placed in the gospel of John immediately after Jesus has had a major run-in with the Jewish leaders. In fact they were so angry at the end of their conversation that they began picking up stones because they wanted to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy. He has basically called them out on their beliefs and told them that they are followers of the devil. He calls them liars and says that they are from the Father of Liars. It is another passage where Jesus reveals that his own existence began long before Samuel or David or Abraham or Moses or any of the laws that the leaders are so careful to follow.

This story about Jesus healing the man born blind becomes a sort of living parable. As Jesus heals the man, he is showing his disciples, the Pharisees, and us what it means to be spiritually blind. It all starts when the disciples ask a simple question concerning the religious beliefs of the time. As they pass the blind man, they ask Jesus about why this man is blind. Their question is, “who sinned—the man or his parents?”

We can get from this question and other information about the laws of the time that the Jewish religious leaders taught that illness or disabilities or disasters happened as a result of someone’s sin, someone’s disobedience to God, and as a result, God would reach out and strike the person or their child with a punishment in one form or another. Now if we were to have that sort of religion, that sort of belief system, we would have to take a different approach to our list of prayer concerns. We would have to turn to that list and ask the people on it to confess what they did wrong to end up in this situation.

Truthfully, if we were to act that way, we would be the ones that Jesus would look to and say that we are as blind as the Pharisees. I hope that we all know that having an illness or a disease or something really bad happen to us is NOT a result of our own sin, or the sin of our parents. Sometimes certain things happen as a result of what you do, a consequence of an action or an accident, for example; you might break your leg because you were forced to jump from a high place to get away from something, or maybe you get a rash because you didn’t notice that what you touched was poison ivy. Those are not the direct intervention of God in punishment for our sin. I can’t believe that philosophy and I can’t teach it. And, I don’t think those are beliefs that you would find in any of the writings from our denomination.

As much as the disciples were trying to resolve their former teachings about how things happen in terms of why the man came to be blind, Jesus lets them know that old belief is not how it works. This man was born blind, neither because of something he did nor anything that his parents did. In fact Jesus says this is one of the times when God takes the thing that has happened and uses it to show his grace. This blind man and his blindness is being used in this instance to show us what God, through Jesus is capable of doing. By physically opening the eyes of this man born blind, we see the divine power of Jesus. Even by today’s medical standards blindness is still something we don’t cure.

Oh yes there are cornea transplants and those do save vision for some, but if you lose your eye as our little niece did to cancer, there is no way to transplant that eye. Modern medicine still does not have the ability to decipher all of the nerves that connect from the eyeball to the brain. Apparently there are researchers working on a computerized eye, but it hasn’t happened yet, and it sure wasn’t what happened to the man born blind when Jesus picked up some dirt and spit on it making mud to put over the eyes of a beggar so that he could wash himself in the pool so his eyes would begin to work, and he would be able to see.

If it were just a matter of washing in that pool, I have to ask why the man hadn’t gone there on his own long ago? If it were a matter of getting to the pool, I ask where his parents where in helping him out? We see that the Pharisees had to hunt them down to ask if this really was their son, and they seemed pretty skittish about admitting anything because they were afraid of being kicked out of the synagogue. Boy that must have been some big congregation if their leaders were so tough they could kick people out for having your eyes opened to the truth. But then I suppose they had to be careful about someone taking away their followers.

In defense of the Pharisees, let’s stop to think about this belief of healing coming to those who deserve it, and punishment to those who deserve that. If such were indeed the case, we could be satisfied to know that good things happen to good people and bad things happen, well because they did something bad. If that were the case, we could leave here today knowing that all of the evil and corruption in our world is punishment for all of the bad things people are doing. If that were really the case, we could actually believe that old joke about a nice summer rain that I remember from younger days. If it rained and the crops were good, the saying would be that the people there were living right, and if it didn’t well the saying would be just the opposite.

Plane crashes, mud slides, and mass shootings and even virus outbreaks don’t happen because we are an immoral society. Things happen. Sometimes things happen because someone or some group is losing touch with what is the good thing to do, and sometimes things just happen. As I said earlier, sometimes when we miss a step and twist an ankle, it is because we weren’t paying attention, not because we didn’t pray right the day before. We get sick because maybe we pick up a germ when we touch an infected area and rub our eye or nose or something and our body is run down, but it isn’t because we miss church for a family function or some other reason.

Hanging on to that sort of belief, to the idea that bad things happen because of bad actions only serves one purpose. It keeps the person who blames themselves for the problem wallowing in guilt. And as long as they are feeling guilty and unforgivable, they aren’t capable of seeing the truth, the light of Jesus. Those kinds of beliefs and feelings can only serve to keep us apart from God.

And if we ever perpetuate those beliefs in the name of religion, the way the Pharisees and the other leaders of that time did, well then we prevent ourselves from having opportunities to fellowship with other believers, and if that is the case, we would all become the losers.

Jesus took the situation of the man born blind and healed him so that he would be able to teach his disciples and anyone who would listen about their spiritual blindness. We too need to open our eyes to the truth. Our God is a God of Grace and Mercy and Forgiveness. Jesus came to make that Grace and Mercy and Forgiveness available to us as long as we open our eyes to him. Amen!

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. christinelaennec
    Mar 31, 2014 @ 17:02:49

    Wow there’s a lot in that sermon. And I agree with Glenda. I am constantly “seeing” blind spots in my own self.

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  2. glenda zimmerman
    Mar 30, 2014 @ 18:15:06

    Thank the Good Lord for his forgiveness or we would all be in trouble!!

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