Mother Vivian Shelby – The Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 19, 2023
In the Name of the Father the Son and The Holy Spirit, amen.
Lots of people make the joke: see what happens when you miss church one Sunday? You have to preach the whole chapter of John 9. So, this is about seeing and not seeing. Being blind to things or seeing the truth.
So sometimes when I’m working with a gospel that is particularly long and complicated, I will go back to my theater days, when we used to analyze scripts. So this week I did a character study of all of the characters in this gospel. You write down separately what each character does and says and you get a better feel for the flow of each individual set of characters. So here we go. Disciples, all I do is ask a question. Who sinned? It was common back then to believe that if someone had a disability that there had been some sin involved in the family that caused it. And so they were just asking a question about those beliefs.
Who’s next? So we’ve got his parents, the blind man’s parents. All they do is show up when they’re summoned to the Pharisees and say, “Yep this is our son. He was born blind and now he can see. We don’t know how that happened or who did it.” Done.
Then we have the neighbors, the people who lived and saw this man and knew him. They are the first ones to see him when he comes back from washing his eyes in Siloam. And he can see. He can see. Now instead of rejoicing, what the gospel tells us is they’re all kind of [thinking] “Is that the guy? Like is that the same man?” Some people said “yes.” Some people said “no I don’t think so. I think it’s just somebody that looks like him.” And he’s going, “It’s me! It’s me! I can see! I can see!” So they take him to the Pharisees, to the synagogue, to celebrate and say, “Wow! There’s this guy and he was born blind and now he can see. Isn’t this amazing? That’s the neighbor’s job.
Now we’ve got the Pharisees. Now what you have to remember is the Pharisees had already decided, before this event, that Jesus was not the Messiah. It wasn’t. He was not the Son of God. He was a troublemaker. So they are looking specifically for facts that will prove their narrative. They’re not looking for truth. They want something that will show that Jesus is not the Messiah. So they ask this man, “How did this happen?” He tells them that Jesus did these things. And they’re like, “Hmm, we don’t believe you. We don’t believe that you were blind from birth. We don’t believe you.”
So they call his parents to come and testify to this, to prove that he wasn’t really born blind. And the parents were like, “Yep, yep he was.” So now they’re really stuck, because the miracle is true. The miracle is true. So they call him back and they try to mess up the story. And they keep asking him the same questions over and over again. And he gets aggravated. He says, “Why do you keep asking me if you’re not going to listen to me. I’ve already told you. Do you want to hear it again because you want to follow Jesus?” And that made them angry. “Who are you, a man who was born blind, to teach us anything? We already know the story. We already know the truth. So you are banished from the synagogue.”
Imagine a man healed of his blindness by God, shows up at the synagogue and they question him and they throw him out. I mean, the man even said, “Never since the beginning of time has there been a case where someone like me has been healed. Can we just focus on that?” And they say, “No. Doesn’t fit with our story. Bye!” So the last thing the Pharisees do is they ask a question of Jesus. So they were in the synagogue right where all this was happening. Now they’re outside. So they’re obviously kind of meandering around where this guy is, this healed guy. And they hear Jesus talking to him about sight and blindness. And they’re like, “Are you talking about us? I mean surely we’re not blind people? We can see.” Completely missing the point that they are totally blind to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah.
Okay, so now we have the blind man. Here’s a guy sitting at the gate begging for money. Like he does every single day. Because he couldn’t work. Just sitting there. People are walking around and talking. I think he’s oblivious. I don’t even think he hears Jesus or hears the question of the disciples. He’s just sitting there. And Jesus just walks over to him and puts mud on his eyes and says, “Go wash.” He can’t see him. He has no idea who this is. This stranger walks up to him, just puts mud on his eyes and says, “Now go wash,” and he doesn’t even tell him why. He doesn’t say, “Go wash and you’ll have your sight.” He says just go wash in Siloam. And he just has faith and says, “Okay!” And he goes and he washes. And he comes back and he celebrates. And then he’s taken to the synagogue and he’s questioned. And he is honest even though he knows how they feel about Jesus. He’s honest. “This guy named Jesus came and did this thing and now I can see.” And they just keep badgering him. And asking him more questions and more questions. And calling his parents. And then he’s just had enough. Had enough and says, “Look, you don’t even listen to me. You don’t even want to hear the truth. This is the truth.” And he uses their logic against them. He says, “We know that God only listens to people who worship him and obey him. So how could this man heal me if he wasn’t from God? If he wasn’t from God he could do nothing.”
So he blows up their argument. And they kick him out. So he goes outside.He’s wandering around and this stranger walks up to him. Remember, he doesn’t know it’s Jesus cause he never saw him. He never saw him. And Jesus walks up and he says, “Hey, do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Yeah, I mean ‘sir’, please let me know where he is.” He calls him “sir”. He’s being polite. And then Jesus says, “It’s me. Basically I healed you.” And then he calls him “Lord”. “Lord I believe” and he worships him. And he worships him.
So this blind man goes from an everyday activity for him, to being healed. And now being in the presence of Jesus Christ. Wow. The Pharisees are in the synagogue doing their normal thing. And they are brought a man who was healed of his blindness. And they questioned and questioned and tear apart the story and try to get the real story. And then they don’t like it and they actually kick him out. [They] reject this man who received a miracle from God. Two completely different journeys in one story. And you know what Jesus does, Jesus just did his thing. He answered a question. He healed someone, and went about his business. Showing them the power of God. Showing people that they can be blind in their heart even if they can see.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever been in a place in your life where you have believed a story so deeply that you don’t see the truth when it comes? If it changes the story. Something you believe even if it was wrong when you were, say, twenty years old. It could be a little something. Somebody told me a story once about the size of a pan for a ham. And that you had to have a certain size pan. It had to be a certain size pan. No, that’s not how it goes. I did it backwards. That when you have a ham, you have to cut off like six inches of the bone. That’s what it was. And that was in the recipe that you had to cut six inches off the bone. And then when they kind of investigated it, at some point, they realized that well, Grandma’s pan was too short for the ham! And that’s why she cut the six inches off. But everybody just kept cutting the six inches off.
So is there something in your heart that you believe, that when you run into someone who maybe doesn’t believe the same thing, or says something that goes against what you believe, that you are taken aback? For me, I call these my moments when my hair is rubbed backwards, my fur. Like when you rub a cat backwards and you go, “Ooo, that is not right.” Those are the times that you can learn something. Those are the times to pay attention. I know when I think I am dead set right about something and I get angry or upset, that that’s the time that I need to take a breath and listen. Because God is about to teach me something. Now it may be that he just teaches you how to deepen your faith in that one thing. That that is a solid rock for you and it’s good. Or it could be that at this time in your life he’s showing you a different perspective. A different perspective. This happens to me all the time once I became a Christian. All the time.
Being a disciple of Christ, being a Christian, is not about finding the right answers. It’s about being curious. It’s about being comfortable with the questions. Seeking out people who think differently than you to push up against you, to strengthen your faith, or to change your mind.
So in other parishes I’ve had, I’ve had people say I don’t need to do a Bible study I read the Bible once. I don’t need to read it again. It’s a Living Word of God. How do you think Bill and I preach? Every three years we come to the same Gospel and you have to preach it over and over and over again. You don’t have a file where you reach in and pull out the same sermon. You’re a different person than you were three years ago. The congregation’s in a different place than you were three years ago. You have to read it and study it and see what God’s saying to you and to the congregation that day.
So I want you to think about that this week. Where are the places in your life where maybe you’re like the Pharisees? And you’re really stuck on a truth that you’ve held dear for so long that there’s no wiggle room. Where are there places in your life where you want to, you really should be like the blind man? And just be going about your daily business and have the grace of God just flop on top of you? And you just give glory to God. Those are the places where God will teach you something. He is the light of the world. And if you accept the Living Word of God, he will continually grow you into a better person and a better Christian.