Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sermon: The man born blind (John 9) [abridged]

This is about as straightforward a story as you will find in Scripture. And that is problematic for a preacher. There is very little left to explain.

This passage did raise one question for me as I read it, however, and that is this: why did the man's neighbors bring him to the Pharisees? There wasn't any reason to, as far as I could tell. This wasn't like leprosy where he needed to be examined and declared clean. But it seems they wanted an explanation, something more than, "I was blind and now I see." (This leads to one of the funniest exchanges in Scripture as far as I'm concerned. The neighbors ask the man, "Where's the guy who healed you?" and he says, "I don't know," as he's thinking, "since I was blind at the time!")

So they bring him to the Pharisees. I have a lot of sympathy for the Pharisees in this situation. This group shows up; they thrust this guy in front of them; they say, "This man was born blind and can now see; explain." You can imagine the Pharisees are thinking to themselves, "What kind of a scam is this?" So you can understand why they questioned him as they did and wanted witnesses to verify that the guy was actually born blind. If he was indeed born blind and can now see, that breaks all the rules.

Here's the thing: When reality breaks the rules, the rules do their best to reassert themselves.

They do this in three ways:

First, the rules try to make you fit back into the rules. If no one has ever been healed of blindness after being born blind, then clearly he can't have been born blind.

Second, the rules try to make you betray or deny your experience. "Give glory to God," the Pharisees say. "We know this man is a sinner." Give us the right answer, this suggests, and we will have no problems.

Third, if you don't fit the rules, the rules can be used to kick you out. Often, as in this case, with an ad hominem attack: "You were born entirely in sins." It's so much easier if you are the one at fault; all the more reason to kick you out.

I confess, I have some sympathy for the rule people. I know I have been one at times. Losing the rules is very frightening. If these rules aren't true, then my whole system falls apart. If the rules aren't true, then what can I count on?

This isn't much comfort if you are the one who has been kicked out, of course. We can probably all think of a time when we've been kicked out of something or left something--a relationship, a group--because the rules didn't fit our reality. And that's painful. Often we want to stick around to convince them. We just want them to see what we see. We wonder, how they could be so blind?

But the likelihood is that they are scared. Scared that if they see what you see, their world will fall apart. As hard as it is, we need to have compassion, even as we are rejected--or walk away on our own.

Or maybe you are saying to yourself right now, "Surely I am not blind, am I?" Maybe you are facing something where the facts in front of you do not fit the rules. For you, I would offer the great command of the Bible: Do not be afraid. Jesus is Lord over all Creation. If something is real, it was created by God. You do not need to be afraid to love and accept it.

Reality breaks open our world into something larger, perhaps more frightening, perhaps more freeing than we are used to. But "scary" doesn't mean "bad." Nor does "free" mean "as it pleases me." It means that every time our world breaks open, we can see a little more like Jesus sees and can take our next first steps into believing in him.

May Jesus open our eyes, and may we be blessed to see and to believe.

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