Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent + April 3, 2011
Boy this Gospel of John sure is full of lengthy stories… from Jesus’ encounters with Nicodemus at night and the Samaritan Woman at the Well in the noon day sun, to the man born blind who is both in darkness and an outsider. The story of Jesus giving sight to the man who had been born blind seems simple enough… a little dirt, some spit and washing. It took just two verses to tell, but for some, this thing Jesus has done is a controversial mess that takes twenty-nine more verses of to sort out.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like such a controversy, a man born blind encounters Jesus, who using a traditional healing practice of the time, spits on the ground and makes mud. So was the controversy about healing, or about the mud?
Hmmmn healing, I don’t think it was that. The man, I’ll call him Bo didn’t need healing, he wasn’t in pain, didn’t have an illness, or disease. He was whole not broken, made by and loved by God, but because he didn’t have sight in his eyes, he was treated differently, outcast and overlooked. So it wasn’t healing that muddied the situation the story.
Hmmmn mud, now that might be the cause of the messiness it took twenty-nine verses to sort out. It is mud season after all. You do have mud season here in Connecticut don’t you? In New Hampshire, it’s the season of bad sledding and maple sugaring that falls between the ski season also called winta, and the season of road construction also called summa. Mud is also what Bo sat in when he begged during the rainy season, but it wasn’t the cause of twenty-nine verses of controversy.
The making of the mess, the thing that muddies the miracle of Jesus is found in the words of his disciples: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The disciples, those closest to Jesus, those engaged in ministry, those who like you and I people who should know better, thought that there just had to be something, some sin that caused Bo’s blindness.
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Cause and effect reasoning… For every action (we often think sin or good deed), there is an equal or greater reaction (we often think punishment or blessing). We like the disciples and like the people in Bo’s community with sight wondered about what horrible thing Bo or his family must have done for God to have let Bo be born without sight. And because those with sight with their cause and effect worldview thought blindness was somehow contagious, they refused to see Bo as whole, as a child of God, as part of the community.
So in order to clear up the muddy mess, the author of this story in John uses a series of scenes filled with comical irony and sarcasm. Bo’s neighbors and the church leaders opposed to Jesus or at least uneasy about his radical teaching and actions engage in a back and forth interrogation about what happened and who did what when. Their morning television talk show, soap opera, tabloid style rhetoric is amusing and confusing, but boils down to the cause and effect worldview.
Cause and effect is used to build a case for believing in God’s presence and love in the world by Bo who received his sight and calls Jesus a prophet. How were your eyes opened they asked Bo? “Jesus made mud, put in on my eyes, and told me to wash,” Bo answers again and again. Finally Bo tells them again that he knows he was blind, encountered Jesus, and now he sees….do you keep asking because you also want to follow him?” Bo witnesses further by saying that the astonishing thing was that if Jesus were not of God, he couldn’t have given Bo his sight.
Cause and effect is used to build a case by some of the Pharisees who got hung up on Jesus work on the Sabbath. “This Jesus can’t be from God” the judgmental religious people said, he did this on the Sabbath, he broke religious rules. And in the repeated testimony of Bo the man born blind, the very people who spend their time studying and talking about God, those who are supposed to see and share God’s truth, are blind to God’s presence and love in the hands of Jesus and the eyes of Bo.
John ends the story with a scene to resolve the controversy, washing away the mud slinging not with water but with Jesus’ revelation of his identity as the “Son of Man” who “came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Those who can see the signs of Jesus’ encounters from Nick at Night to Sam at the Well and Blind Bo, experience and see God at work in the world, believe and share their stories.
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We who believe in Jesus see him and the love of God in the face of another and in works done in love… the love of the One who sent Jesus to us. The One who gives us sinner’s life, faith, and the ability to see God in the face of creation. The image of mud is an echo from the creation story in Genesis when God takes Adam’s rib and mud to creates Eve. Bo is given a new genesis of life in that same mud of God.
We hear how in simple earthly elements, dirt and water to make mud, God restores more than Bo’s sight. Bo is given new life, his old one washed away and he is sent back to wholeness with his community. The community sees him and God’s love in a new way. And the waters of Siloam in Jerusalem, seen in ancient times as a place of healing are now seen as life-giving and community-restoring. Still a little ‘cause and effect’ reasoning, but the water washes away the muddiness of human sin and blame showing forth God’s gift of love and life for Bo and his community.
We wonder if we need Jesus to restore our sight so we can see the light of Christ as Bo did. We wait for Jesus to restore our sight not to see the light of some glowing aura around him, or a shiny halo over his head, but in the eyes of the homeless, the hurting, the people we walk by each day, the people who long for community, compassion, connection. We worship Jesus here thinking that we will see the light and experience the love of Christ here in this place.
And yes Christ is present here in this place, in Water, Wine and Word, and in each of you. But we walk by opportunities to see the light of Christ each day. The sparkle of life and light, the love of Christ reflected in the eyes of people begging to be recognized, welcomed and accepted…
- People disregarded or disconnected because we ignore or judge them.
- People we miss because of the blinders of classism, racism, or sexism we choose to wear.
- People we don’t see as a part of our community because we walk around, walk away from, or walk over them.
And so we put aside our cause and effect worldview and pray for Jesus to… help cure the selfish ways that numb our compassion, help focus our lives to really see the face of God in others, and help us testify to the presence and love of God in our lives. Amen.