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Sunday, March 26, 2017

New Sight

If we are willing to let Jesus open our eyes, even though we first will see things that are painful to look at, we will also see a great hope in God’s healing love for ourselves and for the world.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Fourth Sunday in Lent, year A
   Text: John 9:1-41

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

We’re not blind, are we?

I was sixteen, licensed to drive for about six months. I had the gold, ‘74 Dodge Coronet, with Chrysler’s great 318 engine, the car my parents let me drive. I was at my cousin Jason’s farm, just outside of town. I was in the car, ready to go home, and started backing up. I could see Jason in my rear-view mirror, near the barn, waving his arms in front of his face. (Demonstrate) I happily waved back, as I continued in reverse. And plowed into my great-aunt’s car.

I had checked my mirrors. I was certain I saw all I needed to see. To this day, I’m not entirely sure how I hit that car. As a city boy to Jason’s country boy, he would happily tell you other stories of mishaps on the farm that I encountered, and they also largely were because, like with Jason’s wave, I wasn’t seeing what I needed to see.

The Pharisees end this marvelous story of Jesus and a man born without sight by asking, “we’re not blind, are we?” Here’s a tip: if you find yourself asking Jesus that question, it’s fairly certain the answer is “yes.”

This story isn’t about a healing Jesus does. That’s the incident that sparks it. This story is, as Jesus said, about the glory of God being revealed, about seeing and not seeing the truth. It’s about seeing Jesus as God’s Messiah, who gives us life.

And it’s not clear we have that vision yet.

But – we’re not blind, are we?

Well, are we willing to see the truth of our world as it really is? The brokenness and despair, the divide between the rich and the poor, the injustices built into our society, into the very fabric of our everyday lives? And if we will see that truth, will we have the courage to see our own participation that runs so deep we don’t even notice we’re causing these problems?

Theologian Sallie McFague has written about this blindness with regard to climate change and the refugee crisis. She writes: “We are a (largely) innocent enemy. We high-level consumers of energy are merely living ordinary Western lives, doing what everyone else in our society is doing. Even as we gradually learn how deeply our actions are affecting the planet’s health, the problem still seems abstract, remote.” [1]

And this is equally true of the problems of poverty, racial injustice, inequality for women, of all society’s ills. We’re so invested in our convenient lives, our “normal,” and the effects are so far removed from our actions, we barely even believe we’re part of the problem, that we’re the enemy. We just don’t see it.

Do we want Jesus to spit into the dirt, make some mud, and open our eyes so we see the truth? It will hurt. It will be exceedingly inconvenient.

But – we’re not blind, are we?

Well, are we willing to see the truth of our inner lives as they really are, our fears and sins and prejudices, the doubts we have about our worthiness? Or will we keep pretending we’re just fine? Are we willing to have our eyes opened to see the harm we do to others, even if it’s unintentional? To face that we can be problems for those who love us, that we can and do hurt them? We just don’t like to let ourselves see these things.

Do we want Jesus to spit into the dirt, make some mud, and open our eyes to see this truth? It will hurt. It will be exceedingly inconvenient.

Here’s John’s grace today: he says we can open our eyes step by step.

This blind man didn’t see everything right away. His physical eyes were now fine. But even by the end of the story, he still didn’t see all that could be seen. This story is about a man gradually seeing the truth about Christ Jesus, and finding life in that truth.

At first, all he knows is the name Jesus. He didn’t even see him. He was blind.

And he knows what happened: He was blind, had mud put on him, he washed, now he sees. He keeps repeating that truth again and again, and gradually discovers new eyes to see what God is doing in Jesus.

He moves from only knowing the name Jesus, to next declaring “he is a prophet.” Later he says, “he is someone from God.” Then later, “he is the Son of Man.” And finally, his eyes are opened enough that he falls on his knees and worships the incarnate God-with-us. He found life in Christ he didn’t have before. He still had questions. He was cast out from his religious community. He had no idea what he was going to do for a living, having begged his whole life. But he found the Son of God and found life and hope.

This is the sight Christ wants for us, painful as it will be at first, so we also can find healing.

There’s a familiar prayer from the Middle Ages, attributed to St. Richard of Chichester.

“Dear Lord, three things I pray, to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”

That’s what Christ offers the blind man today. That’s what Christ offers us, too. To take some mud and put it on our eyes and open them up to see the truth. To see what God is doing in Christ more clearly.

Part of that seeing is honesty about the ugly truths we pretend we don’t see. Without such brutal honesty, we can’t see a path to healing. Healing for the world and all the systems we perpetuate. Healing for ourselves, and all our brokenness inside and out.

When we see Christ more clearly, we see beneath all that pain and brokenness to a great hope. A hope that when we live in Christ’s love, honestly looking at our truth and the world’s truth, following Christ more nearly, God’s healing happens in us.

But this clarity comes day by day, not all at once.

We are blind, aren’t we?

But we gather here in this wonder: we are loved by the God who in Christ opens eyes, and when we can see, we find hope in God. Like the formerly blind man, as we recall and repeat the truth of the grace we’ve received from God, stubbornly speaking it, our eyes become more and more opened.

Our new sight shows not only hard truth. It also reveals God’s love and grace underlying everything in this world. We see signs of hope in the smallest actions. We see paths where we can change how we act and live in ways that will affect our closest relationships and the greater world.

As Jesus said to the Pharisees, as long as you think you’re not blind, I can’t do much for you. But when you admit you are, now I can help. Let me open your eyes. The light will hurt at first. But then you will see my love, and my grace, and you will see beauty unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Do you believe? Jesus asked. And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And worshipped him.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

[1] Sallie McFague, A New Climate for Theology: God, the World, and Global Warming, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2008; p. 28

This sermon includes inspiration from Jean Vanier, in his commentary Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, Novalis: Ottowa, Can., 2004; p. 170ff.; and from Rachel Crippen, Concordia (Moorhead) ’17, both from conversation and from her unpublished senior thesis, “Would You Harbor Me? An Eco-Theology of Accountability and Response for the Global Refugee Crisis.”

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