The Gift of Sight – March 19th, 2023

Sermon for Lent IV, 2023, Random Lake                 3/19/2023


Text: John 9: 1-4

Introduction.      The blind man did not ask for help.  I guess when you are blind from birth you don’t expect much.  Certainly, not in first century Judea!  Every day, the blind man sat on the edge of the sighted crowds and begged.  There was nothing else to do.

                             Isn’t it amazing how the disciples talk about the man, as if he wasn’t even there?  “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

                             I’ve seen it happen.  On a bus, in a teaching hospital, in an adult day care center, people are talked about as if they don’t have feelings.  Children are discussed as if they are invisible.  Or the differently-abled is ignored.  Healthy folks turn away, perhaps congratulating themselves on being “not one of those.”  The sighted become blind to human need.

                             Jesus did not turn away.  He took the initiative.  Jesus did not blame the blind man or his parents, but announced that he was born blind, “so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  Amazing!

                             Jesus could not postpone healing for the Sabbath to be over.  He took no thought of avoiding criticism.  Jesus acted.  He made a mudpack out of his own saliva and the dust at his feet.  Then, Jesus spread the moist mixture on the eyes of the blind man and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam.  Trusting Jesus’ words, the blind man went and was healed.

                             I propose that today we think about the general condition of human blindness, yours and mine, rather than the physical blindness that plagues a few individuals.  A lot is hidden from us.  Sin blinds each of us in some way.  But I pray that the Lord would give us all: THE GIFT OF SIGHT.        

I.       Flannery O’Connor, the 20th century author, had a gift for uncovering human blindness.  She created fictional characters that help to diagnose our spiritual shortsightedness. 

          Mrs. Cope, for example, hears and reads of the suffering of other people, but she is too self-absorbed to feel anything but gratitude that she has been spared.  She spends her time weeding her garden and worrying that a fire might threaten her precious farm.

          The teenage son of her former employee shows up with his friends.  Powell and his ragged-looking companions hitched a ride from their drab high-rise in the city, because they long for a few days of respite in the country.  Powell’s dad always talked about Mrs. Cope’s farm, as if it were heaven.  Now that his dad died, Powell comes to just ride the horses, sleep in the barn, or hike in the woods for a few days.

          But Mrs. Cope can’t see Powell’s need.  She fears that the boys will do damage, maybe start a fire.  She hardly reacts to the news of Powell’s dad’s death.  She talks about the boys’ hunger rather than feed them.  She forbids them from having the slightest pleasure in the farm, so they become hostile and eventually do set a fire.

          This story, called, “A Circle of Fire,” is filled with biblical symbolism.  The numerous references to fire and the sun suggest God, as a pervading presence.  The story reflects Jesus’ parable of  “The Weeds and the Wheat” and ends with the image of the Lord with the three men in the fiery furnace.  Mrs. Cope finally loses her blindness in the fiery ordeal.

          She learns what the teenager, Powell, and his friends tell Mrs. Cope’s hired hand earlier in the story:

She don’t own them woods…Man, Gawd owns them woods and her too…[Adding sarcastically] I reckon she owns the sky over this place too…Owns the sky and can’t no airplane go over here without her say so.

II.      The story of Mrs. Cope helps me to see my spiritual blindness.  I’ve weeded my garden with not much thought for poor kids, dreaming of green grass and a day without fear of violence.  I’m usually content to just talk about huge problems, rather than go into action.  I often fail to connect with the aching, nagging needs of the majority of the world to find food and water fit to drink.

          Perhaps some of you have a deep care for the homeless.  But I don’t do much.   Perhaps write a check once in a while.  There are citizens who work tirelessly for social change and justice, but a lot of us look the other way, when policies hurt the poorest among us.

          In many of Flannery O’Connor’s stories, the blind character doesn’t see until right before his or her death.  The grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” prattles on in her self-righteous ways until the very end.

          Only after the escaped convict, called Misfit, has killed off her family and is preparing to kill her does the grandmother suddenly see her connection to the killer—see his anger born of suffering, really see his predicament and longing for faith.  Only when the Misfit is wearing her son’s shirt, does the woman reach out to him as if he were her own child.  She shows the stirrings of compassion, seeing him as a fellow sufferer, too late.

III.    Jesus came to open wide our eyes and our hearts.  He steps away from the insensitive disciples debating who’s to blame and touches the man born blind.  The hostile authorities want to enforce their Sabbath laws, not caring one wit for healing.  They pressure parents and threaten anyone who shakes the status quo.  They’ll throw people out of the fellowship if they dare to contradict conventional wisdom.  The sighted authorities cannot see.

          But Jesus finds a way to give sight to all.  He not only talked about our common humanity; he shared it.  He took upon himself the hurt, the anger, and blindness of the world, until his eyes went vacant on the cross.  But then he rose from death, casting the bright light of new life upon the whole dark world.  The Son of Man wants all to be saved.

          Jesus made possible the joyous shouts to believers in Ephesus:

“Sleeper, awake!  Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you. “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of the light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

          These are the joyous words to all of us, as we go through the Lenten season of baptismal renewal. 

          God has opened our eyes and hearts in the water and the Word.  The Misfit in Flannery’s story said more than he knew in his off centered ways.  He told the grandmother:

Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead…and he shouldn’t have done it.  He thrown everything off balance.  If he did what he said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him…

          Oh, may the Lord help us to do just that.

IV.    No, I’m not suggesting that we sell the house or stop paying the rent and move to live with the poor.  But we can find ways to follow the Lord more closely than we do.  It’s time to be more aware of our hurting neighbors.  It’s time to spiritually see, to stand up for justice, and to speak up for mercy.

          It’s not easy.  It may be easier to have cataracts removed these days than to peel off the encrusted layers of sin on the human heart.  To see with new compassion your spouse or children or friend requires some refocus, or your lens washed with the blood of Christ.  Change is what we need; new patterns, initiative, conscious awareness of how much God loves you and every last person in our fogged-up vision.

Conclusion.                  A police officer in Madison could have slapped the handcuffs on the guy in a domestic dispute.  But she saw his pain over the breakup, and she talked him down. 

                                      Here’s another example: Larry Ward missed the news of his mother’s funeral, because he was isolated and cut off from Costa Rica when she died.  His dad, grief-stricken, wouldn’t open his door when Larry came to call.  Larry left flowers and a caring note anyway, whenever he came to town.  He saw his dad’s grief wounds, and after six months, the door was open and life was renewed.     Pray for THE GIFT OF SIGHT!

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