John 9 1:17
As Jesus walked along, he saw someone who had been blind from birth.
The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, was it this individual’s sin that caused the blindness, or that of the parents?”
“Neither,” answered Jesus, “It wasn’t because of anyone’s sin—not this person’s, nor the parents’. Rather, it was to let God’s works shine forth in this person. We must do the deeds of the One who sent me while it is still day—for night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
With that, Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva and smeared the blind one’s eyes with the mud. Then Jesus said, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”—“Siloam” means “sent.” So the person went off to wash, and came back able to see.
Neighbors and those who had been accustomed to seeing the blind beggar began to ask, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said yes; others said no—the one who had been healed simply looked like the beggar. But the individual in question said, “No—it was me.”
The people then asked, “Then how were your eyes opened?”
The answer came, “The one they call Jesus made mud and smeared it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash. When I went and washed, I was able to see.”
“Where is Jesus?” they asked.
The person replied, “I have no idea.”
They took the one who had been born blind to the Pharisees.
It had been on a Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud paste and opened this one’s eyes. The Pharisees asked how the individual could see. They were told, “Jesus put mud on my eyes. I washed it off, and now I can see.”
This prompted some Pharisees to say, “This Jesus cannot be from God, because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.” Others argued, “But how could a sinner perform signs like these?” They were sharply divided. Then they addressed the blind person again: “Since it was your eyes he opened, what do you have to say about this Jesus?”
“He’s a prophet!” came the reply.
John 9: 18-41
The Temple authorities refused to believe that the beggar had been blind and had begun to see, until they summoned the parents. “Is this your child?” they asked, “and if so, do you attest that your child was blind at birth? How do you account for the fact that now your child can see?”
The parents answered, “We know this is our child, blind from birth. But how our child can see now, or who opened those blind eyes, we have no idea. But don’t ask us—our child is old enough to speak without us!” The parents answered this way because they were afraid of the Temple authorities, who had already agreed among themselves that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why they said, “Our child is of age and should be asked directly.”
A second time they summoned the one who had been born blind and said, “Give God the glory instead; we know that this Jesus is a sinner.”
“I don’t know whether he is a sinner or not,” the individual answered. “All I know is that I used to be blind, and now I can see.”
They persisted, “Just what did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
“I already told you, but you won’t listen to me. Why do you want to hear it all over again? Don’t tell me you want to become disciples of Jesus, too!”
They retorted scornfully, “You’re the one who is Jesus’ disciple. We’re disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this Jesus comes from.”
The beggar retorted: “Well, this is news! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes! We know that God doesn’t hear sinners, but that if people are devout and obey God’s will, God listens to them. It is unheard of that anyone ever gave sight to a person blind from birth. If this one were not from God, he could never have done such a thing!”
“What!” they exclaimed. “You’re steeped in sin from birth, and you’re giving us lectures?” With that they threw the person out.
When Jesus heard of the expulsion, he sought out the healed one and asked, “Do you believe in the Chosen One?”
The healed one answered, “Who is this One, that I may believe?”
“You’re looking at him,” Jesus replied. “The Chosen One is speaking to you now.”
The healed one said, “Yes, I believe,” and worshiped Jesus.
And Jesus said, “I came into this world to do justice—to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.”
Some of the Pharisees who were nearby heard this and said, “You’re not calling us blind, are you?”
To which Jesus replied, “If you were blind, there would be no sin in that. But since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
The Word of the Lord…
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
With all the suffering in the world, it just feels like Lent, the period in which we usually examine the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, the ways he tried to do what was good in a world that routinely refuses to accept goodness as a viable reality. At Calvary, we have been exploring the appointed Bible readings in conversation with the “Eight Pillars of Joy” outlined in The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. So, a big welcome to you who are joining this caravan today, and we invite you to keep journeying with us From Mourning to Dancing, and yes, there will be dancing.
The Spiritual Practice of Acceptance
Today’s lesson is Acceptance. The Book of Joy defines the spiritual practice of Acceptance this way.
“So many of the causes of suffering come from our reacting to the people, places, things, and circumstances in our lives, rather than accepting them. When we react, we stay locked in judgment and criticism, anxiety and despair, even denial and addiction. It is impossible to experience joy when we are stuck this way. Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly, and to respond appropriately.”
By worshiping together remotely we are all practicing a kind of Acceptance right now. We accept the reality of Covid-19. We have not given up, we are not wallowing in despair. In fact, the spiritual practice of Acceptance is “the opposite of resignation and defeat.” For example, Archbishop Despond Tutu accepted the reality of racist apartheid, he did not accept its inevitability as a way of life. He says the question is not “How do we escape it? The question is: How can we use this as something positive?”
This week, in the snippets of time I have ventured outside our home, I have noticed people not accepting social distancing. Right now, no one gets to decide for someone else whether they will shake hands, receive a hug or stand close to someone else in line. It’s life and death. There’s a mixed message when even Dr. Fauci is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with others in those press conferences, but to accept this challenge and emerge from it, we must think and distance.
Perhaps you are discouraged that leaders and celebrities, most of them super-wealthy, don’t have to accept the same reality as the rest of us and, frankly, wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between accountability and Spongebob Sqaurepants. Perhaps you are as troubled as I am over the scapegoating happening to people of Chinese descent. As a gay man, I am part of a group often scapegoated and blamed for many things, including a virus or two. So, I am especially scandalized when the president calls Covid-19 the Chinese Virus. Viruses neither know nor care about things like nationality, ancestry or politics. So, I accept that he’s just like that, but, as a people of faith, we must stand up for the gospel of Jesus and inclusive unconditional love and call out race baiting when witness it so clearly.
Accepting Human Nature
How can we use this as something positive? Jesus is our example. Be like Jesus. Do not be like the Pharisees in today’s reading you are about to hear. In John 9, Jesus heals a blind person. Richard Lischer writes: “the story of [t]his cure takes exactly two verses; the controversy surrounding the cure, 39.” The calendar changes but people are pretty much the same: unaccountable “authorities sink to the oldest of all debate tactics: assail the source of your opponent.” Call it a hoax, and ask antagonistic questions. Where did this rabbi get his education? Why should we accept someone who breaks with tradition? Is he even allowed to be here? This is a song about a rabble rouser. I hope that, as you let it in, you will decide to sing along at the end. Words online program.
“The Family” by Rev. John L. Bell & Graham Maule
He had no wife, no family,
he had no children of his own
he once had been a refugee,
despised but never left alone.
To all the widowed and the fatherless
he showed a love that none had shown.
He like to watch as children played
and knew the lyrics of their song;
he cared for those who lived at risk,
the ones whose rights had all gone wrong.
The plight of helpless and of homeless folk
would always in his heart belong.
He had no job to pay the rent
but women gave him house and food;
they saw in him no hidden threat,
his singleness was safe and good.
And those whom no one ever listened to,
discovered that he understood.
Those whom he calls his family
are this through love and not reward:
sisters and brothers we can be,
if we but take him at his word.
And so we join to celebrate the life
of Jesus Christ, our friend and Lord.
The Light That is Felt
Living with a blind man, I have learned more about Acceptance than I could ever convey. Not that I have to accept his blindness, that’s not what I mean—about the ways he accepts his blindness. My husband, Lou Grosso became blind about 26 years ago. When we first met, he used to have approximately one breakdown per week which began with “I hate being blind!” But not anymore, much. He uses his blindness as something positive—Acceptance.
This may sound strange, but if you want something proofread, give it to a blind person. With the computer’s audible screenreader, Lou finds mistakes no one else could catch. What’s more, when we watch Netflix, we select the Audio Description feature (EnglishAD), and a lovely human voice describes everything that’s happening, often describing things us with “normal” abilities completely miss. Unfazed by visual images, Lou remembers details better than the average bear. Often when people greet Lou saying, “Good to see you.” Then they recoil and apologize, but he says the same thing. He sees you, oh believe me, blind people see a lot more than you think, like where the bus stop has been relocated or where I have hidden the Oreos.
French resistance activist, Jacques Lusseyran lost his sight as a child. As a teenager, he organized against the invasion of Hitler’s fascism, handing out leaflets on trains. At 19, he was arrested by the Gestapo. Lusseyran wrote, “The seeing do not believe in the blind.” All of our Bible stories about blind people begging Jesus for healing, these were written by people who could see. The healing Jesus offers in John 9 is akin to the Woman at the Well in John 4. Jesus accepts her and gave her living water so that she never thirsts again. Like Lusseyran and Lou, the blind person receives the gift of Acceptance and learns that he can now perceive things he could never have known while distracted by appearances. In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor examines the story of Jacques Lusseyran and realizes, through spiritual practices, how we use our common senses for speed and quick judgments. Although speedy judgment was once necessary for our survival, it is now the enemy of our progress. Taylor writes:
Our eyes glide so quickly over things that we do not properly attend to them. Fingers do not glide, Lusseyran points out. To feel a table is a much more intimate activity than seeing it. Run your hands across the top and you can find the slight dip in the middle of the center panel that you might otherwise have missed, proof that this table was planed by hand. After that your fingers work in inches instead of feet, counting the panels by finding the cracks that separate them, locating a burn—sickle-shaped, like the bottom edge of a hot skillet—and a large burl as well. You can smell the candle wax before you find it, noting the dents here and there left by diners who brought their silverware down too hard. By the time you reach the legs, you know things about this table that someone who merely glances at it will never know.
If this does not sound particularly spiritual to you, that may have more to do with you than with the table. Every major spiritual tradition in the world has something significant to say about the importance of paying attention. “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus said. “Consider the lilies of the field.” If you do not have the time to pay attention to an ordinary table, then how will you ever find the time to pay attention to the Spirit…” healing you and repairing the world?
Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly
Jesus says, I am the light of the world, a spiritual light that transcends wave and particle, a kind of light that moves inside us and shows us things we would otherwise miss, like ourselves. Common seeing eyes can only view things superficially. The outer appearance of this pandemic is shocking and terrifying. Fine. I accept that. Now, how will we, as people of faith, use this as something positive?
In the final verses, Jesus puts it starkly, saying “I came into this world to do justice—to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.” There he goes again! To make the blind see and the seeing blind! We leave out this part in every way we can. To accepting blindness as a spiritual practice, we have to feel our way, and we learn that the road to death is paved with snap judgments and glancing only the surface of really important things like how to love our neighbors, how to distance without isolating, what a virus really is, and how we will understand this pandemic is an opportunity for love and Acceptance.
May God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot the change,
The courage to change the things we can,
And the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.