Well, here we are. Isolated. Sequestered. Some of us are self-quarantined while others are practicing social distancing. Words that, quite frankly, weren’t even in my vocabulary just a few short weeks ago. But here we are.
Now, as we turn to our lectionary narrative for today, we see that Jesus is once again “on the move.” Even as we’re hunkered down in our homes, we can see the dynamic movement of Jesus in the wider world, if we are willing to metaphorically replace our blindness, whatever that blindness may be, with a deeper insight into the perspective of John’s account of Jesus’ life.
And as we continue this Lenten journey toward a deeper insight, the first thing we encounter is the continuity of this imagery that John uses between darkness and light. Remember, two weeks ago we met Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus as they came together under the cover of darkness. And from that encounter, Nicodemus, who wrestled with the meaning of what it meant to be “restored from above,” perhaps gained his first tiny glimmer of Light. And last week, in contrast to the midnight visit of the religious leader, Jesus sat with a Samaritan woman in the light of the midday sun at Jacob’s Well. A simple woman who was an outsider in both of their cultures, but who, in the end, was able to more fully grasp the deeper insight of Jesus than the learned religious leader. And as a result, she was sent out to share Jesus’ message of grace and hope with her people. And today, our journey takes its next step, as Jesus comes upon a man who was born blind. Here’s the story.
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So, the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?” He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.” The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus. Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Healing. Healing is an interesting animal. Healing can be physical, emotional, or spiritual. And it’s been my experience that all three of these types of healing are interconnected and interdependent upon each other. Healing can come in an instant like a lightning bolt or over the course of time like a long, slow sunrise. And sometimes, healing doesn’t come until after we’ve departed this life.
This week’s healing story is the lightning bolt kind. It’s about Jesus giving sight to “a man born blind.” Now, in this text, John uses “seeing” as a metaphor for faith and for the process of discovering the nature of God. And even though the healing itself is sudden, the man in this story makes his way, like most of us, toward faith and understanding, over the course of time, through a process of encountering the long, slow sunrise of being in the loving presence of the Divine.
Now, this former beggar’s openness and growth in his faith contrast sharply with the fearful, hesitant questions of his neighbors and the downright judgmental reaction of the religious establishment. While the other characters in the story remained unchanged by this encounter, the healed man’s life was transformed, and he found himself in a very different place; he found himself not only able to see but restored and reunited within community.
Now, John told this story and used these images of seeing and not seeing, of darkness and light to help an early Christian community find themselves in the story. They knew what it felt like to be driven out of the synagogue by the religious authorities, to be expelled from their “church home.”[i]
Sound familiar to anyone? We’ve been expelled from our church home, from our faith community, from social interaction with our neighbors, not because of religious persecution, but because of this on-going pandemic. And this where we find ourselves in the text today. We’re isolated in our homes like the blind man was isolated. We’re practicing social distancing like this man was distant from his society. My friends, we were thrust into a situation that was not of our own making just as this man who was born blind, found himself living under circumstances which were not of his own making. And it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to understand that this man lived, every day, with a sense of fear and longing, because most of us find ourselves griped by a fear of the unknown and a longing for the way things were.
Now, that being said, there are really three questions we must ask ourselves as we endure this on-going global crisis. The first question we must consider is this: How will we take care of our neighbor? The man born blind depended upon the generosity of his neighbors. Imagine the fear in being blind within a society where there was no social safety net. The man was left with no recourse except to beg by the roadside. He was thoroughly and completely dependent upon the generosity of his neighbors.
Many of our fellow citizens in this nation and this world face this same kind of fear. Exacerbated by this pandemic, imagine the fear of the poor and the marginalized, who are and will continue to be, disproportionality hurt by the circumstances under which they exist. Our task then, is to find remote ways to help. One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) is one way among a myriad of others. Today we would have taken up our OGHS offering. If you wish, you can still send a donation into either Delta United Church of Christ or Cable United Church of Christ or in Cable, you also have the opportunity to sign up for on-line giving. You can access that opportunity through our Website. My friends, the folks who were struggling before will be at an even greater risk now. I encourage you to seek out and find ways to reach-out to the most vulnerable in these difficult times.
The second question we face is this: How will we continue to be in community with each other? Well, community doesn’t have to be nurtured face to face. Especially with the technology available in our time, we can view messages like this one, speak with family and friends and neighbors by phone, email, text message, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Facetime, Snapchat …and so and so on. The point is this. We can communicate and pray and share our joys and concerns with each other through these medias. And in the days and week and isolating months to come, it’s especially important that we reach out to our neighbors who are at home alone through all this. We can do this. We can continue to be in community.
Which leads us to the final question we must ask ourselves during this pandemic: How will we take care of ourselves? Beyond reach out to help the most vulnerable, beyond maintaining community, we must also care for ourselves. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, we must find ways to get through this difficult situation.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, yes the same Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who brought us the five stages of grief, says this about enduring trying times. She writes, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”[ii]
My friends, we’re all beautiful people. We beautiful people who can and will get through this. We are beautiful because we’ve been formed by our experiences, both good and bad. We’re beautiful because each of us has on multiple occasions “found our way out of the depths.” And it’s because of these trying times that we are now able to be more compassionate. The word compassion literally means, “to suffer with.”
But here’s the thing. Here’s the deeper insight of this text. It’s how we respond to both success and failure, to triumph and adversity, that finally makes up our character. The response of those gathered at the blind man’s healing was lukewarm at best, cynical at worst. The response of the Pharisees was to conserve their tradition, to adhere to the letter of the Law, by trying to discredit Jesus. Both of these positions demonstrate a character that was less-than-desirable. Both the crowd and the Pharisees are left wanting.
But not the blind man. Yes, it took him a bit of time to come around, but in the end, he saw the Light as it were! The Light of the World. The Beacon of Grace and the Illumination of God’s Love that was expressed in the person and life and teachings of Jesus.
One final thought. Our Hymn of Response today would have been #584 in the New Century Hymnal, I Am the Light of the World composed by a man named Jim Stranhdee as he responded to a Christmas poem written by Howard Thurman. And since we cannot sing it together today, I’d like to close with these wonderful words from the final verse. “to bring hope to every task you do, to dance at a new baby’s birth, to make music in an old person’s heart, and sing to the colors of the earth.” And then from the refrain, “If you follow and love you’ll learn the mystery of what you were meant to do and be.”[iii]
May we, in these uncertain days, follow and love and continue to be in the process of learning the mystery and meaning of our existence. And as we do these things by remembering and reaching out to the most vulnerable in our society, by participating even if it’s at an arms distance in community, and by practicing self-care. My friends, in these difficult times my all remember that we are beautiful in God’s eyes and we are all being held in the loving embrace of the One who calls us, forgives us, and heals us. It’s in Jesus that we can summon the courage and discover the hope to move forward.
May it be so for you and for me. Amen & Amen.
[i] Katheryn Matthews I Am Because We Are (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2020
[ii] Quote from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross found at (www.ucc.org/samuel) 2020
[iii] The New Century Hymnal #584 I Am the Light of the World (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press) 1995