Sunday, March 30, 2014 – Sermon on John 9:1-41

John 9:1-41

1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,’ your sin remains.

In our gospel last week, we learned that Jesus comes as the stranger for the stranger, so that we will not be strangers. Last week, we got to meet the nameless woman at the well, who was an outsider. She was a woman. A Samaritan, with whom the Jews did not interact. And she was one who had experienced an incredible amount of pain in her life through the loss of five husbands, whether through death or divorce. And as a result, she was on the margins of society. She went to the well at noon, when no one else would be there. She was a stranger. A nameless somebody.

It was at that well that she meets Jesus. But she doesn’t recognize Jesus. To her, he is just a thirsty somebody. A stranger. She does not recognize Jesus. We learned that it can take time to see Jesus in your life. Because Jesus comes as the stranger, for the stranger, so that we will not be strangers.

Today, we get to meet another person who is on the margins of society. Jesus and his disciples are walking along and they come across a man who has been blind since birth. A blind man who has not part in society other than to sit on the road and beg. Now, he also does not have a name in the story, but we know his name. His name is Adrian. I’m very mindful of the fact that little Adrian, just four and a half months old now, was also born blind. And so this story comes close to home for us.

This blind man was on the margins of society. He was not fully integrated into the community because as a blind person, he was considered impure and unclean. He was excluded from the community because his blindness was viewed as a moral defect. You see, there was a commonly held belief back then that people get what they deserve. Therefore, if something bad happened to you, if you fell ill or you lost your job or tragedy struck, it was understood that you must have done something to deserve it. If you were healthy and wealthy, you were blessed by God. But if you were suffering for any reason, then you must have done something to deserve it. You get what you deserve, they believed.

Such was the belief with this blind man. We see this in the disciples’ question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They believed that in order for him to be born blind, someone, either him or his parents, had to have done something to deserve it.

Now, here’s the thing. This is still a base assumption in our society. It is still commonly believed that people who are born with handicaps or have suffered some physical ailment must have done something to deserve it. I went to seminary with a woman who was born with a physical defect, and people her church said to her dad that it was his fault.[1] He must have sinned.

This was the idea that God was punishing them for some sin they had done. It was commonly believed in Biblical times, and we still carry this assumption today.

Now, here is the good news. Unlike many other times in scripture, Jesus actually gives us an answer to a question. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents?” And Jesus says that wonderful word, “Neither.” Neither of them sinned.

“In that one word, Jesus carves out room for innocent suffering in the world.” In that one word, he contradicts what people believed about suffering – that you get what you deserve. “He says that sometimes people who suffer are innocent.”[2]

Maybe that is enough good news for today. That if you have had something happen to you in your life, and people told you that you deserved it, or that God was punishing you for it, Jesus says to you “No. That’s not how it is.” Suffering is not punishment from God for your sins. Maybe that’s enough good news.

But the story goes on. And we have to pay very close attention to Jesus’ next words. There is a problem with the English translation here. Turn to your inserts. In verse 3, it says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day.

Now, I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound any better. This makes it sound like he was born blind not as punishment, but so that Jesus can showoff with a miracle. Like a pawn in God’s magic show. But here is the thing, those words, he was born blind are not present in the Greek. Therefore, the text should read, Neither this man nor his parents sinned. So that God’s works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day.

Jesus is saying is, “No, he doesn’t deserve to be blind. BUT God’s works can be still revealed through him. God can work through his life.” But when you exclude someone, you limit the possibility of God working through them for the sake of the community.

This man’s blindness has lead him to be excluded from the community, and now Jesus wants him to be included, so that the works of God might be revealed in him. So that the community might benefit from God’s work in his life. God is at work in those we exclude! But if we exclude them, we will never get to see how God is at work in their life.

Jesus wants to bring this blind man, who has been excluded from the community, back into the community. He wants to include him. Now watch what he does. He sinks his hands into the earth and he makes mud. And then he rubs it on the blind man’s eyes.

Now, we are in John’s gospel and John is a fan of the book of Genesis. In fact, John starts out the gospel the same way Genesis does – In the Beginning. And so John also knows that in Genesis, God sunk God’s hand into the earth, and takes mud and creates humanity out of it. In God’s image.[3] And so when Jesus takes mud and places it on the blind man’s eyes, he does so to remind him of who he really is. He is not a worthless, sinful somebody who deserves to be excluded. He is a human being. Made out of mud by the hands of God, in the image of God. He is a creation of God, just like everyone else.

It is like any parent who is worth their salt. When a son or daughter comes home and says that the kids at school have been calling them names – like loser or fat or ugly or stupid, what the parent does is remind the child of who they are. The parent says, “That’s not who you are. You are my son. My daughter. You are my pride and joy. And you are loved beyond measure. That’s who you are.”

And that’s what Jesus does, when he rubs mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus reminds him who he is, rather than who others say he is. And as a result Jesus brings him back, includes him, into the community of human beings. And now the man can really see. He’s no longer blind to who he really is.

Okay, so this man tries to go home, but it doesn’t go so well. Because no one recognizes him. Who’s the blind ones now?! They only knew him as the blind man and now that he’s not blind, they don’t know who he is. Some think it is him, but others aren’t so sure.

So they bring him to the Pharisees, the religious leaders. And with the help of the man’s parents, they discern that it really is him. But then the religious leaders try to get him to turn on Jesus, because Jesus healed him on the Sabbath, and it was against the law to heal on the Sabbath, therefore Jesus must be against God, not of God. Notice how the excluders turn against the includer. Anytime someone tries to include a person who has been included, they themselves are likely to be excluded as well.

The Pharisees try to get this formerly blind man to turn on Jesus but he doesn’t do it. So what happens? They turn on him. Again. As it says in vs. 34, and they drove him out.”

The blind man who was excluded, is included by Jesus. And now, once again is excluded. Kicked out of the community. And when Jesus hears that, he goes out to find him. Jesus goes out to be with the excluded one. Remember the creation story says it’s not good for a human being to be alone. God went to find Adam and Eve in the garden. And now Jesus goes to find this man, who has been excluded for a second time.[4]

At the start this seemed to be a story about a miraculous healing of a blind man. But what if it really is a story about inclusion and exclusion. And the real message, the real good news is that Jesus won’t stand for exclusion. Because when we exclude someone, we limit the possibility of God working through that person within the community.

This past week, an 8-year old girl in Virginia was asked to leave the Christian school she attended because she didn’t act enough like a girl. She liked to keep her hair cut short, wear boys’ clothes, collect hunting knives, and shoot her BB gun.[5] She was indeed a tomboy, but that, according to this Christian school, was not okay,. Because it wasn’t girly enough. And so they excluded her. They kicked her out.

But Jesus won’t stand for exclusion. And Jesus goes out to find the excluded one. And Jesus came for this young girl in the form of a pastor who did not know her. Pastor Emily Heath wrote this 8-year old a letter and listen how Jesus works through this pastor to include the exluded one. Pastor Emily writes,

“Dear Sunnie, I was a lot like you when I was eight years old. I didn’t like dresses. I liked playing football and collecting baseball cards. My favorite things were airplanes and science kits. And I liked cutting my hair short.

A lot of people called me a tomboy. I think they meant that as an insult, but I actually thought that was pretty neat. Maybe you do too. Or maybe you don’t. Which is okay, because if you don’t you can call yourself whatever you want. You get that choice, just like you get to choose what kind of clothes you wear, and what hobbies you like.

But here’s what bothers me most of all, Sunnie. These people who are saying you can’t go back to school with your friends are telling you that Jesus is the reason. Like you I was raised in the South. I spent the first part of my life in Virginia, just like you. And my parents always taught me to respect adults. But I was lucky because my parents also would tell me that sometimes adults are wrong. Sunnie, the adults that told you that Jesus doesn’t like the way you dress, or that Jesus wants you to act “more like a girl?” They’re wrong.

Jesus does love you, Sunnie. You know how I know? Because Jesus loves me too. And Jesus loves everyone like us, who grows up preferring shorts to skirts, and jeans to dresses. Jesus loves us when we cut our hair short. Jesus loves us when we outhit the boys in baseball. And Jesus loves us when we don’t want to wear a pink bow in our hair.[6]

Pastor Emily went to find Sunnie, so as to include her when she was excluded. Because Jesus won’t stand for exclusion.

So when we tell children to include people, rather than exclude, we do so not because it is to just be nice or to be a good person. We include people because God is at work in that person’s life. And when we exclude them from the community, we limit the possibility of God being at work in the community through that person!

In closing, I can’t help but wonder when you have been excluded in your life? Or when have you been the excluder? Maybe you being excluded caused you to be blind to your own value and worth. Or maybe you being the excluder caused you to be blind to the value of another person. Whichever it is, my prayer today is this: May God give us eyes to see those who have been excluded. And may we have the courage to include them. So the works of God might be revealed in them. For the sake of the community. Amen.

 

[1] Sermon Brainwave, March 23, 2014, from workingpreacher.org.

[2] Alan Storey, http://www.cmm.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/3-4-2011.wma

[3] Ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/28/christian-school-tomboy-_n_5051934.html

[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/an-open-letter-to-sunnie-kahle_b_5031291.html?fb_action_ids=10100526019354838&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map=%5B271

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s