Sermon prepared by Rev. John Bouwers, Ancaster, Ontario.
Dear people of God,
John draws all – whether disciple or reader - into the text’s theme of blindness and sight through a final ironic move in John 9:39-40, “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see… and those who see… will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’”
One thinks this text is a simple re-telling of the miracle of sight given by Jesus to a person blind from birth. And it is. And yet, as one follows the arch of this story, less focused on… less looking at… Jesus, than this blind man once pitied, a question stirs in the depths of every observer’s heart, “What? Am I blind too?”
THE DISABLED MAN SITS IN INVISIBLE AND SILENT JUDGEMENT
Can I really see? This challenge by Jesus to question sight arises early. We read in John 9:1, “As he [Jesus] went along, he saw… a man blind from birth.”
Jesus saw... a man blind from birth. Jesus particular notice of this beggar bears the same mark of peculiarity as his notice of being touched by the woman suffering with chronic bleeding in Luke 8 as the crowds pressed around him. In Jesus day, crowds of the blind - and otherwise disabled - lined the pilgrim roads begging to survive. It reminds us somewhat of those with mental or social disabilities who huddle along the streets of some North American urban centers. A more intense modern equivalent can be found in Third World cities such as described in Rohinton Mistry’s novel, “A Fine Balance.” This novel was set in the India of the 1970s in which beggars grotesquely amplified their disabilities just to be… seen.
Why? Because somewhere between the overwhelming need of the disabled and… the self-protective hearts of the able-bodied, desperate, poor and broken people fade from sight. The blind man of John 9 was so defined by – viewed through - his disability that his neighbors who’d seen him beg every day did not recognize him. This blind man was... invisible.
And yet Jesus saw him. I don’t recommend this film for its screenplay, but there is a striking thread of a phrase woven through the blockbuster movie “Avatar” through which the aliens acknowledge the importance and value of one another. And the simple phrase is, “I... see... you.”
I see you. You are not invisible. Jesus saw this invisible, blind man. So fixed were the eyes of Jesus on this man that the disciples were stirred to look a little closer. We read in verse 2, “His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Now the disciples look at this once invisible man. But what do they see? Sin. Fault. Judgment deserved. Before one discounts the disciple’s comments as coarse, insensitive, and judgmental, let’s recall Jesus stunning miracle of John 5 - a miracle connected to another pool - in which the once paralyzed man is told by the loving, compassionate and sensitive Jesus, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning… or something worse… may happen to you.”
Abrupt? Seems so. Harsh? Maybe. Politically incorrect? For sure. But true nonetheless. It is an unavoidable scripturaltruth, that sin, guilt, and their stain affects us. And, honestly, it is a truthexperienced. Imagine this man’s experience every day since birth; being led by the hand everywhere to sit useless and be a drain on society. And then, perhaps worst of all, to sit with his other senses attuned to how others saw him; a man at best worthy of pity, at worst deserving of the darkness. Did he not feel physically-emotionally-spiritually disqualified for notice as a feast of unseen light passed him by?
There was a young girl born in the early 1900s who was given the unfortunate name of Ethel. Ethel’s early life was tough. She was born to a 12 year old mother who’d become pregnant after being raped at knife-point. As Ethel grew up this reality colored how her family looked at her and treated her. Raised by an abusive grandmother and two alcoholic aunts, she recalled later that she was never coddled, or cared for or even liked. By the time she was seven years old, she was a lookout for prostitutes. Why? Because she was… invisible.
But wait a minute. That’s her story. The truth is, though one can guess by the unfolding of this story how this man sees himself at this moment, we don’t really know what he felt… anymore than anyone can look into your heart today. But some of you do know what feeling invisible... or guilty... or cursed... or shamed or utterly disqualified of anyone’s attention. This silent and invisible ache can make crowds, a party, a playground or even Sunday mornings almost unbearable because people don’t see what you go through alone and invisible.
JESUS HIGHLIGHTS THIS MAN
Some know that feeling of invisibility. Some don’t. Perhaps you’re not there, but someday you… or I… or these disciples… waiting for Jesus next words will know. Maybe when persecution, or age, or illness, or depression will cause the feeling of being stuck or blind or invisible or disqualified to serve God or man. But to this man, to us and to Jesus disciples our text shouts, “But you do not see!” Look again through the eyes of Jesus.
We read in John 9:3, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that… the work of God might be displayed… in his… life.” Think about what Jesus is saying. He is not saying that the blind will see light; no, this mere human being will be light. In a single sentence, the reader anticipates the mind-blowing good news not only that Jesus notices him, not only will he heal him to see light, not only will he no longer be invisible but… he will be a light for others to see!
And that’s exactly what happens in this text. And that’s exactly what Christ can do in our lives too. What one will witness in this blind man’s life going forward is the pulsing wind of the Spirit stirring the grey coals of this man’s hope, to smoldering embers of healing, and then to eye-tweaking, gospel-witnessing flame.
Let us offer a word of caution as we walk through this. Whenever one reads, reflects on and interprets scripture we remind ourselves that what we are reading is not a human story centered on interesting people and helpful wisdom but a divine story authored by a triune God; revolving around his mystery, his power and his grace.
And yet all disciples see Jesus undeniably call on people to participate in his plan to reveal God’s glory. Jesus goes on, “As long as it is day, we… [that is both Jesus and his disciples] must do the work 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.” Even in Jesus’ reminder of being the light of the world is the awareness that one day darkness will come. One day he will be physically gone. There will be time – like today – when the church of Jesus Christ will feel socially useless and emotionally and spiritually invisible to the world. What happens in this man’s life is lesson of the kind of ‘God revealing’that will go on after… Jesus is gone. Jesus promises elsewhere in John that his disciples will do “greater things” after he’s gone!
And so with eyes open, we see how the blind begins to shine! “Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home… seeing.”
Clearly ‘sentness’ is where shining begins. Let me explain. Just a moment ago in verse 4, Jesus called his disciples to join him by reflecting the Light of the World that he was sent to bring. And now this man is sent to the Pool of Sent.
John is not subtle. The light shines when Jesus sent and the blind man went. Blind and helpless he went but believing not only that Jesus saw and loved him but that he actually needed to be cleaned.
That’s where all of us begin to move from being invisible to shining with thelight of Christ. To believe that the eyes of a loving God are upon you and you need to be cleaned so that you may see. Maybe that is all God is calling you to see today, that God is calling you to go, to obey, to trust him, to step out in blind faith that he might heal… your life too.
THE MAN SHINES WITH THE INCREASING BRIGHTNESS OF CHRIST
Notice, how in almost humorous and joy-percolating fashion, this – up until now invisible and silent – man begins to shine with a growing bolder faith in Christ. We read in verse 8-9, “His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, ‘Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?’ Some claimed that he was. Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him.’” It’s just like before; people are talking about him as if he was not there. “But he himself insisted, ‘I am the man.’” One can imagine him poking his head in the crowd. “I am the man. Seriously, I am. Just check out my Facebook page. This is me.”
Next his boldness increases to testimony in John 9:10-12, “How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.”
Even this increase in the brilliance of testimony contains a simple joy of knowing that he is healed but he doesn’t know where this healer is because... well... he never saw Jesus! He heard the footfalls, the stopping, the talking, the rather disconcerting sound of spit, the feel of mud on his eyelids and then the command to wash. It is the nature of God’s amazing grace that restoration comes with much we don’t know. We are often blind to the full mechanism of our healing.
Now what follows next in the blind man’s story is even more stunning… for the disciples as he – a man whose social standing and education lay along the streets of beggar’s row - was now to stand before the most powerful and well-educated people of his day. How familiar this setting would become to these uneducated Galileans!
But wait a minute. There is a danger this man will face if he dares to boldly shine the gospel. We read in John 9:22-24, “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.”
This warning against reflecting Christ became a reality in the synagogues after Jesus’ death when in a rabbi called Samuel the Less added a curse against Christians to the synagogue blessings in the year 70. Jesus himself warns of this cost in Luke 12:11-12, a warning that came with a promise, “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
And the Spirit taught well. Look at this uneducated blind man’s powerful responses from John 9:24, 26, 33, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”…“I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?… If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
And the blind man was… kicked out of the synagogue. And only then does Jesus reappear to bring a shining end to this tale. We read in John 9:34b-38, “And they threw him out. Jesus heard that they had thrown him out and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You have now seen... him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’ Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.”
Jesus looked like any other human-being, like you and like me. The Bible makes clear that he was fully human. And yet the man saw something. In 1 Corinthianswe find that well known chapter on love - chapter 13- in which after writing that every religious expression without love is nothing, Paul gives a picture of love. “Love is patient, love is kind…” As he goes on and on drawing in greater detail this picture of love, one gradually senses how impossible this love is to achieve especially when it closes, “Love never… fails.” And then it says those cryptic words, “now we see as in mirror dimly, then we will see face to face.”
In other words there will come a moment, in the end of days, when we will see… perfect love face-to-face in the eyes of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I believe that at this moment in the close of our text, after this once blind man had been seen by Jesus, was healed by Jesus, and reflected Jesus that Jesus himself fully revealed who he was. For a brief moment the dim veil on our curtain world parted and this man saw who Jesus really was. And all he could say was, “Lord, I believe”, and all he could do was to fall on his face and worship Jesus.
So, in conclusion, what might God want you to see in Jesus?
1. That you are seen by our loving Father. That no matter how invisible and blind you might feel, you are seen by our loving Father. Let me read again from Paul’s text of 1 Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see… face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Even as I am fully known. There is so much of our knowledge about God, this world and… ourselves that is incomplete. One day we will fully know. But the one thing we can know is that – right now – we are… fully known by God. No matter how invisible we might feel, no matter how under the radar you might live, the Bible makes very clear that we were known before we are born and that the Father who sees all looks at us through the Son’s sacrifice on the cross… as perfect.
2. That our whole person needs to be washed… in the blood of Jesus. We are seen by the Father. We need to be washed by the Son. The Pharisees could not see and would not see their own sin such that Jesus elsewhere called them blind guides. We need to see what the blind man saw; washing will lead to healing.
This is hard for our own blind pride to believe. Exegetes often see this text as an echo of the call to Naaman who sought healing from leprosy by Elisha. He was told by a servant – he a great commander – that he would not be healed by Elisha’s magic but by his own blind faith obedience. We read in 2 Kings 5:10-13, “Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he… would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy… Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
3. That you have a story to tell that he will shine through. First, the Father sees you through the Son. Second, we need to be washed. And finally, each can boldly shine with what God has done in our lives. Each of us has a story to tell by which we may—as Paul puts it, “shine like stars.”
Earlier I began telling about the sad and invisible beginnings of a poor little girl called Ethel, perhaps known to some of you as Ethel Waters. In her early years at a Catholic school, Ethel Waters became recognized as a gifted singer that, in her later life, would allow her to shine on the greatest stages as one of the greatest African American singers of the 20th century. And yet as her fame grew, she sensed the need for something more. She needed to be washed. And so she gave her life to Jesus Christ.
Ms. Waters was known for projecting not only a powerful voice but also an emotive heart. And yet there was one song – often sung at Billy Graham Crusades - that stood out among them all, a song whose words which became the title of her autobiography, words spoken by her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And that song is called, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”
why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
why should my heart feel lonely, and long for heaven and home
when Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is he
his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches over me
his eye is on the sparrow, and i know he watches over me
I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free
his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me
his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me
he watches me, I know, he watches me.
Order of Worship
Call to Worship: Psalm 100
Silent prayer with Hymn, “Worthy is Christ” PsH # 629
Prayer for God’s Greeting, “May grace, mercy and peace be ours in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen”
Hymn: “Now with Joyful Exaltation” PsH # 95
God’s Law: Exodus 20: 1-17
Hymn of Dedication: “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” PsH # 291
Hymn: “Holy Spirit, Mighty God” PsH # 278
Scripture Reading: John 9.
Sermon: “Blind Faith Makes the Invisible Shine”
Prayer of Application: “Father, we thank you for sending us Jesus Christ. We thank you that we are seen through him. We pray that we may see. And may others see you and your glory in us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
Hymn: “Amazing Grace” PsH # 462
Prayer for God’s Blessing: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all. Amen”
Doxology: “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” PsH # 488