A first-person narrative sermon on John 9:1-41
(for an audio version of this sermon, click here)
Have you ever had everything – literally EVERYTHING in your life – change all at once? I mean changes that impact you profoundly on physical, social, spiritual, and economic levels all hitting you at the same time? Apparently, the experience of this kind of profound disorientation is going around at the moment, but my experience goes back a bit further, so I’ve had a chance to reflect a bit on the lessons of a life turned upside down.
You heard the story of my life-changing moment in the gospel reading just now. Of course, it might not have occurred to you as you were listening to the reading that MY experience of healing could have anything in common with YOUR experience of a viral pandemic. After all, I was healed, right? I received my sight! That’s something to celebrate – not something to fear.
But here’s my first lesson learned from experience for you: massive life changes are usually a mixed bag. Nothing is all good, or all bad. Every new joy or freedom will also bring new challenges. And every loss or sacrifice will bring new opportunities and learning. That’s the nature of human frailty and flexibility. We don’t do bliss very well, but neither do we stay forever in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Our lives always hold space for both joy and pain; both excitement and fear.
Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining about the way that Jesus healed me. It was the great miracle of my life! I don’t think I’ll ever get over the gift of being able to SEE.
Do you all appreciate how amazing color is? Before Jesus gave me my sight, everything was just blank. Just darkness. But now I can see the varied blues of the sky, and the modulating colors of the sunset. And the warm brown of my sister’s eyes, and hair, and skin – all different; all beautiful! And purple! Do you all realize how amazing purple is? The first time I saw a purple flower I started to cry. If color is something you have always taken for granted, please – take some time today just to look at color. It’s a lesson in the creativity and love of God!
But I’m getting off topic. Jesus gave me an indescribable gift when he gave me sight, but – like I was saying – no change is ALL good. Because a strange thing happened when I could see… Suddenly people I’d known all my life couldn’t see me. Or at least, they couldn’t see me as I was now. They weren’t prepared for me to change.
People whom I could recognize just by their voices started arguing about whether I was really me. Saying things like “is this the man who used to sit and beg” (as though the begging is what defined my entire personhood); or “no…it’s just someone who looks like him” (I’m the one who hadn’t had use of my eyes, how come they were suddenly doubting theirs?)
It was weirdly isolating. We had a certain way of interacting with each other, and it was as though they couldn’t adjust now that my circumstances had changed. Was it really so hard to learn how to interact with me in a new way? Couldn’t they just see me as being the same person I had always been?
Anyhow, they eventually got past talking about me and listened to my story, but they didn’t really know what to do with it, so they brought me before the local leadership.
For a hot second it was kind of exciting. I’d never been important before. I’d always existed on the margins of society. Sitting outside the city gates, calling out when I heard people walking by to beg for whatever they could spare. It was the only way I could contribute to my family, without the sight I needed to practice any trade. But now, here I was at the center of town, and the center of everyone’s attention!
And the leaders listened to my story at first… but the listening stopped when they asked me about Jesus. I told them the only conclusion I could come to after experiencing a miracle, “He is a prophet!”
I think the they must have known I was right. Only a man who came from God could give sight to a person blind from birth. But instead of acknowledging Jesus’s authority, they decided to question my story. They called my parents before them, hoping to find evidence to confirm their preconceived ideas.
I’ll say this for my parents. They didn’t bow to the pressure and lie. They didn’t deny me that completely…that owned me as their son and affirmed that I was born blind….
but that was it. When they were asked about my healing, they wouldn’t take a stand and call it a miracle. They wouldn’t rejoice with me and praise God for acting with power in my life. They distanced themselves. “Ask him; he is of age.” As though I had no part with them. As though my age meant that we weren’t family anymore, and they weren’t impacted by this change in my circumstances almost as much as I was.
I suddenly started to wonder if that was what they wanted. Had they resented the obligation to keep me in their household after I was grown? Was my healing just the relief of a burden to them?
A sudden change or crisis can be hard on relationships, no matter how close they were before. In the crisis of this questioning I felt like I was seeing my parents with new eyes in more ways than one. And it was devastating. My new independence had a cost. Sometimes it’s easier, more comfortable, to be blind.
But there was a silver lining to that pain as well. For years, all my life, I had always been dependent. Dependent on my parents. Dependent on the charity of others. Being without my sight had robbed me of my voice as well. Because, who wants to listen to a man born blind? What truth or insight could I possibly have to offer?
But when I found myself socially alone, buffeted by the heightened emotion and anxious questioning of an unexpected crisis that was not of my own making… I discovered my own strength.
I centered myself in what I knew to be true, and I witnessed to the goodness and power of God. I wasn’t cowed by authority. I wasn’t ashamed of the whispers that had always followed me. I called the powers that be to acknowledge who God is and what God does. And no matter the consequences, I will always have the strength of that moment… that sense of God’s Spirit with me, speaking through me.
Of course, there were consequences. The leaders called me a sinner and threw me out. In one day, I went from an unimportant blind man on the margins, to a healed man at the center of attention, to a condemned man driven out of town.
Like I said… big changes are usually a mixed bag.
But the thing about all that change is that it opened me up. There was no rut to be stuck in anymore, no usual way of being to defend. So when Jesus came to me and called me to believe in the Son of Man, I was ready. I was ready to believe. I was ready to trust. None of the things that I had always looked to for security – not my family, not the people with power, not even the dream of healing could actually guarantee my safety and provision.
But I didn’t need all of that. What I needed was Jesus. The one who saw me, and who healed me, and who came to find me when my whole life fell apart. Jesus gave my eyes sight, but more than that he opened the eyes of my heart and let me see HIM. And that changed everything! That’s a change that is WORTH the “mixed bag” that comes with following him.
It’s worth it because there’s one more change in this story that’s about something much bigger than me. You see, the story started with an assumption that my blindness MUST be the result of a horrible sin – either mine or my parents’. It’s an assumption that has dragged me down my entire life. But at the end of the story, Jesus turned that assumption on its head. He called out the leaders who had rejected me for my witness.
They called me a sinner because I had been born blind. But Jesus told them THEY were the sinners – because they claimed to have perfect vision. They refused to trust. They refused to be dependent on a God who wouldn’t play by their rules. They clung to their own “vision,” their own authority. And that is what sin really looks like.
Change is hard. I would never say it isn’t. It’s a mixed bag, and you get disruption, and anxiety, and maybe strained relationships along with the new ability to see, the new perspective.
But in that mixed bag you only hurt yourself by trying to cling to control. The gift of change is the invitation to lean into trust. To admit that we can’t see everything and that’s OK. Because we don’t have to see everything.
Because our God see us, and our God is good. Our God is a God of miracles.
Thanks be to God.