Sunday, April 3, 2011

On the road with the blind beggar

We have a guest preacher at the 10 am service, The Rev. Dr. George Regas, the retired rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, California. He also spoke on Friday at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

I am preaching at the 8 am service, and my sermon is below. The lessons for the day are 1 Samuel 16:1-13Psalm 23 Ephesians 5:8-14, and John 9:1-41. Here my sermon:

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Today we meet Jesus and the blind beggar along a road, and a chorus of naysayers who pick an argument about Jesus breaking the rules. They blame the victim for being healed and the healer for healing. 

There are a lot of words in the gospel story today, a lot of places to get lost, to let the mind wander. It is another of these long narratives from the Gospel of John that increases the tension as Jesus walks to his crucifixion. 

We could go many places with the story. We could talk about human nature and human rules, or even human ignorance. 

Or we could talk about the urge to make the extraordinary fit into ordinary explanations, the urge to keep things neat, logical, intellectual, comfortably religious. We could talk about all of those themes.
But I’d like us to walk with the blind beggar for a time, stay on his road for a few miles. The story asks us: Who, really, is blind? 
The blind beggar has been blind since birth, and not by his own fault or the fault of his parents. He is an outcast, and not just because of his blindness, but because everyone around him believes he deserves to be blind. They try to fit the blind man’s condition into their tenaciously held ideas about sin. 
Jesus finds the blind man along the road. The blind man does not “find” Jesus – Jesus finds him. The blind beggar doesn’t ask for anything at all. Jesus simply goes to the blind man, makes mud, and touches the blind man with it – and the blind man sees. 

When Jesus cures him, no one recognizes him. They only knew him as blind; they don’t know what to do with him when he can see. Now they are blind. 
Jesus doesn’t ask the blind man to be converted first, to see what he cannot yet see. There are no catches in this – Jesus simply reaches out in love, touches this blind man and heals him. And Jesus goes on his way. 
The chorus of religious people tries to fit this miracle into their theological categories. At first they think it is a trick – that a different guy was blind. Then they try to catch his parents in a verbal trap, but that doesn’t work. So they ask the blind man if he thinks Jesus is a sinner. 

But the blind man is thoroughly na├»ve about these theology games. “One thing I do know,” he says, “I was blind, now I see.” And he then asks why do they want to know – do they want to be disciples too? 
For the blind man, his experience leads him to a deeper understanding of how his healing has come from the One sent by God: Jesus. But he doesn’t get there all at once. 
What is curious about the people in the story is that the physicality of this miracle – a blind man gaining sight with mud smeared on his eyes – is not as important as the debate over its meaning. 

God-words can make us blind. 
For the beggar, the meaning is not in words, but in the act itself – his eyesight is restored. “One thing I do know,” he says, “I was blind, now I see.” 

Eventually, he will come to be a follower of Jesus, in God’s own good time and in God’s own good way. 
For us as onlookers, it is enough for us now to see the healing, and how this loving act of healing comes from God, and to not get so caught up in arguments about the meaning of healing. 

Healing is defined by medicine as the replacement of diseased or damaged cells with healthy cells. Yet sometimes not all that is unwell with us is physical. For the blind man, healing is not just in his eyes, but in his spirit. 

This is about a man who gains not only physical sight, but spiritual sight, going from abject spiritual darkness and into spiritual light, going from disease to health in every sense of the word. 
Healing is more than about biological cells, but is also about the health of mind and spirit, and replacing what is damaged with what is healthy and full of new growth. 

The ancient purpose of Lent, after all, is to open our eyes, remove what blinds us, and see what is unhealthy in our life, and remove it so that health can gain a foothold and grow. 

One of my favorite spiritual writers, Henri Nouwen, in his book “Turn my Mourning into Dancing,” wrote that healing happens because God is dancing with us and showing us the steps especially when we are in pain. 

We may not get rid of the pain, but we can learn to dance with “God’s healing choreography.” 

And in the dance we will learn to see with compassion, and to dance with others. 
The great blessing of being in this faith community is that when I stumble in the dance, or get tired, or forget the steps, you are there to hold me up, share my pain and be with me. And that is because God is within you, showing you how to dance. 
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *  
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
And when you can’t dance, someone else will dance for you. It is truly in the giving that we receive, in the giving that we dance together. 
It is my prayer for each of us on this Lenten road that our blindness will be lifted, and that God’s holy light will shine on our path and we will always learn the steps together. 

May each of us have courage and hope, healing and grace, and may God in Christ bring us out of the darkness and soon into the promise of Easter. AMEN.

Painting: "Blind Beggar, Guatemala," by Ken Crook, Green Valley, Arizona. 

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