Was Blind but Now…

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Was Blind but Now…
John 9: 1-17;35-41
March 26, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

I heard a story a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t know was even happening in our world… a story of human suffering I cannot even imagine. To be honest, I almost wish I hadn’t seen it, because it was painful to hear and see.

But I heard it and saw it on the PBS Newshour and I cannot stop thinking about it… about them. It’s the story of what is happening in South Sudan, a very young country. Only 6 years old. But a civil war for the last 3 years have led to immense suffering, leaving thousands dead. The United Nations reports that 7.5 million people (7.5 million!—to get your head around that, there are only 9 million people living in the state of NC)… 7.5 million people are of need of some assistance with hunger being the greatest terror all. 1 million of those are experiencing “severe hunger emergency” (aka, dying from starvation)

And if the statistics wasn’t bad enough, they told the story of a boy named Khamis… a 2 year old who is nothing but flesh and bones. His mother had already lost one child to sickness, lost a family to war… and now starvation threatens the life of her son. Not incurable cancer, not a strange disease… but lack of food will kill him and many like him in South Sudan.

His mother who scrounges around in the dirt looking for food said,
“There is no food. Anything we can find, we will try to eat. We find grass, we will eat it. That’s just the way it is for us now.” They eat grass if they can find it. Imagine having to dig in the dirt to feed your child.

May I say, I wish I had never seen that story. I’d rather watch “inspiring stories” and “good news” stories. I wish Khamis and his mother had remained invisible.

Sort of like that blind man in the story today.

He was invisible to most people you know. He had been blind since birth and like a homeless man you see on the street everyday… you learn to ignore them. He reminds me of the many people who remain invisible to us… that person checking you out at the grocery store… or the waiter or waitress who serves you at the restaurant. How often do we even notice their names.. or call them by names. How much do we see, really see them or anyone?

Sadly, that can happen at the church. Or at least people can feel invisible to others. They can wonder, does anyone know my pain… does anyone care about what is going on with me… I lost my job… My wife died… I just went through separation or divorce… I’m struggling to raise my kids… my husband/wife/child/friend is addicted to drugs, alcohol… I just got a diagnosis with cancer…

Does anyone notice? Or am I invisible?

Well that man blind since birth was invisible… he wasn’t even given a name in this story… he is just that “blind man”… He was virtually invisible to everyone around him. Everyone but Jesus.

Jesus saw him… maybe the most important words in this story… “Jesus saw a man blind from birth…” “Jesus saw him” …

Jesus saw, really saw this person invisible to so many… I mean even the disciples didn’t really see him… until Jesus did… And they didn’t really help… Instead of helping the man who was suffering, did you notice what they did? They ask Jesus to settle a theological argument… “Now Jesus, we see this blind man and we were wondering, who sinned Jesus… him or his parents? Whose fault is it that he is blind?”

Jesus seems to have little patience for that. They turn the whole thing into the theodicy question…asking why God allows such suffering? They didn’t say, “how can we help?”

But Jesus stops that discussion quickly: “Listen…it wasn’t his or anyone’s fault… stop arguing over whose fault it is and do something. Don’t you see? What we have here is an opportunity though to bring light to his darkness… which is why I came, to bring light to every place of darkness”

Jesus saw him… but the disciples did not, not really at first. They were blind.

So were the Pharisees but no surprise here. Mostly they are basically blind throughout all the gospels. In this story, they cannot see what Jesus is doing… Not only were they blind to his condition, they were blind to what God was doing right in front of their eyes!Rather than giving thanks to God for the healing, they are so caught up in theological correctness that they cannot see the miracle in front of their eyes.They start an argument over whether or not this was God’s will. They start arguing about Jesus… who, in their eyes, does not come from God because faithful people would not break the Sabbath (it is a top 10 commandment after all)… He certainly could not be the Messiah and break so many laws of God. They don’t care about the man… they care about winning an argument… they didn’t see him… not really.

But Jesus saw the man… the man blind from birth… and healed him.

One of the reasons John tells this story is to open our eyes to see what God is doing in Jesus and in the lives of those Jesus has healed… not because they deserve it, not because they have faith… but because they have a need. Living in darkness is the only condition Jesus needs to help someone.

Did you notice, by the way, that Jesus heals a man who has no faith and who doesn’t really know anything about Jesus at first? He is not a believer! His faith comes later. Did you notice that? I think that is important to remember next time someone says, “If you have enough faith, Christ will heal you.” Faith was not a precondition for this healing. In fact, I doubt he even belonged to a synagogue… or felt welcomed. He likely didn’t want to hear any more sermons about how his blindness was his fault. So, he had lived a life on the street.

So let’s be clear: this is not a story of how a person’s faith leads to healing. This is a story of how healing will lead to faith.

There is a gradual coming to faith for this man throughout the story.
At first he refers to “the man called Jesus”…
then he proclaims, “he is a prophet”…
then he affirms that Jesus is “from God”
and it is not until the end of the story we the man calls him “Lord and worshipped him”…

Not everyone comes to faith instantly you know. It is a process for most.

But Jesus wasn’t waiting for his faith to be fully formed. He saw him living in darkness and offered healing… He acted to heal this man because he was an instrument of God’s love and grace in this man’s life. Jesus didn’t come to bring light to people already living in the light (or so they thought and how silly would that be!)… but to those living in darkness…

And it begins because Jesus noticed him…Saw him. Makes me wonder, do we see what Jesus sees? Has Jesus opened our eyes? Are we able to see what Jesus sees? And do we want to shine the light of Christ into their lives?
I’ve been reading a book about Servants, Misfits and Martyrs by James Howell.
One chapter is about servants who are known for their work among the invisible…the poor… He tells stories of Mother Teresa… Millard Fuller (the founder of Habitat) … St. Francis of Assisi and Dorothy Day (a Catholic social worker)…
Each one a founder of a very impressive ministry or movement. As he tells their stories, he says he sees some common themes in their lives. But I think he is missing one theme.

He says, first, if you are going to serve, you have to give up something precious.
Mother Teresa gave up a comfortable life. Francis gave away his wealth and his friends and family thought him crazy… Millard Fuller gave up income and likely looked like a fool to his business friends. You know this is true. I’ve seen so many of you sacrifice in the service of others at the Kirk. Anytime you serve you have been giving up something precious to you… your time… your money… something more fun that you might rather do… than spend a night in the church with homeless families or spend a week of vacation on a mission trip.

Another theme, says Howell, is that service requires genuine solidarity with those in need. You get to know them… be with them. You care about them. You see them in a different way. Those who work on Habitat homes get to know the families… not just build a house… You work in the neighborhood ministry and you know their names and what they are going through… you go to Guatemala you will likely hear people talk more about their friends than the programs. It’s all about relationships.

The third theme he says that is consistent among the saints who look at the poor, at the persons who are hurting, he says they see not just the person, but Christ himself.
They remember the scripture from Matthew, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me?”
And I believe Howell is right about those themes, but I think he missed maybe the most important one which for me is the first step. They saw the poor. They noticed. Christ had opened their eyes to the pain and suffering around them… some of it is physical, some is spiritual, some is relational… but disciples are those whose eyes have been opened by Christ to see what others in the world miss. To me, it starts there.

I think about this every now and then when I park my car. For years, I parked my car in the upper lot… and didn’t notice some people passing by every day… then one day, I noticed some people walking in the parking lot… some had McDonald’s uniforms on… some Wendy’s… it was clear they were going to work… they were latino which meant I couldn’t speak their language… they just passed by invisibly… hardly notice.

It was after I went to Guatemala that I began to notice them in a new way. These people from another culture looked like my friends in Guatemala who are just trying to get by and make a living in this world. I started really seeing them. They weren’t Latinos or immigrants, but people with families and hopes and dreams… even more, I saw them as children of God. God opened my eyes in a new way. Jesus will do that you know…

Here at the Kirk it is important to keep your eyes open. One of the things I notice when I open my eyes around here is that there is not a person in this room who is not carrying some sort of burden… not a person who does not need healing of some form: physical, spiritual, emotional… They are around you right now.There is not a person here who is not fearful of someone or something… and sometimes people wonder if anyone even notices.

Well, there is no doubt the Lord notices and cares… Jesus sees you in your pain… the Lord knows each of us by name as if there were only one of us to know… the Lord loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love. Never ever doubt that the knows what we are living through….the Lord who walks through the darkest valley is with us…seeking to heal…to help… to give hope…

The promise that Jesus offers healing… the truth that Jesus has never rushed by you… what this proclaims is powerful… and we need to hold on to that…

But the question for us, in the Body of Christ, is this: do we notice? Has Jesus opened our eyes and hearts to those in pain?

One of the things I believe Jesus wants to do with us is to open our eyes and hearts so we will share his care for those who feel alone and invisible. That’s what Stephen Ministers do: they let people know they are not alone and that someone sees them in their pain… and someone cares… that Christ cares… What is the whole point of all of our ministries?—all of our missions? — than to send a message that Christ sees you… knows you… and cares for you. And when you are in pain, you are not alone. We are here… Christ is here.

But first you have to notice… first you have to have your eyes opened in order to be a means of grace…

That’s what happened to John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace… One day he is a slave trader… seeing human beings as simply a means of commerce… something to be sold on the auction block… and then the Lord opens his eyes and he repents and begins to help those whom he once sold. And today we still sing his song:
“I once was lost and now am found, was blind but now I see”
We’ve been singing that for 240 years now.

If you want to be a means of grace, first you have to have your eyes opened.

That’s what I heard MacKenzie Lamb was telling us on Youth Sunday…
Remember how she talked about getting involved with taking care of kids for the neighborhood ministry?… she told us how she was way out of her comfort zone… but God used this experience to change her life.I asked for a copy of her sermon…and note the language she uses:

“(Instead of helping) I could have retreated to my box of familiarity, maintaining my weekly rituals,that, at the time, were the extent of my faith practice. I also could have placed my neighbors in a box and distanced myself, missing an opportunity to positively impact their lives- and my own. However, with God’s grace and guidance, I took the other route. I OPENED MY EYES AND HEART allowing God to lead me to exactly where I needed to be”

The only thing I would correct is this. I don’t think MacKenzie opened her own eyes… I think she put herself in the place and position where the Lord opened her eyes … and it changed her life and the lives of those she saw for the first time. They were no longer invisible.

Isn’t that just like Jesus?… to come to us… look at us… and offer us the gift of sight? Offering to bring light to us so we can share that light with others?!

May the Lord open our eyes when we are blind… so we too can be a gift of grace… a gift of love… offering the light of the world to those who live alone and invisible in their darkness… May we be Christ to them and to one another. Amen.