Gospel: John 9:1-41
1st Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
2nd Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
I have terrible eyesight, but I wear contact lenses, so you wouldn't know it. Before I came here, I worked at an optometry office for a year and a half and I there were only maybe 5 or 10 patients in the whole practice who had worse eyesight than I have. I give thanks that I wasn't born before vision correction was available, because there is very little I can do without my glasses or contacts. I remember the first time I got glasses, maybe you do, too. I knew I was missing a lot, but I had no idea what I was missing until I put them on and walked out of the optometrist's office into the sunshine and saw all those trees in the parking lot with actual leaves. I could see every last one. Who knew a tree had so many leaves!
God does not see as mortals see, our Old Testament reading from today tells us. No kidding! Blindness is not just a condition of the eyes. It is about our perspective and where we are seeing from. We see a lot better from the balcony than on the dance floor. It is a matter of the time of day, how light it is out and what direction the shadows are cast. In other words, the time of our life will affect how we see and what we can see, depending on context and experience and expectation. Sight is shaped by our culture and situation. I know that I am still astounded at what Sterling notices that I never even paid any attention to, probably since I was 5. He hasn't learned what society says is worthy of his attention. Now thanks to him, I see every fan in every film I watch and building I enter. And now I've started to see robots everywhere I go. I have selective sight and now this kid is teaching me to see again.
In the Old Testament reading, God is looking for a new king for Israel. Saul hasn't worked out so well. I wonder if God couldn't see what the problems would be with Saul, but then I remembered how God tried, over and over, to talk the Israelites out of it, saying a king would only serve himself. Every king was a compromise. After Saul, maybe the people are more open to God's suggestions. Ok, so they are trembling at the thought of going in an entirely different direction from Saul. Rather than to choose his successor from his sons or relatives, they are going with an entirely different family. People are just getting used to that idea of going with an entirely different family, when Samuel starts looking at each of Jesse's sons and he isn't finding the one he is looking for. The people have their view. They think they see what they need in a leader and that is age and experience and size and power. I love the suspense in this story as Samuel examines each one! His heart is sinking with each one. He's wondering if God is going to deliver on this promise of a good king or not. Jesse, the father, is probably getting twitchy. The older brothers are looking at the one younger than them with disgust, jealous of the power that is about to be given away, that was rightfully theirs—they deserve it, they've earned it. Jesse gets to the end of the sons. He doesn't ask God, “What's wrong with you?” Smart guy. Instead he says to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” There is one—one so unassuming, so unqualified, so small and powerless, so young and inexperienced, that we never even thought of him. He may as well be a baby in the crib—I guess we do get that with the baby Jesus, don't we? Here is one last son, a shepherd, a humble one, a caring one. The LORD looks on the heart. The heart reveals the heart of a shepherd, loyal, caring, guiding, watching, healing, protecting, with a wide perspective. And it doesn't hurt that he's easy on the eyes.
The Psalm backs up the view of the shepherd leader. That is how God is with us. This is a view of the peaceable Kingdom, what the Kingdom of God is like, what the world can look like if we let God's vision come to be. When God is our shepherd, we don't have any needs that aren't met. He leads us to places that are life-giving. He guides us, but he doesn't force us to go in a particular direction. Some scholars say the word lead is better translated, “supervised wandering.” When we are in his care, we won't be free from danger or suffering or pain—we will go through the valley of the shadow of death. But we will have God as our companion in that dark, terrifying place. Throughout this beautiful poem, we find a fierce but gentle companion, who gives us rest and direction, who protects us and brings us home. He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies—some scholars have said this enemy is death. That was new to me in this reading of it. And some scholars say the last line may be, “And I shall return to the house of the LORD for the rest of my days.” The psalm seems to allow us to wander, but never alone, it shows we have freedom, but that God is always close by and that there is a return and a reunion and a reconciliation and a warmth.
What does this have to do with seeing? I think we see God as either being with us and directing everything, or as absent, but maybe God is like a parent, walking nearby, available and vigilant, there if anything goes wrong, but also trying to give us the space to explore, experience, and see for ourselves.
The reading from Ephesians is a before and after demonstration. “You were then darkness, but now light in the Lord.” God has the wider perspective and sees the before and after—how dark it was and hard to see, how far away we were, how dead asleep we were, how powerless and blind. But then God gave us the light to reveal what was really true, a free gift we didn't earn and didn't deserve, but that we needed to see clearly. God gave us Jesus, the light of the world, exposing all our flaws, but also exposing how we weren't alone and that others are also on this path toward light and recipients of this grace with us, and how we are part of a community of practicing Christians who need all the practice we can get. We get to use this light for good, to reveal the broken systems in our world, to shed light on people our society tends to ignore, to see more clearly what is good and loving. One of the risks of this reading is that it may make us smug, that we have the light, as Christians, and others don't. But as soon as we try to say we deserve it and you don't, or we have the light and you don't, it becomes darkness and is not of God.
The Disciples have internalized this viewpoint that people get what they deserve. That's why they ask Jesus if this man was born blind because he deserved it or his parents. But Jesus says it isn't about deserving. We are all disciples, really. We are constantly trying to make sense of our world by blaming people for their situation or thinking people earned the good life they live. It makes us feel safe from poverty and suffering. It encourages us not to do anything to help people who are hurting. We believe the homeless person is lazy or addicted. We believe the car accident was because of speed or alcohol. We believe the person is sick because they didn't exercise or eat right. Especially when we don't know what we can possibly do to help, we blame, because it helps us to justify our lack of help.
But God doesn't see as we see. The God who saw a king in a young shepherd boy, sees a brother or sister of Jesus in a person on a street corner, sees a community leader in a homeless person, sees value and vitality and life in someone who is sick—sees someone worth knowing, worth healing, not because of anything they have done or haven't done, but because of who they are, God's beloved child.
The Pharisees couldn't see because they already thought they knew. They decide right away that Jesus can't come from God. They know what the sabbath is for. Resting. But what about rest for a man born blind. He has struggled every day. Today, Jesus gives him his sight. Jesus reveals that the sabbath is for healing, restoring, for drawing closer to God's kingdom reality, for the shepherd to care for the flock, for barriers between us to be broken down, for us to see with the eyes of God, to see as God sees, for worshiping and thanking God as this man does. God can heal the blind man in an instant, which had never been done before. But if the Pharisees didn't know they were blind and didn't want to see, would he heal someone against their will? It is like when you open the cage of a creature that doesn't know it has been caged. It will may stay in there. The same goes for the Pharisees.
The parents of the man born blind, couldn't get to the point of praising Jesus like their son does, of fully seeing him, because they were afraid of being rejected by the community and the religious leaders. They couldn't embrace the new life Jesus was offering because they thought it was more important to hold on to what they already had than to let go and take hold of what was entirely new and unexpected and ridiculous and Godly.
The question for us is what are our blind spots? Will we ever be able to see them or let go of everything we have ever known in order to take hold of the life that really is life?
This congregation has done this over the years. I would say that must have been what it was like at the very beginning of the congregation. Everything was new. Each step was a risk and a possibility. Each time you called a pastor, you took a risk, and you even risked losing members when you called Pastor Solveig, a female pastor. Each time we receive new members at this church, we risk being changed. And the council is excited to help us to take some new risks, especially engaging in the community, getting out there in groups in a visible way, maybe wearing matching t-shirts, and working on projects out there in the neighborhood. We have a blind spot, or a weak spot in putting ourselves out there. We have seen the church as in here. But maybe there is more to it than that. Maybe we will meet people we never would have. Maybe we'll get perspectives we never expected. Maybe we'll be strengthened. Maybe we need the community. Maybe the community needs us.
The man born blind received his sight immediately, but it was only when he was challenged by the neighbors and pharisees that he started to really see. He first says Jesus must be a prophet. When they tell him to give glory to God, rather than a human being, he uses one of the Pharisees own arguments against them, that “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” So he is starting to see that Jesus is from God. Finally, he stands with Jesus, having been driven out and rejected, and all he's got is Jesus, and he says, “Lord, I believe!” and falls down to worship him.
May we become aware of our blind spots and go to the one who sees clearly and who can help us see. When we put on those glasses of our faith, may we find light and hope and share light and hope until all can see and until all are seen.