Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” John 9:37
It was the Spring of 1996 and I was serving as the interim pastor at University Lutheran in West Philly and was in the midst of the call process here at St. John’s. For this fourth Sunday in Lent, the chairperson of their Worship and Music Committee asked me if a woman named Anna could read the Gospel that morning. While, like here, that was normally the preacher’s responsibility, I said, “Sure.” As we sang the Gospel acclamation, Anna stood up, moved to the center aisle with the Assisting Minister who carried a huge book, as the whole congregation also stood. The book was opened and Anna moved her fingers over the bumps of Braille, as she read aloud today’s Gospel. We listened while a woman born blind read the story about a man born blind being healed by Jesus. Then Anna ended with “The Gospel of the Lord,” while we responded, “Praise to you, O Christ.” As everyone else sat down, I stood up to preach. But whatever I said, it didn’t matter, for we had just seen the Gospel.
We often don’t. Like the disciples, we ask questions about cause and effect, trying to figure out who to blame for suffering, hoping that if we punish the perpetrator justice will be done. Yet while justice may be sweet, it often fails to redeem the lost and seldom rehabilitates them. Like the neighbors, we ask all sorts of questions, because miracles don’t really happen, do they? We can’t believe what we see, that the poor blind beggar boy next door is the same guy gawking at the tree and the house and the children playing as if he’s never seen them before, and of course, he hasn’t. It can’t really be him because people don’t change, once a beggar, always a beggar. Like the religious leaders, we’ll ask questions because rules weren’t followed, sacred laws were broken, rituals discarded and we simply don’t do that. Because, frankly, all hell might break lose and so we miss the glory, when all heaven breaks loose instead. But on that Sunday morning at UniLu, no questions were asked, for we had just seen the Gospel, and it was glorious to behold.
From the very first verse, something was up. As Jesus walked along, he SAW a man blind from birth. Jesus didn’t see a beggar. He saw a man, as he truly was. In the same way, Jesus sees us – who we truly are. He sees us. He wants us to see him, and to see God. To the disciples’ question, Jesus responds, “the man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Which when you think about it, is why all of us are born – so that the works of God might be revealed in us.[i] Jesus bends down, grabs a handful of dirt, spits in it, make a mud patty, puts it on the man’s eyes and sends him to wash at the pool of Siloam. The man does and comes back seeing!
Close your eyes. Imagine if that is all you had ever seen. Now, open your eyes as if you are doing so for the very first time – see red, blue, yellow, green, purple, orange and be amazed by the shock of color and form. No wonder it takes a while for the blind man to recognize who Jesus is. Did you notice how at first, he says Jesus is a man, then a prophet, next a man from God and finally, the Lord? And while the man goes from being blind to seeing, those who could see, and not only could see, but also had the benefit of fine religious educations, fail to comprehend anything. God in Christ was standing right in front of them and they were blind.
“The Gospel of the Lord,” Anna declared and then the blind woman sat down and left us to see what we could see. So, what do we see? Bare shelves at grocery stores, especially the toilet paper aisle; shut down schools, colleges, restaurants, movie theatres, offices; little or no traffic; an empty sanctuary and Sunday School; fear on some faces, calm on others; on Facebook, many helpful public health announcements including one from our Mayor, but also humorous memes – my favorite appeared Tuesday afternoon: “Home schooling going well: two students suspended for fighting and one teacher fired for drinking on the job.” Along with the humor there are beautiful postings. On Thursday morning I saw one shared by Pope Francis: “Tonight before falling asleep think about when we will return to the street. When we hug again, when all the shopping together will seem like a party. Let’s think about when the coffees will return to the bar, the small talk, the photos close to each other. We think about when it will be all a memory but normality will seem an unexpected and beautiful gift. We will love everything that has so far seemed futile to us. Every second will be precious. Swims at the sea, the sun until late, sunsets, toasts, laughter. We will go back to laughing together. Strength and courage.”[ii] Let me add, and we will, once again, gather in this holy place to worship together. Since this sermon is virtual, please post your favorites on our St. John’s Family and Friends Facebook Page. It is a closed site because we post lots of pictures of our children. So, if you not yet a member, email the church office and you will be added to site.
What do you see? Being truthful is important. Because honestly, this is a difficult time and there will be days when it’s too hard to muster up hope, times too full of sorrow to laugh. Anna knew that to the core of her being. She read a gospel about Jesus giving sight to a man born blind, when she herself was blind and likely would never see. And yet, with her hands she read the words and with joyful confidence said, “Lord, I believe.” Lord, it is in your hands, hands that I trust, hands that will be nailed to the cross. Wounded hands that on Easter day will bless the disciples with peace.
So, let us see! See the glorious blue sky as the man born blind saw it for the first time. See with our whole heart, minds and soul, as Anna did and, I pray, still does. What we’ll discover in such seeing, is that God sees us, sees us as we truly are – a mixture of fear and faith, of doubt and belief, of sin and goodness, of indifference and compassion. God sees it all and loves us, forgives us. We are people who once were blind, but now see, once were lost, but now, by amazing grace, have been found. Amen.
[i] James Forbes, The Work We are Sent to Do, http://www.csec.org/csec/sermons/forbes_4304.htlm