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March 6, 2005 (Lent IV)

Intern Pastor Katy Grindberg

John 9:1-41

Brothers and sisters, grace and peace to you from God our loving creator and from Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior. Amen.

In the gospel lesson today, when the disciples see the man blind from birth, they ask what may seem to us to be a very na´ve question, especially from our 21st century perspective. With our knowledge of medicine and physiology, it seems strange to ask, "who sinned to cause his blindness?" To them, illness was caused by sin. Sin caused illness, pain, death; if one was able to live a life of no sin, he or she was rewarded with perfect health, a perfect life. So, for the disciples, lack of vision from birth must have been synonymous with a major sin on somebody's part--they need someone to blame!

Jesus tells them that no one is responsible, neither the man nor his parent's sin brought on this condition. But, Jesus says, since he is here, and in need, let me work my work of healing on him. And he does heal him and give him what he has never known before--vision.

Have you ever blindfolded yourself for a long period of time--an hour or more? I remember doing it as an exercise at camp--I'm sure it was some type of trust exercise during training for summer counselors, and I don't remember much about the exercise itself, but what I do remember is having the blindfold removed. How brilliant everything seemed when I removed the blindfold. The colors, the light--everything was strikingly beautiful--overwhelming, even as I saw anew what I had see time and again before, but never in this way. The effect wore off quickly enough, as I rapidly became used to having my vision back, but the emotional impact of that moment remains. I remember what it meant to see the world around me in a new and vibrant way. Those of you who wear contacts or glasses know what it is like to have your vision suddenly improved. With the application of the lenses, all of a sudden things become clear, and fuzzy shapes suddenly have edges and distinctiveness.

However, the truth is that with vision we not only see the beauty in the world, we see not only the vibrant colors and the faces of those we love but with vision, the suffering and the pain in the world around us also comes into focus. "Who sinned?" the disciples ask. Someone's sin may not have been the cause of the man's blindness, but our own sin is responsible for our 'selective blindness.'

Think about your own habits. How many times when watching the news, do you turn the channel, or turn the TV off? How quickly do you turn the pages in the magazine or the newspaper to get past the disturbing pictures? When the pain in the world overcomes our ability to really see it, we just turn off. It is infinitely easier to ignore than to engage the pain and suffering around us.

Martin Niemoeller was a theologian and pastor in Germany in WWII, who spoke out against the Nazi part and their policies. He spent much of the war in concentration camps at the personal order of Adolph Hitler. He survived, and after the war, he was active in international church affairs, making preaching trips to the United States. At that time he brought the message of concern for others, often driving the point home with a confession of his own blindness when the Nazi regime rounded up his countrymen. Neimoeller writes:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
     because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
     because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
     because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
     because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
     and there was no one left to speak out for me.

In our corporate confession, when we confess that "we are sorry for what we have left undone," we are confessing our voluntary blindness to the needs around us. Those needs may be local. I looked at some statistics about homelessness in Hawai'i, and in a study published in 2003 there were approximately 3300 homeless people on O'ahu. More than 70% of those people are "unsheltered," meaning they are living on the street, beach, cars, parks. This was a revelation to me. In the cities I've lived in previously, in San Francisco and Berkeley, and Lawrence, Kansas I literally tripped over homelessness every day. Homeless people were in my neighborhoods and in the areas where I did business. But here, it is easy for me to be blind to the problem. When I go to the beach or the park and see the tents set up, it is easy to think that it is a family having a weekend camping trip at the beach, rather than confront the possibility that they are homeless. And apparently I am not alone. In a publication from November 2004, the National Coalition for the Homeless ranked Hawai'i the third meanest state and Honolulu the 9th meanest US city in their dealing with the homeless in our midst. Even more disturbing to me was the news that Honolulu moved up 10 spots from the previous as a result of the laws and policies enacted in Honolulu.

The needs may be global. I did an internet search for the number of wars going on in the world at this time, and depending upon the source, it was between 20 and 40. I was provided with staggering amounts of information, and it really seems impossible to keep up with it all.

And so we are blind--whether by conscious choice, or just our human nature, or our privileged location as citizens of the US and North America--we do not see what is going on around us. And even when we do see it, it just seems so impossible to overcome. You may be saying to yourself, "I'm just one person after all. What can one person do? I feel like the voice crying out in the wilderness."

You are NOT just one person, however. You are member of the Body of Christ in the world. A community 2 billion strong. As a member of the Body of Christ, you are called to imitate Jesus, to be as Jesus to the your neighbor. Jesus, in the parable fo the Good Samaritan, tells us that your neighbor is anyone in need. And if we turn to the gospel for today we can see what Jesus does. First of all Jesus sees the blind man. And he doesn't just see with his eyes, he sees with his heart. Secondly, Jesus acts. He doesn't take the disciples question about sin as an opportunity to wander off to a nearby hillside and have a debate on the theology of sin or a discourse on the state of medicine in pre-modern Middle East. He does preach, yes, but he also acts with his hands. He makes mud and he applies it to the mans eyes and he heals him. Thirdly, what may be the hardest for most of us, Jesus stands up for his actions against the authorities when his actions are questioned. He simply says, this is what I was called to do, and makes no apologies for his actions.

When a blind person gets sight, they are pulled out of a world of darkness into light. When you were baptized, you emerged from the water a claimed child of God, a human being living in relationship with God and therefore relationship with other people. You come to worship where the blindfold on your heart is removed; you come to the table to be refreshed and renewed, enabling you to go into the world and be the light of X for those you encounter.

It's not an easy mission we Christians are given, we are called to go out into the world and encounter other people in their joy and in their sorrow. You may be called to encounter others through education--taking the time to educate yourself, your children, your friends and family about the needs around you. You may be called to give of time or money; or you may be called to prayer. Mabe you are called to political awareness or activism or maybe it is to a time of discussion and debate.

Yes, sometimes being out in the world brings you into contact with other people's pain--and sometimes you need to turn away, to give your eyes and your heart a rest. But with the example, the love, guidance and strength you get through Christ, you are able to turn back to the reality of the world, and

  • see your brothers and sisters through the eyes of Christ;
  • act with the arms and heart of Christ;
  • and if need be, stand up to others with the courage that Christ gives you and the support of the community of the body of Christ.

May the light of the world himself, Jesus Christ, bring you light today and every day.


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