Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Congratulations on making it through another long and memorable story from the Gospel of John! Though I should warn you that we aren’t quite out of the woods yet. We have one more reading from John this Lent, though I promise you that this is the longest reading from John we have. And John is not all that easy to get through sometimes. John is full of double meanings and conversations happening on many levels at the same time, enough to make your head spin. John likes to speak in code, which we’ve already seen much of this at work already, with Nicodemus and the woman at the well. Nicodemus talks to Jesus in the dark, Jesus meets the woman in the light. Nicodemus struggles to believe, while the woman at the well gets her WHOLE TOWN to believe. For John, those who don’t believe in Jesus are in darkness, and those who do are in the light.
So it is for most of scripture – God created light, and it was good. Those who walk in darkness have seen a great light. Jesus is the light of the world. The darkness shall not overcome it. The dark is full of the unknown. Scary things happen in the dark.
But does darkness and night deserve this kind of reputation of so much fear and avoidance? Pastor turned Seminary professor and writer Barbara Brown Taylor doesn’t think so. She embarked on a project to explore our complicated relationship with darkness, to prove that darkness and night have value. In her exploration, she has done a lot of adventurous things. She sat in a cave all by herself with no lights. She ate at a restaurant in Germany that serves their food in the dark. She even went to a completely dark exhibit in Atlanta that imitates what life is like for a person who is blind.
She and a group of sighted people were led through a life-like simulation by a person who is blind in real life. They crossed a fake street with real traffic sounds, navigated through rooms, and all the while running into walls and bumping into each other. When Dr. Taylor ran into the man in front of her, she “did not know if he was old or young, white or black, pleasant to look at or not.” She had no visual information to judge him, or any of the other people stumbling along in this terrifying new world of noise and darkness and pretend danger. She only knew that he probably felt just as lost as she did. This experience left her with a question: how is it that seeing makes us blind?
Jesus had just finished teaching in the temple, and he and his disciples were walking along the road, when they came upon a man who had been born blind. The man existed outside of his community because of his disability, and he might have been begging along the road to support himself. When the disciples saw this man, they instantly judged him and his parents as sinners. Surely someone is to blame for this man’s blindness. In their minds, his disability was an outward sign that someone did something wrong, and this man was being punished for it. Therefore, this man was pushed to the margins of his community. To many, this man was invisible.
But Jesus did something that the disciples didn’t expect. Jesus refused to participate in the accepted culture of victim-blaming. Instead, Jesus saw the man with something more than just his eyes. He saw him through the eyes of God, the one who sent him, and viewed him as a created child of God, worthy of his attention and love, instead of judgment and rejection.
What did this man DO to EARN Jesus’ attention and healing that day? This man didn’t have extra strong faith. This man didn’t “pray hard enough.” He didn’t do extra community service or was an “extra good person.” He was in need. He was on the outside. And Jesus found him.
This is what Jesus is in the habit of doing – finding people on the outside of the rules that we are so good at creating for ourselves. Those of us who are able to see rely – perhaps too much – on the visual. We are really good at making judgments about what’s on the outside – skin color, biological gender, difference in dress because of religion, cultural values or economic status, weight, height, athletic ability, physical differences or visible disabilities.
We are really, really good at finding ways to separate ourselves from other people, making divisions between one another, whether physical or emotional walls, fences, or barriers. And once we are divided, we can judge and weight the importance and worth of US verse THEM. THEY do things because they are lazy, less smart, or loved less by God because of what we perceive as their deficiencies.
I recently saw a picture on Facebook that shows a group of people with pencils drawing lines between each other, and Jesus following right behind with his eraser, erasing all the lines. Because that’s what Jesus is actually all about. Erasing the lines we have drawn between one another. When we make lines and rules to keep people out, Jesus is always with the people on the outside. Which makes the people who are the ones drawing the lines very angry.
Case in point – just in case you were thinking that surely Good Protestants like us were beyond such things. This last week at Princeton Seminary, affiliated with a branch of the Presbyterian church, it was announced that a well-known preacher named Tim Keller was to receive a prestigious award. There was one problem though. Princeton Seminary represents a branch of Protestantism that affirms the ordination of women and also those who are part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, as does our own denomination, the ELCA. The Reverend Tim Keller does not. When a public outcry came from both current students and alumni, the seminary decided to rescind the award but still allow Keller to speak. The most surprising thing, though, was the counter-outcry that came from some male heterosexual pastors, who minimized the legitimate calling of women and whose who identify as part of the LGBT community. Their pencils were sharp and full of lead, ready to redo the lines that Gospel has erased, blind to the inclusive power of the message of Jesus.
The man born blind in today’s story had not sinned, but the sin of the Pharisees and those in power trying to stop Jesus made them blind. And what was that sin? It was the certainty of the Pharisees that God was on THEIR side – the side of rules, walls, and dividing lines.
In their minds, Jesus was doing this Messiah business ALL WRONG. He healed the wrong person – a blind beggar. Jesus healed on the wrong day – on the sabbath, the day that no “work” was to be done. Jesus hung out with all the wrong people – women at wells, fishermen and tax collectors, revolutionaries, and outsiders. Jesus was doing this “God thing all wrong.” And so, Jesus must be stopped. The people in power got angry too. Angry enough to take matters into their own hands. This made them blind to all the amazing things that God was doing in their midst.
“How has seeing made US blind?” as Barbara Brown Taylor asks. How have WE too missed out on what is God is doing in OUR midst? How have we missed seeing Jesus at work because he uses people we don’t expect?
In fact, could God be doing amazing things in our midst RIGHT NOW, just as we are?
We may look around at ourselves and think what we see not enough for God to use. We may feel like we are on the outside, looking in, compared to others. We may look around and feel like we are incomplete as we are and not fit to be useful for God’s kingdom. Right now – TODAY - Jesus sticks mud in our eyes and washes us in the pool called Sent, revealing to us that we are worthy to be claimed as part of God’s family and worthy of doing God’s work. NOT when we are more of this and less of that. But right now. So, we go out following Jesus’ lead – erasing the lines, breaking the walls, ripping up the fences that come between us and those the world says are not worth our notice.
Like Jesus, you are the light of the world. But you are also the erasers of the world, too. Amen.