March 26, 2017
I used to be an umpire baiter. It is kind of hard to imagine today; I've matured and mellowed a bit, but I used to have a few run ins with umpires in my younger days playing ball. It is embarrassing to think back to my over reactions to their bad calls. Some of you may remember Milt Schilling; I got very worked up at him one day at Kimball after, in my opinion, several missed calls. Now I never called an ump blind...but I'm pretty sure my Mom did many times.
Now we all know that the umpire that misses a call is not really blind. And in our gospel lesson today, Jesus called the Pharisees blind; they weren't really blind. But there was a man who was born blind who was given sight by Jesus. We are doing the gospel reading a little differently today. I was given a DVD of the gospel of John, and it has the whole gospel word for word from the NIV, but also has a video depiction of the action in the gospel. We have a long reading today, even longer than the one Judy read last Sunday. So I thought it would be interesting to hear our gospel reading from the DVD and watch how the story of the man born blind might have looked back in the day.
As we see in some other healings, Jesus gets in trouble with the religious leaders as this healing took place on the Sabbath. But there is so much else going on. First, the disciples were interested in the theology of this man's blindness. “Who sinned? This man or his parents?” And that is a fascinating question; we might ask it like this, why is there blindness...or cancer, or heart disease, or any illnesses in this world? It is a question that has been asked since the beginning of time. And I won't answer it today, but do want to say this: The answer that Jesus gave is a challenge for any of us faced with illnesses or sorrows or losses. It would be wonderful if every trial turned out as Jesus said, “so that God's works might be revealed.” Occasionally God's power is revealed in a healing as we read about; more often, God's power is revealed in our reactions to the trouble. Do we display God's power in the hope and faith we show in our sickness? Do we share God's power in our help, our prayers, our comfort of those who are suffering? Does our faith remain evident when our prayers aren't answered immediately or the way we want? I told you before I'm reading Diversity in Faith, Unity in Christ by Shirley Guthrie. He put it this way, “Christians are not spared hardships, disappointments, sickness, pain and death any more than anyone else. They testify to the love of God, not by the way they are spared but by the way they bear these common human experiences” and he adds, “We do not have to be perfect witnesses.” It is a tremendous challenge, but we have the opportunity to show God's working in our valleys. Every trial, every illness, every loss is a chance to find and to share blessings when things seem lost. God is acting even when we don't recognize it.
Back to the story, we hear from his neighbors who were confused...they couldn't decide if this was really the same guy or someone who looked like him. They wanted to know how he was healed and who it was that healed him. Even his parents were troubled … excited by the healing undoubtedly, but fearful of what would happen if they acknowledged the possibility that Jesus could be the Messiah.
The only one who seemed to understand that this was a miraculous healing by a man of God was the man healed. Being blind from birth, it is unlikely that he was very well educated, but he was emboldened by this miracle to answer the leaders. And to even make a point to them with his question, “Do you also want to become his disciples?”
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Pharisees, too, were interested in the theological aspect of the healing. John tells us that some said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.” Their nice, clear-cut understanding of the rules was being undermined. Godly people follow the rules...Jesus doesn't follow the rules. Sinners can't do such miracles...Jesus is a sinner. It doesn't make sense in their well-ordered world.
But rather than admit their, well let's say blindness, they attack Jesus and the man born blind. “A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”...They hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” And my tendency is to shake my head and wonder how they could be so blind. For my tendency is to gather with people who see things the same way I do. But what this healing and the responses show us is that we need to ask ourselves the tough question—am I; are we, like the pharisees in saying WE see, we alone are the ones who see what is right?
Back to my experiences with umpires. As I got a little older, I got some chances to be the umpire in the baseball games. It changed my perspective. I suddenly discovered that what I saw as a player was not exactly the same thing the umpire saw. I had been blind to the pressures and influences in the heat of a ballgame. But after umping a few games, I came to see that my vision was not always the best.
When we judge others as the Pharisees were doing, we are doing it with very limited vision. Jesus came to show us the way we ought to live. Judy read in today's epistle, “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Darkness leads us to judge what we don't know or understand... as the Pharisees did with Jesus. But as children of the light, our eyes are opened ...and our hearts...to see and recognize the needs of those around us who are suffering. Jesus demonstrated the gift of compassion; we as the children of light are to show compassion for those who are in need, those who can't help themselves, those who are sick or are suffering. Guard against the blindness that sees someone who is hungry and says “if they'd just go to work, they'd be OK.” The spiritually blind sees a homeless person and thinks, “it's their fault, they must be awfully lazy to live on the street.” We see the immigrant and say, “It is not our responsibility to care for you, stay home.” We see a woman wearing a Hajib and think “why does she have to flaunt her religion like that?” The list of prejudices, the kinds of troubles we can be blind to goes on and on. If we see physical evidence like a lost limb or physical blindness or a bald head from chemo or a wheelchair, we are good at compassion. But many troubles are not evident on the outside. As we read in the Old Testament lesson, none of us sees the heart of those who are suffering. The Lord told Samuel, “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Compared to the Lord, we are all blind. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can received sight to see beyond the outward appearances to see the heart.
As the church, we seek to do better than those Pharisees. An example, our deacon's fund. We have made it our mission to be as gracious as we can be. If we are mistaken, we seek to be mistaken on the side of grace. We are about helping the homeless through MAM, the hungry through the foodshelf, the sick and the lost and the needy through prayer and outreach. A current project that the CCC is working on deals with something that is hidden from the public eye; something I admit I was quite blind to. Sexual abuse...something we don’t like to think about because it is all darkness and sin. But as the children of the Light, what was hidden is revealed and we bring it into the light and we act to end the darkness. The committee is committed to these social justice topics for 2017-2018: protecting children from sexual abuse; sex trafficking; domestic abuse and elder abuse. Certainly not pleasant to consider, but once our eyes are opened, as children of the light, we seek “all that is good and right and true.”
Every umpire misses a call once in while. Here's a famous one. Umpire Jim Joyce was the first base umpire. Armando Galarraga was pitching for the Detroit Tigers and was one out away from pitching a perfect game (that's 27 batters up and 27 straight outs). He got the 27th batter to hit a simple ground ball to the second baseman who threw it to first and got the runner out by a full step and Jim Joyce inexplicably called hm safe. An historic moment was lost by an umpire's mistake. As followers of Jesus, we are constantly challenged to make the right call when it comes to compassion and grace for others. We are to guard against caring more about our principles, our politics, our rules... and care more about people. And not just the people that fit a nice profile as acceptable socially or as worthy of care. People that are outcasts, that are a challenge to love, people that may rub us the wrong way. We are to see them with the eyes of Jesus. Be careful that you are not so set in your ways that you are like those Pharisees, saying they saw when they were in fact blind. We have all been blind, but by the grace and power of Jesus, now we see. And as we see, we are to act.
The Pharisees couldn't say where Jesus came from, they tried to deny his power, they call him a sinner. But the man whom he healed, the one he touched and made well, knew enough to worship Jesus. We know Jesus. We worship Jesus. Lord, Open our eyes that our worship will carry beyond these walls as we show the love of Jesus to all. Amen.
Hymn: “Open My Eyes That I May See” 324 PH