John 9: 1-41
26 March 2017
“Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Miracles, and tragedies, doesn’t it just seem as though life is full of both? At nineteen Diane was told she would never have a child. To her surprise and great joy at 36 she found herself pregnant. She bore a healthy and much loved daughter. Another young woman, newly-wed and newly pregnant, lost her baby. A young father received a needed organ transplant, but after the first week the transplant failed and set up a reaction that left him ineligible for another transplant attempt. Doug, received a similar transplant, and this one worked well, he was given years to watch his children grow. Aaron was born to soon and to small, three months premature. He was so loved and carefully cared for but he eventually succumbed, never to leave the neonatal intensive care unit. Sarah was delivered by her father along a dark road far from the hospital. She was very early and very small. With care she lived and thrived. Eventually she went home to grow up surrounded by her family. What is it like for us to hear the stories, or to live the experiences? Aren’t we led to ask: Why, why me, why now, why this? It is as though we need to find the meaning behind the events of our lives, to somehow make sense of what seems, more often than not, to make no sense at all. Today we heard one of those miracle stories. The man was born blind. He lived his whole life dependent on others, on begging.
Then Jesus happened along. His disciples, searching for meaning just like the rest of us, asked who sinned that this man was born blind? It was a logical question considering the common wisdom of the time. Everyone knew that illness or deformity was the result of sin. The disciples saw a wonderful opportunity for further theological discussion. What would Jesus say? In light of that common wisdom Jesus’ answer is especially interesting.
According to Jesus neither the man nor his parents had sinned. And, beyond that, the man’s blindness presented an opportunity. Did you notice? Jesus has a different question in mind. How can God be glorified in this situation? How can God’s love be seen here? One thing I’ve discovered over my life is that there really is no good answer to the why question. And, looking back over scripture, I notice that there is seldom any answer given to the “why” of things, other than for God’s glory to be shown. What we hear in scripture has more to do with responses to the way the world is. We have all those stories that capture God’s response of offering a steadfast and loving covenant between God and God’s creation. Scripture also describes what our response might be, at our best, to such a loving creator. Over and over we are told to love God and our neighbor, to feed the hungry, to act as healers and reconcilers, to forgive and seek forgiveness, to act with mercy and compassion. But there’s something else important that I noticed in the Gospel this morning, maybe you did too. That blind man did not ask to be healed. At Jesus’ initiative he was healed entirely by God’s grace. That encounter with Jesus dramatically changed the man’s life. But was it a miracle or was it a tragedy? The poor man suffered because of that healing. First he was bombarded with questions from his neighbors. Arguments broke out. There was no praising God in joyful thanksgiving for the miracle that was given to this man. In fact, he and his parents were brought up before the religious leaders and questioned. Then, his parents, out of fear, abandoned him to speak for himself. The religious authorities stood blindly on their legalism. How could this miracle be of God? After all, the one who performed it broke one of God’s most sacred commandments by healing on the Sabbath. The no longer blind man was driven out of the synagogue, his religious community. Poor guy, he didn’t ask to be healed and ended up excommunicated. Isn’t it interesting that through all that happened after Jesus’ healed him, the man grew in faith despite all the hardship. I have to say, I’m struck by that last scene in the story. Jesus returns and the no longer blind man confesses faith in Jesus.
Accepting Jesus’ claims, he gives thanks in worship. Don’t you wonder what he did with the rest of his life? Did he become a follower of Jesus, one who continued to live faithfully as Jesus taught? Of course, we don’t know how his story ended, the Gospel doesn’t tell us. What the gospel does say quite clearly is that light comes to those who recognize that they are blind without Christ in their lives. And those who do claim to see without Christ, well, they really do live in blindness. Could it be that when we ask why in the face of tragedy, or miracle, we need to go one step further and ask, as Jesus did; what next? What next, or perhaps, how. What is God calling me to do next in this situation, how can God be glorified? After all, to ask why focuses on the past and on oneself. Why puts us at the center of the universe where we are blind without Christ’s light.
In the past several weeks the gospel lessons have given us some powerful images. Images that show us who Jesus is. Jesus is the bread that feeds our deepest hungers. And nourishes us for service in God’s world. Jesus is the living water that quenches our thirst for meaning and gives us new life in baptism. And now Jesus is the light of the world, the one who gives light to our spiritual darkness and shows us how to live into abundant life. Jesus summed up the words of the law and the prophets in the great commandment. There is only one God. Love God with all that you are and love your neighbor as yourself. I wonder what life would be like if we more often could move beyond why to ask that what or how question? What can happen because of this tragedy, or that miracle? How can I glorify God in the face of this miracle, or that tragedy? I wonder what kind of sense God would make of our lives then? God does not send suffering into our lives, not even to teach us something. But suffering does indeed happen and we can, of course, learn from it. God does not will pain for us in order to punish our sins, but we can repent in the face of how really and truly fragile and precious God’s gift of life is. We have a choice. We can turn ourselves to God in thanksgiving for the gifts we are given. Being imitators of God we can make God’s love more real in our world when we serve others as we have first been served. In short, we too can make God’s glory known and God’s love present right here in our world. Amen.