Text for Preaching: John 9:1-41 (Cam’s Revised Version)
On one particular Sabbath Jesus and his disciples got into an argument with the Temple authorities and narrowly escaped being stoned by running out of the Temple courtyard and into the busy streets of Jerusalem where they disappeared into the crowd (8:59). After catching their breath, the disciples and Jesus went strolling among the swarming multitudes packed into the narrow streets and talked as they went along when suddenly they stopped to watch a blind beggar accost people from his perch at an intersection. One of the students asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
It was common wisdom to suppose that any malady was divine punishment for a sinful act but when it came to disabilities derived from birth some postulated that it must be punishment for the sin of a parent instead of the innocent newborn. Jesus shook his head and said simply, “Neither.”
On the spot Jesus bent over, spit on the ground and made a little muddy paste. He went over to the beggar, who of course could not see him coming, and at first the man jerked and flailed in protest at Jesus’ touch. But with Jesus’ calm and quiet words the disciples could not decipher, the man relaxed and Jesus rubbed the icky mixture on his eyelids. Jesus then instructed him to go to a nearby pool and wash his eyes off. To the astonishment of everyone, most especially the beggar and disciples, the man could see for the first time in his life.
After Jesus and the disciples left the man with new vision stood at his corner begging station crowing about how he had been healed by Jesus. He created quite a stir because even though faith-healers were not terribly unusual, healing someone of a disability derived from birth was shocking. In fact, it so stretched the imagination that people began to argue about whether or not this was actually the same beggar they had been passing in the street for years and years. Yes, he looked quite a bit like him but was it really him or someone else? There were near fist fights over the subject. Someone even went and got the religious authorities.
Upon hearing the story the religious authorities were troubled. First of all, it was the Sabbath and healing on the Sabbath was expressly forbidden and therefore Jesus had sinned. But how could someone heal a sin with a sin? It didn’t make sense. Therefore, the beggar was lying. Secondly, the man with new vision speculated that in order for him to have been healed of a life-long malady visited upon him by the sins of his parents, Jesus must be a prophet. Only a true prophet had that kind of power. But that conclusion made the religious authorities look terrible since some of them had just tried to stone Jesus. Yet, after repeated testimony from credible witnesses, the authorities had to acknowledge that a healing took place. But now they suspected the man with new vision was lying about having been blind from birth so they had him bring his parents in to testify.
Unfortunately, his parents did not have new vision so they were terrified and mealy-mouthed in front of the authorities. They attested to his blindness since birth but they steadfastly refused to speculate what kind of a person could heal a punishment inflicted upon a newborn because of their parental sin. The more the authorities pressed his parents to come up with an answer the more they insisted that the authorities should talk to their son. So, they brought the man with new vision back and the following exchange ensued.
“We know that Jesus is a sinner so we want you to give glory to God for your healing.”
“I do not know if he is a sinner or not. I do know that I was born blind but now I have vision.”
“We are certain in what we know. We know he is a sinner, so tell us how you were healed?”
“I told you what I know so why do you want me to tell you all over again? Are you secretly thrilled by hearing about his power? Do you secretly desire to become one of his disciples?”
That pushed the religious authorities over the edge and they excommunicated the man with new vision from the Temple. When Jesus heard the beggar had been driven out of their religion he went looking for him. Jesus reassured him of God’s love and described himself to the man as an agent of God through whom some people find new vision, even though there were other’s whose reaction to Jesus caused further spiritual blindness. So, what began as vigorous discussions around the wrong questions (about sin and sinners) ended up as a story that exemplified the contrast between vision and denial.
There are things we know – deep in our bones,
or down in our gut,
or tucked into the fold of our heart.
We know it.
For example, we knew when the President
told us there would be a vaccine very shortly
and that the virus would just disappear (2/29/20),
we knew it wasn’t true.
We just knew it.
We knew that the war to bring down Saddam Hussein
was not related to 9/11 even though the Administration kept saying it was.
We just knew it.
We knew it is wrong to profile people
of Middle Eastern descent
simply because a handful of Saudi Nationals
attacked us. We knew it
because we learned that lesson in WWII
at the expense of Japanese Americans.
We knew it was wrong for police to profile
African-Americans and Hispanics,
long before anyone told us it was wrong.
We just knew it.
We knew that cutting taxes for the wealthiest
when we aren’t even funding the crucial social programs
we have now, is just bad economics.
We just knew it.
Long before Bernie ran for president
we knew our medical system was horribly broken
and that it didn’t work very well even for those of us who have insurance, let alone
for the millions of people who don’t.
We just know it.
We knew before electric cars came along
that gas-guzzling automobiles
are horribly wrong even though
they are very cool looking and quite comfortable.
We knew it.
We knew before they tried to ban big slurpies
that as a population
we were getting more and more obese every day.
We knew that it is a symptom of an impulsive,
ginned up and fueled by a selfish
and slavishly self-centered consumeristic economy.
We know that it is just killing the planet
even as it kills millions of humans beings every year.
We have just known it.
Long ago we knew that inhabiting neighborhoods
segregated by class,
race, and ethnicity
creates such a horribly disadvantaged playing field
that no amount of money and effort toward
fixing our public schools
is going to fix them.
We knew the problems in education
of personal prejudice and societal bigotry
reinforced on every level –
from the legal system
to banking institutions
to the construction industry and religious institutions.
We have just known that.
We know all this stuff
even though we might argue about the particulars.
We might argue with each other
about the particular causes and accountability
for these things we know,
but I suspect most of what I just described
is stuff we know in common
and that we do not find terribly controversial.
We know stuff.
We know lots of stuff that we deny.
We know most everything we need to know
in order to live well together
in this city and in this country and in this world.
And much of what we know
we deny and ignore and repress on a daily basis.
And when someone comes along
and points out what we know
and it makes us uncomfortable
more often than not we drive them away.
That is what John’s story is about –
it is about knowing what we know from our experience,
and denying what we know
because we are afraid
or any number of other human motivations
We know a lot of stuff…
We almost always know what we need to know.
So, I’m going to boil that story from John
right down to its primary ingredients:
tried to talk that newly sighted beggar
right out of his own, very real, very personal experience.
Right? See what I mean?
They want him to believe their version of reality
rather than his own experience.
They didn’t like what they heard from that old beggar.
If what the blind man claimed was true –
that someone blind from birth
got his or her sight back –
it would hover outside their categories of truth
and be corrosive to their authority.
Accepting and confirming the version of reality
told by that newly sighted beggar,
would subvert the clergy’s neat and tidy theology –
which was an institutional worldview
carefully constructed to funnel the masses
into the self-interest of the institution.
We need to feel the burn of that tension in this story
if we want to see where it is pointing us.
The clergy have a lot of anxiety
because if it turns out to be true,
that someone born blind can get his or her sight back
without the pre-requisite sacrifices,
prescribed by clerical authority,
it would lead to an unfortunate re-thinking
of what is possible –
unfortunate for the clergy and the religious institution.
You see, the way their worldview was constructed,
the temple had a monopoly
on the power to make things right
between God and the world.
The clergy didn’t like the implications
of the beggar’s testimony
so they went in search of something that would
undermine his credibility.
They hauled in his parents
and tried to coerce a different answer
than the one given by their son.
When that failed,
the clergy tried to get the parents
to admit their son wasn’t really born blind.
But here is the deal with oppressed
and enslaved peoples:
they often become expert
at walking on the razor blade of danger
extended routinely by their oppressors.
So the once-blind man’s parents,
afraid of the clergy who wielded considerable power,
found a way to speak the truth
without directly contradicting the clergy.
Frustrated, the clergy
brought back the newly sighted beggar
for further interrogation.
Here the story takes a turn
and it is all because the once-blind beggar
is not afraid them.
Truly, how could he be afraid
after the experience he has just gone through?
So the once blind beggar
finally runs out of patience
and he simply tells the clergy where to go.
The clergy do what people in power usually do
when they don’t like the answer: they get rid of him.
“Get out!” they tell him,
“you do not belong here.
You are not one of us –
your experience is wrong
and we know what is right.”
Now be honest,
hasn’t that happened to you before?
Somewhere along the line,
maybe even with people you love,
hasn’t your experience – what you know to be true – been denied by other people?
Religious and political institutions
are of course famous for denying human experience,
but it doesn’t stop there.
There is a high priesthood of science
that often denies our experience,
and insists we go against the wisdom in our bones –
“if we cannot replicate it in the laboratory
then it is not real.”
If we cannot measure it
then it did not happen
or does not exist.
It’s not any better at our end of the spectrum either.
The high priesthood of religion tells us,
with varying degrees of absolutism,
if it is not in Scripture,
or if it contradicts Scripture,
and if it does not conform to the doctrines and creeds,
then it is not true.
and political parties,
and all manner of partisan advocates and lobbyists,
have a version of truth
and a vision of reality
they insist we should agree with.
It has become ever more Orwellian and bizarre lately,
and is such a caricature it would be funny
except that millions of people on both sides
actually buy into it.
But regardless of which authority is doing the talking,
we are prescribed truth and reality
from every direction,
and underneath all that pressure
it can start to be a struggle
to trust the wisdom of our own experience.
Like that newly sighted beggar in John’s story,
it can feel as though the voices from all sides
are insisting we believe what they say
above what we know in our bones.
Those of us who own our
religious and spiritual experience
are between a rock and a hard place these days.
On the one side
secularism and dogmatic science that lacks imagination,
just outright rejects any faith claims
On the other side,
the voices of religion that actually get heard
in the culture,
get heard because they have created
a kind of capitalist Christianity
that sells a marketable prosperity gospel.
So many of us
who would like to share our experiences
are reticent to do so
because we don’t want to be mistaken
for that or some of the other kinds of religion.
Uh oh, that brings the whole thing dangerously close
to you and me.
Because this is a computer sermon
I am going to boil it down
to two points, easy to pluck
and little nuance with which to confuse.
1. We need to get better with talking about our experience of the holy –
the ordinary presence of God
in our lives and in the creation.
We need to fear less how others judge us for our experience
and think of it as a gift we give –
perhaps liberating those we share it with
to talk about their experience.
I did not say evangelize.
We need to be disinterested in whether or not
someone affirms our experience
and whether someone else chooses
our particular faith or practice.
That is none of our business.
Our business is to share what we know.
The rest is up to the person we share it with,
Even when we have clarity about what we have experienced,
and own what we know in the face of what others
my say, judge, or deny,
we need to stay curious.
We need to wonder our about our experiences,
and wonder about our interpretation
of our experiences,
and wonder about how our assumptions
have colored what we believe
about our experiences.
Just because we know something in our bones,
doesn’t mean our perspective
should never change.
We can always,