The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - March 26, 2017
Scripture Reading: John 9:1-12, 35-41
Sermon Title Can you see

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Like last week, this reading is long, but unlike last week, I cut out the middle of the reading this week.  So I think I should give a little bit of the middle.  After the blind man was healed, those who saw him when he was a blind beggar brought him to the Pharisees.  The Pharisees are the ones who are experts in interpreting the law, so the Pharisees heard about this and wanted to know what happened, he told them what happened, but they could not really understand.  Then they asked to see his parents, and asked his parents what happened.  His parents said “He is old enough, ask him yourself.”   He just kept repeating the same thing, Jesus spread some mud on my eyes, told me to go wash and I was healed.   After that they were not really sure what to think, so they sent him out of the city. 

     You see, at that time disabilities were often seen as a punishment for sin, either your own sin or the sin of your parents.  There was no safety net, so if you were blind your parents would probably send you out when you reached adulthood to fend for yourself, which, at that time, meant that you begged. 

     There have only been a few times in my life where I have really experienced what it might be like to be blind.  I remember one night at camp, I was a counselor in a cabin of 8 boys.  The boys were in bunk beds around the edges of the cabin, and the counselor bed was right in the middle of the room.  Normally I would keep a flashlight with me, but hardly ever used it.  There is a lot of light, even in the woods in the middle of the night.  But this one night I woke up, and had no clue where I was.  I was in a cabin, I was a camp counselor.  Must have been cloudy so it was totally dark.  In my foggy middle of the night brain, I just could not place which cabin, or even which camp, so I got up and walked around, feeling the bunks.  OK, 4 sets of bunk beds, and I am back to my bed now.  I guess I will just go back to sleep and when I wake up I will know where I am.  Strangely there was no panic, I had no clue where I was, but I felt safe, and tired, and figured it would all be clear in the morning. 

     The other happened just the other night.  I have found that I sleep really well if it is dark in my room.  I do have an alarm clock next to my bed that gives off a fair bit of light, but other than that, the darker the better.  So middle of the night, I wake up and have use the restroom.  I slide out of bed, 3 steps to the end of my bed, turn right.  One step and slam my shin into a chest thing we put at the foot of the bed a few months ago.  Someday I am going to remember it is there and not slam into it.  Around the chest, back a bit toward the front of the bed and forward.  OK, door.  And I start to feel for the door knob.  It is gone.  I can feel that middle board on the door, the door knob should be right here.  Finally, I started to feel around some more, found a little indented handle, the kind we have on our closet doors.  I had made it, somehow to the wrong door in my room. 

     Today, the blind have a lot of things that can help them.  We had a week for blind kids at camp.  All of the participants were legally blind, which may not be totally blind.  Some were totally blind, could not see anything, but a few could see shadows or big shapes.  My first year they asked if I could lead a hike and also lead a nature walk.  There was a great little hike close to the camp, went up to the top of a hill with a beautiful view and, in the right season, blueberries.  Unfortunately they were not there is the right season, and even those who had a little vision could not see the view, but I tried.  Nature hike was a bit more successful, but took a while for me to figure out how to explain things without using sight.  Of course you can hear a bird, but most people want to see the bird.  They can hear the water of the stream, and even feel the moss growing on the rocks, but to really get down close and see what lives in that stream is not an option.  We even had a resident porcupine at camp, who was out on the field as he or she often was in the later afternoon.  Porcupines are really kind of cool animals to see, but they make no sounds and I don’t have any desire to try to catch it and pick it up so the kids can feel it. 

     But after spending 5 minutes the other night trying to find a door knob on what turned out to be my closet, I realized how hard it would be to live that way.  I have been in that room for about 8 years now, I should know where the doors are.  I cannot imagine being like that and going to a new place, like a camp, where I didn’t know where the doors were.  The canes, braille signs, things like that all help, but still it is hard to get around and do things when you cannot see.

     In Jesus’ time, probably didn’t matter much if you were totally blind or could see shapes, you probably could not see well enough to work.  And in that society, if you didn’t work, you had no value.  Hopefully you could rely on others generosity to survive. 

     There was not a great amount of concern for the blind or any disabled, their disability or illness was the fault of their sin.  And, as I mentioned before, at that time, you didn’t want to get to close to those people who were dirty, as defined as dirty by the Jewish laws, as you might also become unclean.  So by touching a beggar or blind person, maybe the sin that caused their illness or disability would be transferred to you.  Safer not to get too close.  But Jesus knew that he could not catch this sin, catch this disability, so some spit, into the mud, rub it onto his eyes and tell him to go wash it.  And he is cured. 

     John ends this chapter by saying: Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

     I took my CPR recertification class a few weeks ago.  There were only 4 of us in the class, so the instructor said “Since we will all be spending the next 6 hours together, why don’t you introduce yourself so everyone knows everyone else’s name.  I was the last to go “Robert, I work with Tri-town.”  The instructor said “Robert is a preacher, but don’t worry, he is a cool one.”  Well, that is an interesting statement.  Guess it is better than “Robert is a preacher, be careful what you say to him” or something else. 

     Later I asked “So what did you mean by “Don’t worry, he is a cool one?”  She explained that most preachers, at least in her experience, judge others.  Maybe not verbally, but they may hear you swear and make assumptions about you, or may see how you dress and make assumptions about you.  She said “You don’t seem to judge others on what they say or how they dress.” 

     As I later thought about this, I do try to look beyond someone’s outward appearance and see what it inside, but I don’t think I am always good at it.  People call 911 at the worst time, usually because they don’t know what else to do.  You have all had someone coming over to your house, and you do the half hour quick clean up.  OK, maybe you have not recently, but at some point, maybe when you had little kids?  At this moment, I would not really want visitors to come to my house.  The cats litter box needs to be changed, we have some laundry, clean but not folded and put away on our bed.  Kids have some toys out, there are dirty dishes in the sink from breakfast. 

     And often, when we get called to a house on the ambulance, they have not had time to clean up.  Maybe they have been sick for a few days or a week and so stuff has piled up a bit more than normal.  Maybe there are dishes from a few days in the sink.  Maybe they have mail and newspapers piled up on the kitchen table.   Maybe there are dirty clothes on the floor.  We are always told in classes to look for clues when we don’t know what is going on with someone.  Maybe a half empty pill bottle is sitting on the nightstand that was filled two days ago, maybe other people in the house are sick.  But the real skill is to pick out those important clues, and ignore the other stuff.  Are the dishes in the sink because they are too ill to do them, or do they live alone and just do dishes every few days. 

     There is a lot of stuff on any call that we just ignore.  You take it all in, but maybe that half empty pill bottle is because they take the pills out and use one of those little containers so they can keep track of which ones they need to take at certain times.  Maybe they are collecting their neighbors mail while their neighbors are on vacation, so that is not even their mail and newspapers on the kitchen table. 

     And this is what I try to do when I meet someone, or really interact with someone.  I am not always successful.  But maybe that is what we are called to do.  To be blind, as Jesus describes it to pick out the important stuff, but not worry about the unimportant stuff. 

     Many years ago we were told not to think about people’s differences, the color of someone’s skin didn’t matter, their nationality didn’t matter, their religious beliefs didn’t matter.  In the past 10 years, I think we have moved to a different place as a country.  I know a young lady who is very active in the Black Lives Matter movement, and a few other organizations like that.  She is very different than I am.  She is a female, she is probably 20 years younger than I am, and she is black.  Just those three things mean that she has had very different experiences than I have had.

     Those experiences are important, they help to define who she is, but do not define her.  She has said that she has been discriminated against.  This is part of her life story, which is important.  But that has not caused her to be fearful of others.  There is a subtle distinction there.  I believe that Jesus is not asking us to be blind to those experiences, but not let those experiences define who she is to us. 

     And when we meet someone who looks different, maybe displaying a religious symbol from another religion, maybe wearing certain clothes, whatever those differences are, they are important.  And because of those, they may have been treated a different way by others, but Jesus is calling us to be blind to who they are until we get to meet them. 

     The blind man was an outcast by society, this is important information to know.  And as an outcast he had to beg for food and things needed for survival.  These experiences certainly helped to define who he was, but in Jesus’ eyes, despite how he had been treated, he was a child of God.  His identity was as a beloved child of God. 

     Although I have had a few experiences, I will never know fully what it is like to be blind, but in dealing with others, hopefully I can take in all the important information, disregard the unimportant information, and not let the things that I learn influence how I view that person.