Online Message from March 22, 2020

~ Message delivered by Jeanne Choy Tate ~

Opening prayer

Today’s lectionary passage is one of the many gospel stories labeled a “miracle” story. In our modern age that is tantamount to dismissing that story as unbelievable. When I first looked at this passage a month ago, I thought oh great now I can preach on being blind to privilege. But even as we become aware of the inequities of our health system for the neediest, the reality of the pandemic that now surrounds us makes that seem less relevant.

 

But the story of the Man born Blind can also be seen as a metaphor for the different ways people react to change…and to healing. Instead of a blind man by the road, try seeing a neighbor down the street infected with corona virus. Then take notice of how the man’s neighbors, his religious leaders, and even his own parents react to change. Hear the word of God in this retelling of this story in John 9:

 

John 9:  The Blind man of siloam

As the story opens, Jesus and his disciples are walking along the road when they see a beggar born blind from birth. “Rabbi,” the disciples ask, “who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

 

Jesus answers, saying: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of the One who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light for I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”. Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

 

The man’s new ability to see shakes his neighbors so much that they no longer recognize him. Some say “It is he” while others say “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” They kept asking him, “How could this happen?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”

 

So the neighbors are so shaken by this change that they haul the man before the Pharisees for answers who do not believe that he has been blind and then received his sight. So they call for his parents and ask, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?” His parents answer, “This is our son who was born blind but we do not know how it is that now he sees. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

 

So for a second time the Pharisees call the man who had been blind and they say to him, “Give credit to God! We know this man is a sinner and an imposter.” He answers, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. All I know is that I was blind and now I see.” They say to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answers, “I have already told you but you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” “Here is an astonishing thing! You know nothing about him, but the fact is he opened my eyes. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” The Pharisees answered him, “You were born in sin, and yet are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

 

How could this happen? That is a question most of us have been asking ourselves and anyone else we can talk with these past weeks. We may not be asking if someone sinned—though maybe we should. For, in all likelihood, not taking climate change seriously or dismantling health systems that deal with epidemics can be counted as sins.

But Jesus says who sinned is not the issue. The real question is whether people are willing to really see what is going on and to change. In this story, the neighbors, the Pharisees and the parents all fail to realize they are blind and in need of healing. They are not open to new ways of seeing. Like them, we too find it hard to see our own blind spots. And it may be even harder to admit when we are in need of healing.

This is the fourth Sunday in Lent. On the first Sunday of Lent—which seems like a lifetime ago–in Bible study we talked about how lent is primarily seen as a time of discipline where we whip our weak and wayward wills into shape.

But there is another way to look at lent. Lent can be seen as a time to enter the wilderness and face the unknown…..a time for unknowing our familiar selves that get so easily camouflaged in our busy city lives.

Little did we know a month ago that a corona virus would drive all of us into wilderness isolation where we would have to face the unknown on a daily basis. The world we used to trust to be stable has been exposed and laid bare. The self we were oh so familiar with is now experiencing the disorienting wilderness of this year’s Lent. All the distractions and busyness we are usually dependent upon have been forcibly removed. We have had to recognize just how blind we have been in assuming that our daily lives would always go on largely changed.

Carol deFrancis asked, “How can you possibly unknow yourself when your self is all around you? At the time she asked that question, it seemed like it would take a lot of work to unknow ourselves. Now the corona virus has done that hard work for us.

For Lent this year is right up in our face, demanding that we open up these old eyes and see in new ways. Change has entered our lives. Change we did not ask for and more change than we could ever have thought possible. We have had no choice but to see our lives differently.

You may have heard that the Chinese word for Crisis is made up of two characters, danger and opportunity. We have here in this crisis an opportunity to find new ways of connecting with each other. We now have the time to connect with those we have neglected. We can use the phone instead of texting. We can experiment with new ways of going ddeper into relationships. I have discovered the unique pleasure of creating small videos to communicate with my granddaughters. I think this new found ability will serve me well as they grow older and I see them less often..

God’s love is at work everywhere in the world around us. Everywhere Jesus is bringing healing into soul threatening situations. This space of social distancing can be a gift of grace, a time of unknowing. Over the coming weeks, we will face the choice to see or to turn away.  The question is, are we willing to see it that way? “Are we willing” Debie Thomas asks “To see that we are fragile.  That we are one — interdependent and interconnected.  That our daily choices have life-and-death consequences for other people.  That unselfish love is risky, inconvenient, and essential.”

“Will we allow the ground we stand on to remain pliable, or will we harden our stance and refuse to see and change?  Will we be flexible in the ways we extend love across distances, or will we hunker down in fear and suspicion?  Will we dare to be the Church in new ways, even as we practice quarantines and social distancing — or will we forget that we are one body, connected and interdependent, incomplete without each other?  Will we be brave enough to look our own vulnerability — our own mortality —  in the eye, and trust that God is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death?

Blessing for Seeing

It seems it should

be simple enough

to bless your eyes —

but there is so much else

you will need

for the seeing.

You will need courage

to open your eyes

where it would be easier

to let them

remain closed.

You will need wisdom

to question what it is

that you see.

You will need to know

when to look more closely,

that you may see

beneath what you see

and between what you see

and behind what you see.

Likewise you will need to know

when to still your eyes

just for a space

so that the seeing

that pierces your heart

will not paralyze it.

Patience will come in handy,

that you will let yourself

learn all over again

what it means to look.

And imagination,

so that you can see

what is not yet there:

what is possible

in that dreaming-place

where seeing becomes

vision.

You will need wonder

to let yourself be dazzled

and grace

to ward off despair;

illumination

to see clearly

and intuition

to see in the dark.

Mercy, but all this

is quite a lot

and it will take

a lifetime

at least

for the learning.

So perhaps

we should simply

begin here

and say:

Let a blessing

be upon

eyes.

May you see.

May you see.

May you see.

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