Sunday, February 15, 2015

I was blind but now I see.

This is week three of Old School Sunday School.  And we sometimes think of Sunday School as a fairly recent phenomena, something that became a part of our churches in the fifties, when the parents of the boomers were filling churches with their growing families. 
But the first Sunday schools were set up in the 1780s to provide education to working children on their one day off from the factory.
The concept of a “Sunday” school was proposed by Robert Raikes, who raised the possibility in the Gloucester Journal.  His idea was supported by many clergy of the day, it aimed to teach the youngsters reading, writing and cyphering and a knowledge of the Bible.
It was another 90 years before children would be able to attend school during the week.  Within five years of the birth of Sunday School we are told there were over a quarter of a million English Children attending classes, that’s pretty impressive.
But most of us are more familiar with the Sunday School of our childhood with opening sessions, games, contests, learning memory verses, singing choruses and learning our bible stories via the ever present Flannel Graph”
This morning’s story is one of those Jesus stories that kids learned back in the day.  (Tell the flannelgraph story about the blind man)
This is another one of those stories that make you go hmmmm.  Not because Jesus healed a blind man, he healed all kinds of blind people in the gospels and he healed them by themselves, and in pairs and in groups.  But this story was different, different in the way it was initiated, different in the way that Jesus approached the blind man and different in the way he healed the blind man. 
John 9:1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.
The Meeting was Different  If you are familiar with most of the healings that Jesus is credited with in the New Testament you know that they were initiated by either the person who needed to be healed or by someone close to them, a relative or a friend.  Either someone came to Jesus themselves asking to be healed or approached him as he passed by or they were brought to Jesus.  But in most of these cases it was a conscious effort by someone.  The man with the demon possessed son, the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment when he was in the crowd, or blind Bartimaeus who began crying out to Jesus when he heard he was near.   But this isn’t what happened in this story.
We are told that Jesus and his disciples were walking along the street in Jerusalem when they saw a blind man who we are told had been blind from birth.  Now I don’t know what the blind man was doing, but I would suspect that he was begging, because the reality of the situation is that was all he would have been expected to do two thousand years ago.  And before I began teaching in West Africa I really didn’t grasp the enormity of what it is like to have a major handicap in the developing world.  We live in a society that is protected by a huge safety net and where people are encouraged to move beyond whatever physical challenges might limit them.  And so while there are certainly some job opportunities that might be off limits for someone with no vision, there are opportunities out there.  Not so in Jesus day, if you could not see and if there was no one to support you, then your only recourse would be to rely on the kindness of strangers. 
And so Jesus and his disciples are walking along and see this blind man and it’s here the conversation gets a little awkward.  Let’s pick up the story in John 9:1-2 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
A few years back when we were a polling station for the federal election we had some volunteers from the high school helping out.  One young lady was assisting voters when they arrived, one elderly gentleman came in a wheelchair pushed by his wife.  The gentleman was very frail and hunched over in his chair and so the young lady leaned over and very slowly and carefully asked if she could assist the gentleman.  To which he snidely replied “I’m a cripple, I’m not stupid.”  The girl was crushed. 
And I wonder if this blind man wanted to say, “Hey guys, the sign says blind not deaf, I’m right here.”
I don’t know what prompted the question from the disciples, perhaps they were picking up on a previous conversation, maybe it was just a question one of them had and it seemed like the opportune time to ask it.  And it’s still a question that is asked today, “What did I do to deserve this?”  “Is my child sick because of something I did?”  “What have I done wrong?”  In the Old Testament book of Job, Job’s friends implied that all those nasty things that happened to Job had to be his fault, obviously there were hidden sin in his life. 
It seems that we want to blame someone, that it’s not enough that it just happened.  And yet that is what Jesus seems to imply here when he responds in John 9:3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.”  Does that imply that the man had been born blind for this very moment, that he had lived a life devoid of sight as a set up for Christ to heal him at this very point?  That seems pretty heartless.  Because I am a reader I can’t imagine life with sight, it was Matthew Henry who wrote about this man “If the light is sweet, how melancholy must it needs be for a man, all his days, to eat in darkness!”   We know so little about the blind man, perhaps he was a godly man with a super positive outlook on life who radiated righteousness in spite of his circumstances, and that’s what Jesus meant by God’s power been seen in him.
When I first became a Christ follower my pastor was Jack MacKenzie.  And Jack and his wife are the godliest people I have ever met.  I first met the Mackenzies not long after they had buried their second child.  Their teenage daughter Elaine had died of a lingering disease that robbed her of movement and eventually robbed her of her breath.  And their college age son was killed in a tragic accident.  And yet through it all their love for God and trust in his purpose shone through.  And the power of God was seen in them.  There will be countless people in heaven because of the witness of Jack and Charlene through those dark days.  Did God have a hand in the death of the MacKenzie children?  I don’t think so.  Was he able to use the tragedy for good?  Most definitely.  And here a man who had been blind since birth will used to reveal the power and grace of Jesus.  He wasn’t born blind because of his parent’s sins or his own sins.  He was born blind because he was born into a broken world where bad things happen, even to good people.
And Jesus implies that this man’s greatest need wasn’t that he needed to see light, but that he needed to see the light of the world. 
And even though the man wasn’t seeking a healing from Jesus, he receives an offer of healing from Jesus.  Let’s continue with the story
John 9:6 Then he (Jesus) spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes.
The Healing was Different 
This isn’t the only time in the gospels that we see Jesus heal a person, and it’s not the only time in the bible that we see Jesus heal a blind person.  But this particular story has the most detail of any of the instances where someone was blind was given their sight.
And there are things about this story that make it different than the other stories.  It’s the only time that we see Jesus heal anyone using mud.  And different people have different opinions about the method that was used here.  Some tell us that spit was considered to have healing power back then.  I do know that mother’s spit is pretty powerful stuff from cleaning a child’s face to flattening out a wayward cowlick. 
And this wasn’t the first time that Jesus used his saliva in a healing, we see another example of a blind man being healed by Jesus in Mark 8 using his spit, saliva sounds so much classier but we read in Mark 8:23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, “Can you see anything now?”
And in Mark chapter 7 a man is brought to Jesus with a speech impediment and Jesus spit on his finger and then touched the man’s tongue and he was healed.
But this time he doesn’t just use his saliva he mixes it with dirt and makes a mud poultice which he applies to the man’s eyes.  And at least one commentator makes a case that the man had been blind since birth and Jesus is just going back to creation where God created man from the dust of the ground.  And so Jesus is correcting his lack of vision with the original building material.
But we don’t know, all we know is that in different cases Jesus used different methods to heal people.  Sometimes he touched them, sometimes they touched him.  Sometimes he spoke to the person who needed to be healed and other times he simply spoke to their loved ones.  Sometimes it was close up and there were times that it was from a distance.  And that is the reality today as well.  God still heals in different ways.  There are still people who are healed by God in a miraculous manner without any physical intervention and then there are times that people are healed through modern medicine, does that move God out of the equation.  And this isn’t a cop out but some folks are healed through death.  If we believe what we say we believe about heaven and eternity it is the ultimate healing.  We won’t live forever and often our later years aren’t always our healthiest years, but God’s  promise tells us in Revelation 21:4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”  
And it’s the same with our salvation, there are as many different salvation stories as there are people telling them.  You may have been saved at the end of the service when you were called to the altar while the congregation sang “Come as you are”.  Or it may have been around a campfire at youth camp, or maybe you were one of hundreds who responded at a Billy Graham crusade. 
I came to know Jesus because my best friend kept talking about the difference that Jesus had made in his life and then one night he dragged me out to the Wesleyan Church in Saint John.  They gave an altar call and I had no idea what they wanted me to do so after the service I told my friend that I wanted to become a Christian and we prayed together.
When Angela was in grade five the Gideon’s handed out New Testaments in her school and she read the prayer at the end of the NT and signed the commitment page, and then three years later strangers showed up at her door asking if her parents would let her go on a bus to the Sunday School at Hillside Wesleyan Church.  Your story is probably completely different than ours but that doesn’t make yours or ours any less valid.
It is interesting that the man didn’t come to Jesus for healing, Jesus offered the healing to him but he had to take steps as well.  John 9:7 He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!
In other cases Jesus just spoke and the healing happened, but those folks had asked Jesus to heal them they wanted to be healed.  Jesus is offering this man the choice.  He could do as Jesus commanded and be healed, or he could go home wash the mud off in the kitchen sink and not be healed, it was his choice. 
God’s grace is available to each of us, but it is up to us to take that which has been offered.  For example following the service Julie will be taking pictures for the new photo directory.  And so we are offering each person here the chance to be in the photo directory, all you have to do to accept that offer is to go and have your picture taken.  You may choose not to accept the offer, in which case your picture won’t be in the photo directory, but your decision to not accept the offer in no way negates the fact that the offer was made.
In theology we call it Prevenient Grace and that is simply the divine grace that precedes human decision. It exists prior to and without reference to anything humans may have done
So what happened?  I’ll let the blind man tell us in his own words.  John 9:11 He (the formerly known as “The blind man”) told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!”
The offer of a healing was extended by Jesus and the man had the option of either accepting it or rejecting it, and he accepted it.  The result was that he could see.  Now understand he did nothing to earn the gift of healing, and really did nothing, other than obey Jesus, to facilitate the healing.  Paul would later write in Ephesians 2:8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
And it would fit with this story if we read it this way Ephesians 2:8-9 God healed you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
Whether you receive a physical healing from God or a spiritual healing.  It is a gift from God.  Not every sick person that we pray for will be healed, that is God’s providence.  But every person who accepts the grace of God for a spiritual healing will be saved.  
The Response was Different  One would think that everybody who heard that the man had been healed would be excited and happy for him.  But that wasn’t what happened. 
There were those who didn’t believe it had happened, they stated that it wasn’t really the blind man instead it was someone who looked like him.  But the man insisted that it was indeed him, and you’d think he’d know.  But more than the confusion was the fact that his healing enraged the religious leaders. 
There’s a whole section of the story that wasn’t read for us this morning that tells how the Pharisees grilled this poor man about the facts of his healing.  They accused Jesus of being a sinner for healing on the Sabbath, and said that proved that he must be of the devil.  They couldn’t get past the rules, or at least their interpretation of the rules.  This seems like as good of a place as any for a Mark Twain quote, Twain said “Loyalty to a petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul.”  For the religious leaders the fact that every I was dotted and every t was crossed was much more important than the fact a man had been given a brand new life. 
Jesus summed up his reasoning another time he was accused of healing on the Sabbath when he said in Luke 14:5 Then he turned to them and said, “Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?”
It is interesting to note that in some translations the word donkey is used instead of son.  I’ve heard people use this excuse for any manner of work they do on Sunday but years ago I heard someone say “If your donkey falls in the ditch every Sunday you ought to fill in the ditch or get another donkey.”  But that is beyond the point.
The blind man wasn’t really all that interested in theological debates on whether or not he should have been healed when he had been healed.  
For him it was a very simple story he sums it up in John 9:25 . . . the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”
His life had been made different, he could see what he had never been able to see before, and with that came all kinds of changes.  He would have to find work, he would have to get used to how the people he loved looked.  As a matter of fact he would have to get used to how everything looked, he had always been blind, he had no idea what anything looked like.  He was seeing life through brand new eyes.   In another Jesus story a blind man had been healed and when Jesus asked him what he saw he said that he saw people but they looked like trees.  I don’t think the people looked like trees nearly as much as they didn’t look like what he thought people would look like.
When you become a Christ follower your life should change, and not everybody will appreciate it.  Your habits should change, your priorities should change.  When I became a Christian I stopped hanging around some of my old friends because their behaviour made me uncomfortable, and some old friends stopped hanging around with me, because me behaviour made them uncomfortable.
But to the blind man all the changes in his lifer were worth it, after all he was blind but now he could see.  And he wanted to share his experience with everyone.  In this account he tells his story four times and the even then the religious leaders don’t seem to get it, we pick up the story in John 9:26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”   I’m sure he felt like saying “If I told you once I’ve told you a dozen times, instead what he tells them is John 9:27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
And really, our story isn’t complete until we ask others the question, “Do you want to become his disciples too?”  Which is why we are told in Psalm 107:1-2 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Has the LORD redeemed you? Then speak out!
So where are you at today?  Maybe you’re like the blind man, unaware that the one who can change your life is so close.  But Jesus is just a prayer away.  And he has already offered you his salvation and his grace, but like any gift it needs to be received.  Are you ready to wash the mud off your eyes and accept the new life he is offering you?
Of this I am certain, if you accept his offer your life will never be the same.

No comments: