The vision for you (and the whole world)
Sermon, March 15th, 2020
Rev. Sarah Taylor Peck
+++John 9:1-21, 24-25 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He 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.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” For the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
Well, here we are. The third Sunday of Lent, this holy time where we come to church more, where we take on spiritual practices, where we fast or pray or come to church more- and look, I am in an empty church, and we are worshiping in a new way because COVID-19 is making it’s way through our community. And I bet this is a disappointment to many of us.
Why can’t we go to church? Why can’t our kids go to school? Is this an overreaction? A punishment from God to our community? Is there a reason, or a logical explanation?
I want to tell you a story. In the spring of 2010- 3 months before my wedding, Andrew and I went for a food tasting at our reception site with my mom. This is a typical fun outing for those who are having a big wedding like ours. We went to the Harvard Faculty Club, which is where we were to have our reception, and we were given a preview of the wine and food that would be served to our guests.
It was an incredible night. Penne pasta with chicken parmesan, three different salads to taste and choose from, tasting a few passed appetizers to decide between mini egg rolls or fried asparagus with dip. We tried different wine options- it was a treat.
My mom and I came back to my tiny Boston apartment that night, remembering the fun night out. But then, after we went to bed, I heard my mom getting sick in our one bathroom. I thought to myself: oh, she had too much wine.
But twenty minutes later, I too was feeling sick- and we were like a circus taking turns in that little bathroom.
One thing was for sure that next day: we could NOT serve any of the food we tasted at our wedding reception- none of us could stomach it.
But then, we got a call from the Harvard Faculty Club, and we learned that they had an outbreak of the norovirus, and they were closing down the faculty club indefinitely to disinfect, clean, and let the virus die.
My first thought was about my own wedding reception. They couldn’t do this to me! We had waited a year to get married, to find the right spot to celebrate, to send out invitations and do tastings and start to think about decorating.
But after my own gut reaction passed, I started to realize- they were doing what they had to do for the community, to keep everyone safe. To protect the people of our community.
The norovirus kills 200,000 people worldwide each year, and 50,000 of those are children under age 5. It spreads quickly, and it just isn’t worth the risk of hospitalizing people for dehydration, risking the heath of our older and younger populations.
Whatever inconvenience it was for me and anyone else planning an event there, it was worth it because we had to prioritize community health over individual health.
And the same is true today.
With the COVID 19 outbreak, maybe many of you are thinking some of these thoughts: why does MY church have to be cancelled, can’t we all just be extra cautious and thoughtful, can’t people who aren’t feeling well stay home? Won’t God just protect us and keep us safe because we are worshiping?
People have been trying to make sense of human hardship and assign reasoning and logic to what we face for generations.
We try to draw lines where there are no lines, we try to make meaning where there is no meaning.
Haven’t you done the same thing?
In our scripture reading from today, Jesus wanders into a little town and meets a man who has been blind from birth.
Immediately, people begin to question Jesus saying: Who sinned to make this man blind? Him? His Parents?
It’s as if they are asking Jesus: why him? Wouldn’t God just protect him if he was faithful?
It’s important for all of us to realize that Jesus refuses to answer their questions. Jesus puts no attention, no merit and no investment in this kind of thinking. He does not allow his followers to draw lines between our own missteps and the suffering of the people we love—or our own suffering.
By omission- Jesus is tearing down that old cliché phrase that ‘everything happens for a reason’ because, often, it doesn’t.
Then, Jesus heals this man from his blindness, and the man goes out and shares the good news of Christ with his neighbors.
When the man’s community realizes he has been healed, instead of celebrating- they become fixated on the strict regimen of the religious law saying: Jesus did not observe the Sabbath! We have certain traditions and expectations for what we do and how we do it on the Sabbath- and Jesus broke the rules!
They can focus on nothing else: as if religious rules and law are the only hope they can cling to…
Today, we are taking about vision. You might think that this theme is about the blind man receiving sight- perhaps you read the scripture today and thought to yourself: ah ha! I already know what this sermon will be about!
But you would be wrong.
The blind man in the scripture reading today received his sight- and it was a blessing and a surprise and a miracle- but it is not the point of the story.
Plenty of blind people in Jesus’ time did not receive their sight. Throughout all of history- we know that many children are born blind and very few receive the blessing of their sight again.
The vision that God offers God’s people in this text is reminding them where to look for the holy. God is talking to all of us.
Christ says: do not make a connection between hardship and brokenness or sin. It is not our actions or mistakes that create hardship- instead: the world is just hard sometimes.
Children are born blind. Pandemics sweep across the world sometimes. We cancel school and church and we engage in social distancing because the world has hard things and difficult situations that we have to navigate with care. Heartbreak affects us all at different times and in different ways: but this is not God’s work.
Instead: look for signs of God among our hardships. Begin to look beyond school and church closings, and instead focus on the gift of a few hours with the ones we love, the opportunity to draw together as a community.
Instead of fixating on our interpretation of religious law, or focusing on the importance of physically coming to church the way we always have: savor moments of God’s light and hope seeping through in the in-between time. Look for God in the knitting together of community, the savored moments with friends…
Christ also models to us what is important to him. He goes outside the lines, outside tradition, and outside routine to bring healing and health the community.
Jesus puts healing over tradition.
Jesus shows us what it looks like to lead with love. We heal, protect, and preserve the well-being of our community before we worry about the religious traditions we are used to.
We are not worshiping together this morning, and that is difficult. I wish we were all in the same room and I wish we could do church and sabbath the way we always have.
But you are doing the work of God by protecting your neighbors and the least of these- the most vulnerable, the ones who need healing and strength. We are engaging in healthy social distancing to do the work Jesus modeled for us: protecting the vulnerable, prioritizing healing, and working for the good of our community.
Thank you for doing this difficult work, it is the work of God. My prayers are with you until we can meet in person again. Amen.