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John 9:1-41

Pr. Craig Mueller


 Going blind helped Isaac Lidsky live life with his eyes wide open. That’s what he says in a great TED talk. What does it feel like to see? he asks. “It’s immediate and passive. You open your eyes and there’s the world. Seeing is believing. Sight is truth,” right? We’ll come back to Isaac later in the sermon.

 The thing is: most of us don’t see very well, at least spiritually speaking. I’ll let your optometrist discuss your eyesight with you. We’re going to reflect on lenses for our spiritual lives. Starting with the man born blind in today’s gospel. A life lens in biblical times was this: blindness or a disability was the result of sin. We may not think that way today. But when tragedy strikes or things go wrong for us, we still wonder what we did to deserve it.

 Yet it is usually the hardest things we face—and would certainly never choose—that enable to look at life in a new way. And sometimes in those very circumstances we’re able to see the work of God, the mystery of God, the presence of God—in clearer, sharper focus.

 Things are not always what they seem. That’s what we learn from this story. Those who can “see” end up being the ones who are spiritually blind. Most of the characters do much talking and little listening. The Pharisees, Judeans, neighbors, parents. They have defined the man by his blindness. Just like we look upon someone and identify them as the divorced woman, the gay guy, the black man, the woman in the wheelchair, the friend who votes differently than I, the trans owner of the bakery.

 By the end of the story, the only one who really sees is the man who was born blind. He’s been questioned, interrogated, belittled. He can only say a few things about Jesus: “he put mud on my eyes. I washed. I was blind, but now I see.” Yet the sight the man gains is more than what meets the eye. It is faith. And a deeper insight into truth.

 This gospel asks us to look at our lenses. What are we not seeing?

 From age 12 to 25 Isaac Lidsky’s retinas gradually deteriorated. He says that his sight became an “increasingly bizarre carnival funhouse hall of mirrors and illusions.” For example, when he thought he was approaching a salesperson, it was a mannequin.

 Isaac came to see that what we see is not universal truth or objective reality. In his words: “What we see is a unique, personal, virtual reality that is masterfully constructed by our brain.” He explains that the visual cortex takes up about 30% of our brain and uses two-thirds of our brain’s processing resources. Our memories, thoughts, emotions, and understanding of the world are part of it as well. What we see affects how we feel, and how we feel affects what we see.

 So . . . we create our own realities. Fear replaces the unknown with the awful, Isaac says. Exactly when we need insight and a different lens for life, Isaac goes on, “fear beats a retreat deep inside your mind, shrinking and distorting our view, drowning your capacity for critical thought with a flood of disrupting emotions. We substitute assumption for reason. And we think the worst. “Awfulizing” is what therapists call it.

 At other times we’re like Samuel in the first reading, looking only on outward appearances. And not seeing with the heart, as God does. Not seeing the truth of who we are. Not seeing the dignity of the other person. Not seeing the gifts and blessings that fill our lives.

 Poet David Whyte writes: Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.

 The early church made connections between this gospel and the Easter Vigil at which adults would be baptized. One image for baptism is enlightenment. It begins by us admitting that we are spiritually blind. That we’re in the dark. That we’re having problems seeing. That our sin is a blinder that keep us from seeing the needs of others, the needs of the poor, the needs of the earth.

 So we come to church, to this school for the blind, if you will. At the great Vigil of Easter—the pinnacle of our year together—the large Easter candle will be carried into the dark church. We will gather around the light of its flame. “The light of Christ,” we will sing. This is the light that teaches us how to see. This is the light that shatters the darkness of sin, hate, injustice, exclusivity.

 At the Easter Vigil Merlin and Josh will be immersed in the waters of grace. They will be given a name: child of God. They will be washed and anointed. They will be given a new lens for life.

 Eyes wide open. The light of baptism becomes a lens to help us see God—often right in front of our eyes.

 My hope, my prayer is this: that this community lives with eyes wide open. See the presence of God in the poor and the immigrant and the heartbroken. Live with eyes wide open. See the awesome truth that you are loved, that you are made of love, that you are made for love. Live with eyes wide open. Despite the hurts, stress and anxiety that cloud our lens, light breaks forth. Live with eyes wide open. In God’s grace and healing, we who are blind begin to see!