Lent 4 A John 9:1-41
the appendix to this sermon. It is a dramatic reading of the gospel
most of us don’t have personal contacts or personal experiences
with people who are blind. And so for some of us, the blind people
we see are living in downtown Seattle. In our limited experiences,
we usually see a blind person carrying a white cane. We watch them
standing at an intersection in downtown Seattle, waiting for the
light to change, listening to the people move across the street when
the light changes. They carefully put their white cane in front of
them, feeling the curb and where to step off the curb. We marvel at
the ability and tenacity of blind people to get around.
a boy growing up in Jackson, Minnesota, I don’t recall any blind
people in my little hometown. I don’t recall anyone with white
canes walking around our small farm town. As a boy, we would often
travel to the big cities of Chicago or Minneapolis and there we
would see things we normally didn’t see in Jackson. Chicago: that
is where I saw and experienced my first blind person. I was ten
years old, at Comisky Park to see a baseball game where the Chicago
White Sox were playing the New York Yankees and Joe DiMaggio. There
was this blind man sitting there on a stool, right in front of the
brick stadium. He had a can of pencils in his hand, dark glasses,
and was begging for money. That is, we were to put money into his
tin can and then take a pencil. I was afraid of that blind man,
trying to size him up, trying to figure out whether or not he was
really blind. That was my first experience with a blind person. I
must have been afraid of him because I remember it fifty years
I think of blindness, I think of Terry Ray from my early years here
at Grace Lutheran Church. Terry Ray was an active member of our
church, a big guy, some 250 pounds, age twenty-four, a youth
advisor. He worked with our high school kids as an advisor. One day,
the high schoolers were down at an apartment down in Des Moines, and
we were playing a volleyball game. Soon, Terry Ray, the blind
advisor, was coming onto the court, throwing his white cane on the
ground on the sidelines. He was going to be on my side, right by me,
and I was nervous. I was afraid that the volley ball would come over
the net and hit his big thick glasses; the glasses would break and
cut his face or nose. But Terry was a gamer, and all the kids
admired Terry Ray.
I think of blindness, I think of my monthly visits now to Opal Dye,
one of the two oldest members of our congregation. She is
ninety-seven years old and her mind is incredibly sharp. It is her
eyes that no longer see so well. In her blindness, she is enormously
well read, listening to tapes of books from the libraries. She is an
incredible conversationalist, and she always wants me to tell her
about the adult education classes that I am currently teaching.
is with these stories that we approach the Gospel lesson for today
about the man born blind. Blindness was a very common disease in
Jesus’ day, not like today having to go downtown Seattle or
Chicago to experience blindness. In Biblical times, blindness was
primarily caused by a water duct, located beneath the eyelids,
drying up. The water duct under the eyelids became dry and the
eyelids became puffy and swollen, as did the eyeballs themselves.
This kind of blindness was spread by flies and was aggravated by the
hot desert sun and desert sands. It was a highly contagious disease
and the only way to contain it was to quarantine the people who had
this dreaded blindness. It now has a technical scientific name,
ophthalmic conjunctivitis. You see this kind of blindness nowadays
in Third World countries, where there are swollen red eyelids and
swollen eyeballs. The point is: blindness was very common in
Biblical times. Blindness was found among your family and friends.
Jewish people of that era believed that when the Messiah came, the
Messiah would heal blindness. The prophet Isaiah said that the
Messiah would heal many diseases e.g. the deaf would hear, the lame
would walk, the lepers would be cleansed, and the blind would see
again. When Jesus came, he healed two blind people and these were
signs that the Messiah prophecies in the Old Testament had come
true. Jesus healed the man born blind and that story is in the
Gospel of John. Jesus also healed blind Bartimaeus and that story is
in the first three Gospels. Jesus healed these people of their
blindness and these healings were a sign that the Messiah and
Messianic age had finally arrived.
would like to explore with you the meaning of today’s story, the
story of Jesus healing the man born blind.
Christ and Christians heal both bodies and souls. Christians
have always been involved in healing ministries of the total
people say that Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no
earthly good. Sometimes Christians become so spiritual things that we are
not concerned about physical things; that we are so concerned about
the health of souls that we are not concerned about the health of
bodies. That was not
true of Christ nor of Christians.
and Christians have always been concerned about both the body and
me explain. Jesus was the Great Physician, and Jesus healed many
people. That was the beginning of this focus on healing ministries.
recall the story of Luke, the author of the longest book in the New
Testament, Luke and Acts. Luke was also a physician. The physician
Luke uses many technical medical terms in his book Luke/Acts. I
actually visited the archeological ruins of the medical school in
Pergammon, Turkey where Luke attended medical school. From the time
of Christ and Luke, Christians have always been involved with
colonies. The first leper colonies in the world were run by people
like Father Damien in Hawaii. Most people don’t get involved with
the care of lepers and leprosy but Christ did and so do Christians.
Why? The Messiah healed lepers and Messianic Christians have been
working with and healing people with leprosy ever since.
The first hospitals were owned and operated by churches. Let me give
you examples of how Christians have always been in the forefront of
hospitals on the frontiers. What was the first hospital in Seattle?
Yes, Providence, run by the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholics
have founded hospitals all over the world. Centuries ago, you go to
the ends of the earth and you would find Roman Catholic hospitals
have always been involved with hospitals. Two examples. Years ago, I
was a chaplain at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois.
And recently, my wife and I visited Selian Hospital in Arusha,
Tanzania, owned and operated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of
Tanzania. This hospital is under the leadership of Dr. Mark
Jacobson, number one in his medical class at the University of
Minnesota, a graduate of Harvard.
35,000 patients visit his hospital every year. Selian
Hospital is in the forefront of education about AIDS, the Bubonic
plague of our generation. Christians have always fought the diseases
and plagues of every generation in every continent. Christians are a
healing community, concerned for the health of both the body and the
our own congregation, we have women who were trained as parish
nurses and their services are invaluable to our members. When I got
sick and almost died two years ago, my wife made a strategic
telephone call to a parish nurse. Our parish nurse helped to save my
life. Many people in our parish call our parish nurses for advice.
We also have many doctors, dentists and nurses within our
congregation. We pray for the sick every week in our worship
services. Also within our own congregation, we have a sister church
down in Jamaica. We sponsor a medical clinic down in Jamaica,
associated with our sister church. A person from our parish tells me
that we send down some $50,000 worth of medical supplies to our
clinic there. Christians have always done that. We Christians always
send medical supplies to the ends of the earth where people may not
have medical supplies.
also work with government and other secular agencies for the health
of human bodies. I like to talk about Dr. Bill Foege, a graduate of
Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, a son of a missionary. Dr.
Foege is the most famous Lutheran doctor in America, and he recently
headed the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Through
the efforts of the Center for Disease Control in America, we no
longer face polio or small pox. These terrible plagues have been
omitted from the face of the earth. Dr. Foege then became director
of the Jimmy Carter Institute, also in Atlanta, and they are
eradicating river blindness and tapeworm.
Now, more recently, we discover that the richest man in the
world, Bill Gates, is dedicating billions of dollars to combat the
Black Plague of our era, AIDS. So Christians work with government
and other secular agencies to combat disease.
live in an era of great healing miracles. Medical miracles have
become so common that they are as common as the rain, the sunshine,
and the birth of babies. These miracles are so common that we
don’t even think of them being miracles any more. I am speaking to
you today and am alive today because I have been a personal
recipient of these modern medical miracle of God around us.
Today’s medical miracles are overwhelmingly common.
are concerned about the health of human bodies and the health
of human souls. The Messiah healed physical bodies and the Messianic
community also is involved with healing of physical diseases.
two for students taking notes: Spiritual blindness is worse and more
common than physical blindness. You don’t have to drive to
Seattle or Chicago to experience spiritual blindness. Spiritual
blindness is all around us, and is often as close as the figure
looking back at us from the bathroom mirror.
the end of the story for today, the Pharisees questioned: “Are we
blind?” And Jesus answered, “You better believe it. You are
blind.” The Pharisees countered Jesus, “How do you say we are
blind? We have the four pillars of faith. That is, we go to
synagogue faithfully each week. We pray every day. We give our ten
percent, our tithe. We know our Bibles. How can you say that we are
blind even though we worship faithfully, pray, give our money, and
know our Bibles? How dare you say that we are blind.” Jesus said,
“I know, but you still are blind.”
Pharisees suffered from spiritual blindness. They were blind to the
Holy Spirit. They had religion but not the Holy Spirit of Jesus’
love. They were also blind to the suffering, pain and trauma of the
enormous pain that was right before their eyes. They had no
compassion. They would see pain and injustice and there was no
compassion in their hearts. They were truly blind to both the Holy
Spirit and the human misery around them.
discover from this Gospel story for today that people who go to
church on a regular basis can still be blind. We are reminded that
people who are religious, who attend worship regularly, give money,
pray and know their Bible can be spiritually blind and be blind to
the power of the Holy Spirit and to the misery around us.
We know that many these good religious people who are here
today in our sanctuary are capable of being spiritually blind.
me, there is a lot of spiritual blindness today in our world, both
inside and outside the church. Perhaps the most awful disease in
America today is spiritual blindness.
Pharisees had their blind spots and we too have personal blind
spots. I have my blind spots and so do you. We have our blind spots
in our marriages, in our parenting, in our work habits, in our
personalities, especially in our personalities. I went to see this
friend the other night about a conflict in our parish. After I
chatted a while, my friend looked directly into my eyes and said,
“The other night during that conflict: you talked too much. You
said too many paragraphs.” Ouch.
True? Yes. I have my blind spots and you have your blind spots of
your personality. Jesus wants to heal you of your blind spots, to
heal me of my blind spots.
all have our blind spots, and we don’t quite realize our blind
spots. You drive a car and look out your rear view mirrors and side
mirrors but there are always blind spots and you can get hurt by
those blind spots.
culture is also has blind spots and is blind about so many things.
Love, happiness, marriage, sex. It happens that our culture can
become anesthetized to the world around us; anesthetized to the
violence, the sexual innuendo, the millions of people suffering from
AIDS around the world. We can become blind to these people and
situations. This is called cultural blindness.
example, I was watching a TV sitcom the other day.
An attractive young virile couple got on an elevator
together, crowded with other people. As the elevator went up, the
man and woman started a flirtatious relationship with each other.
They were giving each other the eye for twenty floors, and at the
twentieth floor, they both got off. The woman met her husband on the
twentieth floor; the man met his wife.
The man and woman each walked off with their spouse but
turned and sent one more flirt. The implication?
Cute, funny, a loving flirtatious fling. The subtle
suggestion was that love that is really exciting comes from a new
relationship. What I am suggesting that our culture, our media, our
movies, our values, are blind about what it means to love, to grasp
what it means to love each other sacrificially, to grasp what it
means to love when someone is worn out and tired. We, as a culture,
can become anesthetized to the violence, the sexual innuendo, the
enormous suffering of the world around us. We can become numb to all
of this and not see what is happening. We can become blind and truly
people can become blind. Cultures can become blind.
me share with you the most famous blindness story which illustrates
where both an individual and a culture can become blind. What
I am suggesting to you is that spiritual blindness is even worse
than physical blindness and can do more damage. Let me tell you this
story which illustrates that a person can be personally blind and
also culturally blind at the same time. You may recall the story.
is the story of John. John was born in 1740 in England. He grew up
in the Anglican Church. This little boy went to church and learned
his Bible verses. His mother died when he was only eleven years old,
and so he traveled with his father who was a ship captain. His cargo
was black slaves and he would have two to three hundred slaves down
below in the ship hole, lying next to each other. You could imagine
such an experience if you watched the film, AMISTAD.
The father himself was not a slave trader but a boat owner
who shipped the cargo of black slaves.
a storm, little John Newton was washed overboard and was picked up
on the open seas by a slave trader. Little John Newton no longer had
a mother nor father. Little John was learning to become a slave
trader like the man who rescued him. One day, John Newton was up in
his cabin, reading the Bible and also an old devotional classic by
the name of IMITATION OF CHRIST, by Thomas a Kempis. A miracle began
to occur. The Holy Spirit got inside of him and worked a miracle and
he was converted. He knew that personally he was wrong; he knew that
his culture was wrong. He personally was in complicity with the evil
of slave trading. His society was in complicity with the evils of
slave trading, but he didn’t see it. He didn’t realize or
comprehend the enormity of the evil nor his complicity with evil.
But that day, a miracle occurred and Jesus the healer got inside of
him and healed his spiritual blindness. And so John Newton composed
a song which is now one of American’s favorite hymns: “Amazing
Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was
lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” I once was blind
but I finally see what I have been doing wrong. Jesus always comes
to heal people who are blind. John had a huge personal blind spot in
his tolerance for slave trading; and did his culture. And Jesus
healed John Newton’s spiritual blindness.
sins of slave trading from two-three hundred years ago are still
corrupting America after all this time. We are still living out the
consequences of our slave trading from three centuries ago.
is possible for religious people in our day to be like the
Pharisees, to be religious in our worship life, religious in our
prayer life, religious in our tithing life, religious in our
knowledge of the Bible but our hearts still can remain hard and
blind to both the Holy Spirit and to the poverty and pain around us
in our world today.
love that song by Bob Dylan, BLOWIN IN THE WIND. “How many times
will a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see? The
answer my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in
the wind.” Yes, we religious people can pretend that we don’t
see the enormous pain in the world today, pretending we don’t see.
That is what he Pharisees did: they were blind to the pain around
them even though they were very religious. How many times will a
Christian pretend that we just don’t see? The answer is in the
Spirit, in the Wind, blowing in the Wind.
blindness is more common and worse than physical blindness.
Students: would you please again write that down: spiritual
blindness is more common and even worse than physical blindness.
Millions of people die, billions of people die, because of spiritual
blindness. People starve because the spiritually blind do not see
the poorest of the poor starving.
number three for students taking notes. When you know that Jesus
heals your blindness, you worship him. In the Gospel story for
today, the blind man was asked: Who healed you? First the blind man
answered, “A prophet healed me.” Then he answered, “The Son of
Man healed me.” In the Gospel lesson, when the blind man finally
realized that Jesus healed him, he fell down on his knees and
worshipped Jesus. And when you personally finally realize that God
has healed your body of physical illness and/or our heart of your
spiritual blindness, you deeply appreciate his healing inside of you
and you worship him. John Newton said, “Thank you Jesus for
healing me of my spiritual blindness so that I could finally see the
tragedy of slave trading.”
pray the same thing today, “Thank you Jesus for healing me of my
alcoholism, my drug addiction, my anger, my lust, my selfishness.
Thank you Jesus for healing me.” In that spirit of thanksgiving,
we worship Jesus.
conclude, in the story for today, did Jesus the Messiah heal the
blind man? Yes, yes, yes. Can Jesus the Messiah heal our blindness
today? The answer is yes, yes, yes.
SERMON: Have the
children close their eyes and pretend to be blind. Have them guess
the color of a book in your hand. Then have them guess how many
hands you have in the air. Then how many fingers you are extending
from your hand. Each time, the students will peek and shout the
correct answer because they are sneaking a look. People will laugh.
They, the children, just don’t want to be blind and neither do
blind people. Ask them: so many years ago, which person in the Bible
healed blindness? The children will say one word together,
“Jesus.” That’s right. Jesus healed people of blindness.
The reading of the Gospel can be converted into a play and is great
fun for the congregation. This reading can be reprinted and put into
a bulletin or pew rack. This reading can be found under Lent 4,
Series A. You want the whole congregation to read the best lines and
the best lines are spoken by the Pharisees. You need a blind man
(good reader), a set of parents of the blind man, a Jesus, a
narrator, a set of people to pay the disciples/neighbors. This sets
us a wonderful interaction between the blind man and the Pharisees
(the congregation). The congregation loves this reading and it needs
to be re-enacted with this text.
STORY OF THE MAN BORN BLIND
As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth.
And his disciples asked him,
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born
It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the
works of God might be revealed in him. We must work the works of God
who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work.
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the
spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him,
Go; wash in the pool of Siloam.
So he went and washed and came back seeing.
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar,
Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?
Yes, he is the one who begs.
Others said, No, it is someone else.
And the blind beggar said,
I am the man.
Then how were your eyes opened?
The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said
to me, `Go to Siloam and wash.'
So I went and washed and received my sight.
The neighbors said to him,
Where is he, the man who healed you?
I do not know.
They brought him to the Pharisees, the man who had formerly
been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened
his eyes. The Pharisees
asked the man how he had received his sight.
And he said to them,
He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.
Some of the Pharisees said,
This man Jesus is not from God, for he does not keep the
But others of the Pharisees said,
How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?
There was a division among them.
So they again said to the blind man,
What do you say about Jesus, since he has opened your eyes?
He is a prophet.
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had
received his sight, so they called the parents of the man who had
received his sight, and asked them,
Is this your son, who you say was born blind?
How then does he now see?
We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind, but
how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him how it happened.
He is of age, he will speak for himself.
His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the
Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be
Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.
Therefore, his parents said, "He is of age, ask
him." So for the
second time the Pharisees called the man who had been blind, and
said to him,
Give God the praise! We
know that this man Jesus is a sinner.
Whether Jesus is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know,
that though I was blind, now I see.
What did he do to you? How
did he open your eyes?
I have told you already, and you would not listen.
Why do you want to hear it again?
Do you too want to become his disciples?
You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.
We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we
do not know where he comes from.
Why, this is a marvel! You
do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is
a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.
Never since the world began has it been heard that any one
opened the eyes of a man born blind.
If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.
You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?
And they threw him out.
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and having found
him, he said,
Do you believe in the Son of man?
And who is he, sir, that
I may believe in him?
You have seen him; it is he who speaks to you.
Lord, I believe.
And the man worshiped Jesus!
For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not
see may see, and that those who see may become blind.
Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to
Are we also blind?
If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you
say, "we see,” your guilt remains.
Here ends the Gospel for today.