What is the most amazing or remarkable thing you’ve ever seen? A time of congregational sharing…
When I was 7 years old, I had my eye-sight tested for the first time. There wasn’t much opportunity for routine testing when you lived out in the bush. But, moving to the metropolis of Ft. Nelson, population about 1000 at the time, something triggered the thought that perhaps, this girl couldn’t see too well. Well – testing was done, glasses were ordered, and several weeks later, they arrived. I tried them on – and I was gob-smacked with amazement. What a new world opened up before me. I remember staring at a green tree in the yard, and realizing that the tree was made up of a gazillion leaves and every leaf was dancing. The beauty of it was overwhelming.
Our scriptures today open up worlds of seeing, and perceiving, of insight, and oversight, of physical and psychological blindness. There is opportunity for us to `look at’ what we have been conditioned to see, and insight perhaps into how others see. Is there a way that we can all be healed of blindness?
From the Hebrew scriptures we find the Samuel, the priest and prophet, being called upon to choose a new king to eventually succeed Saul. He goes at the task with the criteria that is expected in his culture – but God shows him a new way of looking at leadership. It’s not necessarily in the eldest, the strongest – it’s in the character that is still developing.
In the gospel Jesus also confronts his own culture. Blindness and other ailments were often viewed in ancient times as punishment for sin. The disciples of Jesus and the leaders who oppose him assume this when they ask the question of whose sin lead to his blindness. Biblical scholar Richard Rohrbaugh speaks of an ancient custom of spitting in the presence of the blind in order to protect oneself from the “evil eye.” Jesus transforms that act of disdain into one of healing. He too spits – but uses the spittle to make mud, applying it to the eyes of this man, gives him instructions for washing – the man sees, it’s all good and everyone lives happily ever after… Except- not quite.
What happens next is amazing – people argue about whether this is the same man they’ve seen – with their own eyes – day after day. Had they ever really noticed him before? The Pharisees get involved, they haul the parents, who are under pressure to conform or be kicked out of the temple. Where there could be/should be rejoicing in a mysterious and miraculous healing, there is condemnation and dismissal – and it just gets ridiculous.
Sometimes we miss the miracle in the search for something else. I admit that sometimes I get discouraged when there are so few of us on a Sunday morning – as much as I want to say `size doesn’t matter’ at some point, it becomes unsustainable. But I also need to trust that what we do, does affect people – and I hope, mostly in a life-giving way…
Last Sunday, I shared the story of a difficult time in my life in 2002, and the wonderful gift of a Get Well card from a seven year old child. She meant to say `Get Well Soon’, but wrote `Get a Well Soon’ which was a perfect reminder to draw deeply from the Living Water of God’s love. I posted the sermon on the website. Guess who read it. The little girl’s mother, Alyssa, who is currently living on the other side of the planet – and she says she will share it with Laura. I don’t know what is going on in the life of this now 22 year old young woman, but I hope it lifts her spirits to know that this simple act of kindness that she did for me as a child, is still blessing my life.
I watched a short video this week of Brene’ Brown, a researcher, story-teller who was studying what makes people feel a sense of worthiness and connectedness and to her great surprise, it included risking vulnerability. She said that we find so many ways to numb our vulnerability, and that includes “We pretend that what we do doesn’t affect people.” But it does…
In the song Amazing Grace, John Newton, a former slave trader realizes the depth of human suffering that he is causing and changes his actions, – doesn’t justify them or blame someone else for them. John Newton was born in London in 1725, and had kind of a wild start, and spent many years at sea, involved with the slave trade. His conversion came about after his ship nearly went down in a storm off the coast of Ireland. Apparently the cargo shifted and blocked a hole in the ship, and they were able to make land.
However, it was not until 1788, 34 years after leaving it that he renounced his former slaving profession by publishing a blazing pamphlet called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” The tract described the horrific conditions on slave ships and Newton apologized for making a public statement so many years after participating in the trade: “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” The pamphlet was so popular it was reprinted several times and sent to every member of Parliament. Under the leadership of MP William Wilberforce, the English civil government outlawed slavery in Great Britain in 1807 and Newton lived to see it, dying in December of that year.”
Sometimes transformation comes quickly, but more often it is a slow but sure reorientation – especially if, as in the case for John Newton, the old system was working pretty good for ya! In either case, it takes a willingness to look honestly at ourselves and what we are doing, what we believed and what has shifted. It takes courage and vulnerability to take our blinders off.
Stephen Marche writing for the Walrus magazine this month talks about the importance of truth telling, about being willing to see and say what’s going on In his article “This American Carnage” he says “The most obvious acts of resistance to Trumpism are seeing and speaking clearly. Writing itself, the attempt to make sense, is now a political art. Science, the attempt to describe the world, is now a political art. Whether we want it or not, anyone who observes and reports is now an agent. Fact-checking and peer review are no longer abstruse functions of professional castes; they are sacred obligations. To check a fact is to preserve a white dove in the heart of the temple.”
Some questions and challenges for us this week:
Where have you been blind, but now you see?
What is calling you to take a deeper look?
This week when you see someone that you perhaps encounter with a bit of inner resistance – try to see them in a new light.
When you hear an idea that makes you bristle… try to understand what hope or fear is behind the idea you resist.
Be open to seeing with the eyes of curiousity and compassion.
A time of silent reflection followed by the song: “I can see clearly now.”