“Hey Mister, Are You Blind?”

Fourth Sunday in Lent                                                                      30 March 2014

(1 Samuel 16:1-13   Psalm 23   Ephesians 5:8-14   John 9:1-41)

“Hey Mister, Are You Blind?”

Last week I was walking down 14th St. in NW Washington, DC.  This was the corridor where the race riots began in the 1960s.  As I crossed over Vermont Ave., I passed a homeless man sitting on the steps of a church.  I sort of noticed him but not really, at least not until he said in a loud voice:  “Hey mister, are you blind? Can’t you see that I need your help?  Later that same evening, I was in China Town, and outside the Public Library I passed a whole group of individuals who were sleeping on the heating grates that line the sidewalk, trying to grasp onto a little warmth on a cold night. 

On Friday morning I had a breakfast meeting to help plan a strategy to better minister to our prisoner population here in Adams County, while at the same time we are working to plan better ways to feed hungry families on weekends.

At the same time we are partnering with other congregations on the Loaves and Fishes Initiative on the first day of the Synod Assembly in June to prepare 300,000 or more meals to help feed people who are hungry in Central Pennsylvania.  900 volunteers are needed.

On Wednesday of this past week I received a call from River Rock Academy, a school for adjudicated youth, hoping to find support for a family of six who is setting up a home here in Gettysburg.  She called here because many of the staff from River Rock are here in December to help with Holiday Family Outreach. 

And as the Gettysburg C.A.R.E.S. program for sleeping in churches comes to an end tonight until the fall, I am aware that there may be 8-9 individuals who are without housing.

And this doesn’t even touch those who are in anguish as the death toll continues to rise in the mudslide disaster in Washington State.   How can our hearts not be blind to the needs of so many of God’s children around us?  Tragedies and disasters continue to multiply, but my heart goes back to the man suiting on the church steps on 14th St., NW, when he yelled out:  “Hey Mister, are you blind?   Can’t you see I need your help?”

“Hey Mister, are you blind?” 

A few years ago, I was in Baltimore and I got off the metro one stop too early.  It was night and I knew it as soon as I came up out of the station.  But in walking only two blocks, it chilled my heart when I saw a child shoeless, a few teenager exchanging money for some white stuff, and even a grown man rustling through some garbage cans.

“Hey Mister, are you blind?”

Of all the people in today’s Gospel reading—the blind man, Jesus, the disciples, the neighbors, the Pharisees, parents, the Jews—they all had their own blindness in various ways.  The ones that always bothered me the most were the neighbors of the man, the ones who did not recognize him once his sight was given to him by Jesus.  Isn’t it odd that people who knew him as a blind man do not know him once he recovers his sight?  Maybe not, as I wonder how often we define those around us by their shortcomings, challenges and perceived deficits.  [With all our homegrown stereotypes intact, we say], That man is homeless, or that woman is divorced. He’s a high school dropout. She’s a single mom. He’s an alcoholic. She’s bipolar.  And we sometimes are no easier on ourselves, as we allow past failures or mistakes to define how we see ourselves.  The friends of the man born blind have so defined him by his blindness, so completely in terms of his disability that they cannot even recognize him when he does regain his sight.

“Hey Mister, are you blind?”

One of the hallmarks of John’s Gospel is that whenever Jesus arrives on the scene and in our lives, nothing is ever the same again. Limitations and shortcomings fall by the wayside with the One who turns water into wine at Cana. Divisions and prejudices, as like Samaritans and Jews, fade away in the presence of the One who brings living water to the woman at the well.  And the One who can heal a blind man in order to make him a more viable member of the community, is the one who offers each one of us life in abundance.

[Gavin and Deanna, today I want to welcome you into full membership into this community of St. James.  Please know that we all are sometime blind in our love for each other and for those beyond our walls.  But, please also know, that the Christ who gave sight to the blind man is the one who continues to guide us on our journey.  We welcome you to walk this journey together with us.]

 Even though the title of this story may be, The Man Born Blind, let’s not get stuck there, because this Gospel story is much more about Jesus who comes to transform that man, the same Jesus who comes to transform each one of us, the same Jesus who comes to cure our blindness, to a new way of seeing all that is going on around us, to be truly transformed by the living God.

When John Newton, wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” he wrote this hymn as a testimony to God’s transforming power in his own life, after years of being a hardened slave trader, to one of defending the Gospel he had so long despised.

On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, may we be open to this same disturbing and transforming, and healing power that removes any and all blindness from our eyes and our hearts, anything that might prevent us from carrying and loving all whom God carries and loves.  Amen.

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