Light for seeing—Nathan Hosler—WCCOB March 30, 2014
1 Samuel 16:1-13, John 9:1-41, Ephesians 5:8-14
Sometime while Jenn and I were living in Pennsylvania for grad school I went for a run at Gretna. Though I was relatively new to trail running I had hiked and biked on the trails around Mt. Gretna my entire life. That evening I decided on a particular loop. I knew approximately how long the loop would take. I also knew the sun would set. I even knew approximately what time the sun would set. (This was, however, not taken into full consideration, perhaps I had spent too much time in my cave with all my books and was not thinking straight.) Additionally, not only was this in forest during the summer where everything is darker to begin with but the trail was on the side of a biggish hill that faced away from the setting sun.
Needless to say it started getting dark. And dark much more quickly than I had imagined.
Now we can manage certain things in the dark. Think of walking around your home in the dark. You can manage fairly well. Many of us can probably also even go up or down a stairway in the dark with relative confidence. Where we have problems though is when a stair is even just a little bit different. Translate this into a trail which has so many variations that it is impossible to memorize even in generalities.
So there I was. Halfway around an hour long loop and the smallest rocks I could see were maybe the size of a backpack…and then only ones the size of a bathtub. And they were even getting dim. And then it was dark. It was dark and I was also thinking about the stockpile of assorted stuff we had found the other week and the likely questionable fellow to whom this disturbing stuff belonged. So it was dark to the point that I was judging if I were on the trail by the feel of the plants along the path and the feel of the dirt but also increasingly nervous thinking that I could literally run into this guy and not know it until I hit him.
Without light or sight.
Sight, however not only the physical act of seeing. My running in the dark was clearly in the absence of full sight but we can “see” without truly seeing. Art is a particularly powerful example of this. Modern and abstract art is notable for this among the history of art. In college one of my more colorful professors once said, and he said it with flare for storytelling, that he liked going to the museum of modern art in downtown Chicago near our campus because he helped him to see the world differently. Specifically, he said that when he came back out into the city that he could not help but notice the patterns of the chewing gum on the sidewalks. Inside with its confusing and symbolic or intentionally un-symbolic art he learned to see differently.
Jesus gives sight
In our John passage Jesus gives sight. Specifically he gives physical sight. “As he walked along he saw…” Jesus and his disciples saw the man who could not see them. [There is power in seeing—the disciples and Jesus are clearly the actors in this]. The disciples moreover assume not only this primary acting but also presume a moral superiority. They ask, “teacher—who sinned? This man or his parents? In their theology and world view bad things don’t just happen. Bad things happen to the bad and good things happen to the good.
Jesus counters this but puts forth a reason that is perhaps even more discomforting. He says there was no sin but this happened so that “God’s works might be revealed in him.” [aside: I don’t want to get to philosophical but it seems possible that this is more the case that God’s glory should be revealed in all things rather than God actively caused this man’s blindness so that on this particularly day when Jesus is walking along he could prove to his disciples that he can heal blindness and teach them a lesson from this. We of course could spend a great deal of time discussing this but I simply want to note it as something for consideration]
After this statement of their not sinning but God being glorified Jesus makes a declaration which is particularly notable given the context of blindness and the blind man, who has still not said anything, standing in front of them. Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” And—go figure—after uttering this profound and poetic statement—Jesus spits on the ground. Makes mud. And sticks it in the still not speaking man’s eyes. What?…Seriously? How weird is that?
He then sends him to wash. And now the man acts for the first time—“Then he went and washed and came back able to see.” Jesus gave physical sight. The rocks this man used to trip on he now can see.
Samuel. Samuel was called by God to speak. Samuel and prophets are the people who can see in ways that others do not see. They see because God has granted them the gift of sight. The gift, or in some cases the curse, of sight to see what others cannot see. Seeing in this way often gets them into trouble. Or, rather, their talking about what they see to powerful people who build their power on false seeing or tightly controlled messaging—this is what gets them into trouble.
When we meet Samuel in chapter 16 we come upon him just beginning to hear from God. For the prophet this message was not particularly welcome. God says—yeah…we really need a new king. Now, we must remember this was not an election in an election year in a country in which election years are perhaps noisy and annoying but safe. This is not even an election year in a country in which the polls may be guarded by thugs and people may protest the result. This is an unplanned naming of a new king while the old king is not all that old and has just had a major military victory. This is dangerous.
So, God says, “hey Sam, why don’t you into town and anoint a new king.”
You heard the story. Samuel comes. The sons are paraded in front of him. His assumptions about what a good king might look like are challenged—somewhat oddly, why would he or we think a good looking person is going to be any good at the complex task of running a country? None are chosen. David is called from the field and he is the one. Surprise!
This is again God giving vision or sight to see what was previously unseen. Samuel’s physical sight only took him so far.
Samuel’s physical sight only took him so far.
Which takes us back to Jesus and the once-blind-now-seeing man. The story doesn’t stop with the man seeing and then going home to live a happy life of full sensory experience. No, for one this healing happened on the Sabbath so it is not destined to be a quiet and non-controversial act of mercy. As, any who have gone to the doctor know—or have heard chatter about health care reform—there is money in medicine. There may be money for good and less good reasons but there is money in medicine because the activity of doctors and those tasked with caring for our health is work. This work—in Jesus day-was restricted on the Sabbath. Now as with most everything there were different thoughts on what constituted work and what were legitimate exceptions to these restrictions.
After the religious leaders harshly and repeatedly questioned the once-blind man he not only becomes more bold in his challenging them but comes to the profound realization—“If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” After this he was promptly driven out the synagogue.
Jesus, however, finds this once-blind-and-apparently- still-a-little-blind man. He asks him, “do you believe in the Son of man?” “Who is he?” And Jesus said, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”
Praise be to God who has given, and continues to give, sight.
Praise be to God who has given, and continues to give, sight.
Honestly, I would like to stop with that. What more can be said? Jesus, for some reason, reminds us of the discomfort of this man who while seeing is still outside of his community’s center of worship. He is outside because though he sees, there are people who believe they have a monopoly on seeing rightly. Jesus claims that even those who have physical sight and believe they have religious sight may be indeed the ones who are without sight. He said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” While Jesus turns this back onto the on-looking religious leaders and we should probably not shy from asking this hard question of ourselves, I don’t want to leave the giving of the gift of sight and light too quickly.
Now back to the woods. You will be happy, but not entirely surprised, to know that I survived this ordeal. Not only that, I managed to come away with nary a bump. After it got dark I kept moving. To me if felt as though I was practically sprinting. In all likelihood however, I was probably not going very fast. It just felt fast. Since then I have run many miles on trails. Sometimes, in full light when I am full of energy and excitement I can really move. While sight is not the only factor it is a critical factor on trails with roots and trees and rocks and deer. Our passages today talk of light and sight. This light and sight are given as gifts.
At times we walk by faith there are times when we can just not see the way. We don’t know how to move forward. Into this darkness we hear Jesus call “fear not” I am with you. Think back to my running in the darkness. This darkness was dark. In darkness we go slower. If I had stopped I would not have gotten home until the sun came up again. When we find ourselves in the darkness, movement—even if slow—is critical. When the strange man spit and put mud in the eyes of the man that man still needed to get to and into the pool of Siloam. Into this movement Jesus brought sight.
At other times we are given eyes to see that which is not otherwise evident. Samuel saw a future king in the young man. What do we need eyes to see? A vision for this church. A clarity of our calling, individually or as a congregation.
At times we have the spiritual imagination to see and act in ways that are not based on the “facts” that are visible to others. We may see Jesus and cry “Lord!” We may see Jesus in the face of the one to whom we give a drink of cold water.
I am certainly not saying these things on the assumption that I can be a motivational speaker. Trust in God’s good gifts of sight is not a can-do attitude but a radical trust that God—the God who created out of the void, the God who led the people out of slavery, the God that met us in the man Jesus and turned water to wine at wedding in Cana of Galilee—this God is not done with us yet.
[Read part of lectionary Passage]
Ephesians 5:8-9 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.
Ephesians declares you are now in light and are the light
Sight and light are given as gifts. The once-blind man now has sight given to his physical eyes. Samuel is given sight to see the new king in a shepherd boy. The now-seeing man is given sight to see Jesus and cries out “Lord!” Having received these gifts these people have a ministry to bring light. As those who have received these gifts we have the calling, the ministry to bring the light.
Let us go out seeing the world—seeing Jesus—being the light.