Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
March 26, 2017
“Who Can We Find to Blame”
John 9: 1-41 - Text is from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) with some adaptations from The Message
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind since birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, [causing] this man to be born blind; him or his parents?”
When a little boy brought his “My Lil Pony” backpack to school, administrators in Ashville, North Carolina, told him he couldn’t because it “triggered bullying.” And if he were bullied, it would be his fault, not those who were so threatened by the sight of a little boy with a cartoon backpack that they couldn’t control themselves. After a media storm, the school apologized and recognized that this was actually a teachable moment to address the wider issue of bullying. They came around.
But not the Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia. They expelled an 8 year old girl because she looked and dressed too much like a boy. She was not upholding “biblical standards.” When confronted, they just dug their heels in deeper. When exposed by the child’s grandparents and caught by the media, the school claimed victimhood. They claimed they were being bullied by a secular society that doesn’t understand. As their lawyers explained, “Parents send their children to this School because of our Christian beliefs and standards. We have a duty to create an environment that is supportive of these Christian values. We cannot have conflicting messages or standards because such conflict will confuse students and frustrate parents who entrust their children to us.”
First, they blamed her grandparents for lying and the media for distorting the truth. Then they claimed that they did not target little Sunnie Kahle but in the same statement claimed that they must, they had to discriminate to protect parents and their kids from unchristian beliefs and standards – which apparently includes telling a girl to grow her hair longer and wear pretty dresses because Jesus said so.
White evangelicals have a persecution complex. In fact, a recent poll found that white evangelicals believe they are the most highly persecuted group in America – much worse than Muslims. Now, Jesus was persecuted. But it was for telling those who can see they are blind. But that comes later.
3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
But wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus just now blame God? And make God sound awful? It sounds like God created him blind so that a miracle could be worked through him? Or was it that because he was born blind, the works of God could be revealed through him? Was this like Paul said, “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness?” That’s a sticky issue that isn’t resolved here but is worth exploring at another time.
Again as the story began, the assumption was made that surely this man sinned. Or that his parents sinned. Surely someone is to blame. Jesus called this out as absurd. One’s abilities or disabilities are not linked in any way to sin, even though such ideas then and now still persist.
6 When Jesus [cleared up the misunderstanding about sin,], he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Now go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So the man went and washed and came back able to see.
8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit here and beg?” 9 Some were saying yes, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it’s someone [who looks] like him.” The man himself kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He kept answering, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I don’t know.”
Did you notice how the neighbors only saw him as a blind man? And when he wasn’t blind anymore, they didn’t know what to do. When they didn’t have a category with which to judge him anymore, they didn’t know who he was. When the man could see, the public went blind.
13 They marched the man who had formerly been blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 When the Pharisees grilled the man on how he had received his sight, he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees responded [well, then], “That man is [clearly] not from God, for he [worked on] the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man said, “He is a prophet.”
The Pharisees did not like that answer. Listen:
18 So then, [they] didn’t believe that he had been blind [in the first place]. They called the parents of the man 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “This is our son, and he was born blind; 21 but we don’t know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him; he’s a grown man. He can speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid because the [religious authorities] had already said that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.23 His parents were intimidated, so therefore they said, “He is of age; ask him.”
The parents were afraid, so they deflected. But they were also correct. Ask him yourself. But, oh that’s right. People couldn’t see him as anything but blind. Or the man “formerly known as blind.” And when they didn’t like his answers, they kept trying to find someone or something to explain him away. They add the classic move of speaking about someone with a disability instead of to them.
24 So for the second time the Pharisees called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give [your] glory to God! For we know that this man [who allegedly healed you] is a sinner.” 25 The man answered, “I don’t know about all that; whether or not he’s a sinner. But one thing I do know. I was blind, and now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I’ve already told you, and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
Good come back!
28 They [were repulsed] and reviled him, [indignantly] saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man [referring to Jesus], we don’t know where he comes from.” 30 The man replied, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he does listen to anyone who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 So, if this man were not from God, he could do nothing, right?”
You can just see their blood pressures rising. Their minds working overdrive trying to figure out how they can spin this. Finally they sputter:
34 “You were born entirely in sin, and you’re trying to teach us?” [How dare you.] And so they drove him out.
The blame game. If you don’t want to believe someone, throw sin around as a label. Then claim you are the real victim. We have to discriminate against you. It’s straight out of press-secretary school.
When their point of view is not validated, by most especially Jesus, they claim to be shocked. They’re taken-aback, insulted, and lash out: “You’re the law-breaker. You’re the sinner.” Pharisees, then and now, persist in their assertion that things they disapprove of equal sin.
Like Christians today who blame everyone else for having bad morals because we can’t rely on societally-reinforced approval for discrimination anymore. They feel persecuted so we have to discriminate against you. And then like the man born blind, the marginalized are further marginalized.
The UCC aired some TV commercials about ten years ago. They were so controversial that many networks refused to play them. In my favorite, the scene is of two bouncers at the door of a church – complete with red velvet ropes – keeping some people out and letting other people in. Christian conservatives like Albert Mohler cried foul. They claimed we were depicting them in a negative light – calling them discriminatory. “No one has bouncers at their door keeping gays, the disabled, and people of color out.” Those critics never once cared that this was it felt like, this is what it feels like, to many people. Instead they made it all about themselves and cried victim. And in the debate about people who feel invisible, they were made invisible. Stigmatized. Marginalized. Victimized.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven the man out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Point him out to me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees overheard him and said, “Surely [you’re not saying] we are blind, are you?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But [because] you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Jesus said, “My judgment is for those who do see.” In the Kingdom of God the humble are lifted high; the powerful toppled from their throne. The blind see. The hungry eat. And yes, in the Kingdom of God, boys can carry whatever backpack they want. And girls can dress and look any way they feel.
Jesus was persecuted. It was for exposing the hypocrisy of the religious and elevating those like this man and the Samaritan woman at the well last week who had had five husbands. Some so-called scholars called her a “five-time-loser-tramp living an ‘aberrant lifestyle’ of sin.” They saw sin where none existed. Jesus said nothing of sin. He saw only a woman who had had a hard life and a bunch of men who had taken advantage of her. Jesus saw her and elevated her by confiding first to a woman “I am he.” And then to the man formerly known as blind.
Yet, the blame game persists. We recognize it so well because the country has just gone through another week of it. It’s not my fault. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. And while everyone points fingers, real people suffer. Victimized, stigmatized, marginalized so we can ask “Who is to blame?” Or better yet: “Who can we find to blame?” That’s much less complicated.
But back to the man born blind. He ultimately said, “I don’t know about all that. All I know is that I was blind and now I see.” This is who I was. This is now who I am.
We can easily lose sight of this important statement – tempted to go off into our own distractions about whether or not mud can heal, or whether Jesus can heal. What can we find to explain this? Not to blame it, but explain it away. As a progressive Christian I can fall into the same game of not listening when someone says, for example, Jesus healed me. Surely that is too simplistic. Surely there is another explanation, preferring to credit medical science. Instead, I should say, “I don’t know about all that, but I believe you. I rejoice with you.”
As much as this story is about sin and blame and hypocrisy – topics that are very real and relevant today – the real inspiration to me is the man’s statement. Beyond all the attempts at distraction, his testimony remains: This is what I was. This is who I am. I was blind but now I see.
Lent invites the practice of self-examination, looking for our own blind spots. We can make it about everyone else, but who or what do we refuse to see? What judgments do we make? As I kept engaging the story all week, the question I kept seeing was “how am I a hypocrite?”
How am I a hypocrite? How are you? Those words can really sting. But we all have blinders on. And yet we need be not afraid or offended by such suggestions. In fact, as people of faith, we invite questions like these because we believe that honesty leads to truth. Self-reflection leads to growth. And confession leads to transformation. Transformations like: This is what I was. This is who I am.
Keep pushing aside the distractions and accusations and hold on to hope for the day when, as the prophet Isaiah proclaimed:
the eyes of the blind opened,
and the ears of the deaf cleared.
6 when the lame will leap like deer,
and the tongue of the speechless will sing.
Because, yes, the day will come when our long national nightmare will be over. And on that day
Waters will spring up in the desert,
and streams in the wilderness.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
and the thirsty ground, fountains of water.
Certainly blind now, I pray, let our country see again – the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free. The wretched refuse, tempest tossed of our world.
Will you join me in the act of audacious hope to believe that no matter who we are right now, God imagines who we can and will be?
Born male or female, black, white or brown, blind or sighted, hearing or deaf, gay or straight – these are not the source of sin. But what we do with our abilities and wealth and education and our privilege does matter. So I invite you to turn to the insert in your bulletin as we engage in the Lenten practice of self-examination.
Prayer of Confession
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our transgressions and cleanse us from any unrighteousness. Sisters and brothers, let us ask for the forgiveness we need.
Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out our transgressions. Wash us thoroughly from our iniquity, and cleanse us from our sin. Create in us a create heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within us. Cast us not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and uphold us with a willing spirit. Amen
 Rev. Emily Heath wrote a beautiful letter to her: http://emilycheath.com/2014/03/25/an-open-letter-to-sunnie-kahle-and-christian-tomboys-everywhere/
 2nd Corinthians 12:9
 Anna Carter Florence, “Homiletical Perspective on John 4: 5-42.” Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2
 Isaiah 35: 5-7