Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
March 22, 2020
“I Want to Do Something”
John 9: 1-41 – Common English Bible
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
Follow the rest of the story through the sermon.
I want to do something. I feel for all of you parents with children at home – whether a toddler or a teenager or a few of each. There are only so many Steve Spangler science experiments you can do in your kitchen. All while you are supposed to also be working, too. I feel for you.
So there’s “I want to do something.” And there’s also “I want to do something!” Something meaningful. Something purposeful. Something to make a difference during this dreadful pandemic.
I’m grateful to all of you who have reached out to ask what you can do – does someone need groceries? Does someone need something. Anything? Well, I’ve got an idea for you. But first, the gospel. Let me finish telling the story.
Jesus saw a man blind since birth. His disciples asked, “who sinned, causing this man to be born blind. Him or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.”
What a ridiculous question, right? Disabilities are not the result of sin or some form of punishment. They are not consequences for some misbehavior in a previous life.
That’s what I wish Jesus had said to his followers. I have to tell you – I don’t like the answer Jesus gave. Or I just don’t understand it. He said, “The man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Jesus suggests, or seems to suggest, that there is some purpose behind the man’s blindness. But what kind of terrible God would make a man live without sight for decades, consign him to live as a beggar, so he could be an object lesson?
But if that’s not bad enough, the blind man then heard Jesus spit on the ground. Gross. But imagine his shock when he felt Jesus take that spit mixed with some dirt and spread it on his eyes. Super gross. Then, Jesus told him to go wash his face in a nearby pond. Miraculously, when the man came back, he was able to see.
The neighbors didn’t believe it, though. Some said, “That’s not him.” Others said, “Yes, it is.” While they argued, the man tried to chime in, “It’s me.” Someone said, “No, it’s not.” These neighbors demanded an explanation. So, he told everyone that Jesus put some spit and mud on his eyes, gross, he went and washed his face. “And now I can see.”
They marched the man to the Pharisees and proceeded to complain that Jesus opened his eyes on the Sabbath. “Well,” the Pharisees retorted, “clearly that man is not from God because it’s not OK to do that.” But the Pharisees were divided. Some of them said, but “a sinner could never heal like that.” So, they asked the man his opinion. He said, “He’s a prophet.”
The Pharisees didn’t like that answer. So, they marched the man to his parent’s house, with all those curious neighbors tailing behind. They demanded an answer. “Is this your son, whom you claim has been blind since birth.” They nervously replied, “Yes, this is our son, but we don’t know why he can see now. Ask him.” They were afraid to displease the Pharisees.
Their son simply reiterated, “once I was blind, but now I can see.” The Pharisees went back to complaining that Jesus is clearly a sinner and demanded answers to whole bunch of questions. The man actually dared to throw a little shade back at them. “What’s your problem? Do you want to become his disciple too?” They weren’t amused. “How dare you!” And they drove him out of the village.
Now, Jesus was absent for all this drama but when he heard what was going on, he returned to the scene. He asked the man if he believed. “Yes, Lord, I believe.” Jesus told him, and everyone standing around, “I came into this world so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” The Pharisees were angry. “Surely you’re not suggesting we are blind.” Jesus replied, “Well…” If it talks like a duck and walks like a duck, it must be a duck. Well, he didn’t say that exactly, but you get the point.
It’s a pretty long story and a little more complex than my simplification, but you can read it for yourself in John chapter 9. There’s probably a dozen different things I could say about the story, but I want to share two connections at the very beginning that I believe relate to this bizarre world we are living in and through right now.
First, the initial question of the disciples: who can be blamed? And second, what has been revealed about our nation, ourselves, and something we can do?
Who can we blame? Sometimes we engage in blaming because there’s a certain satisfaction to it when we’re tired of other emotions. There’s plenty of it going around. Hoaxers point fingers at the liberal media and claim it’s all an excuse to make the president look bad. Trump calls it the Chinese Virus. Blame them for making him look bad. Therefore, his weakling sycophants fall into line and dutifully call it the Wuhan Virus, while Fox News doesn’t think that’s racist enough. They prefer Kung Flu. On the other hand, others gain a sense of satisfaction blaming the chickens for finally coming home to roost, calling an out of control pandemic the consequence of the president’s deadly narcissism. “I take no responsibility for my ineptitude or downplaying it as a hoax for too long.” And then can’t even be bothered to offer the country a moment of empathy. Boy, I sure do hope those who have been blind begin to see clearly what a dangerous man he is.
Fingers pointed. Blame in every direction. But notice, Jesus dismissed the talk of blame by his disciples. They asked who do we blame? But, Jesus just moved on, looking for a deeper meaning to the man’s blindness. So, on to my second question.
Jesus said the man was born blind “so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” It seems a little insensitive, but let’s ask, what is the deeper meaning he trying to reveal?
What has this pandemic revealed so far? That fear causes people hoard toilet paper. But one thing, certainly, is that our social safety net is in shreds. Advocates have been saying this for years, but the deadly consequences have never quite been so exposed. Unique among nations, we prioritize the interests of health care profits over the goal of healthy people. The coronavirus has hopefully revealed to more people what should have already been clearly obvious: not providing health care for everyone leaves an entire nation always at risk. Not to mention, it’s simply cruel.
As our modern-day prophet, the Rev. Dr. William Barber said, “When we get a handle on this virus, we can’t return to the apathy that has for far too long ignored the moral crisis of poverty and the racial disparities that mark American inequality.” That’s one revelation.
Back to those uncomfortable words of Jesus. “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” That sounds like another type of cruelty. But here’s what I think he might have meant, or I hope he meant, and how that can apply today. We don’t wish for tragedy, but we can’t waste one, either. What do we learn from this?
Yet, largely, it’s still too early to know. And frankly, are we really ready for such analysis? It’s only been a few days – although, with the level of stress we’ve been under, it feels like we’ve been at this for months.
How many different emotions have you felt this week? Sadness, anger… Basically, anything related to grieving. Exhaustion. Moments of hopelessness. Lots of questions, like, will this really last for 8 weeks? Or through the summer?
In a matter of days and then hours we were forced to separate from one another. All of a sudden, we lost opportunities to gather – at school, at work, at church, and even at grandma’s house. Community was ripped away from us precisely at the time we needed it most – when things are uncertain and frightening. For all its faults, at least social media is allowing us to keep social. It reminds us that we belong to one another. We are part of a community, even when it is invisible.
And yet, that might be cold comfort with the staggering pace of loss. What stages of grief have you passed back and forth, in and through, during the past week, or sometimes in just a few hours?
And therefore, we really have to think about how to pace ourselves. Or at least I do, and remember this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. And even better, to make it a relay marathon.
So, back to: I don’t just want to do something. I want to do something. Something meaningful. Something purposeful.
Well, you are doing the most important thing that anyone could ever do right now. Your practice of social distancing is saving lives. One pastor in Connecticut, said “social distancing is a profound calling – a holy task of love.” You are saving someone’s grandma. You are saving the neighbor with a compromised immune system. You are saving a child with a life-threatening disease. You are doing the most important something anyone could do.
It may not seem like enough. But again, pace yourself through this. If we don’t, the rest of it won’t matter. Once you recognize the importance of what you are doing right now, that what you are doing is an actual “thing” we are doing, then we can start talking about what else.
In addition to revealing a grossly inequitable health care system; in addition to for making it as plain as day that competent leadership can never be taken for granted, this pandemic has revealed the perhaps never fully appreciated but absolute blessing of belonging to a community. Using the awkward words of Jesus, I wouldn’t say we got the Coronavirus so that we can appreciate community. But that because of the Coronavirus, it’s been even more clearly revealed that we need each other. I know I appreciate you and being part of this community even more.
One Episcopal priest in DC said, “While I am limited to phone calls and video chats, I have never felt closer to my people. We have whispered our fears, laughed at our misplaced anxieties, and committed ourselves to being church, even without our beloved building and cherished traditions.”
There are lots of great memes and stories going around online. I want to end with one of the most profound by Laura Kelley Fanucci, about what this pandemic could help us see more clearly:
When this is over, may we never again take for granted:
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Sitting with a group of neighbors and friends
The mad rush to get ready for school each morning
When this ends, may we find that we have become
More like the people we wanted to be,
We were called to be
We hoped to be.
And may we stay that way – better for each other because of the worst.
What will you never take for granted again?
Who do you hope this pandemic will help you become?
I love being the