Monday, March 31, 2014

Filling in the Blind Spot (Sermon on the Man Born Blind John 9)

    I want to begin this morning by doing something a little different.  In your bulletin this morning on the insert, you will see something quite strange.  On one side, you have all the announcements and stuff, but on the other, you simply have the letter “X” toward one of the ends.  I’d like for you to take that piece of paper and look at the side with the “X” on it.  Hold it out in front of your face at arm’s length with the “X” either on the right or on the left hand side.  Close the eye opposite the “X” so that the X remains on the side with your opened eye.  Now, stare at the center of the page and slowly move the paper toward your face.  Keep staring at the center and move the paper toward you until you see the X disappear.  If you didn’t quite get it, keep practicing.  Eventually, it will happen to you.  The X will be gone, and all you will see is the blank piece of paper.

    What I have just done for you is illustrate something we all have in common.  We all have a blind spot.  Yes, you heard it correctly.  Everyone has a blind spot on each eye.  Furthermore, did you notice that when you were looking at the paper, only the X disappeared?  Did you notice that there wasn’t a hole in your vision?  Do you know why?  Your brain fills in the blanks.  Yes, that’s right.  That wonderful organ laying between your ears literally fills in the blanks and puts into place what it is expecting to see.  Now, you can believe me or not, but if you don’t I suggest you do a bit of research.  Google the blind spot.  Look it up on Youtube.  Talk to your optometrist.  It’s there.  I promise you.  And it is quite startling for those of us who have believed all along that our vision is totally reliable.  But that’s not necessarily true.  You aren’t necessarily seeing what you thought you were seeing.  Your brain is constantly filling in the blanks.

    I think we need to process this reality for just a moment.  I mean, the implications of this can be a bit disconcerting.  What is reality?  What is the nature of reality if our brains are constantly filling in the blanks?  What is the nature of truth?  Can we ever believe that we have the full picture of things if we all have a blind spot?  These are tough questions.  Tough questions indeed.

    And there are many who believe the answer is no.  Many people say, “Well, everyone has a piece of the truth, but no one grasps the whole truth.”  That’s a fashionable thing to say in this day and age.  Usually, they refer to a well-known parable to illustrate this thought.  It’s the parable of the blind men and the elephant.  Perhaps you have heard it before.

    A group of blind men encounter an elephant.  Each wants to figure out what the elephant “looks” like, and so each begins to feel a particular part of the beast.  After each touches a part of the elephant, the blind men hold a conference and argue about what the elephant “looks” like.

    The first argues the beast is like a hose.  He felt the trunk.

    The second argues the elephant is like a spear.  He felt the tip of the tusk.

    The next argues the animal is like a brick wall.  He felt the torso.

    The next argues the beast is like a tree stump.  He felt the leg.

    The last guy argues the elephant is like a rope.  He grabbed the tail.

    The men argue and argue and argue, each convinced he has the truth of what the animal looks like, but none have the total picture.  Each is right.  And each is wrong.  Oftentimes at this point, someone will say this is the way religious people are.  Each religion has a part of the truth–each religion gets some things right about the nature of God, but none grasps the whole truth.

    The argument sounds good on paper.  It seems to grasp the nature of reality.  It seems to level the playing field when it comes to religious pluralism and doesn’t allow anyone to have any sort of superiority when it comes to beliefs.  Right?

    Well, wrong, actually.  I mean, this parable only works if someone else can see the whole elephant.  No one knows the blind guys are both right and wrong unless he can see the whole beast himself.  In other words, how can you say that these folks are all blind unless you yourself can see?  How can you say that everyone has a part of the truth but no one has the whole truth unless you yourself know the whole truth?  Either you have the whole truth or your are just as blind as everyone else.  Which is it?

    I’ve just shown you through a simple illustration, we all have a blind spot.  So guess what the reality is?  We are all blind.  We are all grasping at reality.  Who really knows what the truth is?  Who really knows who God is?

    This would pose a massive problem for us IF, and I want to emphasize that IF for a second, IF we as humans had to try and discover God all on our own.  IF we had to work our way up to God and try to discover the nature of God using our own devises, we would never, ever arrive at any sort of understanding of the Truth.  We would never, ever come to understand who God is and how God cares for us.  We would never be able to grasp the total reality as our brains would keep filling in the blanks putting stuff in that we want to be there instead of what is actually there.  If it were all up to us, this would be the case.

    Fortunately, it is not completely and totally up to us.  Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem.  Since we could not discover the nature of God on our own.  Since we could not grasp the reality of God because we are blind, God came to us to reveal Himself to us.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him.”  Jesus Christ entered the world to help us see.

    Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the 9th chapter of the book of John.  The story begins with a man who was born blind.  The disciples look at this guy and say, “Jesus, who sinned that this man was born blind?  Did he sin or did his parents sin?”

    Remember, at this time, the prominent belief was that if you had some sort of malady, God was punishing you for your sin.  This belief is still strong in some folks today because it is all about works-righteousness.  If you aren’t doing the right things, God will punish you.  If you are doing the right things, God will reward you.  Jesus wasn’t about the works-righteousness narrative.  Jesus operated and still operates by grace.  The disciples haven’t gotten there yet, so Jesus uses this as a teachable moment.

    Jesus responds, “Neither this guy nor his parents sinned, but his blindness is there as an opportunity to show God’s might.”   This is a radical statement.  Illness?  Disability?  Pain?  Suffering?  As opportunity to show God’s might?  Yep.  As Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”  That’s what grace is.  God’s light breaking into the darkness.

    Jesus places mud on the man’s eyes and then tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  The man does, and low and behold, he can see.

    You would think that this would be an occasion for great celebration and joy.  You would think that people would take note and go crazy that someone had experienced such a miraculous healing.  But they do not.  They become skeptical.  You know, there are those who say that ancient people were ignorant and believed in miracles because they didn’t know anything about the laws of nature and physics.  I submit to you exhibit A that they actually did.  People didn’t fall on their knees praising God and celebrating when they saw this guy now able to see.  They were terribly skeptical and started asking all kinds of questions.  Is this really the guy who couldn’t see or is it someone else?  If this is really you, who made your eyes open?  Question after question after question.

    And the guy is dumbfounded.  I mean, really, he’s dumbfounded.  He couldn’t see and now he can, and everyone is asking him 20 questions.  He knows the guy who healed him was Jesus, but he’s never seen Jesus.  He hasn’t seen anyone until this point.  There is no way he would recognize Jesus at all.  All he knows is that Jesus healed him.

    This fact actually gets him into more trouble.  The religious leaders catch wind of what has happened.  Jesus is a threat to these religious leaders.  Jesus is breaking through their facade of works-righteousness.  Jesus is telling folks they don’t have to earn favor from God but that God loves them–even sinners.  When your power is threatened, you react.  The scribes and Pharisees do just this and question the man who was healed, and then the man’s parents, and then the man once more.  You can go through and read this for yourself again if you like later.  What is interesting to me is how they blatantly refuse to see what is right in front of their faces.  Do you remember when I said that everyone had blind spots?

    The Pharisees rant and rave and even say they don’t know where Jesus comes from.  They are blinded by their own position, and in an interesting twist, the guy who was once blind strives to help them see.  “32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

    And what was the Pharisees’ response?  They cast him out.  They threw him out of the synagogue and forbid him to worship with them any longer.  So, let’s look at this for just a second again.  When the blind guy has an encounter with Jesus, Jesus heals him.  And what happens?  Everyone is skeptical of him.  He is questioned thoroughly by the religious authorities, and he is excommunicated.  So much for your life becoming perfect when you have an encounter with Jesus.

    And the guy may have thought just that until his eyes were opened a second time.  The man who was once blind has one more encounter with Jesus.   35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ 36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

    Grace does that.  God in human flesh does that.  When the Word became flesh, the nature of God became known.  God revealed Himself to us.  The truth either opens your eyes, or it makes you want to purposely close them.  You will either embrace the truth and enter into the peace that it gives, or you will go to war with it choosing to remain in your blindness.  But thankfully, because it is all about grace, the truth will not fight against you.  It will wait patiently for you embracing you though you may not embrace it. 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Twas blind, but now I see.  Amen.

No comments: