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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, April 01, 2011

2011-04-03 John 9:1-41 The Man Born Blind

2011-04-03 Jn 9:1-41
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)
James McTyre

I have a few favorite sayings. My #1 is on a small magnet I keep in my office. It says, "The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well." #2 was taught me by a wise, retired minister. "Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous." The older I get, the more convinced I am of both those sayings, especially the second.

In the passage today, Jesus is just walking along. Trying to get from point A to point B. Or, maybe just walking with no big destination in mind. I know that's hard to grasp. We always seem to be going from one place to another, and usually we're running late, and the people at point B are texting us, saying, "Where 'r' 'u'?" with the lowercase r and u, because it's so much faster than typing the two three-letter words. I always want to text back, "I'm in a ditch with the airbag against my cheek because I was too busy texting you to watch the road." We can't just go from point A to point B anymore; we also have to be conversing with points C, D, & E along the way. It's a crazy world.

So, anyway, Jesus is walking along, checking his smart phone, when he trips over a blind man who says, "Hey, watch where you're going!" Actually, no. It's worse than that. He and his cloud of disciples are walking (somewhere) and they see a blind beggar by the side of road. Instead of - I don't know - giving the guy some change, or helping him to a shelter, the disciples (religious bigwigs that they soon will be) somewhat predictably intellectualize the situation and begin a religious discussion. It's a lot like seminary. You don't actually help people, you just study how to do it, hypothetically.

They ask, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Oh. My. Goodness. Could you possibly get more thoughtless? More condescending? More judgmental?

And yet, otherwise good-hearted people still ask this kind of question. It's why the camera crews chased down the parents of Jared Loughner, the Tuscon shooter. We wonder about Lindsay Lohan, and the answer is, "Yes," and "Yes." (Maybe a bad example.) We ask it when bad report cards come home. "Is it me? Am I a bad mother? Was something I did in college?"

After all, the Bible itself talks about punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 20:5) Kind of like the national debt. Aw, let the great-grandkids figure it out while they're sending mental messages in their flying cars.

But elsewhere in the Bible, it also says, "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin." (Deut 24:16)

Which is less about capital punishment than about the truth that we all have to live with our own mistakes, all have responsibility for our own responsibilities, and if we're 42, living in our parents' basement and wearing Spock ears, it's not papaw's fault.

Is it nature, is it nurture, or does karma just bite you on the backside?

Jesus answers, "None of the above." He says to the disciples, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."

That's the other option, isn't it. It's God's fault, or God's glory. You see it in sports. Why does a guy have the ability to sink 3-pointers (from way downtown)? To give God the glory. That's what a lot of them say. Sounds so much better than, "I guess I'm just genetically superior." Was the man born blind so he would just happen to bump into Jesus who would just happen to have arrogant disciples, who would just happen to stir their master to an act of healing? I'm guessing the parents whose hearts had broken as they watched their child grow up treated as something less than human might have wanted God to be glorified a little sooner. I would have a hard time explaining to the residents of Fukoshima that they had an earthquake, tidal wave, and nuclear meltdown so God could be glorified. God doesn't need disabilities or disasters to find glory.

The man, when he's dragged before the Pharisees who are mad because Jesus healed him on the Sabbath (oh, give me strength), the man doesn't really glorify God. He actually smarts off to the city fathers. He just knows he was blind, but now can see, and he's ragging on the stuffed-shirts who want to over-analyze it. If someone does a good work on any day of the week, especially something like healing your blindness, you say, "Thank you. You praise God that for whatever reason, they dropped into your life."

Whatever normal is for you, you're normal. If being blind is all you've ever known, that's your normal. If you've always had certain abilities, that's normal for you. If your life is crazy and chaotic, that's your normal. But everyone once in a while, someone or some event, drops into our lives. Something life-shifting goes bang and your eyes are opened. There's a collision with coincidence and suddenly you see that there's more to life than normal. There are people worse-off than you are, and it drives you to compassion. There are people better-off than you, and it stirs you to fight for your rights. It can happen any day, any time, anywhere. Some coincidence smacks you on the forehead and it's like, "Oh, now I see." And you wonder how you've put up with normal all your life. In those instants when the light comes on and normal disappears, God is glorified. Maybe it's part of God's plan, maybe it's just random -- you'll never know. The point is not to be like the disciples, trying to figure out who's to blame for your normal. The point is not to be like the Pharisees who try to figure out why it happened on this day and not that one, and if it's legitimate or not. The point is to be like the man who had the mud washed out of his eyes and to say, "Thank you," to God. Whether it's really God or just dumb coincidence doesn't really matter. What matters is what you do with your newfound light and life. Do you live a life that says, "Thank you"? Or do you fade back into normal?

I heard a story last week on my favorite radio show, Radiolab. You can listen to it at www.radiolab.org. It was the story of a man who years ago, was in a robbery. A cocked pistol was held against his head. The robber pulled the trigger. The gun went "click." A misfire. The man's life was saved.

Years later, the man is standing on a subway platform with his two little daughters, waiting on a train. There's a guy beside them, who has a seizure. The guy tumbles down off the platform, onto the tracks, just as the train is coming. The man who had had the pistol misfire said he heard a voice in his head, clear as a bell. The voice said, "You can do this. I will protect you." So the man leaves his daughters standing there, and jumps down onto the tracks. The guy having the seizure can't be lifted, and the train is almost on them. So the man grabs the guy and throws him between the rails and then lays on top of him, pressing on his body as hard as he can. He feels the train ripping his shirt and scraping his back. The train stops, and the man can hear his daughters screaming. He yells to them from beneath the subway train. "I'm alright! I'm alright!"

When they interviewed the man afterward, he said that he had always wondered why that pistol had misfired. And then, at the moment he saw that guy fall and he saw the train bearing down, at that moment, he knew. It was for this moment that God had saved him. God was glorified. And the hero was just as thankful as the man he saved.

Now, there could be a million explanations as to what happened and why in that true story. And the only one that matters doesn't explain anything. The only thing that matters is that somehow, for some reason, God was glorified that day.

What matters is keeping our eyes open for the coincidences. And then saying thank you to God when they knock us off of normal.

- James