Sermon 3.19.23

2601 54th Avenue South  St. Petersburg, FL  33712
On land originally inhabited by the Tocabaga

Date:  March 19, 2023
Scripture Lessons:  I Samuel 16:1-13 and John 9: 1-41
Sermon:  Now I See!
Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

Perhaps the most well-known blind person of my life time is Helen Keller.  Maybe she is the most famous of the modern era.  Yes, there are Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, but Helen Keller, maybe because she was blind and deaf, certainly is known to many.  Her infirmity occurred as the result of an illness when she was 19 months old.  Perhaps she is also well known because of the beautiful book about her and Anne Sullivan, The Miracle Worker, and the movie made from the book. 

In her autobiography written when she was a student at Radcliffe College, Keller describes her unfolding understanding of language.  Many may remember the scene in which Keller finally begins to understand how words and language and communication work.  It involved water, at a well – an echo of last week’s gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well.  This happened when Keller was 6 years old.

“We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered.  Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout.  As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly.  I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers.  Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.  I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.  That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!  There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.

“I left the well-house eager to learn.  Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought.  As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life.  That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. . . . I learned a great many new words that day.  I do not remember what they all were; but I do know that mother, father, sister, teacher were among them — words that were to make the world blossom for me, ‘like Aaron’s rod, with flowers.’  It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my crib at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.”  [From Helen Keller, The Story of My life, 1903.]

Keller’s life is transformed by being able to understand and experience reality in a new way.  This new reality especially informs how she was able to relate to others.  In fact, she became a capable writer and public speaker despite being deaf.  She traveled the world.  She advocated for rights for blind people and for pacifism and birth control and women’s suffrage and socialism and anti racism, especially impressive since her family had owned slaves in Alabama.   Keller’s commitments and concerns came from her ability to see/understand the condition and the experience of the people around her.  Blind since she was a toddler, she learned to really see the world as it is.  

In the story we heard from the gospel of Luke what does the blind man see?  He was born blind.  He did not request this healing.  There was no conversation before the healing.  How does the man see this experience?  First the man sees Jesus as a prophet.  Then as a miracle worker from God.  Finally, he affirms the very presence of God in Jesus.  As he examines his experience, that is how he is led to see Jesus.  Ironically, it is the pressure of the interrogation by the religious leaders that pushes the man born blind into seeing the presence of God in Jesus.   He was blind.  Now he can see.  Such a thing must be of God.  Where else would such power come from?  Only God has that kind of power.  So the man born blind eventually comes to see that Jesus is of God.

But the religious leaders do not see the same thing.  They see something different.  What the religious leaders see is someone who has violated the sabbath by doing work on the sabbath.  Healing and certainly mixing dirt and spittle were considered violations of the sabbath.  So Jesus has broken the sabbath law.  A law given by God.  Since he has broken this law of God, he himself cannot be of God.  Period.    

So one thing we can see in this story is that faith is not defined by following certain rules or religious dictates.  It has to do with recognizing the power of God, Divine Love, at work in the world and in our lives.  Do we see the power and presence of Love at work in our lives and the world?  That is the heart of faith.  That is what faith enables us to see.  If we cannot see that, we are blind.  This Lenten season is a time to reflect on what we are seeing.  Are we looking for goodness and the power of Love in our lives and in the world around us?  

What are we looking for?  What do we see?  John Donohue, poet and writer, really delves into this in a section of his book Anam Cara.  He tells us:

“Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it any more.  It is an interesting question to ask yourself at night: what did I really see this day?  You could be surprised at what you did not see.  Maybe your eyes were unconditioned reflexes operating automatically all day without any real mindfulness or recognition; while you looked out from yourself, you never gazed or really attended to anything. . . The human eye is always selecting what it wants to see and also evading what it does not want to see.  The crucial question then is, what criteria do we use to decide what we like to see and to avoid seeing what we do not want to see?  Many limited and negative lives issue directly from this narrowness of vision.”  [p. 87.]

We see what we look for.  We are in the reality we create for ourselves.  The religious leaders in the story of the blind man want to stay focussed on rules and laws.  Authority and control is important to them.  So they see the world through that lens.  They see the power displayed by Jesus and they feel threatened.  So they want to see Jesus as not of God so that they can discredit him.

The man born blind can see.  What does he see?  Someone healed him.  That is his experience.  He sees power in the healing.  Power that he associates with God.  So he sees God in the person who healed him, in Jesus.   

So we can ask ourselves, What are we looking for?  Because that is what we will see.  If we are looking for love, we will see it.  If we look for good, that is what we will see.   As Judy Cannatto puts it, “If we are to be the new human, we must begin by embracing love, which always seeks to incarnate itself. Love is enfleshed everywhere. Everywhere the Holy One is shouting and whispering, ‘Let me love you.’” [citation missing]

Following Jesus invites us to see in a new way.  It’s like Helen Keller figuring out what w-a-t-e-r meant when written in her hand.  A whole new world opened up for her.  When we truly seek to follow Jesus, we learn to see a different reality.  A reality of giving, serving, helping, loving, forgiving, and caring.  We see compassion as the glue that holds the community together.   There is so much good, abundance, life, beauty, love, and grace in the world.  When we follow Jesus, we can see it.

When we see with the eyes of Jesus, we see the beauty, the worth, the inherent value of every life.  This makes it harder to take advantage of people.  To abuse their labor.  To inhibit people from getting medical help.   When we see God in every person as Jesus does, it is much harder to treat others in a hurtful, degrading way.  

When we see with the eyes of Jesus, can we pollute the water our neighbors near and far will need to drink?  Can we poison the air which will lead to untold deaths from respiratory problems?  Can we consume and produce and discard in a way that endangers the planet that supports the life of the millions of people created in the image of God and creatures manifesting the love of God?  

It is so much easier, I think, to think of faith as enforcing rules: don’t have an affair, don’t have an abortion, don’t change gender.  Much easier to avoid these so-called evils, than to create a reality in which we are expected to do the good;  to be people of compassion and hope and forgiveness taking care of each other.  You can’t measure that.  And you can’t punish someone for not measuring up.  That is not a satisfying system to many, and certainly it is not a system that makes it easy to control people. 

Seeing as Jesus sees is about love.  Imbued in everything and everyone.  Everything of God.  Can we see that?  

In her book, Becoming Wise, journalist Krista Tippett, talks about seeing the goodness and love in the world around us.  She writes:

“Our world is abundant with quiet, hidden lives of beauty and courage and goodness.  There are millions of people at any given moment, young and old, giving themselves over to service, risking hope, and all the while ennobling us all.  To take such goodness in and let it matter — to let it define our take on reality as much as headlines of violence — is a choice we can make to live by the light in the darkness, to be brave and free. . . . Taking in the good, whenever and wherever we find it, gives us new eyes for seeing and living.”  [From Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett, quoted in Boundless Compassion: Creating a Way of Life, by Joyce Rupp, p. 187.]

Yes, there is so much good in the world around us.  And in us.  To me, our sin is choosing not to see the goodness and the love in ourselves and others.  And that blindness has deadly consequences.  What does the man born blind see?  The power of God’s love made manifest right before his very eyes.  And that is what we are invited to focus on in ourselves, our lives and in the world around us.  

When Helen Keller was young, she was introduced to Christianity.  She famously responded by saying: “I always knew He was there, but I didn’t know His name!”

Her spiritual autobiography, Keller described the core of her belief in these words:  “Since His [God’s] Life cannot be less in one being than another, or His [God’s] Love manifested less fully in one thing than another, His [God’s] Providence must needs be universal … He [God] has provided religion of some kind everywhere, and it does not matter to what race or creed anyone belongs if he [they] is [are] faithful to his [their] ideals of right living.”  []  That is what Keller learned to see through the eyes of faith.  Divine Love imbuing her entire reality.  

May we look for the power of love and see the reality of God within us, among us, and around us.  Amen.  

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: