This sermon was preached at the 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 26, 2017, being the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare).
Collect: Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that He may live in us, and we in Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Readings: I Samuel 16.1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41
“He was born blind so that’s God’s power might be displayed in curing him.”—John 9.3
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Like last Sunday, we have just heard a substantially long Gospel lesson, this time of Jesus healing a man born blind from John 9. While doing my study for tonight’s sermon, I stumbled upon this quote from Saint Augustine of Hippo
“We have just read the long lesson of the man born blind, whom the Lord Jesus restored to the light; but were we to attempt handling the whole of it, and considering, according to our ability, each passage in a way proportionate to its worth, the day would be insufficient.”
Therefore, like Augustine
“I ask and warn your Charity not to require any words…on those passages whose meaning is manifest; for it would be too protracted to linger at each.”
We will consider the mysteries of today’s Gospel in two ways: 1) broadly explaining the Gospel’s actions, then 2) it’s significance.
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Explaining the Action
Jesus and His disciples pass by a man blind from birth. Seeing him starts a theological discussion amongst the disciples: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind?” As it unfortunately still is in many places, there was the view in Biblical times that to suffer from any sort of disease and/or handicap was a sign of God’s condemnation for a past act that either they or an ancestor did that greatly displeased Him. This kind of theology radically distorts God’s nature and not only is it dangerous, but greatly heretical.
Jesus, of course, provides the right answer: “It is not that this man or his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in curing him.” Jesus directly challenges the time’s prevailing view. He spits on the ground, makes a paste, spreads it on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the Siloam Pool. This all happens on the Sabbath, the appointed day for abstinence from all work, a fact that does not sit well with the Pharisees. The blind man does as instructed and returns as one who sees.
The neighborhood is shocked. Some believe, while others simply can’t fathom it. The man confirms his identity: “The man once blind who used to sit and beg—that’s me!” He told them about Jesus and what all He told the man to do. “Where is He?” the neighbors ask. “I don’t know,” the man says.
The man’s neighbors escort him to the Pharisees. They want answers and want them now. The disciples’ question becomes their question: “Who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind?” Only now there are some added questions: “How is it that a man that was born blind can now, all of a sudden, see?! If this is somehow God’s doing, what exactly does this mean?”
The man, again, tells his story. His parents confirm “that he is our son, and that he was born blind.” Then they throw him under the bus, afraid to acknowledge any connection with Jesus: “Ask him; he is of age; he will speak for himself.” The Jews were banning from the synagogue those acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, for they labeled Him a sinful man for having healed on the Sabbath once before, thus, in their view, not properly observing it. To their charge, Jesus said, “My Father has never yet ceased His work, and I am working too. Therefore the Son of Man is sovereign even over the Sabbath.”
The Pharisees’ interrogation becomes increasingly abusive: “Speak the truth before God. We know that this fellow is a sinner.” But the man, for the third time, relays the same story, his testimony becoming a profession of faith regarding the One who healed him. “Who are you to give us lessons, born and bred in sin as you are.” Because of the audacious challenge of their perceptions and refusal to believe that which has clearly been shown them, the Pharisees expel the man from the synagogue.
“How blest are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of the right; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; and I will give you relief. Bend your necks to my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and your souls will find relief. For my yoke is good to bear, my load is light.”
The man once blind meets Christ again, seeing the visible face of the invisible God. He believes in the Son of Man, who takes Him into Himself. The man’s faith has made him well.
Now on to the significance of today’s Gospel.
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The Significance of Today’s Gospel
The significance of today’s Gospel is found in Christ’s answer to the disciples: “He was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in curing him.”
As a school chaplain and teacher, one of the questions I am often asked is, “How can a loving, yet omnipotent God permit evil, sickness, and suffering in the world?” I do not claim my answer to be THE right answer, but my answer always acknowledges the reality of human nature. Blindness, diseases, and all other ailments and handicaps and natural death are a result of the simple fact that we are broken human beings.
Yet God does not allow such things to have the final say. Remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman last Sunday
“Whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never suffer thirst anymore. The water that I shall give him will be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life.”
Jesus, in healing the man born blind, proves that he, too, as well as others who suffer, are included in that “whoever.” Jesus challenges our preconceived notions with the fact that physical conditions, diseases, and suffering do not come as God’s punishment. God is not a God who has His arms crossed looking down on us condescendingly, ready to zap us at any moment. Rather, God offers us relief with the fact that even through those who are suffering, His truth and good purposes come through.
There is another crucial point to remember. I remember my former bishop once saying, “We all have some sort of handicap. It’s just that for some people the handicap is just a little more noticeable.” We, too, are not perfect, not just “them.” All of us, at some point, were spiritually blind. Saint Paul makes note of this quite well in tonight’s Epistle
“For though you were once all darkness, now as Christians you are light. Live like men who are at home in daylight, for where light is, there all goodness springs up, all justice and truth.”
Yet Christ, out of His grace, delivered us from our spiritual blindness into His light. Christ’s love lifted us up when nothing else could. Like the man once blind, in being healed of our own spiritual blindness, God’s power is being displayed through us.
We know all this to be true. We know it to be true because of Christ Himself
“Yet on Himself He bore our sufferings, our torments he endured, while we counted Him smitten by God, struck down by disease and misery; but He was pierced for our transgressions, tortured for our iniquities; the chastisement He bore is health for us and by His scourging we are healed.”
And being that it all worked out for Christ, it does for all of us, too. I conclude this point, and this sermon, with a story.
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For one week during four summers in my former diocese, I served as one of several chaplains for Special Session, a summer camp experience for people with mental and/or physical disabilities. It was started 20+ years ago by the now diocesan bishop to provide a space of unconditional love and acceptance for people who, throughout much of the year, were hardly given such treatment. To be a part of this special time whereby the Good News of Christ was conveyed as including them, too, was both joyous to see and humbling, as a Priest of the Church to help proclaim.
The crown jewel of Special Session was the Thursday evening talent show. Every camper performed a talent, having their chance in the spotlight. Some of the talents perform were, for you and me, normal rudimentary things, like how to make a bed and how to tie a shoe. There would be classic acts, like singing songs, playing musical instruments, and dancing. There would also be some very special acts, like skating around on stage and singing a specially composed song called “Christmas In the Hospital Is Not Christmas At All.” No matter what the talent was, however rudimentary or extravagant, the exclaim of the audience brought forth from those campers the light of God’s glory that for so long had been covered. The smiles on their faces made it all worthwhile. Jesus was in the midst of it all.
Jesus, the Light of the world, “shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered [Him].”  Amen to that!
The Lord hath manifested forth His glory; O come, let us adore Him! Amen.
 All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New English Bible, copyright © 1961, 1970 by the Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press.
 Saint Augustine of Hippo. Tractates on the Gospel of John, 44 ¶1.
 John 5.17; Mark 2.28 (cf. Matthew 12.8, Luke 6.5)
 Matthew 5.10, Matthew 11.28-30
 John 4.14
 Ephesians 4.8-9
 Isaiah 53.4-5
 The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama
 John 1.5