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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Here's Mud in Your Eye

John 9:1-41 March 30, 2014
          When is the last time you found your life really disrupted? Have you had to re-imagine what your day, or week, or even your entire future might look like changed, due to circumstances outside of your control? Can you name a time when you needed to reassess the validity of what you had always assumed to be true, or determine what was fundamentally, truly, even important in life, when your previously formed expectations were turned upside-down?
Perhaps it happened on a day you had a flat tire on your way to an  important meeting, or were driving home from a long trip and just when you were within reach of home, discovered that the Bay Bridge was closed? Maybe it happened when you received a surprising diagnosis or some devastating news. Sometimes disruptions happen over time; occasionally they occur in the blink of an eye. Either way, they can be life changing, transformational, and they provide opportunities to recognize God’s grace in the midst all of life’s experiences; perhaps most powerfully, in the surprising events which intrude into our everyday existence.
In our text today, Jesus confounds his disciples, the Pharisees, and many others through this miracle of sight to a man who was born blind, a man who has no name, a man who doesn’t know who Jesus is, and doesn’t even ask for healing… Jesus intrudes on this man’s life as he does on ours…with disruptive, transformational, miraculous grace that changes everything.
Dr. John Van Nuys, a minister from Indiana, writes about an experience of grace he received while in Africa, even though he didn’t understand it at the time. It is an experience which he ties beautifully to this text. 
“When I was in Congo,” he writes, “one of the hardest graces ….. to accept was the lavish hospitality of our Congolese hosts. Oftentimes, very malnourished church people made sure we ate our fill. Impoverished villages gave us material gifts that were their very best. People insisted on washing our clothes for us – and even ironed them with flat irons filled with coals from their fire. But what really stunned us ….. was that our hosts insisted on not only washing, but also ironing our underwear. That seemed beyond hospitality to me.....and I tried repeatedly to tell our hosts that they did not have to do that. But [they] would have nothing of that. With a smile, they simply insisted: No. And they went right on ironing.
Van Nuys continues, “It was years later that I learned why. In Congo, when you hang clothes on the line to dry, there is an exotic, rainforest insect … that takes advantage of those warm, wet clothes. It lands on drying laundry and deposits its eggs there. When the eggs hatch, the larvae, which are largely invisible to the human eye, crawl from the clothes to the person who is wearing them, burrowing into their skin which causes very itchy, painful lesions. The Congolese are used to such annoyances—which, I am told, are a lot like our chiggers. But to make sure that we tenderfoots ….. did not suffer that discomfort, everything was ironed for us. Underwear included. We were never told why. We never understood why. We just received what was strangely, graciously given.”
Dr. Van Nuys says “I think most of God’s gifts are like that. By grace, we receive something that we really don’t understand all that much—if at all. Initially, we are really not too sure about it, and it sometimes takes a lot of time to understand the fullness of the gift. Like the blind man who receives his sight by having Jesus put dirt and spit on his eyes. I think if I had been that man, I would have said, "Thank you for this miracle, [Lord] but can you do this without the spit? Can’t I have a more ‘common-sense miracle’; a more sanitary miracle without something like your spit having to be a part of it?"
Many times God’s miracles are very plain and straightforward; at other times they come through unexpected, even shocking events and means. Like mud made from spit and soil. Van Nuys writes, “Sometimes God’s gifts come in very strange ways that don’t even begin to make sense to us. Like ironed underwear or a dirt-and-spit poultice. Mostly, we expect God’s miracles to be packaged and packed with Hollywood special effects that instantaneously make our lives clearly better. But many times God’s miracles, God’s gifts, come in plain, brown paper bags without a lot of fanfare. Many times God’s miracles only work on the installment plan: They don’t make our lives completely and understandably better all at once. Sometimes God’s gifts are time-released miracles that take time to unfold: They incrementally make our lives better as we put our cooperative efforts into working with God to make God’s gift our miraculous reality.”
Sometimes it is only through the lens of the “what if” that we truly comprehend the miracles in our lives for what they truly are.
For the Pharisees and for many of us, when tragedy befalls us, when disease strikes, when life doesn’t go as we think it should, it initiates a cycle of questioning of sin at its core. For instance, someone is diagnosed with lung cancer and the first question you hear asked – “but did they smoke?” Or there is a car accident – and we wonder, “whose fault was it?” Or a child is born with disabilities – and we question, “was it something the mother did? Ate? Drank? Was it environmental?” Or first response is to question what caused this thing to happen – who did what to bring it about? And so the cycle begins.
This story is no different, and in the mind-set of first century Palestine, the first question most people would have asked in any event was, “Whose fault is it?” For in their worldview disaster and disease were the cost of angering God. Even for the disciples. Why is this man blind? There has to be someone to blame.
Yet the point of this story is not about fault at all, but about how, in the midst of our anguish, our deepest need, our ongoing crises, God’s divine love, mercy, and grace can transform anyone in any situation. Even to giving a man sight through the ordinary substances of dirt and spit. It’s about how Jesus is able to take our illness and disability, our messes, our hurts, and our deficiencies, and using the most improbable methods possible, at the right time and in the right place, he can make us whole and fit us for the work of discipleship and worship.
"Healing of the Blind Man" (1871); Carl Bloch. 
The blind man in our text today became a disciple who worshiped and adored Jesus. He demonstrated his thanksgiving for this extraordinary gift. Though born blind, he saw more clearly than any of the sighted people around him, that God’s gift is at work through Jesus, who transformed him. The true gift this man received was faith – and he gives the only appropriate response possible – he testifies to who Jesus is, and he worships him. He doesn’t understand what happened, he simply does what Jesus asked, and believed.
Even today, Jesus is in the business of miracles. He takes ordinary people, and through water, Word, bread, and wine equips us to be his disciples. He invites us to the table of grace and there he heals us, strengthens us, and grants us forgiveness, transforming us in truth and light.
We are invited to the table, where Jesus tells us, eat, drink, and remember – and we do, even though we don’t understand how this bread and wine becomes body and blood, even though we don’t get how God’s love is made manifest at this table. Though we’re not always sure how this simple action can bring us to eternal life, can change us into agents of God’s grace, can bring us the healing for which we desperately yearn, we come.
At the table, God takes our humble gifts and multiples our meager offerings in ways that can’t be explained rationally. At the table, God blesses us to be God’s hands and feet in service, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, loving the addicted, forgiving those who hurt us, and opening our eyes to the rich mission field around us.
God sends us out to testify to the good news, not as sinners but as redeemed, beloved children of God; disciples and newly sighted for mission and ministry in God’s name. Amen.

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