“New Glasses” // 1 Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:1-12, 35-39

The Rev. Dr. Seth Weeldreyer
First Presbyterian Church of Kalamazoo
March 19, 2023 – Fourth Sunday in Lent

God does not see as we often perceive. Holy Love is not deluded, deceived, or disheartened when looking on outward appearances of people and things. Through the eyes of Sacred Grace we come to know the heart. With such divine intent, David gets anointed for holy purpose. Though even his eyes will distort, his perception and desire will lead astray and destroy. When goodness of life gets muddy, how do we see? How do we make sense of our experience as we glimpse holy presence? That’s what sacred stories in the Bible convey—ordinary people like you and me, trying to express extraordinary hope. Our second reading from John’s gospel is my compiled narrative based on the NRSV, with help from Gene Peterson’s Message and so of my own translation work. Hear what the Spirit may say.

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man born blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents; who did wrong, causing him to be born blind?” Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause and effect here. Look instead for what God can do. In order that the works of God might be revealed in him, we need to do the work of God who sent me, while it remains day. Nightfall is coming, when no one will work. As long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light to see. I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (Siloam means “the one who has been sent.”) The man went and washed and came back able to see.

Soon the town was buzzing. Neighbors and those who had seen him before began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Others said, “It’s him alright!” Others said, “It’s not him,” and still others said, “No, but it looks like him.” The man kept saying, “It is me! I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.” So I went and washed and then I was able to see.” They asked, “Where is he?” The man said, “I don’t know.”

Neighbors brought the man to religious leaders. They interrogated him and his parents, contested and intimated them. The man said, “Look all I know is that I was blind and now I see. I’ve told you over and over and yet you don’t really listen or believe me. You say you know what is sin and what’s right. And yet, if this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do these things.” The leaders replied, “You’re nothing but dirt. How dare you take that tone!” and they threw him out on the street.

When Jesus heard they threw him out, he came to find the man. He asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Humanity?” The man answered, “Who is it, sir? Tell me, so I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Do you recognize my voice?” The man said, “Lord, I believe!” and worshipped him. Then Jesus said, “I came into the world, to bring everything into the clear light of day—so that those who do not see will see, and those who make a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.” +

My grandpa lost vision, nearly totally blind. It’s the only way I see him in memory. Macular degeneration … maybe we could treat it today. Not 50 years ago. Lenses, as such, were useless. I see him sitting right beside the TV, leaning over to make out vague shapes from the edge of his left eye. I see him moving around home, familiar with halls, walls and where everything was, if in its place, looking with fingers. I see him signing his name within a plastic box-shape over the space to guide his pen. I see him trying to use braille, then sneak in to feel the bumps in books when he went in another room. I see him listening to books on tape, laughing when someone read to him, enjoying a big-league baseball game with us, like many years spent at Yankee Stadium. I see him in the backyard well past 70 with wiffle ball and bat, tossing with his left hand, trying to catch a glimpse, before swinging hard with his right. While I crouched at the other end, glove ready to field a soft grounder, catch a screaming liner, or looping fly … however the bat connected every fifth or sixth time. And with the eyes of my heart, I see how he’d get frustrated, yet still wanted to do all these things that were his life, his loves, who he was, the dignity of signing his name. The eyes of my heart see with a lens of sadness for life limited or lost, and a lens of admiration for how he persisted, picking up wiffle balls, gripping a rail and stepping slowly, ever learning, living.

Jesus saw a man blind from birth. In John’s gospel, to see means to know fully, connect intimately, to get someone, a situation deeper than surface perception. John tells these gospel stories for wider, deeper spiritual effect beyond literal reality. Jesus saw the man, John assures, and sees each of us who find it hard to glimpse God’s way in this world, to envision Holy Love, to find personal direction with divine purpose. On Ash Wednesday a few weeks ago, I shared recent experience getting new glasses. Maybe it could be a helpful way to view Lent and all times of repentance. Beyond guilt, punishment, or appeasement to avoid it, we think anew, see anew, live renewed. Friends, I wonder how our lenses of faith could be adjusted so we see more beauty, stumble less on little faults that trip us, and keep God’s way for us in clearer focus.

Truth is, we all wear lenses—how we come to perceive life, others, our world. They’re our assumptions and personality—as varied as tortoise shell or wire-rimmed classic, latest fashion design, celebrity shades, or whatever flamboyant colors Elton John and Lady Gaga don that night. They’re our experiences good or hard, how we process it all. They’re curiosities we explore, efforts we accomplish, wonders we cherish, fears like cataracts on our hearts. Beyond what we’re taught to think, lenses get shaped by how we feel. Sometimes these lenses distort our vision, whether reading others close up or looking at distant horizons of the world. When we realize they don’t work, time to put them away in a drawer. Like eyeballs, the eyes of our hearts change. Life is never static. Nor the way we see it. Lenses that used to work can give us headaches, heartaches. We’re always getting our vision tested, even if it seems fine.

My eyes aren’t horrible. By whatever miracle of grace or stubborn avoidance I’ve never worn corrective lenses. But I’ve noticed that distant things are a bit more fuzzy, like road signs at dusk. I had extra money in my health FSA from last year. So a couple months ago I went to the doc. I clicked when all the red dots flashed. She flipped and switched all the round Willy Wonka contraptions as I read letters. “Which is clearer?” Then I had to choose frames. Docs, compared to Costco and on-line—style, cost … it wasn’t quite hell! I’ve never put my new glasses on in public yet. Here’s the big reveal! Without them, I can still see the source of lyrical voices in the choir balcony or the funny faces being made in the back pew. And it’s even better, clearer, more beautiful—people, shape of life, like stained glass rose window.

We try to perceive God’s vision, like Samuel. Here’s what I survey today. As we check prescriptions, tape up our scratched spiritual lenses, I feel for many others trying to see faith, like I felt bumps in my grandpa’s books. Friends, we know stats about declining numbers in all churches, waning status of Christian faith as cultural norm. Yeah, I lament it. Still, why fight it?! In part, because I get it. With a lens of sadness, my heart sees anyone who glimpses or stares blankly for long years at expressions of Christianity that seem distorted; people who lose faithful vision. They see no alternative, no other lens through which to view themselves and our world. A lens of love. And with a lens of admiration the eyes of my heart see many who despite frustration, persist with holy yearning, gripping whatever rail or arm nearby, treading slowly up or down the next step of life, seeking understanding, inspiration, peace. Friends of ours or family still in familiar halls of belief and walls of routine, everything in its place, safe and known, fearful to step out anew. Colleagues looking out the side of their eyes because cataracts of condemnation have degenerated any central vision of goodness, beauty, grace. Beloved ones whose identity, even their very name, doesn’t fit plastic boxes society puts us in. So many good people just scrabbling for any brailled good news, who still smile, laugh, learn when we share what we read or join in what gives us joy. Even picking up the ball and bat of a new study group, worship service, volunteer effort and taking another swing, just hoping this time to hit a home run.

In recent weeks, several new friends among us echoed what she did when we chatted a week ago at the Jimmie Hawkins event. Something like: more evangelical faith didn’t work anymore. Tried other places. Nothing clicked. Wasn’t going anywhere, ready to give up hope. When someone told her to try the church with the big red doors downtown. “It’s been wonderful! Grateful!” In like spirit, we chat about others we know who might find faithful companions here. I caught up on the phone this week with a member who hasn’t been here in a while: “Sounds great! Maybe you’ll see me again soon!” Hallelujah! I wonder whose face comes into focus in our hearts.

Friends, as we try to perceive what God sees, I know it’s hard. I’m sad people give up on faith we try to live—relevant, loving, inspiring, humble yet confident and convicted, fun and joyful, insightful for the mind, tenderly moving in the heart … all because what we hear so often upsets us, even hurts us deeply. I get mad if we get lumped in with everything else that blinds—bad theology, fear-filled threats, vile abuse—even as I want to shout with banners on our building and share with tender listening empathy … there is another way! And truth is, I feel responsible, in part, because (you know) we’re not always good at living openly, speaking confidently, inviting others generously to share our journey. I yearn with Jonathan Walton to get beyond cesspools of personal piety for individual gain, and share ministry of compassion and concern for the defenseless, broken-hearted, oppressed, speaking truth that may question the status quo.

John tells us the question of faith gets immediately clear. It’s the kind of thing people like us still struggle with today. “Jesus, who sinned to cause this blindness, this suffering?” The disciples just voice what society in that time accepts, and truthfully what we can still tend to ask or at least feel in a scientific moralistic way we’re taught to view life. Why? There must be a reason. Cause-effect. Something bad. Did I do wrong? As we yearn for abundant life, for who we could be, what we could do, for how to help someone we love. As Jesus saw, knew the man must have asked: Why was I made this way? Is this always the way it will be? Can there be any hope?

Jesus heals the man’s vision. Like Adam was made from the earth, Jesus makes mud and puts it on the man’s eyes. You see, more than clear vision, he’s a new creation. It’s resurrection. Blind from birth, but now born again into new identity, possibility. Trouble is, others can’t see who he really is, beyond limits that framed him by laws that order their world. Confined by their assumptions, attitudes, comfortable social status, they fail to imagine. I wonder if sometimes we’re more the crowd and religious leaders than the blind man. The man washes and comes back able to see but can’t give others his lens. Doesn’t work. Tells them how, inspires them to get it, as they need it. And he grows to richer faith, deeper inspiration through all the questions, even quarrels. That’s good news—hope for all of us! You see, John writes for people who’d know how the blind man felt, when other faith leaders in their time condemned them for following Jesus and cast them out. And so, again the eyes of my heart see and weep for others in our time and place who’ve been condemned, outcast, or find they can’t continue in a faith that impairs and injures more than inspires. Lonely people screaming inside: Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. People like us just trying to steal away, steal away to some kind of home.

And friends, I believe we can share God’s Big Reveal. Living faith that helps people see more grace, feel more love and peace, envision possibility, know hope and power in Christ to live fully. I want people to get new lenses to view more clearly Jesus—the Christ among us—and God’s road signs for the world. To envision, to know fully abundant life in Love he embodies as God desires for all. That lived salvation he offered every day is why he went to the cross / and what resurrection is all about. I’d love to give people my glasses if that would help. But we know what happens when we try out someone else’s frames. When we impose our prescriptions, our biases on others dear to us or stranger, or expect a one-size fits all world. Headaches, heartaches. More than any specific prescription of faith, we can help people feel the Holy Spirit do that whole lens flipping testing routine, humbly asking “which is clearer for you?”

Seeking inspiration, I contacted one among us who’s a Braille Media Specialist with public schools. She shared challenges. The time and energy put into making the words and graphics was huge—scrambling every day to help seven students. Would the materials even get used? She knows some things made were forgotten or lost, or just used for mere minutes. Still, she writes, “I knew I was making a difference in children’s days / lives … making it possible for them to have close to the same materials or experience as their peers. Giving them a sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves and their work.”

Yes! I say, Hallelujah! More than some claim to possess all truth, some absolute doctrine to defend, we’re here to nurture together self-acceptance even amid imperfection, a sense of direction and accomplishment, ways to make a difference in the world. And we do it even when the impact isn’t evident, the goal or outcome guaranteed.

{Put on glasses …} Here’s how I see living faith through a lens of “You are loved.” God’s way of justice through relationship, peace in Christ radiant from within to the world around. I see us embody radical kindness, welcome—no shame, no blame—loving, sharing personal concerns and engaging realities of our world, every time someone walks in the door, at Wednesday dinners, through all our deacon calls and cards. I see us create brave space to question and to grow in youth group and all our adult study groups. I see us make mistakes, say sorry, and when it’s right, forgive and find a better way. I see us share a good life when we give far more than gain and accumulate. I see us faithful, fulfilled when we heal and help others see what’s possible in their lives, seeking resources of stable homes, food, education, jobs, joy, even working for hours on a sort of spiritual braille, if needed. That’s why we get up in the middle of the night to cuddle toddlers, call our college kids, or visit ailing parents and friends. That’s why we go to Lansing to put a magnifying glass on a social concern. That’s why we don safety goggles, reading specs, and blue light filtered glasses in all our various workplaces—in board rooms, classrooms, hospital rooms, business and arts, construction sites and legal chambers. That’s why we serve many other sons, daughters, children of humanity at Edison and Lincoln Schools, Ministry with Community, Habitat for Humanity, Rickman House, Loaves and Fishes, and so many more who yearn to feel this divine blessing of deep peace fill them, to know hope and find Sacred Purpose.

I can’t wait to see what new glasses we all get! Samuel anoints David to lead the people in God’s way. Jesus sends the blind man to wash in the pool named the one who is sent. So may we come, dear friends, and wash, and go on our way able to see, and committed to help others see.

Thanks be to God. Amen.