A sermon, based on John 9.1-41 and Ephesians 5.8-14, in the light, under the shadow of the coronavirus, preached and videoed in the Nave of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2020, and then uploaded and shared on-line.
A Homiletical Prologue
In forty-five years of preaching, I never have offered a preface to a sermon. Not even on September 16, 2001, the Sunday following 9/11.
I do so today, in these global days of the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic of the disruption of every norm we have known and on which we depend, of social distancing, of enforced isolation, of heightened fears and deepened anxieties, of widespread and spreading illness and death, would that there be an immediate miracle of the cessation of all harm and the restoration of all health and wholeness.
As we pray for that and we must, until and unless it comes, there is something we can do in these and in all times. That is, tend to our spiritual growth.
In this spirit, by the Spirit, I preach this sermon in the name of the one who dispels the world’s darkness, for he is Light; the one who heals our spiritual blindness that we may see God, others, and ourselves aright: Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our gospel passage speaks of the healing of physical blindness. Yet the words of our epistle, “Once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light,” refer to an ontological, existential transformation of who we are and what we do because of Jesus. Therefore, today, I focus on spiritual blindness. For that is the point of Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees, “That you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
Spiritual blindness. Our inherently human, sin-stained inability to see clearly God, others, and ourselves. Our incapacity to see clearly the right, however defined, and even when we do, to do the right consistently.
Through the “lens” (pun intended!) of Jesus’ healing ministry, we can see (again, pun intended!) how spiritual blindness is healed.
To Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, Jesus asked, “What do you want?” Bartimaeus answered, “I want to see again!” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight.(1)
Sometimes spiritual blindness is healed suddenly. Light dawns and remains. A greater revelation of who God is appears and abides. A deeper self-awareness comes and stays. A mountaintop moment occurs. Though lasting an instant, it is enough. For what we see, we do not, cannot forget. And unable to forget it, we act on it.
To the blind man of Bethsaida, Jesus placed saliva in his eyes, laid hands on him, and asked, “Can you see anything?” The man said, “I see people, but they look like trees.” Again, Jesus laid hands on him and the man’s sight was restored.(2)
Sometimes spiritual blindness is healed not suddenly, but steadily, gradually. The mountaintop moment, the bright dawning light of greater consciousness of God’s presence and of ourselves fades as quickly as it came. And it can feel as if we’ve made no progress. Whatever clarity and certainty of judgment, gone, lost. That is, until the awareness, the epiphany, pray God, comes again.
The man born blind had a harder time. Jesus spit on the ground and sealed the man’s eyes with soil and saliva. Then sent him stumbling to the pool of Siloam. What a ridiculous, humiliating spectacle! Nevertheless, the man received his sight.
Sometimes spiritual blindness is healed not suddenly. Not steadily. But only very slowly.
Even with best intentions, striving to do the right, we stumble. We make mistakes. Sometimes tripping in places where we’ve tripped before (compelling our confession that we thought we knew better!). Sometimes slipping on new terrain (which, added to the old areas of our lives, means we spend a lot of time face down on the ground!).
Still, whether suddenly, steadily, or slowly, whenever we seek the light of Jesus, following his word and will, the shadow of spiritual blindness is lifted and, with the man born blind and with John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace,” we can say, “I was blind, now I see!”
A final word on the healing of spiritual blindness. The suddenness, steadiness, or slowness of our experience (and probably for all of us, all three!) indicate no one-time occurrence, but an ongoing work of sanctification, deepening righteousness, growing in holiness of life.
The Apostle Paul knew this.(3) To the Christian church in Philippi, he wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” The Greek word translated “to know” also can mean “to see.” Paul wanted be free of his spiritual blindness. “I want to know (to see) Christ!” Then he confessed, “Not that I have already obtained this…but I press on to make it my own.”
The healing of spiritual blindness is continual. As long as we live, in this world and in the next, there is light for us to seek and to see. That light is Jesus. May the words of that song of thanksgiving(4) be our Lenten, nay, our constant prayer:
I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus…
In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the Light of the City of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
(1) Mark 10.51-52 (paraphrased; my emphasis)
(2) Mark 8.22-25 (my paraphrase and emphasis)
(3) See Philippians 3.10a, 12a, b.
(4) The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 490, words and music by Kathleen Thomerson (b. 1934)
Christ healing the man born blind (c. 1682), Nicolas Colombel (1644–1717)
Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus, Doménikos Theotokópoulos (aka El Greco) (1541-1614)
Jesus heals the blind man of Bethsaida, Eustache Le Sueur (1616-1655)