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Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 19, 2023

John 9:1-41

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

When I was serving in my first call at American Lutheran Church in Chinook, Montana, I had a member there named Terry. Terry was blind. He had been blind his whole life. Terry gets around just fine though, thank you very much. He leads a full, busy life. He is an active member of the congregation. He is a person of deep faith in Jesus. Out in the narthex of the church there is a Braille version of the Lord’s Prayer Terry had done.

I would often see Terry around town with his walking stick, tap-tap-tapping along the curb. He’d joke with people that he kept trying to get his driver’s license, but that, for some reason, they just wouldn’t give it to him, so he had to walk everywhere. I was always amazed at Terry’s sense of humor. I was also amazed by this ability to find his way to the store or the post office or the church without being able to see, just by tap-tap-tapping his cane.

But there was another amazing thing about Terry. Terry could recognize people. Even without sight, he could recognize people simply by hearing their voices. I remember running in to him at the grocery store just a few days after arriving in Montana. He obviously couldn’t see me, but he said, “Hi Pastor!” I hesitated to say it, but I was so shocked I just had to ask: “Terry, how did you know it was me?” “Oh, I recognized your voice,” he said. Terry had met me exactly once before, at a meet and greet during the call process, but he knew who I was. Just by hearing my voice, he recognized me.

Even more remarkable, things often got busy and chaotic and noisy down in our church basement, but Terry always knew who was there. He could pick out the voices in the crowd, even on the other side of the room. He recognized people better than some people with perfect eyesight! He would hear their voices, even just a snippet in the midst of all the hub-bub, and he knew who they were.

In our gospel reading for today we meet a man who, like Terry, was born blind. Jesus and his disciples encountered this blind man, which led to some interesting conversation among them. The disciples assumed that either the man or his parents had done something wrong, and that was why he was blind. This was a common enough belief at the time. You even come across it sometimes today.

But Jesus dismissed the idea altogether. Instead, Jesus focused on what God could do with this unfortunate situation. Then Jesus spat on the ground and made a little salve of mud. He put the mud on the blind man’s eyes and told him: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”

The man heard Jesus’ voice and recognized it as a voice he could trust. He trusted him enough to do what he said. He went to the pool of Siloam, washed, and his sight was restored. He could see again!

But this was only the beginning. As wonderful as the miraculous healing of this man’s eyes surely was for him, the real wonder of the story comes at the end of the reading.

After he was healed, an almost humorous chain of events unfolded. The Pharisees started an investigation which had them running around like the Keystone Cops. They were upset that Jesus did his healing on the Sabbath. There were rules about practicing the healing arts on the day of rest. There were even rules about kneading things together, which Jesus did to make the mud. So, they launched an investigation looking for something, anything, that could trap or discredit Jesus. They questioned the man. They questioned his parents: “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?” They questioned the man again, who said, “Look, all I know is I was blind, and now I see!”

When the Pharisees kept pestering him, he dropped a sick burn on them, saying, “Why are you so interested? Do you also want to become his disciples?” When the Pharisees suggested that Jesus was not from God, that he was a sinner, the man argued back that he had to be from God. “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

This man showed that he recognized, at least to some degree, who Jesus really is. The Pharisees, in spite of all they have seen and heard, clearly did not. They saw, but they didn’t recognize.

Jesus heard that the now formerly blind man had been driven out (this probably means he was kicked out of the synagogue) so he came back to pay him a visit. Like a doctor following up on a procedure, Jesus came back to check on him. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asked him. In other words, “Do you believe in the one promised by God? Do you believe in the Savior God promised to rescue his people and restore all things?” “Who is he, sir?” the man responded eagerly. “Tell me, so that I may believe in him!” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking to you is he.” And the man replied, “Lord, I believe.” This formerly blind man now recognized Jesus not only as coming from God, but as the promised Savior. He recognized him as his Lord, and he worshipped him.

The healing of this man’s eyes was a wonderful thing, but it was a sign that pointed to something even better. The restoration of this man’s eyesight was a true miracle, but it was a miracle that pointed to something even more significant. This man didn’t just see, he recognized. He recognized who Jesus is.

The Pharisees bumbled around on a wild goose chase, unable to recognize who Jesus was. They stumbled around in the dark, the blind leading the blind. Their spiritual blindness prevented them from recognizing Jesus as the Son of Man, the promised Messiah, the Savior from God.

The real miracle in this story is the miracle of faith. The real miracle is the miracle of seeing Jesus and recognizing him as Lord and Savior.

So, how’s your spiritual eyesight these days?

Like the Pharisees, we can have perfectly good vision, physically speaking, but, like them, we all have our spiritual blind spots. Our stubborn, self-righteous, know-it-all attitude is probably the biggest blind spot we have, as it was for the Pharisees. This is also the most dangerous, as it keeps us from seeing our need for Jesus, as it did for them.

There are also shadows and valleys we walk through that make Jesus hard to recognize. It is easy to lose sight of Christ’s presence among us as we experience difficulty or struggle. It is even easier to lose sight of him when things are going well, when our lives are full of all kinds of pleasant distractions.

We can be blind to Christ’s presence with us. We can be blind to his claim on our entire lives, not just the parts we want to give him. We can be blind to his call to follow him and serve him and obey him. We can even become blind to the salvation and new life he gives to us as a free gift of grace.

We all have our spiritual blind spots, to be sure. And those who are blind in this way, Jesus says, are stuck in their sin.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us in this blindness. He doesn’t leave us in the dark. He has come to open our eyes too. He comes to show us that he is the light of the world.

Today Jesus calls us back to the font of our baptism, our own pool of Siloam, so that our eyes might be opened once again. Jesus comes to us today through his Living Word so that we might hear his voice. He comes to us in his Holy Supper so that we might see and taste and touch his grace. The sign Jesus did in restoring this man’s eyesight points to the bigger miracle he continues to do today, which is to open our eyes in faith, in order to let his light in.

Note that the man didn’t fully recognize Jesus until he spoke to him, saying “the one speaking to you is him.” He didn’t fully recognize Jesus until Jesus spoke the word which revealed himself as the Son of Man, the promised Messiah, the Savior from God. It was then that he called Jesus his Lord and worshipped him.

Some among us struggle with their physical eyesight. All of us have spiritual blind spots. But today all of us can hear and recognize Jesus by his voice. Today Jesus speaks a word to us that reveals himself to us as our savior. He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” He says, “This is my body, my blood, given for you.” He says, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

We can recognize him by his voice. And in so doing, the eyes of faith are opened. We recognize that he is here with us. We recognize him as our Lord, and we worship him.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church