Muddy Waters
The Rev. Drew Stockstill
March 30, 2014 - John 9: 1-41

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Muddy Waters 
John 9: 1-41        

Rev. Drew Stockstill
Morningside Presbyterian Church
March 30, 2014


Let us pray: Gracious God, illumine our hearts and minds so that by the power of your Holy Spirit we may see what is good and right and true. And seeing, help us to do what is pleasing to you, so that your glory becomes visible in our words and deeds. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

When life-altering, headline news making events happen, there are usually more questions than answers. Tragedies like the Malaysian Airline disappearance, to mass shootings, to natural disasters, these events capture our attention and occupy our minds, fill our Facebook feeds, fuel our small talk and heighten our anxieties. How could this thing happen? Who’s responsible? How can we get control to prevent another?  There is plenty of speculation on the part of 24-hour news contributors and bloggers but speculation and assumptions is often all it remains. The rabble often dissipates without any clear resolution or answer to our burning questions. If answers do come, they are often somehow not that satisfying, they don’t make us feel better. The event was random. The killer came from a broken home. There was a mechanical failure. The answers some how don’t match the weight of our questions. “Yeah, but how?” “Why?” It’s kind of like the question the disciples ask Jesus at the beginning of the story today: “Why was this man born blind? Is he being punished for sin he committed or some sin his parents committed.” Jesus’ answers don’t quite satisfy their grasping for some logical explanation. He says, “Neither. He was just born blind and God’s power will be shown through him.” For us, after those events and their unresolved questions, we establish a new normal and wait until the next big event jolts us awake again and the questions all return.
I think it’s with this understanding that we can approach the story of the man born blind in John’s gospel. Jesus’ action here is more akin to an earthquake that jolts the community awake than it is to some kind of holy, helpful magic trick. I think there can be a tendency to misunderstand the community’s response to the blind man’s sudden transformation. It’s not like the kids at our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper marveling at Bill Packard- the magic man- pulling a dove out of his sleeve. “Whoa, how’d he do that?” A miracle is not a trick; it’s an act of God that brings healing to the world and glory to God. Here, the blind man given vision by Jesus through spit and dirt, amounts to a life altering community event and the questions flood in. There are eighteen questions that flood this story, all variations of: “But how could this happen?” The neighbors here are not just dense or ignorant, they are faced with an event that pushes at the very laws of reason and religion that make the world seem like it’s all under control. The man you’ve seen everyday, sitting by the side of the street begging for a little food or change if you can spare it, blind from the day of his birth, walks into your office and says, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go wash’ and so I did, I went and washed and received my sight.” It’s that. and the man’s not lying and he’s not crazy. He’s testifying to the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Queue the 24-hour news cycle, the blog posts and counter blog posts and tweets and Facebook shares and the lunch break conversations, “What do you think happened? Is it the same man or is it somebody else?” The story is covered in muddy water and the answers given just don’t seem to measure up. 
OK, so it’s an interesting story from the Bible and maybe there are some relatable emotions from this story to our lives today, but honestly, what’s this got to do with you or me? How is the relevant? Where is my “7 Steps to being a better Christian” take home tip? How does this story help me to get more friends at school and make all A’s or be a better partner or get along better with my mom or dad? I often hear that the Bible seems irrelevant for us today and that the job of a good, entertaining sermon should be to answer all questions, tie it up nicely to make us a better, happier, more Christian person. Well, I’m sorry to say, that’s not what the Bible teaches us about preaching. This story right here teaches us what preaching is. Here’s how: this man, blind from birth, touched by the hands of Jesus Christ, healed by spit and dirt and water – he’s a preacher. He’s doing what every preacher is called to do: tell the story of Jesus as you have experienced it. You want to know what this has to do with your life? How is this relevant for today? This is the story of a person who has met Jesus and who walks away transformed. This is the story of every person here who has faith that Jesus is real and present in his or her life and so, like the man, we are called to tell that story with our whole lives. We tell our story of meeting Jesus because many folks we encounter actually have more uncertainty, hurt or fear than faith and hope when it comes to the church and that’s what this story has to do with you, this is why it’s relevant. Like the man healed by Jesus, we have to tell others about how Jesus has affected us, to Preach.
This is a story about more than an amazing healing of a man, blind from birth. The healing is the beginning and a miraculous beginning it is.   It is an amazing healing, deeply incarnational and by incarnational I mean deeply personal, in the flesh. It’s intimate and gritty. Jesus is in your face. You know how when you close your eyes you can still feel a person’s presence? This is Jesus. Incarnational, God in the flesh and in this healing he’s a potter, working with the medium of clay, clay made with spit and dirt, clay taken from the earth, like in the beginning, in the garden where the potter, the creator is in the mud, fashioning a people, a holy community. Jesus is deeply personal, deeply present today.
If I’m sounding a bit evangelical today it’s because, well, I need to today because today we need share the Good News and make this story real and relevant and we need your help, we need your voice, we need you to be a part of this, to tell your story about how Jesus has affected you, because this week those who call themselves Fundamentalists did a very sad thing and we need the people to know that what those folks did is not part of the love of Jesus Christ. See, this week one of the largest charitable organization in the world, World Vision, announced they would hire Christians who are gay and in committed relationships to be part of their work of serving the poor. World Vision does truly amazing work on behalf of the most vulnerable around the world. They are a true witness to the work of Jesus Christ. They are present with those in the margins and they live in solidarity with the least of these, from refugee camps in Syria, to victims of natural disasters in the Philippines and victims of violence in the Congo. They provide sponsorship for thousands of vulnerable children around the globe and they depend on donors, mainly Christian donors, to do this powerful work. But this week, after the announcement that they would begin hiring openly gay Christians, Fundamentalists, blinded by sin, took World Vision hostage. Thousands of donors pulled their money from the charity in protest, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars committed to child sponsorships and relief work. They affectively brought one of the largest charitable organization in the world to its knees in two days at the prospect of an openly gay Christian in a committed partnership helping get food to starving children. In the two days following World Vision’s initial decision, the call center was flooded with furious calls. The president of World Vision reported that there were employees at the call center who had to quit because they couldn’t handle the stress and anxiety created by the incoming calls.  The anger and hatred spewed at them was too much. So-called followers of Jesus were willing to make victims of the most vulnerable in the world, willing to let life-giving funding dry up for hungry kids, because of their fear and hatred. That, brothers and sisters, is sin and disturbing blindness and that, I assure you, is not of God.
Do you want to know why the story of Jesus as we know it in the Bible is relevant today? It’s not a pretty 5-Step, How-to manual. It’s the muddy, gritty, soaking wet gospel of love.
At the end of the story from John’s gospel, Jesus is sitting with the now vision filled man. He’s been kick out of his community, kicked out because Jesus healed him, Jesus gave him sight to see the world as it is. Jesus is telling the man that he came into this world for people who are vulnerable. He’s come to help the blind see. But for those who claim to see, those who think they hold the keys to the kingdom of God, those who are willing to kick a man, touched by God, out of the community – in the case of John’s Gospel, the Pharisees who claim to not be blind, and in our case today, the Fundamentalists who let hatred of LGBT rights be the motivation for victimizing the poor and vulnerable around the world – he says to those folks, “You who say that you see. Your sin remains!”
The reason I need to sound like an Evangelical today is that we need to share some Good News of Jesus’ love for all and we need to name some sin. We need to name sin that touches all of us, and it does. We all have sin as part of our lives and we confess that. But we need to name some very particular sin today, sin of willful blindness in the face of the new holy vision of Jesus Christ; sin of hatred, bigotry, arrogance and violence. We need to name that sin because that is what Jesus came into the world to heal. In the face of this sin Jesus spits, and he gets messy, he makes clay from the dust and he spreads on the mud and he says, now go wash yourselves. And so we do, together in the muddy waters. And he heals.
This kind of hatred, this kind of blindness cannot continue and that is why we need to be the ones, each and every one of you here who has been touched by Jesus, we need to be the ones to testify to the gospel truth. We have to tell about Jesus’ love and grace. Folks are literally dying to hear the good news from us. That Jesus loves them. It won’t be easy. The man born blind has to tell the story over and over and still they can’t take what he has to say. It’s not satisfying. After telling his story so many times, watching even his own parents distance themselves from him out of fear, all he can say is the one thing he knows: “That though I was blind, now I see.” Tell that story y’all. We must. Tell the one thing you know. It might be a gritty, mud caked story filled with darkness and light, but tell it because Jesus is in it.
Let me start: One thing I know is that the Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters and restores my soul and when I walk through the dark valleys, I’m not afraid. So no matter who you are, whatever your skin color, whatever your gender, whether you’re gay or straight, wherever or whatever your faith is right now, whatever you have done or had done to you, Jesus is standing right in front of you, with his hands covered in mud and he’s saying, “I love you. I know you. I’m the one who heals you. And with me you are at home forever.” Amen.

UPDATE: I should have made clear in this sermon that World Vision reversed its decision to employ openly gay Christians in committed relationships after two days of protest.
Here is a link to a story about the announcement:
Here is thoughtful commentary on the whole story:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2014/03/i-dont-blame-world-vision-i-blame-homophobia-and-hate/


Last Published: November 21, 2014 11:48 PM