Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Different is Not Deficient

Sermon on John 9:1-41

We live in an age of scientific miracles.  It’s true.  Think about how far medical science has come in just a generation. Think of all the progress we have made in transplants and implants, prosthetics and artificial limbs.  We are very close to being able to grow our own organs in a laboratory, so that if, for example, our kidney fails, we won’t have to wait for a donor to get a replacement.  Every day, we are one step closer to making the Six Million Dollar Man a reality.

Now some of this is scary.  There are lots of ethical and moral questions that we as a society need to wrestle with.  And I believe that the church has an important voice in this discussion.  But there is so much being done in the world today that is truly transforming people’s lives for the better.

There have been huge advances in prosthetic limbs. Cochlear implants, which help people hear. Apparently in the past few years there have been these big advances in bionic eyes, which may one day literally help people born bind see.

But oftentimes, when someone first gets these types of implants, it’s really overwhelming. Think about all the stimulus that we get on a daily basis just in our ears. Not just the voices in the room, but the traffic outside, the whir of the air conditioning, the buzzing of the lights. Those of us who are used to it just tune it out, we’ve learned to do that so that we don’t think about it. But for someone who’s not used to it, getting something like a cochlear implant can be a huge change.

I wonder what the experience would have been like for the man in our story—not a deaf man getting implants, but a man born blind getting vision.  Coming out of the waters of the pool, seeing for the first time, was he confused?  A little overwhelmed? Moved?  I’d like to think that the first thing this man born blind saw was the face of Jesus.  But how fleeting would that have been, after all there’s so much to take in.

It’s easy to see this story as simply a healing story.  It’s easy to view the man born blind as a powerless figure—as a person who just needed his sight back.

Jesus says, “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  Often this gets taken to mean that God made this man blind in order to then turn around and reverse the condition so that all of us could learn some sort of lesson.  But what kind of God would do that?  That’s kind of like saying, “This person was born deaf so that audiologists could have jobs.

One of my preaching professors in Chicago is also a man born blind.  He was born with only 10% of his vision.  This is what he has to say about this statement: “God’s works are revealed in this man born blind as he declares Jesus first a prophet, then a man from God and finally Lord. . . This story makes me smile, and I sense God smiling with me. The miracle is bigger than this man receiving physical sight: He sees Jesus through eyes of faith.”

Too often, we view people who are different from us simply as objects for ministry.  People who are powerless and weak, unable to care for themselves, who just need to be told how to do things right. And it’s often with the best intentions that we do this.  But when we let the disability define the person, well, we have lost sight of how God wants us to be.

It’s no coincidence here that John’s Gospel refers to “the man born blind” in that order.  Man first.  Blind second.  This is how Jesus sees us.  As people first.  And this is how God calls us to see each other.  People, children of God, washed in God’s waters, fed at God’s table.  Brothers and sisters.

Jesus gave this man exactly what he needed.  This didn’t start with the mud smeared on his eyes.  This began much earlier.  Though the man couldn’t see it, he could sense Jesus’ presence.  He heard his voice and he felt his touch.  All before he could see Jesus with his own eyes.

And, having been changed by Jesus, having been able to see Jesus through the eyes of faith, he returns to his community to tell everyone about what Jesus has done.  The object of ministry became the minister.

There are people that we all know, some here in this sanctuary today, who experience the world differently, at least different from the so-called normal.  Their ears may work differently, their eyes may work differently, their brains, or internal organs, hands or feet…different.

But different is not deficient.  And different does not define them.

Perhaps it’s time that we stepped back and let those people tell us their story.  Let’s let them tell us how Jesus has changed their lives.  How Jesus has touched their lives.  How Jesus has made them whole.

And in doing so, we too can experience the world in a new and different way.  We can begin to accept our own vulnerability.  We can begin to understand just how interconnected we are, how dependent we all are on each other.

Each and every one of us has been created so that God’s work may be revealed through us.  And we each have something to add to the story.  So that we all may behold the world like the man born blind, seeing Jesus for the first time: with wonder and joy and love.