On 26 March, the fourth Sunday of Lent, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41.
A few years ago a 40 year old woman, Joanne Milne, from Gateshead in the North East of England, became famous, something she probably never expected to be. She was born deaf and was given cochlear implants to allow her to hear. Having waited four weeks from the operation, the implants were switched on and the first few minutes in the hearing world for Joanne were filmed. The film went viral on YouTube. Joanne was in tears as she heard the days of the week spoken by a nurse. Later she explained how amazing it was to hear running water, birds calling as they flew overhead, the light switch as it clicked, the voices and laughter of herself and friends. Having been aware of the lack of one of her senses, Joanne was learning what it was like to experience something completely new.
I think the man in our gospel story would have a good understanding of just how Joanne felt. He was born blind and was also fully adult. He had lived all his life in darkness, unable to see around him, reduced to begging to make a living. Whereas Joanne hopefully received sympathy and consideration in her life as a result of her difficulty, the man (or his parents) were suspected of being sinners and hence causing the blindness. Poor man!
Until recently nothing could have helped Joanne to hear. At that time, nothing could help the man to see. It was unheard of for a person born blind to receive their sight. Enter Jesus, and all that changed. It seems the man had heard of Jesus but we have no record that he asked for help. Probably he simply didn’t expect that anything could be done to help. Why ask for the impossible? Of course, we know that the man did receive his sight to the astonishment and confusion of his neighbours and those who had seen him begging, and to the consternation and annoyance of the Pharisees.
Rather like Joanne, the man became an instant celebrity. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. The Pharisees, as usual, were not happy with healing happening on the Sabbath. They were divided in their opinion about Jesus. They even struggled finally to believe that the man had actually been blind at all! That fact was settled by his parents but more questioning of the man didn’t help. In fact in the end the man found himself teaching the Pharisees that their reasoning was logically flawed. If a sinner cannot be heard by God, but Jesus must have been heard as he healed the man, how could Jesus be a sinner? The Pharisees’ answer was to drive the man out of the synagogue.
Jesus went on to explain about spiritual blindness rather that physical blindness. The man had been physically blind, walking in darkness, but he was spiritually open. He was prepared to do what Jesus asked him to do in order to be healed. He could see clearly that the Pharisees’ logic was faulty, darkened by prejudice. Given the chance to believe in the Messiah, he immediately recognised Jesus by worshipping him. This man had only had his physical sight for a matter of hours but he had well developed spiritual sight.
The Pharisees on the other hand could see physically and believed they could see clearly spiritually. They were the ones of whom Jesus said: “I came .. that those who do see may become blind.” Sadly the Pharisees were so blinded by their own certainty that they didn’t even understand as much as an untutored blind beggar.
John Newton, who had once captained slave trading ships and who had a reputation as a most profane and unruly person, would understand what Jesus meant by being spiritually blind and then gaining sight. When John eventually converted to Christianity he went on to become a clergyman. He wrote hymns, probably the most famous of which begins:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
St Paul, writing to the Ephesians points out to them that they too were spiritually blind, walking in darkness until they met Jesus, the light of the world, and began to live in the light. In the same way that Joanne’s hearing and the blind man’s sight transform their lives, spiritual sight should transform the lives of those who receive it. The outcome for the Ephesians, and for those of us who claim to be Christians, is that our lives with bear fruit: all that is good and right and true. The way that will happen is for us to find out what will please the Lord and to do it.
Walking in spiritual darkness is like being dead. Paul urges the Ephesians and us:
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor