March 22, 2020 – Learning to See

Texts: 1 Samuel 16:1-13John 9:1-41

I hope that this is working well and that all of you are able to see and hear me. A little later today, I’m going to try to let us all see each other, and I hope that will work as well. I’ve been aggressively muting everyone as a means to try to help minimize distractions as we are all worshipping from our homes, or from elsewhere…but it also feels strange. I’ve never shushed anyone from the pulpit. I did once call on someone, a child, who had raised his hand. He wanted to know why I kept saying his name…which was Martin. I was preaching on Reformation Sunday. His grandmother was embarrassed. At the time, I was surprised. I’m sure I’ve caused people to have a few questions, but I’m not used to being asked them right in the moment…and, at the risk of encouraging someone to raise their hand with a question once we are back together, I now I think it was hilarious.

Anyway, it’s a strange feeling, standing here in this pulpit preaching to an almost entirely empty church. In my time here so far, none of you have raised your hand with a question, but at least some of you have laughed at my jokes and I can look out and see you thinking, nodding, shaking your head, staring at the floor in what I’ll just pretend is deep thought and not numbing boredom…and, today, I could switch the feed to let me see at least some of you, but then that is what we would see on the video, and I don’t want to do that to you.

Of course, none of this is news. This is strange. All of this is strange.

Last month, in my first sermon here, I preached about Moses entering into the cloud, trusting that God would reveal the path, even if only one step at a time.

I had no idea how relevant that would become. I was writing that thinking about the path forward, but, mostly, I was looking back, thinking about the path I had been on, ready to turn and look ahead, at a path that, as it turns out, was just about to take a sharp, blind turn.

I’ve preached on patience and on trust, thanking you all for the trust you have placed in me as your pastor, hoping that I will prove deserving.

That trust is so much more important now, but I hope you all realize that trust is not only in me. It is in your Session, it is in this community as a whole, and, most importantly, it that trust is in each other. God created us and calls us always to be in community.

That calling has never ceased, and it does not cease now. Our ways of being together and being in community have always been changing, and we’ve never been able to see very far down the path those changes have taken us on.

And that’s why I think todays texts are so important and appropriate to right now.

In our text from I Samuel, we open with God telling Saul to stop mourning over the leadership failure’s of Saul. Saul was Israel’s first king, and had been chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to leadership, but Saul was not, in the end, a worthy leader, and ultimately set out to enrich himself, keeping that which God had ordered destroyed. When our story picks up, Saul is still in power, but God has rejected Saul’s leadership, and, at this moment, only God knows who has been chosen. So God sends Samuel to find this new, future, king to the town of Bethlehem, the sons of Jesse. Samuel, after some concerns, arrives, and sees Jesse’s oldest, a tall, strong, warrior looking man and thinks surely man looks like a king, surely this is the one God will choose…but no. God does not see the same way that we see. Instead, God takes Samuel through an almost comic scene, as 7 sons of Jesse come before him and are passed over. The future king David, who has not been named yet in the story, is the eighth son, and is considered so unlikely a candidate, that he isn’t even there. He’s out in the fields with the sheep. Surely this must have been a part of the inspiration for that moment in Cinderella, where the Prince, having visited every house in the realm comes at last to Cinderella’s house…but she’s kept away.

And yes, the text does tell is that David too, is handsome. Being good looking isn’t disqualifying, but it’s not the thing God was looking for. God sees our hearts, and our potential. Even in this moment, when we are distracted by the disruptions to our routines, God sees a way forward.

In our text from the Gospel of John, we again have questions of sight. The man was born blind and Jesus gives him vision. I almost said restored his vision, but that would have been incorrect—he had never seen before. Vision is a new thing to him, which makes this even more miraculous, because it seems he’s still able to function. When we look around there are so many visual cues we only understand because of our lifetime of experience—it’s why you can look at this screen, or a painting, and see depth—your brain knows that slightly darker areas are in shadow and can put all of that together to perceive how things fit together without even thinking about it. This man would not have built that knowledge, but God knows he needs it and gives it to him along with his new sight.

Yes, this is a miracle, this new sight given to this man, but it’s still human sight.

The divine sight in this story belongs solely to Jesus.

We open with Jesus, walking with the disciples, as they come across this blind man. He’s clearly at least somewhat familiar to them, since they know he was born blind. The disciples look at him, and they see a theological argument, perhaps a sermon illustration, and so they ask Jesus if the man is blind because of something he did, or something his parents did. It seems that this blind man is so familiar to them that he has become like the furniture, just part of the room. Maybe something we can talk about, perhaps we can move it from one corner to another…but that stain, that’s been there forever. You’re never getting that out.

Let’s skip ahead, to the Pharisees. They see this man, newly healed, as a few things. First, they see him as a problem, because they are also trying to lead the community, but he didn’t get better because of anything they did.

So then some of them try to use the formerly-blind-man as a bludgeon against Jesus, because he had been healed on the sabbath. Fortunately, others were not quite so short-sighted, and recognized that healing is a gift from God. In the end, they aren’t sure what to do with this now-seeing man, and so they make him leave so they won’t have to deal with it.

The disciples saw this man as a sermon illustration, a tool for theological discourse. The Pharisees saw the man as a problem. Only Jesus saw the man as a man who needed help.

Samuel was distracted by height and apparent physical strength, blinded by his preconception of what a king should look like. The disciples were distracted by questions of fault and blame: was the man blind because of his own sin, or his parents’? The Pharisees were distracted by their own ideas about that the rules should be. Only Jesus saw the man as a person, as a child of God, and one made in the image of God.

Right now, we are distracted by our attachment to the way things used to be. We are stuck thinking about when will things return to normal, when will we get back to our old lives. We are distracted by the shortcomings of the technology in front of us; the ways it doesn’t quite live up to our expectations of it, the imperfections and limitations…or perhaps we are distracted by a sense of wonder that this has all worked so much better than we thought (please, let it mostly be the latter).

This is true of me just as much as everyone else. I’ve been distracted by questions of how to get this setup working, whether we should use this tool or that one, this method or another. Questions of how to set up the trinity of devices in front of me (yes, three: my phone on a tripod for the video, one computer to run this meeting, including to pick up my audio and display the slides, and another computer with my script. And even if I hadn’t spent my week distracted by those questions, I still wouldn’t see what God sees.

Over the past few days, as I’ve made trips to the Food Lion up on Sunrise Summit, I’ve passed, at least twice, maybe three times, the same man, walking up the hill, putting out his thumb asking for a ride. I hadn’t thought too much of it until last night, when I realized that is exactly the thing I’m talking about, the kind of thing that I have learned to ignore. In D.C., I learned to only notice the pedestrians who were about to step into the street. Growing up, I learned to never pick up hitchhikers, because they could be dangerous. Through my life, I have learned so many excuses to not see this man, walking up the hill. And even now, like the Disciple’s, I am using him as a sermon illustration in part because I did not stop to help him. Learning to see is hard.

God sees our potential. God knows what is planned for us. I don’t know how to tell you to see those things like God sees. But God also sees that there are people among us who need help, and God sees that there are people among us who needed help before this outbreak started. So let’s look for them. Let’s look for the people we can help, and let’s figure out how to help them. Let’s find better ways to see and help each other.