The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Cong’l UCC
19 March 2023
I love that Jesus overturns the “blame the victim” mentality by saying that this man’s blindness is not fault of his own or his parents’; instead, his real thrust is giving new sight to the blind. There is certainly a literal dimension that can be derived from the story: that Jesus spat into the dirt, rubbed mud in the blind man’s eyes, and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam, restoring his vision. There are more healing stories about Jesus than anyone else in Jewish tradition. And if we limit our interpretation of the story to that one view, it is applicable only to that one person, 2,000 years ago, not to us.
Speaking metaphorically, we all have blind spots, don’t we? There are things we’d rather not know about – that we’d rather not see – perhaps because we are already overloaded with suffering in the world and even in our own lives. I know that lots of us are overwhelmed.
But we do an amazing job in this congregation of seeing and doing. And we do pretty well as a denomination also, especially through our One Great Hour of Sharing offering. Here is the thing about One Great Hour of Sharing: We didn’t necessarily SEE where our dollars were going when we gave last year at this time, but we had a vision for what it might do. (Are you able to visualize that distinction?) In retrospect, one of the things you made possible was an immediate UCC response to the relief from the war in Ukraine. But at the beginning of 2022, we had no idea that war would come to Ukraine bringing devastation and a huge refugee crisis. Even though none of us saw that situation in advance, your giving to One Great Hour of Sharing made refugee relief possible from the very onset of the crisis.
One of the shortcomings of focusing just on local outreach that we can see is that it limits our scope of vision to only those in our midst. There are great needs in other parts of the country and other parts of the world that you and I may never see ourselves, but they are situations where our global partners need our help. I’m not saying that doing local outreach work is unimportant. We know it is important because we can see it. But it is also vital that we develop vision that focuses more broadly on the needs of God’s world.
Sometimes our blindness is closer to home. We are unable to see what is most important. We take it for granted until it is gone, or almost gone – whether it is our health, our relationships, or just being alive. We need to open our eyes to the world around us, to the people around us, to ourselves, and to the holy.
There are things we cannot see with our eyes, but that we know to be true. Physicists don’t actually see subatomic particles, but they see evidence for their existence. And how many of us doubt the existence of quarks and neutrinos, just because nobody has ever laid eyes on them?
I listened to a talk by Amy Jill Levine, a respected New Testament scholar, and she claimed that there are real, invisible things in our lives that no one should try to negate or to take away. She spoke about faith. No one ever sees faith, and it isn’t even a logical concept. One can see the impact and result of lives lived faithfully. No one ever sees love, which also isn’t a logical concept. Yet we see the effects of love every day. Just because we cannot see things with our eyes does mean they are not real.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in The Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” If our blindness is in our hearts, rather than our eyes, we can ask God to apply some mud, and wash our hearts, and then we’ll be able to see. The restoration of sight to people like us, whose hearts are unable to see, is a tall order.
When Jesus is quoted in John’s gospel, saying, “I am the light of the world,” the gospel writer proclaims that it is Jesus who gives us a vision of what is real, because he illuminates reality for us: the things we can see with our hearts, rather than just with our eyes.
What is it that keeps you from “seeing rightly?” What is impairing your sight? I was reading a Lenten devotional essay this week and it struck me that what keeps many of us from seeing clearly is fear. The author claims that “frightened people will never turn the world right-side up, because they use too much energy on protection of self. It is the vocation of the baptized…to help make the world whole: The unafraid are open to the neighbor, while the frightened are defending themselves from the neighbor.
The unafraid are generous in the community, while the frightened, in their anxiety, must keep and store and accumulate, to make themselves feel safe.
The unafraid commit acts of compassion and mercy, while the frightened do not notice those in need.
The unafraid are committed to justice for the weak and the poor, while the frightened seem them only as threats.
The unafraid pray in the morning, care through the day, and rejoice at night in thanks and praise, while the frightened are endlessly restless and dissatisfied.” Is fear holding you back from seeing with the eyes of your heart?
John Newton’s blind spot was the self-deception that the slave trade was morally acceptable, but after having his viewpoint transformed, he wrote “Amazing Grace” to describe his experience. When have you been blind, but now you see?
This occurs not just among individuals, but in institutions, as well. The church has certainly has had its share of blind spots over the millennia, whether in forbidding the ordination of women, using scripture to justify slavery, demonizing LGBTQ folks, or developing Christian nationalism in Nazi Germany and in our own nation.
On a more local level, I wonder what our blind spots at Plymouth have been, and are today. I’m sure if we tried, we could come up with quite a laundry list! Where have we not had the vision to do what needs to be done? Sometimes our lack of vision involves traveling along the safe route, when taking some risks would be a more faithful response.
If we are bathed in the light of the Christ, we are called to open the eyes of our hearts and see the reality we cannot necessarily see with our eyes. May it be so. Amen.
 Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other than Our Own: Devotions for Lent. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017) p.60-61.