Summary: A sermon that is part of my story interwoven with some theology of disability. I have Cerebral Palsy. The doctors told my parents that I would never walk or talk. God made me a preacher who walks just fine. Feel free to use my story for God's glory.
42 years ago today on July 1, 1976 there was a baby fighting for his life in the PICU at Saint Frances Hospital in Peoria. The baby had begun to breathe while still in the womb, and his lungs coated with fluid cutting off oxygen to the brain. The truth is that the doctors should have done a C-Section. The baby was at least two weeks over due, maybe even a month overdue. He was 10.8 pounds and 23 inches long at birth. Not a typical newborn size. But C-Sections were not as common back then, and on the night the baby was born the doctor was too drunk to notice that the baby was in distress. July 1st was the ninth day in the PICU for this baby whose parents we told on June 22, the night of his birth, that he would never live through the night. At some point on June 23rd the baby’s parents were told that it was a miracle that he made it through that first night. Perhaps that was why his nurse Sally refused to leave his side on those first couple of nights. She refused to give up on this baby who was already a fighter. Maybe she saw something in that baby that the doctors couldn’t or wouldn’t see. As the days went on the baby grew stronger and stronger. Yet, his parents were told that perhaps they should find a good home for the baby, because he would be too much of a burden to care for at home. After all, the doctors said, this boy will never walk or talk. This is a story I think of quite often at this time of year. The baby did end up getting released from the hospital on July 4, 1976. And, after a brief show and tell at the campground his grandparents were staying at celebrating the holiday, the baby did go home where he was cared for by his parents. I guess that is the reason why the 4th of July is such a special holiday for me. As the son of a Navy Vietnam veteran, I was raised to respect and be thankful for my country. But, for me, the 4th of July is a celebration of God’s power. You see, it is that day that I celebrate the day God ended my birth story, and empowered to grow up to become the man that stands before you today as a minister of God’s love, God’s grace, God’s truth, and God’s power.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus encounters a man who was born blind. In that time many people who were blind or otherwise disabled were allowed to make a living by begging, and the best place to beg was near the temple because not only was it a high traffic area, but also because people going to and from the temple were more likely to be charitable. When the disciples saw this man they asked Jesus a very theological question. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It may not seem like a theological question to us.. In fact, it kind of seems silly. However, in that time Jewish people believed that disabilities were the result of the sin of either the parents or of the one with a disability. The theologians of the time, the Pharisees and Sadducees, would even hold debates on whether or not one could sin in the womb. Of course, we know that disabilities are not connected to sin. (most of the time anyway.) Jesus, knowing the common held belief about sin and disabilities, took the disciple’s question as an opportunity to teach about God’s power. “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered, “this happened so the power of God could be seen in him. Some translations of this text say so that the works of God may be seen in him, but I think that power is a better word here. I like the word power, because Jesus used his divine power to physically heal the man right after his little teaching moment, but power also sets the stage for the rest of the story of the blind man. This story most likely occurred on the last day of the Feast of the Tabernacles. The Feast of the Tabernacles was the last of the three yearly festivals that required Jews to go to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s provision. This festival took place in the fall, and was basically a weeklong celebration of thanksgiving for the harvest that God had provided them by his power. It was the custom of the priests to take water from the water of Siloam and pour it on the altar of the temple on each day of the festival. Throughout the year the water of Siloam was used to baptize convert to the Jewish faith. So it is in that context that Jesus, after rubbing some mud that he made with his own saliva on the man’s eyes, sends the blind man to wash in the water of Siloam to be healed from his blindness. John’s original audience would have no doubt connected this story with the Feast of the Tabernacles when they were reading this Gospel. Jesus could have healed the man by just saying a few words or a countless number of ways, but I believe that Jesus sent the man to the water of Siloam so that everyone watching would connect the healing with the Festival, and by doing so proclaim that God not only has the power to provide a bountiful harvest but also has the power to do things beyond their and our imagination. I believe that everything Jesus did was very calculated. He healed this man to change the man’s physical condition, but, as I said earlier he was seizing the moment to teach everyone in that place about the power of God. I am sure that Jesus knew that the religious leaders would reject this teaching, and they did. Verses 13-34 show that they not only rejected Jesus’ message, but they went further and rejected the man who had been healed. And, of course, Jesus used their refusal to believe in Him and the power of God as yet another teaching moment. The last six verses of this morning’s Gospel reading tell us that God not only has the power to heal us physically, but God also has the power to change us from the inside out. Meaning God’s power can transform us from a sinful human being to a child of God who through God’s power can change the world. The last lesson in John 9 comes through a judgement. It is a judgement of the religious leaders of the time for sure, but to honest I read it as a judgement of all religion. Stay with me. I am a United Methodist through and through. Sometimes I am a Methodist to a fault. As you will grow accustom to, the will almost never a week when I do not reference and or quote John Wesley. I am a Wesley theologian, and I will unpack what that means over the coming weeks. But, my new friends, my brothers and sisters, Jesus did not come to bring religion. He came to set us free to be in relationship with our heavenly Father through him and the Holy Spirit. The message of John 9 is that we must be willing to come to God through Jesus and allow him to heal our spiritual blindness. Most of our spiritual blindness was healed on the day we accepted Jesus Christ as way, the truth, and the life, and as our persoal Savior. But, I believe that our “religion” can make us blind to God’s truth. Sometimes church traditions get in the way of what God is doing because we have never done it that way before. None of us are perfect, but the only way we are truly healed of our spiritual blindness is when we allow God to shape and mold our hearts to break for what breaks His heart. It is only when we allow God to mold and shape that we truly begin to see the truth of God’s love, grace, and power. When we can do that, we can and will start to become people, to become a church that can truly live life to its fullest. When we as a church begin to live life to the fullest, it is then that we can change the world around us. If only the Global church would embrace this truth. Just think what the world would be like,