Have you ever had one of those experiences when because of something that someone has said or done, or because of something that you have read or experienced it feels like the light bulb has suddenly been turned on? One of the great joys of having a household of young children (as it is for me) or perhaps being in close proximity to grand children as it is for some of you, is that those little light bulb moments are happening for children all of the time.
There is nothing quite like seeing the excitement of a child who is able to do something that they weren’t able to do before. In the Battrick household we have gone through many of those moments in the last couple of years. Like when Isaac was able for the first time to ride a bicycle without it toppling over, and when Malachi wrote down his first sentence, and recently when Joshua read the first page of a story book and realised that at last the strange symbols on the page were beginning to make sense, and when Nahum (our youngest son) worked out that the feelings that he was having meant that he needed to go and use the toilet! As it is for children, so it is for all of us.
None of like to live in the darkness, and I am sure that there have been experiences for each one of us in our lives, when something has happened which has made us feel like we are moving out of the shadows and into the clarity of the light. As we look back on everything that has happened before that moment, we can almost feel embarrassed that we did not work it out before, because once the light has gone on it all seems so obvious, and so straightforward.
It is the excitement of this light bulb experience that the writers of the Gospel of John are seeking to convey to us in the story that we have just heard of the man who is healed by Jesus. What an extraordinary story it is. Jesus meets this man on the road side. He has been blind since his birth, and everyone in the community knows about it. In fact his blindness defines who he is, and what he is able to do. Because there weren’t opportunities for people who were blind in that culture, he has to beg every day because he cannot work. We never find out his name, and probably most of the people who lived around him did not know it either. He is simply the blind man, who sits on the road side dependent on others to give him charity.
But it is not just his blindness that defines him. The encounter which we have just heard begins with Jesus’ disciples asking Jesus whether the man’s lack of sight has been caused by his own sin or by the sin of his parents. If Jesus’ disciples are asking that question, then we can presume that the whole community has been asking it throughout his life as well. So he sits on the road side, a man who defined by being unable to see, a man who believes that he is blind because of sin.
As I have been reflecting on this Gospel passage this week I have been trying to imagine what it would be like to stand in the footsteps of this man. What would it be like to be blind from birth in a society that offers no assistance? What would it be like to beg because there are no other opportunities for employment? What would it be like to have other people presuming that I am the way that I am because of sin that I can do nothing about?
I think that it is pretty clear that the combination of all of those things in this man’s life would have powerfully influenced how he understood himself. We could say that it put him into a place of darkness, not simply because of his physical condition, but because of the way that others saw him, and treated him – as a lesser person than the rest of them.
Jesus comes to him, and makes some mud from the dust of the earth, and puts it on his eyes. For that short encounter we are right back at the start of creation. When God stoops down and takes mud from the earth and lovingly moulds and forms and creates humanity. Whatever else has gone in this man’s life, Jesus says in the action of applying this mud, that he is now a new creation, free from all that bound him before. Then Jesus asks the man to go to the pool and to wash off the mud, and for the first time in his whole life he is able to see. No longer to live as a second class person in that community, no longer to live in the darkness. Jesus restores his sight and he restores his dignity. What a wonderful story of good news.
Which is all very well for that man 2,000 years ago, but what difference does it make for us today?
Well, the first thing we can say is that this story gives us hope. It reminds us that there nothing that is so filled with darkness that the light of God’s love cannot be shone into it. Which is very good news for us to hold on to when the pressures of this world can sometimes suggest to us that the darkness of war and disaster and injustice are prevailing. When we have those feelings we cling on to the hope that in the end the light of Christ will brighten all of the darkness.
But there is something else that we might reflect upon together this morning, because this story is not just about that healing, it is about calling as well. We see in the way that the story develops, that this account is no longer simply about a man who has his sight restored, it is about a man who is called to follow Jesus, and to bring others with him on the journey.
The Bible is full of stories about people (often very ordinary people) being called to be part of God’s divine mission of love. One of the connecting characteristics for all of them, is that they are called into a journey without knowing how that journey will end. They respond in faith, to the invitation to walk in the light of God’s love. This man does not simply go back home to celebrate that he can see. He at once begins to search out Jesus, and to take others with him so that they may experience the power of God’s love as well. He becomes one more person in the long line of people who have been called by God to be part of God’s plan. Like David, whose calling we heard about in our Old Testament reading this morning.
This man who was blind returns from the pool, able to see for the first time. No longer does he just rely on the sound of voices. For the very first time he is able to put faces to the names that he has heard all of these years. But the irony is that they, who have always been able to see him, are no longer sure that they are seeing the same person. So they ask him, “are you really the man who used to sit and beg?” and he has to try to convince them. This man has been changed by the love of God, and people find it hard to recognise him. He is the same person but he has been transformed.
Although he has been blind and is seeing them now for the first time, they have been able to see all of the time, but somehow now seem to be blind to what is going on. So he begins, hesitantly at first to piece together what God has done for him, until he realises that he needs to go in search of Jesus and finally finds him and worships him. But not before the religious leaders of the day, who are afraid that something is happening which they cannot control or explain, throw this man out of the synagogue.
You see, this story is about much more than a man who is given sight. The Gospel writers are pointing us to that pattern that each one of us is called to follow. To be people who having been given the light are called to remain faithful to Christ as we seek to share the good news with others.
For some of us, our calling by God may have been dramatic, like it was for Saul on the Road to Damascus, who met Jesus in a blinding light experience and who not only had his life changed completely in an instant, but changed his name to Paul as sign that his very identity had been transformed. For others of us, our calling will have been, and may continue to be, a rather less dazzling experience of light, more like the experience of watching a plant of the window sill during summer, which slowly bends towards the sun light. We might turn the pot around (so that the plant is facing into the darkness of the room), but it will not take long for the plant to begin to move again in the direction of the light.
Some of us will be able to talk about Christ’s calling to us to follow, and we will be able to pin point a key moment, or time or event when something extraordinary took place, that propelled us forwards into faith – a dramatic light bulb moment, as it was for the man in this story. For others of us there will be no tangible moment, just a sense that God has been with us, as we have continued to be faithful in our journey. As if the dimmer switch is slowly and incrementally being turned upwards, so that little by little we have come to understand the light of God’s love shining upon us.
I think the writers of the Gospel of John are using this story of the healing of this man, to help us who read it now, to reflect upon our own experiences of being called by Christ into God’s family.
Some of us like, the man who was blind, will have had the experience of our family and friends telling us that we are no longer the people that we were. Others of us, like this man, will have faced rejection from our neighbours because of the faith that we hold. All of us who have had the experience of being met by Jesus, will like this man, know that we have had to continue to look for him, and to strive to follow him, and to be faithful even when that is difficult.
The earliest Christians were called ‘Children of light’, they understood themselves to be a beacon of Christ’s light for others. Which is why our faith needs to be resourced through ongoing discipleship and learning, and prayer. That is why it is so important to be immersed in a committed and vital congregation such as this one. A community in which we will grow and be nurtured in faith, as we have been in the past, but also a community in which we will expect to see others join us.
In this parish we have made a commitment to being a Church that is shaped by this calling to share in God’s mission of love for the people of this district. We are not a private club or membership society, we are ‘Children of Light’, we are the ‘Body of Christ’. We know that what we have experienced in Christ is too good for us to simply keep for ourselves (as if it were a private possession) it is to be shared with all those around us. That is why I am so grateful that Barry and John and Elaine have made the commitment to work together as a ministry team to lead and inspire us not only in our own worship, and growth and care for each other; but in the challenging task of sharing God’s love with those who live around us – that they too may hear the good news that we cherish here.
So we gather here week by week to be strengthened, re-charged by Word and Sacrament and our fellowship with each other, to live in the world as people of light. Today we rejoice in hope as we hear again the story of the man who was given the gift of sight. Jesus says to us, as he said to that man, come and live in my light, and share that light with others. If we hear that renewing voice again this morning, the question for us is, in all that we do this week, how will we respond?
Rejoice, Children of Light, shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father!