The fourth in our series of “Giving it Up” features the story of the man born blind, the sixth of Jesus’ miraculous signs in the Gospel of John. Our theme was “Giving up the Status Quo,” so my sermon takes a look at how we deal with change. Changes, even good changes like the man experienced, can cause chaos and disruption in our lives.
One of the major themes of Lent is changing our habits (giving things up, renouncing old ways), so that our lives might align more closely with God’s purposes. What do you think? How have you dealt with changes–good or bad–in the past?
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb? Change, what’s that? Seriously, although this was a silly example, change can be really hard. Which is why this week for our “giving it up” series, we’re going to be thinking about “giving up the status quo.” Because doing that—giving up the status quo and accepting change—isn’t easy.
In our gospel reading, the man born blind undergoes a change. Through his encounter with Jesus, this man receives sight—and his whole life is changed. Although this is what you would assume is a good, even great, change for this man, it’s not necessarily received that way.
His neighbors and those who knew him at first can’t even decide if it’s really him. Some think it is him, others think it’s just someone who looks like him. Even when the man speaks up and assures them that he truly is the blind man, they still persist in their uncertainty—how is this possible, they wonder. How is this the same man?
Although nothing else about the man—his looks, his voice, his clothing—has changed, he is still unrecognizable to them. To them, his blindness was his identity. It was the single most important thing about him. How often do we define others, and ourselves, by some single part of our identity? More than we ought to, for sure. And more often than not, like the man born blind, the thing we identify someone by is some deficit, or negative.
Think with me, about how quick we are to assign negative identities: that’s so and so—she has cancer. Or, she’s a single mom. He lost his job last month. He’s a high school dropout. Or she’s been depressed lately. We so often define people in terms of their shortcomings, or perceived deficits.
But we do it to ourselves, too. We let past setbacks and disappointments define how we see ourselves. We’ve gotten so good at defining others, at ourselves, by problems instead of possibilities, that sometimes we don’t know what to do when the situation changes. Like the neighbors of the man born blind who have defined him so fully in terms of his disability that they can’t recognize him when that blindness is gone.
And then, once these neighbors manage to accept that the man born blind has indeed been healed—they are unwilling to accept that this change is a good thing. His neighbors, even his own family members, seek to distance themselves from this miraculous change.
And at the end of the day, this change is too much for this community to deal with. For whatever reason, whether fear or doubt or distrust, the man born blind—maybe we ought to call him the man who can see—is kicked out of his community.
This change is just too much. We become so used to the status quo, that even if the status quo is bad, or not working, the uncertainty of change is too great a step to take. We’ve all been there before. When we do decide to make a change, or even when a change happens to us, unbidden, friends, loved ones, can’t accept the new situation. We might try to ignore the change and pretend everything is the same, or we might just drift away.
Because change is hard. It pushes us out of our comfort zones and makes us see things in new ways. Change is hard. But when Jesus comes onto the scene and into our lives, things start to change. When the one who turns water into wine is involved, change becomes the norm instead of the exception. The way we relate to God changes. Old divisions between Samaritans and Jews fade away. And even the one who is born blind can see.
When Jesus is a part of our life, things change. And that sounds good on the surface, but at its core, it’s disruptive, because change is always disruptive.
When God’s love in our lives changes the way we think of ourselves—it may upset some relationships. When we begin to value ourselves as much as God values us, we stop accepting less from others. We start making choices that build ourselves up, when so frequently society wants to tell us we are not enough.
When God’s justice changes the way we live our lives—it might cause disruption. Systems we took for granted might now be questioned. When we refuse to accept inequality, racism, sexism, and fear, we might be off-putting to old friends.
When God’s mercy changes our understandings of who deserves what—forgiveness, acceptance, love, mercy, grace—all become a way of life for us. But that type of life is difficult for others to accept.
When this type of change comes to town, we may begin to wonder whether change, even change that promises new life, is worth it. But it is so worth it. Jesus brings change into our lives, Jesus disrupts our lives, because the life Jesus wants for us isn’t just some sort of survival, or persistence, or merely the status quo, or any of the other ways we’ve excused only half-living life.
No, what Jesus wants for us is abundant life. Not just life, but abundant life. Abundant doesn’t mean perfect. Abundant doesn’t mean life without pain or hardships or problems. What abundant life means is being the people that God created us to be.
Accepting our neighbors, and loving our neighbors, the way that God loves them. Giving up patterns of behavior that are harmful to ourselves and to those around us. And accepting ourselves, loving ourselves, the way that God loves us. That is the abundant life that Jesus came to bring.
The status quo might be comfortable—but it does not bring abundant life. God does. God disrupts our lives and our patterns of being and existing, that we might see and have abundant life. Amen.