Sermon, Monroe UCC, March 3, 2002
Jesus performs a miracle. He heals a blind man. He spits on the ground (SPIT), mixes up some mud, and puts it on the man's eyes. (That's what I like about Jesus: he may be Lord, but he's also a very earthy fellow.) He instructs the man to go and wash off the mud in a pool. And the man is healed. He can see!
But that is only the beginning of the story. No sooner does this miracle happen, and there are suddenly all these people coming out of the woodwork, trying to hold it down; saying this miracle did not happen.
First of all there are the people in the neighborhood. They have a good answer: This ain't the same guy. It's just some Joe who looks like him. . . . So then they take him to the Pharisees.
And the Pharisees are even better!--as they provide the most beautiful example of institutional obfuscation ever recorded. What does this august body of wise old men do? They come down on Jesus for working on the Sabbath--for getting his hands dirty in that mud.
Finally the Pharisees ask the blind man--ex blind man--possibly ex blind man--what he thinks. And he claims Jesus is a prophet! Well that sure doesn't go over very well with the Pharisees. And they don't believe he's the same man either. So they go and question his parents. Yes, this is our son. And yes, he was born blind. But don't ask us how he came to see. He's a grown man. Ask him. (ASIDE:) Leave us out of this, please.
So the Pharisees call the man before them again, and they demand . . . that he deny Jesus. . . .
What a lot of fuss! I mean, it borders on the ridiculous, doesn't it? All these people running around. It reminds me of this Enron scandal, with all those bureaucrats frantically scrambling to plug the holes. What's going on here? . . .
There is something which does not like a miracle. There is something which refuses to acknowledge the presence of God. It prefers that things remain `normal'. It likes things simple and neat. It deals with the ambiguities of life by putting things in nice little categories--nice little boxes. This gives it a feeling of security. This gives it a feeling of being in control. So when something comes along which messes up all those neat little categories--when something comes along which doesn't fit into one of those boxes--it gets very anxious. And it will do anything in its power to get rid of it. It will belittle it. It will deny its existence. It will cast it out. And if all else fails, it will kill it.
Some people call it the demonic. Another word for it might be the great big cosmic not.
And it's everywhere. It's easy to see it in its institutionalized forms, such as the Pharisees. But if we're honest, we'll admit that there's a little bit of it in every one of us.
(Actually, I think the Pharisees get a bad press in the gospels, especially in John. The Pharisees probably weren't any better or worse than most such institutions. And the harsh treatment that the Pharisees, and "the Jews," receive in the gospel of John has more to do with the experiences of the early Church, when John was written, than with the times of Jesus. Let's not forget that almost all the good guys, as well as the bad guys, in the gospels are Jews, including Jesus.)
But even if the Pharisees don't deserve their bad guy role, they still help us to understand something. For the Pharisees embody the status quo--the powers that be. They represent that `conservative' element, in the worst sense of the word--which hangs on to the known and familiar and controllable, and rejects that which is unknown and unfamiliar and definitely not controllable. After all, the Pharisees have the most to lose, sitting there at the center of religious and political power.
And so, when confronted by a blind man who sees, the Pharisees must react. Because that blind man who sees--he is a subversive. He subverts the world of the Pharisees. He will blow it up, if they don't stop him. That known, safe, familiar world--he will burn it down, unless they destroy him first. And so the Pharisees call out . . . The Miracle Police!
The Miracle Police--who's one sworn duty is to stop, subdue, arrest, and bring in for questioning anyone who would stand on a crowded street and shout, GOD IS HERE! . . .
This sermon was inspired by a rock and roll song called The Dream Police. "The Dream Police, they got me out of my head. The Dream Police, they got me out of my head. The Dream Police--police--police--police. The Dream Police--police--police." And the singer tells of "those little men in blue" who are inside his head. And whenever he's trying to dream, those Dream Police, they stomp it out.
And that's what the Miracle Police are like too. They're these little men in blue inside my head. And whenever I'm about to think miracle!--they stop me. Whenever something beautiful happens in my life, and I'm about to acknowledge the presence of God, the Miracle Police say, That's not God; that's just luck. Or when things are going bad, and I'm trying to pray, it's the Miracle Police who say, Forget it Bud; no one's listening. And when I relate to other human beings, it's the Miracle Police who make me forget that every single one of them. . . is a miracle.
And that's what the Miracle Police do to that man who was blind. Can you imagine being in that guy's shoes? Here he is, just bursting to exclaim this miracle that has happened to him. And no one will believe him. Not only won't they believe him, but they tell him that he is not him. He's just someone who looks like him. What a complete denial of a human being. Not only don't we like you, but you're not here.
Hey!--You there. Yeah, you! You're not ______; you're just somebody who looks like ______. . . . And you!--You're not ______; you're an imposter! And you!--What are you doing here? You may look like______, but we know you're really not ______. . . .
But people; that's what the Miracle Police make us do to each other all the time. And to ourselves too. . . .
But you know, I really love this man who was blind. Because he stands up to those Miracle Police. When the people deny his identity he cries back: I am too me! When the Pharisees call Jesus a sinner, he calls Jesus a prophet! And when they demand that he deny Jesus, he throws it right back at them:
"Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
They couldn't convert him. They couldn't shut him up. They could not bring him around to the obvious superiority of their point of view. Oh what a pain in the neck this ex-blind man was. They must have really hated him. For he threatened to open a crack--a crack through which a beam of light might shine, and expose how dark and dusty their world really was. And so finally there was nothing for it but to put him out of sight and mind. So first they put him in his place: "You were born entirely in sin." And then they drove him out.
But then that's the problem with miracles, isn't it. They threaten to let the light in. They threaten to show us how faithless we have been. They put us in a position where we have to make a choice between new life or remaining comfortably where we are. Yes; miracles are very awkward. So you'd better call out those Miracle Police! . . .
Do you believe in miracles?
When God moves in the lives of your brothers or sisters, do you celebrate it with them? Do you say yes to what's happening to them? Or do you pooh-pooh it?
When God moves in your church--when God does things right here, at Monroe Congregational, do you say, Amen!? Or do you send it to a committee?
When God moves in your life, do you let somebody tell you, Not!?
When God moves in your life, do you let those little voices inside your head--those Miracle Police inside your head--those little men in blue--do you let them tell you? . . .
Well don't! Don't let them. Don't listen to them.
When God moves in your life, say yes! Celebrate it! SHOUT about it! . . . And give thanks.