Spit and the Spirit of God

John 9:1-41        Spit and the Spirit of God       Lent 4 April 3, 2011
We’ve had some long scriptures read in church recently!  It’s been good, right?
It might be a little uncomfortable for some of us, but that’s OK.
I get the sense that throughout the rest of the week we’re bombarded with thousands of ways not to listen, thousands of ways not to let a story unfold without our meddling in it.
And as a result, we’re rapidly forgetting how to just simply listen to a story from beginning to end, without interrupting.
We live in a soundbite world where we only really listen to and remember about %20 of what we hear on a good day.  So just maybe more of it will stick with you this week than other times, since we heard more than we usually do.
…You might think I’m being a little extreme in saying this, but I really do think that hearing John chapter 9 read this morning is a little act of subversion in it’s own way.
It’s our own little way of not complying with a soundbite world that slices and dices the narrative framework of our life into bite size pieces.
I have to be careful with what I say though, because to be honest; 41 verses is a lot to preach on.
There’s a lot to say about this passage; there’s a lot of action in this story, and there are lots of characters we can identify with.
I could talk a lot about this passage…the symbolism of the mud, for example.  Or the physical healing of the blind man, or the moment of his conversion.
I could talk about how they understood sin back then, and why the disciples were right to ask the question about who sinned that this guy ended up blind.
I could talk about the reactions to his healing.  I could talk about his friends and family who didn’t really believe what had happened, or I could talk about the Pharisees who ended up throwing him out because he wasn’t telling the right story.
I could talk and talk and talk about this passage.
But the truth is, this isn’t a story about talking; it’s a story about time.
It’s a story about before and after.  It’s about then and now.
It’s about the way things were, and the way things suddenly…are…by no doing of our own.
And somewhere in between the “then” and the “now”, there’s the event that doesn’t make sense.
It’s the moment when everything changes and we’re left speechless and without any explanations.
It’s when Jesus spits.
Then He reaches down and mixes dirt into it; into the spit!
I don’t care who you are or when you lived; that’s gross.
And then he rubs it right onto the blind guy’s eyes!  Right there in public!
I can’t tell you how often I’ve read this passage and seriously wondered if there was a typo here; some kind of mistake in the original document that got passed down through the years.
I don’t think that anymore, but it’s still a revolting story.
It makes me uncomfortable.
I can’t explain it; I don’t know what to do with a Jesus who makes mud by mixing his own spit with dirt from the road and then smears it on a blind man’s eyes.
I don’t get it.
But then I think, maybe we’re not supposed to get it.
God does messy things sometimes, things that we don’t understand.
He shows up out of the clear blue sky (though we often can’t see the clear blue sky) and heals us of our blindness; only to disappear from the scene once the deed is done.
We’re left with no explanation.  At the most we hear the call to go wash up and if we’re feeling good, we’ll do that.
Then we credit our healing or our restored sense of vision to our act of washing up, you know?
It’s easy to turn obedience to the voice of Jesus into a kind of self-righteous, self-focused thing.
So it’s tempting to talk about blindness and vision this morning, since that seems to be the point of this story.
And like I’ve hopefully shown you, there would be no shortage of material to spend our time talking about what it means to be spiritually blind, how a touch from God restores our vision both literally and virtually.
But one of the first things I want to say about this passage is that of the five senses, I think hearing plays an even more important role in this story than blindness or vision.
The blind man in this story never asks to be healed, did you notice that?
But he responds to the voice of Jesus speaking into his life!!
He is healed through his hearing.
He gains his vision–vision he never had before–but he gains it through his ears!
In the same way, we remain blind to God’s actions in our world until we hear the voice of Jesus and act accordingly.
We’ve got to learn how to listen.
Otherwise we’ll just sit around with mud in our eyes.
When we hear and obey the voice of Jesus, it’s at that moment that yesterday becomes tomorrow, you know?
Our eyes are opened and we begin to see the world through different eyes; maybe not physically like happened to this guy, but emotionally, spiritually, and with our attitudes.
Conversions are messy.  Getting new vision is messy business.
It’s not going to make sense; maybe not to anybody.
It might even be gross, the way we initially begin to know who Jesus is.
It’s going to be unbelievable to most people, and completely unconvincing when you try to explain it.
In other words, just because you had a life-changing encounter with mud, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us are going to stop scraping it off our boots, right?
It’s not important how your journey with God begins; what’s important is how far you go and how much you learn.
I mentioned last week that the woman at the well moved from seeing Jesus as a stranger, to a prophet, to finally recognizing him as Messiah.
This week the same thing happens to this blind man.
Jesus is revealed to him in a series of steps through a series of arguments… but it’s not until after the guy gets kicked out of the synagogue that he has the chance to see Jesus for himself and believe!  It’s not until after he argues with people and is asked to explain himself three times by two different groups of people!
If there’s a lesson there, it’s that we don’t know how to handle healing!  We don’t know what to do when someone’s story doesn’t add up to our expectations.
Somehow it’s fitting that the whole thing begins with dirt and spit.
Nobody’s staying clean, that’s for sure.
But I think there’s more to it than just the mud.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
It was the turning point of time itself; when He reached down from heaven and played in the mud for the very first time.
It was a new thing God was doing then, and it’s a new thing Jesus is doing in this story.
In neither case did anyone ask for the gift that was given.
In both stories, God kneels down and gets dirty.
He kneels down in spite of our best ideas about who God is or what God does.
In spite of what all the people will say, the pharisees, this man’s neighbors, even his own family; Jesus kneels down to mix the mud.
In spite of his disciples and the rigid worldviews that stuck the blind man firmly in his place, Jesus knelt.
Mud and Spirit and Vision and hearing; all of it got mixed up together in a divine revelation of the creative and absurd ways of our God; His ways that are higher than our ways and his knowledge that is too lofty for us to attain.
It seems fitting to read this story at this time of year.
I read something in the Bargain Hunter not too long ago, that we really only have three seasons around here.  Summer, Winter, and what the writer wanted to call “Mud” in place of Fall and Spring.
If you’re like me, you’ve already been enjoying the crocus and seeing some buds on trees and bushes just starting to emerge.
We’re in a muddy season, and Christ can be just as offensive with what he does among us today as he was 2,000 years ago.
May we have ears to hear him say ‘go and wash’.
May we have eyes to see and to sense His leading.
May we have courage to argue for the simplicity of what we do know for certain; that we once were blind but now we see.
Amen.

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