When I was forty years old, I woke up in the middle of the night with what I thought
surely was a heart attack. I was living in Pittsburgh, another river city with lots of trees, and it
had rained every day for three weeks. My children were out of town, with their mother, at her
friend’s wedding. I was alone. And I was really scared.
I wasn’t scared or smart enough to go to the hospital. I did see my primary care doctor
the next morning. “Congratulations,” he said. “You have asthma.” “No,” I said, “I used to have
asthma, but I outgrew it.” I hadn’t had any symptoms for twenty years. “No,” he said, “it’s just
been dormant all this time. Once you get it, you always have it.”
My doctor gave me an unexpected prescription: go to pulmonary rehabilitation. In
addition to exercises, I attended classes. In one class, another doctor, who also lived with
asthma, spoke some words I pray I never forget. “Do you want to get your life together? Get a
chronic illness. It will force you to face your life, so you can live it.”
Living with asthma, I will always be subject to breathing problems. I live with some
other chronic illnesses. I’ve spoken from this pulpit about another one of my problems: alcohol.
I’m a recovering alcoholic. Thanks to the fellowship of A.A. and the grace of God, I now have,
one day at a time, more than 30 years of continuous sobriety.
I also have a vision problem. I wear glasses. I have pre-cataract condition. And to be
honest, I don’t always see things that are right in front of me. How long has that been there? I
ask Eyleen. Two years, she says. My sight is not as right as I would like.
Today, we have seeing and sight in three of our lessons. First, we heard how God sent
Samuel - known as a seer, a sage - to anoint a new king. Samuel the seer sees things other
people don’t. But identifying the new king? Samuel does not see who God sees to be king. In
fact, he does not see as God sees. Even Samuel the seer can have a vision problem. That’s
because God “does not see as mortals see…the Lord looks on the heart” (I Sam. 16:7). The heart,
in Hebrew understanding, is the core, the center of life.
Then, in Ephesians, Paul reminds us that, in the light, everything becomes visible to
those who were in darkness, so: “Live as children of the light” (5:8). I really needed to sing that
hymn today, because, at any given moment, I don’t always want to walk as a child of the light, let
alone live in the light of Christ. Even though I may really need to.
And then, there’s that long story about a man born blind. From birth, he has had the
ultimate vision problem: He’s never been able to see anything. When Jesus comes along, the
man does not ask to be healed. Jesus just gives him his sight.
Why does Jesus do this? Let’s look again at this story from the Gospel of John. As Jesus
walks along, he sees “a man blind from birth” (9:1). Immediately his disciples, who also see this
man, question Jesus: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2). That
was the ancient assumption: sickness is a result of sin.
When his disciples ask about sin, Jesus redirects the conversation. This man’s sickness -
being blind from birth - is also an opportunity for God’s “good works (to) be revealed in him”
(9:3), he says. Jesus, light of the world, will illuminate God’s works.
However, Jesus does not avoid the subject of sin. At the end of this Gospel story, Jesus
confronts sin from a different perspective. He looks through the lens of what professor of
preaching Lyn Jost calls “the sin of rejecting one sent by God.” Jesus, the light of the world,
“illumines those who are open” to being enlightened, but “is opaque to those who claim powerful
positions” (Christian Century, March 2023, p. 26).
The powerful religious leaders didn’t believe the blind man’s story. So they went to his
parents. The parents knew that “anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah,” to be the light
of the world, would likely be “put out of the synagogue” (9:22). They told the religious leaders to
go and ask their son. Which those leaders did. Again.
It looks like the more those religious leaders don’t get it, the more the man born blind
sees. He gradually comes to see Jesus for who he is: first, a prophet; then a man from God; and
then, God with flesh on, whom he worships (9:38). That man’s sight - and his increasing insight
- is contrasted with those leaders’ hardening blindness.
For the man born blind, healing is more than sight. For him, seeing is believing. The
more he sees, the more he believes in Jesus. So, what? What about us?
I’m a person in recovery, and I want to stay in recovery from the chronic illnesses in my
life. That includes my blindness, in all its forms. I want to see better, to increase my sight and
my insight. Someday, I’ll have cataract surgery, and I’ll need new lenses. In addition to those
literal lenses, I know I need to keep trying on new lenses.
My Episcopal lens sometimes becomes a denominational silo. Lately I’ve been learning
about how I see the church and its leadership structures differently than my Methodist or
Presbyterian siblings. Now, I’m trying to see “church” through their lens.
My white lens still keeps me from seeing life and death so much differently than my
friends of color. My work in racial healing and justice, I keep learning, needs to be as a fellow
pilgrim with folks whose skin, when I look and really see, is just…different.
And my male lens? Sometimes, I just act like a man, not blind from birth, but still blind
to the ways I can say or do something that makes a woman feel less than me. Sometimes, I’m
still a child who needs to learn how to walk in the kinder light of Jesus.
Being a child of the light is similar to the Buddhist concept of “beginner’s mind.” One
Christian spiritual guide explains that similarity this way: “The older we get, the more we’ve
been betrayed and hurt and disappointed, the more barriers we put up to the beginner’s mind.
We move further away from the immediate delight and curiosity of small children (whom Jesus
especially loved). We must never presume that we see, and we must always be ready to see
anew” (Richard Rohr, “Adopting a Beginner’s Mind”).
How do I do that? How will I let my sisters and brothers from other mothers help me see
Jesus anew, so I can better follow him? How will I, a religious leader, let Jesus heal me from my
moments of blindness? What about you, my sisters and brothers in Christ: What new sight,
what new insight are you and I ready, willing and able to receive - as we seek to follow Jesus as
children of light?
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus. AMEN.
~ The Rev. Thomas A. Momberg
Priest in Charge
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
1508 S. White Station Road
Memphis, TN 38117