Homily, March 26

This homily is for All-Ages worship featuring a Scripture drama of the story of the Man Born Blind from John’s Gospel. 

What does it mean to be blind? … 

Does anybody know someone who’s blind? … 

We depend on our eyes a lot. But we have other senses too. 

Close your eyes for a minute and notice what you hear, what you feel, what you smell…

Many people who are blind really use their sense of hearing, and their sense of touch. This is an example of a prayer book made for people who are blind, who read with an alphabet called Braille, that you read with your fingers!… 

We used to have a member of this congregation who was blind. His name was Jerry. He died about nine years ago. 

Once when we had this story about the blind man in church, 

I asked him about it, after church.

I asked him: Does it bother you when the Bible talks about being blind like it’s a bad thing?

And he said, “No, it doesn’t bother me. Being blind is just part of who I am. I met my wife because I was blind. I spent my life helping other blind people learn how to care for themselves. Being blind isn’t a burden for me, so I don’t mind how people talk about it.” 

For the young man in the story, the problem isn’t really that his eyes don’t work.

The problem is that people around him see that as a problem.

Can people who are blind have jobs?

Can people who are blind get married and have families, if they want to?

Can people who are blind participate in their communities?

Can people who are blind have full, happy, interesting lives?… 

Of course they can.

In the time of Jesus, there wasn’t a lot of understanding or support for people with disabilities. 

This young man was a beggar – that means he would just sit beside the road and beg, ask people for money. 

It’s probably not what he wanted to do.

It sounds pretty boring, frankly.

But the people around him couldn’t imagine anything else for him. 

Maybe that’s why Jesus healed him.

Not because his blindness was a problem,

But because the way people thought about his blindness was a problem.

They thought it might be a punishment, because he had done something bad; and they definitely thought it meant he couldn’t do normal things.

So Jesus healed him to free him from all those ideas. 

Those kinds of ideas are still around!  

We have come a long way, but we STILL sometimes think that people with disabilities have to live small, limited lives. 

To think that the disability is the problem,

Instead of thinking that the way we do things to exclude people with disabilities might be the problem. 

Let’s talk about the word disability. 

Have you heard that word before?… 

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, an important law in our country, says that a person with a disability is someone who “has has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.”

That was a bunch of big words. 

Let’s say the same thing more simply:

A person with a disability has something going on with their body, or their mind, that keeps them from doing some of the big things people normally do.

What do we think about that definition?…

Think about the young man in the story.

Is it his blindness that keeps him from doing the normal things that other people do, or is it the way other people think about his blindness?…

Hmm. We might not really know, but we can wonder about it. 

Let’s look at another definition of disability. 

This one comes from the World Health Organization. 

They say:

“Disability is part of being human.

Almost everybody will temporarily or permanently experience disability at some point in their life.”

That’s a big idea, isn’t it?

A few years ago St. Dunstan’s made a decision to spend a lot of money putting in an elevator. Before that we just had stairs between the levels of our main building. 

When we think about who might have trouble walking up stairs, we might think of older people who use a cane or walker or wheelchair.

But you know what?

When I was eight, I broke my leg. And my church didn’t have an elevator. And there was a flight of stairs up from the main door to the church, and there another flight of stairs up to the level with the Sunday school classrooms.

And my Sunday school teacher just carried me up to Sunday school. Lucky I was only eight and small enough to carry!!

Okay, let’s go back to what the World Health Organization says about disability. 

They say, “Disability results from the interaction between individuals with a health condition… with personal and environmental factors, including negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social support.”

Listen, this is important.

The ADA says disability means there’s something about a person’s body or mind that limits them.

The World Health Organization says: 

There’s a person with something different about their body or mind; and then there’s the world around them – the people, buildings, roads, schools, jobs, stores, all that stuff.

And disability happens when the world around that person doesn’t let them participate. 

Disability isn’t in the person.

It’s in the mismatch between the person, and everything around them that makes things difficult for them because of their difference. 

The World Health Organization says: 

“A person’s environment has a huge effect on the experience and extent of disability.”

This week I looked up an organization called Disability Rights Advocates. They bring legal cases to try and get companies and governmental agencies and other organizations to change how they do things to make it easier for people with various kinds of disabilities to do things. 

Here are some cases they’ve been involved with recently. 

  • A case in New York about kids with diabetes, an illness that can mean you need to check in with your body and sometimes do things to keep yourself healthy during the day. Public schools in New York City weren’t working with kids to help them be in school and do things like field trips and sports. Does that seem right? … 

I think this is a really good example of the idea that disability is really between the person and their environment. 

There’s nothing about diabetes that should keep kids out of school – if the schools just commit to supporting them!

Now those schools have been ordered to help and support those kids so they can do school stuff like any other kid. 

  • [A case in California where people who had trained as social workers, to be helpers in their community, and did really well in their training and wanted to do their work, couldn’t get hired if they had a diagnosis of a mental illness… even if it’s not impacting their work at all! Does that seem right? … ]
  • We have an election in a couple of weeks – has anybody ever gone with their parents to vote? Do you know what a ballot looks like? … 

Here’s a printed-out sample ballot. It doesn’t look very much like the real ones, but it gives you the idea. You just use a pen to fill in the little circle next to the choice you want to make.

How would you do that if your eyes didn’t work?… 

Yeah, you’d probably have to have somebody do it for you. But what if you don’t have somebody you really trust to mark your ballot the way you want to? 

You could be losing your vote. Does that seem right? … 

With our technology today, we can create machines that allow people who are blind to vote privately and safely! 

There have been recent legal cases in Indiana and North Carolina forcing the states to do a better job of making those options available. 

Let me come back to our Gospel story, our Gospel drama, today. 

The story is playing around with the idea of being blind, unable to see. There’s a young man whose eyes don’t work.

But his heart and mind understand things just fine. 

And then there are also some people whose eyes work, but they don’t see what’s right in front of them. 

Their minds are made up and their hearts are closed and nothing is going to change how they see things. 

At first, they don’t believe that the man was really healed. They think it’s a trick or a mistake.

And then they’re convinced that the man was healed,

and they know that that was a wonderful, amazing miracle –

but they can’t see what that means about Jesus. 

That Jesus does good things because Jesus is good;

that Jesus does powerful, holy things because he is God’s Son. 

They don’t believe it, so they can’t see it. 

I think one thing this story wants us to carry away is to keep our eyes open, as we go through life – not just the eyes in our faces, but also the eyes in our minds and our hearts. 

Be willing to see things that surprise and challenge us. 

Be ready to learn, and to have our minds changed. 

Look for goodness wherever it shows up, because all goodness points to God. 

I also think this story can invite us to think about disability.

And how disability lives between a person and their environment. 

I wonder who really needed to be healed, in this story: The man who was born blind, or the people around him who thought he was less important, and that he didn’t have anything to offer to his community, because his eyes didn’t work. 

I am learning about disability.

I am trying to pay attention to my words and my thoughts and to the assumptions I make about people whose bodies or minds are different in certain ways.

I wonder how our church could be more truly welcoming and inclusive of people with differences and disabilities, and how we could help speak up for their needs, too. 

If you have ideas, or if you want to wonder with me, let’s talk. 

Thank you to our actors! …