The Heart Sees

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | March 19, 2023

John 9:1-41

The Bible contains a variety of stories. There are epic adventures; family drama; war stories; even comedy. People have always had a sense of humor. There is a time and place for humor. What we find funny varies by time and place. The story before today is what I would call a comedy.

It has elements of farce, in that it pokes fun at the high and mighty. It has some observational humor. And like a lot of good humor, it plays on the heart to get its point across. Maybe you will find the humor in it; maybe not. It depends on how you look at it. With that in mind, think about how you see the world.

I was looking forward to my birthday. In my mind, there was a huge difference between being four years old and five years old. My birthday also meant Christmas time.

We had gone downtown to see the Christmas parade the day after Thanksgiving. The highlight of the parade, for me at least, was at the very end. Here he comes on his own special float, none other than Santa Clause. What guy. If I could have a word with him, that would be great.

Lo and behold, that was going to happen. I would get to see Santa Clause up close and personal. My mother and I rode the bus downtown and went in the department store where Santa was working that year. Meier and Frank, all twelve stories tall of it.

And there up in the North Pole Village was Santa himself. There was a line of kids waiting to see him, just like me. Santa was taking his time with each one, so it was a long wait. Finally, it was my turn. I sat on Santa’s lap and he asked my name, which I told him. We talked for a while, I told him what I wanted for Christmas.

The most amazing part was, Santa knew a lot about me. He knew where I lived, he knew the names of my siblings, he even asked me how I was getting along with our Cocker Spaniel puppy, Elmer. He might have said, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” when speaking in public, but he had a very dry sense of humor the day I met him. At the end of our visit, he gave me a little toy truck with the name of the department store on it.

For some time after that, I wondered how Santa Clause knew so much about me. But I figured it was, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake.”

Later on, I learned why it was Santa Clause knew me. Because he did know me. The Santa that year at Meier and Frank was a stand-in for the real Santa Clause. He was our friend, Mr. Black who lived on the other side of the block. That would explain that. Fool me once, as they say.

The following year, I was not interested in visiting Meir and Frank to see Mr. Black playing Santa Clause. I was turning six that December. I was in Kindergarten. But what I had done, which I had forgotten all about, was to send a postcard with my name, birthday, address and phone number to Uncle Charlie, who had a noon-time children’s show in Portland. Uncle Charlie was a retired railroad engineer, because he wore the overalls and hat, and he showed cartoons, had some puppets and was a pleasant way to spend thirty minutes while eating lunch.

The Uncle Charlie Show was broadcast live. But I didn’t happen to be watching it when he called me to tell me he chose my name to wish me a happy birthday. My mom answered the phone and told me someone wanted to talk to me.


“Hello John, this is Uncle Charlie.”

“No it’s not,” I said, “This is Mr. Black.” I was wise to his tricks.

“No this is Uncle Charlie, really.”

“What, you want to talk to the old goat?” That’s how he asked for my dad whenever I answered the phone.

“Well John, I don’t know who Mr. Black is, or the old goat, but I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday and I’m sending you a special birthday present in the mail.”

We hung up the phone and a minute or so later, it rang again. This time it was Mr. Black calling. He had been watching the Uncle Charlie show and after he was able to stop laughing, he called to tell me that really was Uncle Charlie I had been talking to. A few days later, my birthday present came in the mail. A respectable toy car and a package of cookies. The next time I wandered over to see Mr. Black, he fixed me a sirloin steak, because he was having one too.

Children live in a world where they see things that we grown-ups don’t see. That’s because children of a certain age see with their heart. Imagination and reality are often the same thing for them. Sometimes we never lose that way of seeing. We grow up to be artists, musicians, storytellers. Jesus once said that if you want to “see” the kingdom of God, then you must become like a little child. You must see with your heart. Then you see God’s possibilities.

The story in John’s Gospel, is a rather long narrative telling of how Jesus gave sight to a man who was blind. As the story unfolds, the idea of seeing takes on different meanings. At first, after the miracle, people didn’t recognize the man. They wanted to know how it happened. All along the way, the man repeats the basic facts of the story – Jesus took some mud, rubbed it in his eyes, he washed it off and then he could see.

Maybe this says that the work of God doesn’t always fit into our understanding. Mystery is not something we control; rather we learn to live with it. In response to people demanding an explanation, the man simply said, “I don’t know.”

Then he had to face the religious authorities. They were the ones who would say whether this thing that happened to him was for real or not. So to them, he again told the story of the mud and the washing off. Like a good religious argument, the Pharisees were divided on the subject. Pressed for an opinion, the man in question gained a new insight into Jesus. “He is a prophet,” he said.

So the religious authorities decided on a verdict that suited their world view. “It’s all fake news. You were never blind to begin with.” They brought in the man’s parents and questioned them. They didn’t want to get into to trouble so they threw it back on their son: “He’s a grown man, ask him.”

They questioned him a second time. This time their tactic was that Jesus was a sinner, so it would not have been possible for him to perform a miracle. Now the man was beginning to gain some insight into his situation. “I was blind, now I see.” This was an “Aha” moment. One of those times when we gain new understanding, a view of the bigger picture; the “I get it now” sense of clarity.

And so the man begins to speak with a newfound confidence regarding Jesus. He pokes holes in the arguments of the Pharisees. And in doing so he gets the classic response from people who cannot admit that they might be wrong.

Sometimes when you point out to the truth to someone, maybe even the error of their ways, they will say, “You know what? You’re right. I understand what you’re saying. I get it now.”

But when you point out the truth to someone who is unwilling to admit that they can gain new understanding, they will react as if threatened. “How dare you!” is their general response.

That’s how they responded to the man who was formerly blind. Especially since he got in one of the classic lines, which we could easily read as, “Why are you asking me so much about this Jesus? Do you want to marry him or something?” And so they did what could, which didn’t seem to bother him too much. They cancelled his membership in their club.

Later on, Jesus found him. He didn’t say, “Hey, I’m the guy who healed you.” He asked him if he believed in the Son of Man. To which he answered, “After what I’ve been through, I would like to. Tell me who is so that I can.”

Jesus gave an interesting response. He said, “You have seen him.” Though he had never before ‘laid eyes’ on Jesus, he had seen him with the eyes of his heart. And just to clarify the situation, he added, “You’re looking at him.” Now the man comes full circle from the moment he washed the mud off his eyes, to a place of saying, “Lord, I believe.” And just to close the story, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that they are responsible for their own willful ignorance.

How this story applies to our lives, well, we can appreciate how at times our hearts have been moved and we gain a depth of vision that has nothing to do with our eyes, and everything to do with God enlightening our heart and soul. Amen.

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