John 9: 1-11
One day in March of 1820, John and Mercy Crosby’s first child was born—a daughter.
Soon the baby girl, Frances Jane Crosby, was baptized at the Presbyterian
Church of Doansburg, New York. It was a strict, Old-School church
that taught the Puritan-Calvinist doctrines including “Total Depravity,
Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the
Perseverance of the Saints;” also referred to by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. On a Sunday morning, people could be seen converging on Doansburg from all directions, many walking barefoot and carrying their shoes, so as not to spoil them with dust. As they climbed the steps of
the church, they put on their shoes, the opposite of what we often teach our
youth: to take off their shoes for certainly prayerful actions, like God told
Moses to do, because he was standing on Holy ground. This was an ultra-orthodox
Presbyterian Church! One month after the birth of Frances, the Crosby’s
were alarmed. Something was wrong with her eyes. She had what appeared to be an
infection, but the community doctor was away at the time. A man who claimed to
have medical training (but didn’t) was the only one available to examine the
infant’s eyes. His action would have brought a lawsuit in our day, but in 1820
he blinded tiny Frances.
He ordered that nearly scalding hot water compresses be pressed into the baby’s
eyes to “draw out the infection.” The infant screamed from the treatments and
her eyes were damaged permanently. Scar tissue formed over them allowing her to
only make out light and dark. From that fateful night until the day she died, Frances
(known as “Fanny”) Crosby was totally blind.
Beyond that tragic event, Jesus Christ still filled and guided her life; she
wrote the text to all the hymns we are singing today and dozens more. Can you
imagine a question like the one Jesus’ disciples asked him when they came upon
a blind man: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he is
blind?” “Pastor, who sinned, that this
little girl became blind?” Certainly we have an answer: dangerous and
pretentious actions by an unqualified man blinded her. But was it sin? In Jesus’ day people believed that all
things—blessings and brokenness—were sent from God; not just allowed by God but
sent by God. If certain people were “healthy, wealthy, or wise,” it was
because God was pleased with their lives. If others had disabilities, then
either they or their parents sinned to cause the brokenness. There was no
awareness of genetics or conditions that were hereditary. What they believed,
as recorded in Exodus 20: 5, is that sins of forbearers could be passed on “to
the third and fourth generations.” It is an Old Testament way of explaining
times when a grandparent’s genetic condition is passed on.
week Jesus visited the woman at the well and he focused healing her inward pain
which she finally felt, accepted, and confessed. Only then did she begin to
feel whole in the eyes Jesus, who she called a “prophet.” There are several
stories of people with disabilities in our Bibles besides the one today.
Another example comes to mind: In Acts 3:2 a lame man is carried each day to an
entrance gate into Jerusalem
called “the Beautiful Gate” so he could beg for alms, that is, “ask for help.”
There was no form of welfare or government assistance, so they put him down on
the road to beg. People would walk right by them for various reasons, but the
two biggest reasons were these: they believed lame people could have a disease
or a curse so they were considered untouchable; to touch such a person would
have made the other ritually unclean, unable to approach God at the Temple
without going through weeks of an extended cleansing process. The second reason
why many would not help beggars is what I just described: they believed the
lame person was a sinner, and righteous persons did not associate with known
“sinners.” In our text today, only Jesus demonstrated his willingness to both
touch the man’s eyes, and invite him to wash. The wash was for his eyes, but
perhaps for those watching, it was also to symbolically wash his sins
are some famous people who have been blind over the years. It was Louis Braille
that took his blindness and created an alternate way to read. And today no
child could read a word of the Braille book I gave them to read … nor could I!
Perhaps some would say we are the handicapped ones! When church member
Brownie Hunt was alive, we ordered her Women’s Circle books in Braille and ordered
her commentaries on tape, otherwise known as “Talking Books.” She taught Circle
meetings and read the lessons with her fingers! Amazing. The largest
Talking Books library in the country is here in Daytona Beach. Both librarian Harriet Nace
and my wife Mary Ann have worked there. Most everyone also knows about Helen
Keller who was both blind and deaf. The film “The Miracle Worker” is about her
teacher. What is the better question: “Who sinned?” or “How can we help, and
learn from, those who cannot see?” What I learned from Brownie Hunt and other
people who were blind is their other senses were sharper than mine, and they
had terrific memories; they had to lean more by memory than many of us do by
sight. Yet Stevie Wonder still sings and plays an amazing piano as did Ray
Charles. Erik Weihenmayer was the first blind person to scale Mount
Everest! John Bramblitt is the name of a blind American painter.
And several accounts report that Homer, who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey,
was blind either by birth or by disease. Great things have been brought forth
by those with sight limitations.
still believe in the power of laying on of hands, and of prayer, for healing.
My perspective and my frame of reference have room for theological, natural, and
medical treatments. But I will say this: my life has changed for the good
because I have diabetes. The people I have met; the opportunities I have been
offered; and the way I have chosen to eat differently and exercise differently
are in large part driven by what others would call a disability. But as with
many things in the Bible, God can take something that might be considered to be
caused by sin ages ago, and use it for good. Do you recall the speech that
Joseph (of dreamcoat fame!) made to his
brothers; the ones who sold him to a band of Ishmaelites as a slave? Years later
God blessed Joseph and he became one of the most trusted men in Egypt. His
hungry brothers came, hat in hand, to ask for Joseph’s forgiveness. Joseph
described their sin this way: “You meant harm against me, but God turned it
into good, so that many people are alive and well today.” Perhaps Joseph … and
Jesus … are our best teachers on this issue today. From Jesus we learn that
where we can heal, we will ask for
and pray for healing. But from Joseph we learn that sometimes God’s will
for us may be different than our will for ourselves. Sometimes God will
make us perfect in our brokenness, by using our brokenness, not healing it.
He did so with the Apostle Paul; and
he did so with Fanny Crosby. Do you have a weakness a disability, or grief?
Instead of crying to God “Why?” perhaps it is time to pray; “Lord, teach me how
to reach others, even through, and especially through, my weakness, my
disability, and my grief.” Then you will get to know the power that God can
pass through you, to transform the lives of others.
Let us pray: O
Dear Jesus: our first thought is for you to touch us and heal us, and our
prayer lists indicate that. But could it be that you call and want disciples
who are willing to be made perfect in their weakness? If so Lord, then “Here I
am. Send me.” Amen.
A. Sumner March 30, 2014