Beyond the First Glance

March 15, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryiewicz

Text: John 9: 1 – 12 & Ephesians 5: 8 – 14

Did you see that!!?   A common question, most frequently asked with excitement.   We may have seen something that astounded us, disgusted us, surprised, amused or inspired us…and we want to share the experience.   I have often sent folks on retreat off into the woods or to the beach to commune with nature …then return and share what had seen and experienced.   It is astounding how different each report and experience was. We look through different lenses and see totally different things. Did you see that!? No, and I don’t know how I missed it!

One of my many favorite books…that I turn to often is Chandler Gilbert’s delightful little book entitled When I Open my Window…. and the title of course refers to opening the window of one’s heart, mind, soul and life…to experience each day more fully. He tells the story of going on a field trip with his photography class. Three days later they all came back together to share their pictures. They had spent two hours at the same place and yet the pictures were totally different. He writes: “ Though most of us had been attracted to the same subject matter, we had all seen different things from different perspectives. Most startling of all were the pictures taken by our instructor, a professional. He had seen things none of the rest of us had seen. He saw possibilities the rest of us hadn’t noticed. He had what artists call a “ good eye.” I’m sure you have all experienced this phenomena! It has led to many heated discussions in our family… “ You saw that!!? ? I was there too and I saw this!! Who is right!!?” ( And you KNOW who is ALWAYS right in our house!!!)

We think we’re seeing everything, but we’re all being selective all the time. Today, you’ve probably noticed who’s not here, who’s sitting in a different spot, who’s sitting with whom. You may have wondered what it means that so-and-so is sitting with that person. Chandler Gilbert writes: “Years ago, before I dated my wife, I brought a date to a function that my wife also attended. She could tell you exactly what my date was wearing. I don’t have a clue. I never did, not even that night. It’s the same with cars. You get interested in a car, and all of a sudden you notice them everywhere. They were there before, but you never noticed them.”

Our lesson today invites us to examine our way of seeing and to consider looking at people and situations as Jesus did. Can we see others today, as he would see them…beyond the first glance?

Frequently….and quite tragically, we don’t get beyond the first glance….our first impression. We might be put off by the appearance of someone or something and go no further into the essence of the person or situation. We’ve all seen them….. the kids with their pants falling down, with outrageous colored hair, dressed in black, pierced everywhere and we decide they must be on drugs… a danger to society and write them off. …. from first glance. Quick judgment without the facts. ( Actually, this sermon title should be “ Beyond the first glance” instead of Seeing is Believing!”)

Working with teenagers most of my life, I have tried hard to overcome the quick judgment that can come in that first glance … to keep an open mind and invite relationship. Not always, but more often then not, I have been amazed at what dwelled within the heart and soul …and mind of those youngsters…. desperately seeking approval and identity….and love.

There is a story of a beggar who was sitting across the street from an artist’s studio. The artist saw him and thought he would make an interesting portrait study so from a distance he painted the defeated man whose shoulders drooped, and whose eyes were downcast and sad. When he was finished, he took the portrait over to the beggar so he could look at it.

“Who is that?” the beggar questioned. The painting bore a slight resemblance to himself, but in the painting before him he saw a person of dignity, with squared shoulders and bright uplifted eyes, almost handsome! He asked the artist, “Is that me? I don’t look like that.” But the artist replied, “but that is the person I see in you.”

What happens in this dramatic story that Caryn read from John’s gospel this morning? Let’s first look at some assumptions the first glance brought. The disciples mistakenly assumed that the blind man or his parents must have been sinners and this is their punishment.

“ Who sinned that he was born blind?” This was a popular understanding of the nature of God….to punish in this way. Jesus replied…. neither.  He saw that this was an opportunity to teach the disciples….and though the Sabbath was approaching, he decided to do some healing work to transform this situation and provide understanding.

Our scholarly Lenten guide, Fr. Richard Rohr looks at this through a theological lens to help you and me go beyond the first glance and discover meaning and purpose in this dramatic story for our understanding of God. Here’s some quick bullets of insight to expand our vision:

  • “ The man born blind is the archetype for all of us at the beginning of our life journey.
  • The moral blame game as to why or who caused human suffering is a waste of time.
  • The man doesn’t even ask to be healed. It is just offered and given.”
  • Perfect faith or motivation is not always a prerequisite for the work of the Spirit. The actions of God are mysterious.

The story in John goes on then to discuss the fact that the religious authorities were only concerned about the fact that Jesus broke the religious rules and healed on the Sabbath. They were more concerned with control than with the miracle of healing. They are presented as narrow and unloving people as this story unfolds.  After the authorities went off about Jesus breaking the Sabbath rules, they doubted the authenticity of the healing…. saying that the man who could now see….was not the same man that had seen begging for years.   When they blind man tried to give testimony about Jesus as a prophet sent from God, they sent him away saying “ You were born entirely in sin and you are now trying to teach us! Jesus also is a sinner for breaking the Sabbath.”

The blind man said: “ I do not know whether Jesus is a sinner or not, I only l know this much, I was born blind , and now I see.”

When Jesus heard that the Pharises had driven out the former blind man, Jesus said: “I have come into the world to teach people who do not see….to see….and those who think they have all the answers, that they have been blind.”

Spirituality is about seeing clearly…. and “sin” is about blindness to and separation from God’s purposes, or as Saint Gregory of Nyssa said: “ Sin is always a refusal to grow.”

Rohr writes: The one who “knows” little, learns much and those who have all the answers already, learn nothing.” SO TRUE!!

( Of course Ed said “ well if you already have all the answers, what do you need to learn!!?”)

Oh, my dear friends, the world is full of those who think they have all the answers. Maybe some of us are guilty of that as well! I know I AM!!

I came across this cute ( and profound) story of how religious denominations came into being:

“ The story concerns two blind men who had been healed by Jesus, who happened to meet one day, and they were so excited to meet someone else who had been healed. They talked about the wonder of sight, the color of flowers, the beauty of butterflies, the glory of sunrises, the faces of children and grandchildren.

They talked about the wonder of having seen the face of Jesus. They were laughing and having a great time together, when one of them said, “And do you remember how Jesus took that mud, spit on it, and put it into your eye?”

The other fellow looked kind of stunned, and answered, “Why no, he simply said, ‘Receive your sight,’ and I could see.”

The first fellow said, “Wait a minute – now just wait a minute here. You mean he didn’t use any mud?”


“Well, did he at least have you wash in the pool of Siloam?”

“No – of course not – who ever heard of anything so ridiculous as mud in your eye?!”

“Well,” said the first man, “if he didn’t put mud in your eyes and have you wash in the pool of Siloam, you are still blind! Blind – do your hear me?

Because that’s the way Jesus healed me; that’s the way he does it!”

Then the second man began to get angry. He shouted, “Mud, mud, mud! Who ever heard of using mud?! That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard! You still have mud in your eyes. You’re the one who’s still blind!”

They got into a big argument – their relationship was destroyed, and right then and there, they formed the first two denominations: the Mudites and the Antimudites!

Since then, of course, the church has been fighting and splitting over issues not a whole lot more significant than that!


This dramatic story from John’s gospel goes far beyond the story of a miraculous healing, a wondrous encounter… marvelous as that story is! It focuses on right seeing…. on minds and eyes and hearts open to new insights and understandings. It cautions us to be wary of spiritual blindness and first glance assumptions.

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus expands on this teaching about the importance of being children of the Light….for the truth of the Light is found in all that is good and true and right. We are transformed by the light and love of God…to a place of right seeing of ourselves and of others. The images of Jesus as One who moves us out of the darkness into the Light are abundant in all the gospel narratives. His teachings and lifestyle expand our vision.

Acclaimed theologian Fredrick Buechner writes: “People are prepared for everything except for the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared to go on breaking their backs plowing the same old field until the cows come home without seeing, until they stub their toes on it, that there is a treasure buried in that field rich enough to buy Texas. They are prepared for a God who strikes hard bargains but not for a God who gives as much for an hour’s work as for a day’s. They are prepared for a mustard-seed kingdom of God no bigger than the eye of a newt but not for the great banyan it becomes with birds in its branches singing Mozart. They are prepared for the potluck supper at their church but not for the banquet feast where all are invited to the table.”

I want to close with a story about a country preacher who was listening to a seminary professor cast doubt on the core issues of the faith. When the professor finished his lecture, the elderly pastor got up, took an apple from his lunch bag and started eating it as he said, “Mr. Professor, I haven’t read many of them books you quoted.” Then he took another bite of the apple.

”Mr. Professor, I don’t know much about the great thinkers you mentioned,” as he took still another bite of his apple.

”Mr. Professor, I admit I haven’t studied the Bible like you have,” as he finished his apple and dropped it back in the bag.

”I was just wondering, this apple that I just ate, was it sour or sweet?”

The Professor responded, “How could I know? I haven’t tasted your apple.”

To which the old preacher replied, “With all due respect, sir, I was just wondering if you had ever had a taste of my God….my Jesus?”

The blind man says “Whether or not the cure was approved by the FDA, I once was blind, but now I see. You all argue and explain all you want, but that’s enough for me.”

AMEN…. my good friends. That’s what wondrous encounters are all about… our personal experience with the Divine Spirit….. seeing our God more clearing with open hearts and minds and spirits. We each see differently and experience the Divine differently. And that is a beautiful thing…as long as we acknowledge it and respect the spiritual sightings of others.