By Fr. Bill Wigmore (This sermon was delivered to a group recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.)
Every so often, the AA folks in New York publish a new edition of the Big Book. And an important thing to notice about each new edition is this:
That the first hundred and sixty-four pages of the book never change – But in the back – new stories are always being added; and some old ones are taken away.
It seems the Big Book publishers want us to know that their book is never really complete without a few dozen stories attached –
Stories that tell how men & women put those first 164 pages to work in their lives – and how whenever they do – then, like our first reading says: still another generation comes to find that: “The age of miracles is still with us” and their own stories are there to prove it.
Skip the stories and you miss seeing the miracle lived out in the flesh. Skip the stories and AA and CA and NA become just so much theory & head stuff – I doubt if the Program would have the power to change any of us if we couldn’t see with our own eyes that it was being lived out and changing the lives of people just like us.
And some of that’s what I think is happening here in tonight’s gospel. John’s gospel is sort of like the fourth edition of the Good Book.
Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote the first three editions –
But a little later, when John comes along and he writes the fourth edition – he wants his to be a little different from all the others. And so in John’s gospel, we hear more stories – Sometimes – like tonight – we hear much longer stories! Stories of the difference Jesus made in the lives of the people he met along the Way – How he came into their towns, found them living in darkness – and brought them the Light they needed to see.
Several years ago, when this gospel rolled around, I invited a blind man to come and deliver the sermon here. I figured if us drunks & addicts understand about addiction and we get to tell our stories, then why not have a blind guy come and talk about his?
It was Blind Dave, from the Program – and some of you probably know him.
And one of the things that Blind Dave picked up on in this reading was something that – as a guy with sight – I’d missed out on seeing completely –
And that was the way in which John always described the main character in his story. John never once calls him “the BLIND MAN” – But every time John mentions him – he’s always: The man born blind.
Blind Dave didn’t think that was by accident.…
Dave was sensitive to his own blindness
and he loved the fact that John first saw a Man – before ever noticing that the man was also blind John first saw human dignity present – He saw past the man’s blindness and first saw his humanity.
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I loved that insight! And that’s a lesson maybe we all need to be reminded of sometimes. We’re all alcoholics & addicts – but before that, we’re all God’s children. We can’t ever forget our addictions; But we need to be reminded that we’re far more than our addictions as well. We’re God’s kids – kids who happen to have addictions and need to find the Light that can lead us to our own spiritual solution.
Of course another lesson I learned from having Blind Dave give the sermon – is that, being blind, Dave couldn’t see the clock! And so his sermon seemed to go on forever – And that’s when I learned that Dave was not only a man born blind – but he was also a man born Baptist! And Baptist’s when they get to preaching don’t even believe in clocks!
How do you signal a blind Baptist – TIME IS UP? (Hand gesture time out)
I’m not a Baptist – and I know that some of you are men and women Born Smokers –
and as a recovering one – I try to have compassion on you too – so I like to get us out of here in an hour – before that craving kicks in too bad!
But, if you’ll allow me – just three quick points about this story – and the first one is this: Notice the way in which Jesus restores the man’s sight.
He does it in a way that seems pretty strange to us – and perhaps in a way that’s not particularly hygienic!
Jesus picks up some dirt from the earth and he spits in it – Then he makes a little pile of mud – and he covers the man’s eyes with it.
Now that can all sound a little disgusting to us – And if he did it in Austin, the Board of Health would probably issue Jesus a citation – haul him down to Community Court!
But to the people of his day, that’s one of the ways that healings happened.
I suppose Jesus could have cured the guy on the spot – but he chose not to – Instead, he chose to use a way that the people already knew.
And the lesson we can draw from that is this – As addicts in need of our own miracle – we might want to try following the directions we’ve already been given!
Try doing it the way a couple of million other people have already done it successfully –
The man born blind did as he was told. He got up from his begging spot and he went to a meeting – he went over to the Siloam Group And there’s where he brought his eyes – And there’s where his eyes were opened – And there’s where his miracle happened! He was sent — And he went!
And another lesson to draw from this story is that just as soon as the man born blind gets his miracle – notice how everyone around him tries to take it away from him.
The Pharisees say:
“Maybe this guy was never really blind in the first place – Maybe he’s a fake – a fraud – not even the same man we used to see down there on Rundberg begging for a handout.”
And the crowds join in and they say:
“How can this be a miracle from God – Jesus hangs out with sinners! – And he did his healing on the Sabbath! – That’s the one day God wants us all to take off!”
Even his parents try to cut and run from him as they say:
“Don’t ask us if he was born blind – ask him!”
The poor blind-guy seems like the only one in the crowd who had both his sight and his sanity restored that day– So he wonders what’s all the fuss about?“It’s me all right!” he says –
“I’m still the same guy – but I was blind! – (or in our story:) Maybe I was blind drunk – but now I’m not. “Something happened to me” – he says – “Exactly what it was – I’m not really sure – All I know is this: I was blind – but now I see!” –
And here some of us addicts can also relate to this story: cause not only can this guy see – but the whole point of John’s story is that now he has the faith by which to see –
And because he now sees his life & see his world through the eyes of faith – now he can see better than all the people in that village who have 20/20 vision –
All those people can see; but they haven’t a clue as to what they ought to be looking for.
But we’re blessed! – Just like the man born blind was blessed And that’s cause for years & years, we couldn’t see either
We couldn’t see our illness – Couldn’t see what it was doing to us & to those around us And we sure couldn’t see a way out! And then, one day, we could!
If we don’t see every day sober from that day forward as a real gift from God –
as something that ought not to be – If we can’t see recovery as a miracle, then we’re still just as blind as the Pharisees.
And then lastly, in the final scene, when the man’s been tossed out of the temple – notice how Jesus comes back for him again.
It seems, Jesus is always coming back for us when we get into trouble. He’s always coming after the ones the world’s looked at with its own distorted vision – and seeing no value in them, it throws ‘em away. Sometimes I still do that to myself – I forget that I’m one of God’s kids too – and so he has to come – or he sends one of you to come and remind me again & again of who I am
and of how much he cares.
This learning how to see isn’t just a one-time deal. It seems to go on as long as we’re alive and living in this world!
So Jesus finds his man in a back alley there behind the temple – and he asks him:
“Do you believe in the son of man – the messiah? – Do you believe that he’s coming into your world? That God’s sent him to search for the lost?”
“Master, who is he?”– the guy says – “Tell me so I can believe in him too?”
And now John writes into his story the faith of his own fourth edition community, He writes it right onto the lips of Jesus when he has him say:
“Look no further – you’re speaking with him – you can see him now – I am he.”
Bill Wilson tells his story in the Big Book. (His story is printed in the first 164 pages so I guess it’ll always be there.)
And there’s a part in there when Ebby comes into Bill’s kitchen and he brings him the Good News of his own recovery.
Ebby had gotten sober – and now he’d been sent to tell his story to Bill. And because all he did was tell his story and because he didn’t try to preach to him – Bill was able to hear – and it was that day also that Bill began to see.
He began to see that if this simple God-program could work for his once-drunken-friend – then maybe there was a chance it’d work for him too.
Maybe the Light of God really was powerful enough to overcome his darkness
Bill says in his Big Book story: “It melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow I had lived and shivered many years. I stood in the sunlight at last.
“It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning. I saw that growth could start from that point.
“Upon a foundation of complete willingness I might build what I saw in my friend. Thus was I convinced that God is concerned with us humans when we want Him enough.
“At long last — I saw… I felt …. I believed. Scales of pride and prejudice fell from my eyes. A new world came into view…. And so it has been ever since.”