It is said that the famous golfing icon Arnold Palmer had a quote on his office wall. That quote ended with this statement “life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or the faster man, but sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can.”
In essence, that little quote is a statement about the reality that much of life and how we receive life comes down to how we look at life. Do we see life only with fear, dread and negativity? Or, even in trying times, through our faith, can we allow God to help us to see the hopeful side of even the hardest situations?
Our text for today from John chapter 9 is about a man who is healed from blindness. Now, make no mistake about it. This story is first and foremost about a man who is physically blind. He cannot see. But Jesus heals him of his blindness, helps him to gain sight and gives him a brand new lease on life. It is a beautiful story about Jesus as the great physician and it is a story that clearly communicates that Jesus is the son of God.
At the same time, I think this story should not go unnoticed for what Jesus can do for us as it relates to blindness. When I say this, I don’t mean our physical blindness but rather our inability to see the world accurately in all sorts of ways. After all, every person alive has some degree of personal blindness even if we have 20/20 vision. And, we all need Jesus’ help to see clearly in all sorts of areas in our lives.
For some of us, we need Jesus to heal us of our blindness toward a particular sin that we don’t realize is ruining our lives. For others of us, we need Jesus to heal us of our blindness toward a bad attitude that we have about a person or an event. For others, we need Jesus to heal us of our blindness toward a personality flaw or bad habit.
But, on this Sunday, I want to suggest that maybe the area where we all need help with seeing clearly is as it relates to this very hard place that we all find ourselves in during these days of the Coronavirus. I have not doubt that for most of us, this has been a week in which we have primarily looked at our life through a lens of anything but hope. And, I certainly understand that. With the stock market all over the place, numbers of the infected people rising, daily news program on television that pile one negative story on top of another, it is hard to be a positive thinker about anything. Yet, as people of faith, we are to be people of hope.
After all, as Christians we believe two incredibly important things. First, we believe that God is always a God of life even in the darkest of places. And, second, we believe that God can and often does redeem and bring something good out of places and situations that seem to have nothing at all good about them.
Let me say it this way through a story in history that is amazingly similar to our own. Life in England in 1665 through 1667 was very much like life in the United States in this late winter and early spring of 2020. During that time period in the 1600s, the Bubonic Plague was in full force and people were trying to distance themselves from one another. Does that sound familiar?
A common practice then was for folks in the urban areas to move out into the countryside where the population was not as great or as dense and thus where it was thought to be much safer.
One of those individuals who fled the city for the safety of country life was Isaac Newton who at the time was studying at Cambridge. When he left Cambridge, Newton had just finished his bachelor’s degree as an undistinguished student. Yet, when he got away from Cambridge, into the country and back to the small town from which he came, something remarkable happened. Suddenly without the rigors of his daily schedule, Isaac Newton was afforded the gift of lots of time to think, ponder and work through what he had been learning in school and the possible implications of this new found knowledge. As a result, those unexpected years of confinement in the country while the plague continued to affect life in the city became an amazingly productive period for Newton. During those year, he made advancements in prisms, calculus and in what would ultimately become his theories on gravity. When Newton went back to Cambridge in 1667 as life returned to normal, the advancements in his thinking and wisdom were evident and quickly recognized by others for he rose in the ranks first to a University Fellow and ultimately to a full professor.
Newton would look back on those years in the country and name them his “year of wonders”. For Newton, these were not lost years. Instead, they were years that afforded him remarkable freedom, time and space for discovery. Because he had used those years well and dare I say hopefully he had seen in them not simply the struggles but also the possibilities of the times. (“Year of Wonders, 1665-1667, national trust.org.uk; I am also indebted to a letter from Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez , a Dean at the University of Mississippi for connecting this story to our current context)
I want to suggest this morning that this is a needed discipline for us to adopt for the living of these very days too. Without question, these are hard days, challenging days, unnerving days. But, they are also days that give us the chance to live life in a very, very different way than is usually the case. Our work lives have changed, schools are closed. There are no sports on television. And, if we go to our favorite restaurant our only option is likely take out if there is even an option at all.
Yet, at the very same time, there is good even in this if we have the spiritual eyes of hope with which to see it. Let me ask us all a few questions. When was the last time you have been at home with your children for 14 straight days? When is the last time, you have had dinner at the table each night? When have you last had the real opportunity to read a book that has been gathering dust on your shelf, watch a movie that you have had recorded on the DVR for three months or simply had the freedom to take a nap on a Sunday afternoon? Yes, there is a lot to lament. And, I am not making light of that in any shape, form or fashion. But, I do believe that God gives us the ability to see differently. God offers you and I a chance to have the blinders removed from our eyes so that we can see more clearly. Eyes of hopefulness suggest that even in this, there is something good. Eyes of hopefulness suggest that even in this there is the opportunity to learn something about ourselves, the world or God that we had not known before or would have never seen under different circumstances. Eyes of hopefulness suggest that even in this life can have meaning and joy.
As with Isaac Newton, this can be our year of wonders. I encourage you just as I encourage myself to ask the God of hope to help all of us to see not with the eyes of men but with the eyes of faith. Today, may our God grant us the ability to see the world and our days right now in this way. Amen.