Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Sermon: "Not Peace, But A Sword": The Unlikely Word

Preached at First Church of Westfield on June 25, 2017

Scriptures: Genesis 21:8-21 and Matthew 10:16-39

Lord, bless the words of my heart, the words of my mouth, and let them be not my words but yours. Give me the wisdom to listen to you, the courage to speak to you, and the strength to argue with you, and with myself.

I wanted to start by thanking Pastor Elva and all of you for welcoming me into your congregation. I am honored to be here, in the church that is home to many of my family members—but I have to warn you: I don't think you know what you've done.

I am a queer, disabled, opinionated feminist with six inches of blue hair and a degree from hippie school. It's practically a requirement that I upset at least one person everywhere I go. So I'm going to guess that the next few minutes aren't necessarily going to be comfortable for all of you. And that's okay, because I'm not going to be comfortable either. I don't mind telling you, some parts of these scriptures make me distinctly uncomfortable.

Take this line from Matthew, for instance: "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." That verse has never sat well with me. As a Christian, peace is something I desperately want for the world, and if you'd asked me about four years ago, I probably would have told you that was the goal of Christianity, and many other world religions: to bring peace.

But if you read this verse in its context, Jesus isn't saying that we shouldn't strive for peace. He's just saying it's not going to be an immediate result of his ministry. He's saying that when we, his disciples, truly follow his teachings, conflict will arise. The kind of conflict that tears families apart.

And looking at our country today, I have to say this scripture feels profoundly true to me. We have millions of people, living into their religious and political beliefs, many of them Christian, and what do we have? Conflict. Division. Parents against children. Whether the arguments are screamed over dinner tables, or held silently in our hearts, I think we all know them. When we all listen to different news, believe different truths—how are we supposed to know what to believe? Whose authority are we supposed to trust?

Now, because this is church, and not a political rally, I'm going to guess that most of you in this room can predict my answer to that question. But before we get to that answer, I'm going to admit to you that part of my problem with these scriptures is one of authority. I do not like the way these scriptures talk about authority. Like these first verses from Matthew: "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master." M'hm. So a disciple can never surpass the teacher? A slave will always be subservient to the master? I realize this isn't necessarily meant to be talking about social relationships between humans, but I don't really care. Strict hierarchies, like the ones laid out in those verses, don't sit well with me, and never have. As my family can tell you, I have a lot of opinions, particularly about power structures and how power is used, and I don't mind sharing those opinions with the authority figures in question. Over the years, I have argued with my parents, doctors, teachers, elected officials, pastors, and God.

Which leads me to the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Now, this story is very important to me because it demonstrates the familial relationships between the Abrahamic faiths. Jews and Christians trace their lineage back to Abraham through Isaac, and Muslims trace theirs through Ishmael. This is the story in which God promises that legacy to Ishmael, the story in which we can see clearly that Muslims are our cousins.

However, it's also the story in which we see the first instance of some pretty familiar words and behaviors. We see Sarah decide that there just isn't room enough in her house for her son and Hagar's. We see Abraham worry about it for a minute, then send his child and the mother of his child out into the wilderness with little more than the clothes on their backs. And we see God tell Abraham to do as Sarah says, without even bothering to add, "Oh by the way, maybe they might need more than one waterskin."

If you haven't figured it out, I'm pretty ticked off with everyone in this story except Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah, who showed no mercy, who forced them to become refugees. Abraham, the world's first bystander—I mean, come on, buddy, you debated with God about Sodom and Gomorrah like three chapters ago, but you can't stand up for your son? And God, who didn't even argue with them. Didn't raise any objection. Didn't say, this is not how we do family, or, this is not how we treat people who are dependant upon us, or even, this is wrong.

This is why I sometimes have trouble giving the answer I know I should to the question I asked you earlier. Whose authority are we supposed to trust, above all others? God's, of course. But what if we don't like what God says? What if, as so often happens to me, we don't know what God is saying?

It's exactly that question that has lead us to where we are today. We're all so certain we know what God is saying, but that Word leads us in many different directions. And this happens because we're human. We do not know with the mind of God, and we experience God's Word through what we know already: through our understanding of scripture, the things we fear, the things that give us comfort, and yes, our political views. What I'm saying is, we're biased, and I happily include myself in that category. I can name for you several of the factors that have shaped my relationship with and understanding of God, from the ministers and lay people who spoke to me about God growing up, to the secular religion classes in which I read the Bible, to the interfaith youth groups I joined in high school and college. These are filters through which I know God, but they do not mean that my experience of God isn't real—far from it. The experience of God is a personal one, and only the person experiencing it can say whether it happened and what it meant. But being aware of my filters helps me to ground myself in my context, or to gain some distance from it, whichever I need at the time. I don't think we need to try to remove all our filters, but we do need to be aware of them, and one that I think requires special attention is fear.

I have been afraid since November, and many people I know have been afraid much longer than that. I'm afraid that I will lose my health care, or be unable to get it in the future. I'm afraid that my trans siblings will not be given the protections they need to live their lives. I'm afraid that my friends of color will be murdered and receive no justice. I'm afraid that the environment will deteriorate around us while we argue about who's responsible. I'm afraid because much of this is already happening. And yes, some days, I'm afraid of saying all this to people I'm not sure will agree with me. But I have made a conscious decision that I don't want to act out of fear, and I don't want to experience God through fear. Sarah and Abraham acted out of fear. Sarah feared that Ishmael would displace Isaac as heir of the house, and receiver of God's blessing. Abraham was caught between fears: fear of strife within his family, and fear for Hagar and Ishmael. This fear immobilized him, until God spoke to him.

And God, whether I agree with their actions or not, did not act out of fear. If it were anyone but God, I would say they acted out of hope. Hope that Hagar and Ishmael could find a better life away from Sarah's jealousy. Hope that they could have something and be something entirely different from the line of Isaac.

Hope is the filter through which I try to listen to God, and the motive I want to drive my actions. Instead of fearing the world that could be, or even the world that is, I hope for the world I want to live in, a world where the marginalized are lifted up and empowered, all are valued for their humanity, and no swords divide us, but peace and justice reign over all. And as I dream of this world, I wonder. What are the people on the other side of the isle from me dreaming about? Are they acting from fear or hope? Are they afraid of change, or afraid of what-ifs? What worlds do they dream of when they hope, and are they like mine? And if they are, what would happen if we both acted through hope, spoke to each other through hope, listened to God through hope?

"So have no fear of them," says Jesus, "for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows."

Well, this passage breaks my rule of not experiencing God through fear, but more importantly, it tells us not to fear each other, and it tells us what to do about it. What God has spoken to us, we are called to speak aloud. We are not called to speak what we feel or want. We are called to speak what God says to us. So for me, this passage is a call to speak, but also one to listen, and to question. How much of what we're feeling and experiencing is our filters? Not a day goes by that I don't ask myself, do the things I believe come from God, or do they come from the world? I struggled in putting together this sermon, trying to discern whether this was really what God wanted me to say today. And while, on one level, I don't think I'll ever have the certainty I would like on those questions, the fact that I am here, speaking to you today, tells you what I determined today.

Discerning and speaking is not always comfortable. I warned you at the beginning of this that you might not be comfortable, and that I wouldn't be either. I'm nearly done with this sermon and I'm still not comfortable with it. But that's the point. If the Word of God were easy, would it descend upon the world like a sword? If the Word of God rested comfortably upon us, wouldn't we be closer to the world we hope for by now? No, discerning and speaking are not comfortable, but they open up new possibilities.

God did not argue with Abraham and Sarah. Instead, she saw a way forward that they did not, that even Hagar did not. God thought deeply, and then proclaimed, "I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring." And maybe Abraham acted with more hope than I give him credit for, because he listened to that unlikely Word.

It is the unlikely Word that is hardest to hear. But that is the Word that we all need to listen for if we want to find the way forward, through our divided world. The unlikely, uncomfortable Word, heard through hope, spoken into the chaos of our world. Friends, for just a moment, let's not argue with each other, but with ourselves. Let's pray, and study, and think deeply, and then come back together and speak what we are called to say.

Lord, bless the words of my heart, the words of my mouth, and let them be not my words but yours. Give me the wisdom to listen to you, the courage to speak to you, and the strength to argue with you, and with myself. Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Sermon: The Man Going Down to Jericho

Preached at the National Church Leadership Institute in August 2016

Scripture: "The Good Samaritan" (Luke 10:25-37)

This Sermon is not about the good Samaritan. This sermon is about the man going down to Jericho.

He's been stripped and beaten. He's lying on the side of the road, naked and bleeding. And that is all we know, all we are told, and from there all I have are questions. Is he conscious? Let's say he is. What does he feel, as he lies there by the side of the road? Does he feel the gravity and danger of his situation? Or is he drifting, aware of what has happened, but unable to care?

Why was he going down to Jericho anyway? Was he visiting family or friends? Was he on a business or a religious trip? Or was he just going home? Does he wonder what they will think, the people he was going to stay with, when he doesn't show up? Does he think of his family, whoever they are and wherever they are, and what they will do if he doesn't come home?

And when the priest passes by, and the Levite, what does he do, this man going down to Jericho? Does he call out to them? Does he try to move his unresponsive body toward them? And those men, those respected, religious men, what do they do? Do they pretend not to see him? Do they hurry on as fast as they can? Do they make some sort of assumption, some sort of excuse for themselves? "Well that's what you get for being drunk." "He was probably traveling at night, the fool." "I wonder if he knew the guys that robbed him ..." And one after the other, they are gone.

And when they are gone, what does he do then, our friend by the side of the road? Does he weep? Does he try to stand, to help himself? Does he rage, against the bandits, or the priest and the Levite, or perhaps even the God they serve? Or does he lie quietly, too tired to go on?

And then the Samaritan comes. Oh, the Samaritan .... What, do you think, does the man going down to Jericho think of that? A Samaritan! They're the heretics. The bad guys in all the old stories, the people who are almost Jews but not quite. And who do we hate and distrust more than the people who are almost like us, but just a little too ... well, you know.

So what on Earth can the man going down to Jericho think when the Samaritan stops? Is he so grateful that he doesn't care? Is he so out of it that he doesn't realize? Or does he say, "You know I'm a Jew, right?" Or maybe even, "Get your hands off me!"

Imagine that conversation, my friends. Imagine the sacred space that's formed when the man going down to Jericho realizes that the only person who has shown him kindness today is someone he might hate.

But let's think about the Samaritan for a moment now. And let's ask how does he go about doing what we know he does? He pours whine and oil on our friend's wounds, and binds them—but does he ask first? Ask, before handling this vulnerable, naked body? Does he explain what he's doing, so as not to further traumatize one who has experienced enough trauma for one day? Does he offer a covering of some kind to this man who has been stripped naked? And when he puts him on his donkey, does he ask if there's anywhere he can take him, or at least tell him where they're going, or does he just go? In short, friends, how much of a neighbor is he being?

If you haven't figured out yet where I'm going with this, I'll tell you. I am the man going down to Jericho. I did not choose to be. I have always tried to be the good Samaritan, as I think all Christians do. But society looks at me, holding the arm of someone guiding me, or squinting at too-small type, and society says, "This woman is blind, we must help her." And the Christian church looks at that label and echoes back, "This woman is blind, we must help her. We must be a neighbor to her in her need."

And this is not in itself a bad thing. I do need help. Without the help of my elementary school Braille transcriptionist, I would not have made it to high school. Without the help of my college's IT department, I would not be attending college. And without the help of sighted guides in the airport, I would be stranded in Connecticut right now, lost in the Hartford airport, which isn't even that big.

So yes, I need help. I need people to be a neighbor and offer me a hand, or, as the case may be, an arm. But that is far from all I need. I need to be seen as a full human being, a beloved child of God. I need my gifts to be recognized and validated. I need to share my joys and my sorrows with people who can rejoice with me, and weep with me. I do not need to be pitied. I do not need to be defined by my disability. I do not need to be told that I am perfect except for my disability. And I am happy to say that I have found many communities, including communities of faith, that fulfill my needs and reject the things I don't need, as I do.

But too often, I am keenly aware that I am not being seen as a whole human being. It happens when a stranger looks at me, then looks at the person next to me and says, "Can she see okay?" It happens when all someone can find to talk to me about is my vision. It happens when ministers I know and love write and preach about people with disabilities in ways that objectify us and turn our lives into metaphors for the non-disabled. In these moments, I realize that these people are not seeing me; they are seeing the man going down to Jericho. And I mean the man going down to Jericho as he is in the text: silent, unmoving, a passenger along for the ride in his own story.

So I am here today to reclaim this man. If I am him, then he will be me, and he will get his needs met and keep his dignity by any means possible, including kicking and screaming. He will argue with the Samaritan about paying for his room in the inn. "I have money at home. Just send to my family. I want to get word to my family." He will have opinions about his care. "More of the wine, less of the oil, thank you very much." And yes, he will have prejudices. "A Samaritan? Really?" Because let's face it, we all have those. I hope that he works on them. I hope that he learns that Samaritans can be as kind and kinder than his own people. I hope he tells this story to his friends and family, and that they learn from it. And I hope that whatever lasting injuries he may or may not sustain after this experience, he goes on to do something awesome. Maybe he starts a Samaria-Jerusalem Interfaith Discussion group. Maybe he starts a campaign to deal with the crime on the Jerusalem-Jericho road. Maybe he does something completely unrelated to this incident, but one way or another, he goes on with his life, because that's what people do.

That's what I do. That's what people with disabilities everywhere do. We live in that vulnerable moment by the side of the road, and we find that we, too, are beloved children of God, with agency and vocation and the perfect imperfection of humanity.

Friends, it's not enough to be a neighbor. Neighbors grab my arm in completely improper sighted guide etiquette, and tow me off somewhere without telling me where we're going. Even if they're trying to welcome me into their home, it doesn't matter. They still went about it wrong. And if all they want me to do once I'm in their home is sit quietly by the window—well, I could be doing much more interesting things in my own home.

If we want to truly welcome people with disabilities into our spiritual homes, we need not just to be neighbors, but to be friends. My friends do more than help me. They ask things of me. Sometimes, they demand things of me. I want the church to demand more of me. I want the church to say, "You have work to do here and we will help you do it." I want the church to say, "You are a beloved child of God in the image of God and we will advocate for your rights as a full human being." I want the church to say, "You are the man going down to Jericho, and the good Samaritan." I want to tell the church, "I am here and I am complex and I am in need and I am able to serve," and I want the church to say, "Amen, amen, and amen."

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Sermon: More Than a Metaphore, More Than a Miracle

Preached at Middlefield Federated Church in Middlefield, Connecticut on May 29, 2016

Scripture: "Healing of the Man Born Blind" (John 9:1-41)

Sometime, the Bible is difficult.

And I don't just mean difficult to understand—I think we all know the Bible is not always easy to make sense of. I mean just plain hard. We come to this book with understanding of what it is, what it teaches us as Christians, and what's just plain right, and sometimes, that's not what we find. Let's just look at some things Jesus says:

"I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Mt 10:34). And the verses that follow it, talking about discord between family members, and how if you love your family more than Jesus, you are not worthy of Jesus. I don't know about you all, but I don't like that. The Christianity I try to practice brings people together, peacefully.

Or what about Jesus's teaching on divorce? In three out of the four Gospels, Jesus specifically prohibits divorce. In Matthew, he does it twice. Now, divorce isn't my favorite thing in the world, but I wouldn't say I'm three gospels opposed to it.

The good news is, we are not actually obligated by our particular faith or faiths to believe wholeheartedly in every single word of the Bible. We can say no to these verses if we want to. (I like saying no, it's been one of my favorite words since I was a small child). But the thing is, if we said no to everything in life that made us uncomfortable, we would actually miss out on a lot. Everything from that strange food at the restaurant that turned out to be delicious, to the friendships we make when we push through our social anxiety. At my school, we call these "leaning into discomfort," and we try to do it whenever we're learning about something that is making us uncomfortable, or changing our understanding of the world. And usually, if we do it right, the way we think about the world changes, if only just a little.

So, this chapter in John we've heard part of today is a difficult passage for me. It's the kind of passage that I'm tempted to just say no to, but today I'm going to lean into the discomfort of it, and I hope you all will do so with me, even if not all of you can see yet why I find it uncomfortable. Let me take you through it.

Jesus is walking along, doing his Jesus thing, and he and his disciples see this man. At this point we know literally nothing about him except that he was born blind. How we can tell when he became blind just by looking at him, I don't know, but the disciples see this guy and go, "Hey, hey Jesus! Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

And ... this is the first part of this story that makes me uncomfortable. We've gotten to verse 2 and I'm uncomfortable. See, in Jesus's day, disability was assumed to be related to sin. If you lost your sight, or became paralyzed or chronically ill, clearly you'd done something to piss off God. Now if you were born this way, obviously you couldn't have committed any sin yet, so many people assumed your parents had sinned, to be burdened with a disabled child.

Anyone see a problem with this?

So, for one thing, not really down with the assumption that I, my parents, my disabled friends, or their parents, are automatically sinners. But more than that actually, I have a problem with this because it assumes that being disabled is a bad thing, that the life of a person with a disability is inherently worse than someone else's. Here's a bit of disability justice 101: for some people with disabilities, they do see their condition as a problem, one they would like a solution to, please and thank you. But for some of us, it's so much a part of us that it's just how we live. For me personally, I don't think my life is any worse than anyone else's just because I'm legally blind, and I refuse to judge my eyesight as a positive or negative aspect of my body. It simply is. To put it theologically, Genesis tells us that God created humankind in God's own image, and to me, that means that at least one of the many aspects of God is legally blind.

And, to a certain extent, Jesus agrees with me. He says to his disciples: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned." (I ran a sin check, none here). Rather, "he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."

I'll admit, I have some problems with that statement too, but I'll get to that later.

So the next thing Jesus does is he heals the man. Without asking him. To be specific, he makes mud with his saliva and spreads it on the man's eyes, without asking him. Now, talking as a real blind person here, if you're going to spread dirt and spit on my eyes, I'd at least like you to ask first. And frankly, I'd like to be asked before you change anything about the way I see, too. Think about it. If I don't judge my eyesight positively or negatively, and if this is one way in which I was created in the image of God, why should someone just assume I want that changed?

But anyway, we're just going to assume here that this man wanted to be healed, because I think if he didn't he probably wouldn't let a stranger put spit mud on his eyes. And he goes and washes in the pool of Siloam, and he can see! And everyone in his hometown is so amazed that some of them don't even believe he's the same guy. Because, I mean, come on, this guy can SEE, and that other guy well .... And this is where we learn something else about our friend the man born blind: before he met Jesus, he was a beggar. And this isn't really surprising. In Jesus's time, there weren't really a whole lot of trades or professions for people with disabilities. While there certainly are and were crafts that could be done by touch alone, how many craftsmen do you think would want to take on a blind apprentice? Not many.

This is the context in which I like to place the vast majority of Jesus's healing of people with disabilities. He wasn't just giving them the apparently prized commodities of sight and mobility; he was giving them economic opportunity. A future that included something other than begging.

So the next thing that happens is the Pharisees start investigating this whole healing thing. Partly, this is because the healing happened on the sabbath, and partly, it's just because the Pharisees just have it out for Jesus. So the man tells them how he was healed, and declares that he thinks Jesus is a prophet, which the Pharisees don't like at all. So in the next part of the story which you haven't heard yet, they decide to bring in the guy's parents to investigate this whole "was he really blind anyway?" conundrum. So his parents come and confirm that this is their son, and that he was born blind, but they kind of plead the fifth on the question of his healing. The gospel tells us that they're afraid. They don't want to say anything good about Jesus, because they'll be put out of the synagogue. Instead, they let their son do the talking, and get in all the trouble.

Now I really want to underscore this. He has parents. He has living parents, plural, and yet he was a beggar. Now a lot of you are parents, right? How many of you would knowingly and willingly let your child become a beggar? In your hometown? It's not like he left home and they didn't know what was happening. He was right there! This is not how family is supposed to work. Not in our time, and not in Jesus's. In biblical times, often, your family was your only support network, but it doesn't seem to be doing its job here, does it? This guy's family isn't supporting him in any sense, not when he grows up and needs a way to support himself, and not when his community leaders are persecuting him and the man who did support him.

So the man born blind gets called back by the Pharisees, and I'm going to read this part to you, because it's great. This is verse 24 following.

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." 25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." 26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27 He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" 28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." 30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."

And after that, all they can find to say is, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" They retreat to the old disability-sin framing, because he's argued them into a corner, and that is all they can come up with.

Well, they can come up with one more thing. They drive him out of town. So he goes to find Jesus and Jesus reveals himself as the Son of Man, and the man born blind worships him. And now Jesus has some more weird, uncomfortable lines. He says, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." And apparently the Pharisees have been following him around, because they're kind of off to one side, eavesdropping, and they hear this and go, "Surely we are not blind ... are we?" And Jesus says to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, `We see,` your sin remains."

And this honestly is my least favorite part of this story. The section title in my NRSV Bible for these verses is "Spiritual Blindness." The idea, it seems, is, the man who was born blind was never blind in the spiritual sense. He knew, accepted, and believed in Jesus. The Pharisees, on the other hand, although they can see, are blind because Jesus is right in front of them, but they deny who he is. This metaphor, equating vision with knowledge, is one we should all be familiar with, since it shows up everywhere in our language: "I see what you mean," "She's got real insight," "He sees more than those around him." And on the other side of the coin, "Are you blind? It's so obvious, what she's talking about. Don't you see that ..." Thing is, this metaphor doesn't actually work as well as we think it does. Often, when we talk about metaphorical blindness, what we're talking about is ignorance. The Pharisees refuse to see who Jesus is. That's not blindness. I don't refuse to see the faces of the people at the back of this congregation; I can't. The other problem with this is that these kinds of metaphors have absolutely no relationship to the lives of actual people with actual disabilities. What am I supposed to do with this equation, this blindness equals ignorance. No one claims that that means I'm ignorant, and yet the potential is there, in the metaphor. Beyond that even, it equates me, and the man in this story, to the status of a walking metaphor. Think about how Jesus answers his disciples question about sin: "No, no one sinned. He was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him." In the context of this story, we might be tempted to think that this man was born blind so that Jesus could heal him and spark this whole debate. And not just the debate, but the metaphor as well.

But the thing is, this man is clearly more than a metaphor. More than a miracle. He is a man embedded in a social context. He is a man forced into begging because of his physical condition, a man from a family that would not or could not give him other options. He is an intelligent man, who speaks clearly and persuasively and knows enough about his religious tradition to debate with his community leaders. He is a brave man, who is not afraid to risk the consequences of speaking his truth. And, not least, he is a man with an open spirit, ready and willing to accept the power of Jesus. He is far more than a metaphor. So why does Jesus seem to reduce him to this at the end?

In all honesty, I don't know. I can't tell you how metaphorical or how literal Jesus is being with his "the blind see and the sighted blind" talk. But I can tell you how I'm choosing to read these last few sentences of Jesus's. What I'm reading here is that Jesus is here to reverse things, to take one thing (blindness, specifically) and make it another thing (sight). And he's here to subvert our understandings of the world. Blindness isn't related to sin; rather, he says the sighted people have sin. And I think back to some of those difficult passages we were looking at earlier, and I see the same pattern. Jesus is here to reverse things, to do the opposite of what we expected. We thought he was here to bring peace? He's got a sword. He's here to reinforce normal family relationships? No, he's here to set mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters—against one another. His teaching on divorce first appears in Matthew in a whole list of teachings found in the Torah that he's changing. "You have heard it said that X, but I tell you that Z." "You have heard an eye for an eye, I say turn the other cheek." "You have heard you can have a divorce, I say you can't."

I'm not saying that this pattern makes some of these sayings any easier to understand, because it doesn't. But what I'm saying is, we should be paying attention to patterns. This pattern is telling us that Jesus came to change things, and not just a little. He didn't just come to heal a few people and argue with some officials. He came to turn the world upside down and change it forever. And he did. The existence of Christianity proves that. But the thing is, Jesus also came to call us to follow him, to be like him. We have to turn the world upside down too.

And there are a million and one ways we could do that. And any number of ways we could choose to follow Jesus in doing that. But if I might make a few suggestions in light of today's story.

First, Jesus didn't let expectations stand; he broke them apart. What expectations do you have about people with disabilities? About what we're like, what we want, or what we can do? Do you have some of these expectations about yourself? Break them apart! Turn them upside down. Sometimes the biggest things holding someone back are the expectations people have about them, or the ones they have about themselves.

Second, this story showed us one way that someone at an economic disadvantage was given an opportunity to address that disadvantage. Well, we don't have Jesus to cure all the disabilities for us, even if we'd want him to, and while our medical technology is improving, it's not doing it that fast. What other ways do we have to turn the world upside down for people living in poverty? From our very own towns to cities and villages across the world, people are homeless or in need everywhere, and people with disabilities make up a disturbing proportion of that population, including many of our own disabled veterans.

Third, the story we read shows the man born blind as a whole person. He's not just an example of a miracle. And he's not a metaphor. How many times have you, in your language or your attitude, reduced someone with a disability to one of these categories? We are all whole people, created in the image of God, and we are called to treat others that way. And trust me, when someone takes the time and energy to relate to me as a full human being, that turns my world upside down in the best way possible.

And finally, remember that perhaps the greatest thing Jesus taught us is to love one another. Don't think for a minute that what I've said about changing expectations and turning things upside down reduces the importance of love. Love is the driving force behind all of this, powerful and radical. Love itself subverts expectations. Love turns things upside down. Love is when we go beyond the miracles and metaphors and find fellow human beings. Love is how Jesus changed the world, by laying down his life for his friends. And love, my friends, is how we will do it, too.