Transformation: A sermon on John 9:1-41

By the Rev. Anna Doherty

As Christians, we talk a lot about transformation.

About being transformed, through Christ, and about transforming the world.

In our baptismal promises we are transformed, made new in Jesus Christ and we are commanded also to transform the world through Christ.

That’s the good news.

Here is the bad news…

Transformation involves change, always.

When we are transformed in Christ, our lives are going to be different, disrupted.

What’s more, other people may find our changed lives disrupting too.

We need look no further than today’s gospel lesson to see what this looks like.

After Jesus heals the man, and the man regains his sight, we would expect that the man could simply go on his merry way.

Sometimes this is what we expect from our own transformation in Christ…great, my problems are solved, my hope is restored, now I can just get on with things.

Instead, the man’s transformation almost immediately begins disrupting, rather than smoothing, the way forward.

To start with, incredibly, some people are so stunned by this man’s transformation that they actually do not recognize him.

Even when the man tells people, point blank, “I am he.”

This isn’t the only time in scripture when a transformation causes identity confusion.

People don’t quite know what to make of Saul, the persecutor of Christians, when suddenly he becomes Paul, the apostle.

Jesus’ own followers have difficulty recognizing the resurrected Jesus.

The man’s total and utter transformation, seems to have thrown people off, so that they don’t even know who he is anymore.

This may seem implausible, until we think about how often we ourselves define other people by their shortcomings, their failings, or their challenges.

Oh, she’s a single mother.

He’s an alcoholic.

She has cancer.

He’s depressed.

And we don’t just do this to other people.

We can define ourselves and who we are more by our own limitations, failures and setbacks rather than by our own potential.

I am a failure.

I am not a good person.

I am really messed up.

We have such a penchant for defining others and ourselves by our limitations,

that sometimes we literally don’t know what to do when the situation changes.

And so the friends of the man born blind have defined him — and even their relationships with him –

so fully in terms of his disability that they can’t recognize him when he regains his sight.

The man’s transformation disrupts how others see him, maybe even how he sees himself.

That’s what transformation can do.

What’s more, it’s not just the man and his neighbors and friends who find their perception of the man disrupted.

It’s entire systems that the man lives in and occupies.

His parents, for one.

His religious community for another.

What we get in today’s gospel is a crash course in what psychologists call “systems theory.”

And it applies in all spheres of life.

Whether we’re talking about a community, congregation, or family, when a system organizes itself around a defined problem it has a difficult time moving toward health.

Even unhappy and unhealthy systems tend to prefer a known problem to an unknown solution and so have a hard time letting go of the very things that are limiting them.

I’ve often wondered if this is why entire governments, communities, denominations, and generations can get so hung up around specific problems.

Oh, we’ll never have enough money to do that.

Oh, we’ll never have enough people to do that.

Oh, we’ll never get people to agree to this change.

And so, consequently, the problem lives on and on.

The very systems we live in, when organized around problems, will even create new problems when old ones are alleviated because that’s what we’ve become used to.

And so the man’s parents, fearful of the consequences of their son’s sight, play it safe by distancing themselves from their son.

And the Pharisees and religious authorities, fearful of this man who has been touched by Jesus, cast him out of the synagogue.

That’s transformation for you.

It disrupts not just individual lives and relationships; it disrupts entire systems and organizations.

That’s what transformation can do.

It’s enough to make us wonder, is it really worth it to be transformed?

While it may be difficult to hear about all the disruption, the turmoil that transformation can cause…

…in ourselves, in our relationships, in the very spheres of our existence.

That’s also the profound, amazing thing about transformation.

It changes everything.

Everything gets turned upside down, rearranged, made new.

Our perception of ourselves, other people’s perceptions of us, the very places where we live and work…

…everything, everyone gets touched by the power Jesus Christ, working in us.

When we are transformed in Christ, it is total transformation.

Transformation doesn’t just happen by halves, or in pieces, so that we can simply go back to business as usual.

All things are being made new.

When Jesus comes into our lives, our lives are profoundly changed, plain and simple.

And those changes can be hard.

But, oh my, are they also life giving.

What Jesus wants for us isn’t just survival, persistence, getting by, or any of the others ways we formulate and excuse living half-lives.

There are no half-lives in Christ.

No, what Jesus wants for us is life, with a capital L, fullness of Life, Life of abundance and blessing.

The kind of life that stems from knowing that we have infinite worth in God’s eyes and are and always will be God’s beloved child.

Jesus invites us, just like he invites the man who regains his sight, to take the plunge.

To choose transformation, no matter how scary and uncertain it may seem.

To choose life in Christ, life in hope, life in love, and see all the wonderful things that will happen to us and through us.

I’d like to close today, not with my own words but with words from the apostle Paul, whose own transformation in Christ led to him becoming one of the saints of the church.

In his letter to the Ephesians, just a few lines before our epistle reading for today, Paul says, speaking of his own transformation and the transformation of all of us in Christ:

“Glory to god whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.”