All right, let’s get right into it, shall we. Let’s not tip-toe around today’s Gospel text. There is a lot to deal with and I don’t want you to listen to me preach for hours on end. What do you see when you look at me? Perhaps in our short time together thus far, you’ve gotten to know me enough that you now don’t see my shortcomings. Or maybe that’s all you see. I’m not going to pass judgement. After all, I asked the question “what do you see when you look at me” and you probably had a few answers in your head. What do you see when you look at yourself? When it’s just you, alone face to face in the mirror, alone with your thoughts, just you and God, what do you see? I wonder how often we look at ourselves and others and notice their shortfalls first, and then their attributes. Can you imagine what a strange world it would be if we introduced ourselves to other people and lead with our shortfalls? Would it be uncomfortable? I mean, you’re just saying what other people are already thinking, right? There was a recent movie that came out called “Pitch Perfect” about college a cappella groups. One of the characters was named “fat Amy.” Upon introducing herself one of the other girls said “you call yourself ‘Fat Amy?’” And she responded with “Yes…to keep people like you from calling me that behind my back.” Because here’s the thing: we want to define people by their problems instead of their potential and instead of their gifts. I would love to be wrong about this. But, sadly, I’m not. We define people by their problems. If we didn’t there would be no reason why when we do speak of other people and their problems or shortfalls that we do so in a whisper. How many times have you done this or maybe overheard someone say something that sounds kind of like this; “oh that Max! He’s such a great kid and he’s so smart…especially for someone who’s (whisper) you know…autistic.” Or “Michelle has such a pretty face! (Whisper) It’s too bad she has such bad acne.” Maybe even “Grandma is fun to be around (whisper) as long as she takes her ‘happy’ pills.” Do you want to know why we whisper? We whisper because we have been trained to think that anything less than perfection in anyone is a reason for failure. And we pick and pick and pick. We’re like those little monkeys that pick bugs off one another. We look for reasons to point out imperfections. Because as long as I’m pointing out your imperfections, you can’t point out mine. We hear of the blind man today. Much like the woman at the well last week, he has no name. He is insignificant. He doesn’t matter–especially because he is blind. What can he contribute to society? Nothing. The neighbors had known him as a beggar. He was probably spoken of in hushed tones. Whispers and glances. Jesus didn’t see any of that. Jesus didn’t care. Jesus knelt down and made mud out of the dirt in front of him and healed the man. The man didn’t asked to be healed. Jesus healed him after the disciples asked some fairly dumb questions. They wondered why the man was blind. Was it his own fault or was it the fault of his parents that he was blind. Who sinned causing his blindness. Friends, do not kid yourself into thinking that this kind of attitude no longer exists. We live in a society that is anxious to place blame, even if it makes no sense, in order justify certain situations. Of course this man is blind–but how was it caused? Who sinned? No one! He was born that way! Jesus came to the man, just as Jesus always comes to us, having no concern about his blindness or how it was caused, and healed him. God, through Jesus Christ, heals us, even if we’re in a mess with a mess like mud. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, mess to mess. This man had been in a prison for a long time. Not an actual prison but a prison that kept him from living into the life that God had planned for him. The people around him placed him in that prison because they just didn’t know how to handle a man that was blind. What kind of prisons do we put people in in our current time? What are the prisons we put ourselves in? Did you notice something curious about this reading? The man never talks about his blindness as a disability. But everyone else around him has put him in a prison that has only allowed him to beg for resources. Here’s the thing: whether we realize it or not, and whether we recognize it or not, we do put other people in prisons. When it comes to prisons, the ones we enslave the most are ourselves. Let’s talk about the prisons we put around other people. When we doubt ability just because of gender, that’s a prison. When we have a pay difference just because of gender, that’s a prison. When we avoid certain streets or establishments because of the customer base, that’s a prison. When we talk louder at someone thinking that they’ll understand English, that’s a prison. When we deny basic rights because of gender, age, mental capacity, social status, economic status, sexual identity, or heritage, that’s a prison. If you’ve ever had someone else place you in a prison–tell you that you can’t do something just because of who you are, you know how uncomfortable it is. But as I said, we do it to ourselves. We take what God has made as good (that’s us) and degrade it to the point that we are almost unrecognizable to ourselves and maybe even to God. We tend to cover ourselves in mud, except this is verbal mud and garbage that keeps us down and imprisoned. Jesus saw the blind man and saw a man whom he loved and wanted to heal. Jesus did not see his disability. Because to Christ, that man was not his blindness. You are not who you say you are or who other people say you are. I am not the extra weight I should lose. I am not my ADHD or my dyslexia. I am not my infertility issues. I am not my anxiety or depression. I am not the negative voices I hear in my head telling me I’m not good enough. Because when I come face to face with God, none of this will matter. God will see me as I am and as God made me: a perfect creation, worthy of love and grace, and worth dying for. You are not who you say you are either and you are not who other people say you are. You are not self doubt. You are not your physical issues. You are not your mental issues. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are beloved. Society will fight fiercely to tell you that everything I’ve just told you is false. Companies make money by selling you things that make you better because they’ve made you believe that you’re not good enough. We need to be thinner, taller, longer hair, beautiful nails, whiter teeth, clean complexion, covered in diamonds, and oh! we need the perfect family too! Well behaved children, a solid marriage, a nice home, well manicured lawn, and a big fluffy (friendly) dog. Here’s the thing: God doesn’t care about this stuff. God cares about one thing: your heart. God created you to love and be loved. God thought you were worth dying for, and that’s pretty amazing. We should refuse to be known and classified as anything other than what we are: beloved children of God. Someone who is clothed in God’s grace and mercy. Someone who is fed and forgiven quite often. Your current reality, friends, is not your final reality. I understand that it’s easy for me to say that you’re not these things. But the reality is, you will leave here today and whatever physical ailments you have, you will still have them. But the good news is that these ailments do not define you. What defines you is the hold that God has on you and that will never change. There will come a time when you are free from all that ails you. But in order to not get confined to those prisons, we must remind ourselves of our baptism daily. We must eat the bread of life and cup of salvation as often as we can. We should be around those who will lift us up and remind us of who we really are. These are the people who can see the real you and the real me. You are not the whispers of your shortcomings. You are the yells of “I love you” cried from a cross.