“Lord, I Believe!”

Meditation on John 9: 1-25 & 35-38

Pastor Karen Crawford

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Fourth Sunday in Lent: March 19, 2023

Pastor sharing her message:

Christ Healing the Blind by El Greco, from the Met https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436572

They showed up one late afternoon, unannounced, when my husband, Jim, and I came back from a leisurely walk.

A cloud of black shapes had gathered in the tall trees of my back yard. The black shapes, moving and swaying and shrieking, covered the lawn and the feeders set out for woodpeckers and songbirds.

A scene from that classic Hitchcock movie, The Birds, flashed through my mind.

The Birds original movie poster from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birds_(film)#/media/File:The_Birds_original_poster.jpg

I did what any person might do, the first time a river of grackles and starlings descended on their property. The sound was almost deafening.

I yelled as loud as I could. “Get out!!”

Some of them flew away, surprisingly enough. But many stayed in the trees, waiting for us to go inside, as we inevitably would, so they could come and empty our feeders and intimidate the smaller birds that visit our yard.

Jim, who seldom sits outside, sat down on a deck chair, and I sat next to him, guarding the food we had set out for “nice birds” and wondering what to do.

“You know, they are just going to come back, right?” I asked Jim.

He answered, “I can sit here for a long time.”

Later, I googled “grackles and starlings” and found articles about “bully birds.” Anne Lisbon writes in, “10 Natural Ways to Keep Grackles and Starlings and Other Bird Bullies Away From Your Bird Feeder,”

“Grackles, from the blackbird family, are beautiful birds to watch. They shimmer in the sun with their iridescent blues, purple and greens like peacocks showing off. They are also super smart and fascinating to watch in flight. Their tails round up and turn into a rudder, steering them as they fly….

Grackle from All About Birds at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Grackle/photo-gallery/485161

“Many define grackles, starlings and pigeons, as pests. Crop growers see their fields being damaged by crows and blackbirds. Homeowners see them as bullies. Grackles scare their beloved songbirds from their bird feeders and steal their food.” [1]

She suggests building a cage around bird feeders, feeding birds only at certain times of the day, and steering clear of seed mixes and sunflower seeds, which the blackbirds love almost as much as they love SUET. She suggests buying a suet feeder that requires birds to eat upside down. Woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, and chickadees can comfortably feed that way, but starlings, grackles, and other black birds, not so much, she says.

    I already have caged, tube feeders for the small birds; and I cut back on the seed in the open hoppers. I did buy two of the upside-down suet feeders, but none of the “nice” birds, so far, have figured them out! I saw a grackle hanging upside down, though, picking at the suet. They are smart! I’ll give them that!

    The truth is, there isn’t an easy solution to bullies in the world—not among birds and not among human beings, whom Jesus calls us to love, even those who act as enemies to us.

   Bullies in the community of faith are the subject of our gospel reading in John today. They are the religious authorities, the ones in power! They go after Jesus when he gives sight to a man blind since birth. They criticize him for healing on the Sabbath and label him a sinner, to keep him from teaching and healing in the synagogue and attracting followers. They start rumors that are effective at dividing the community.

The authorities demand that the man be brought before them. They fiercely interrogate him about how he received his sight.

The man says, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 

They go after the man’s parents, who are too frightened to answer their questions! If they say that they believe that Jesus gave sight to their son, they will be outcasts from the community in which they have lived their lives. None of their friends or family would be able to associate with them without being expelled, as well. They wouldn’t be able to earn a living, worship, or have a social life.

The bullies are in complete control—or at least they were, until the day of the miracle. This one act of God’s kindness stirs chaos, suspicion, and perhaps fear. Because bullies are often afraid of losing control.

This passage is less about healing than about what happens to a community in the aftermath of a miracle—and how some refuse to see the loving presence of God and the Light of Christ because it will mean changing their way of thinking, changing their way of being.  As one scholar (Richard Lischer) says, “the cure takes exactly two verses; the controversy surrounding the cure, 39 verses.” [2]

So why does Jesus do this? After all, he doesn’t heal every sick person. He doesn’t give sight to everyone who is blind. He chose this man and this miracle to show that, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” as his disciples were led to believe. “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” And many would come to know through this miracle that Jesus IS the Light of the world.

The religious leaders question, for a second time, the man whose eyes are opened in more ways than one. He answers carefully and honestly, “I do not know whether he is a sinner,” he says of Jesus. “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 

At the end of the passage, he will be driven out of the faith community. And Jesus will seek and find him. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” he asks. “And who is he, sir?” the man answers. “Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 

    “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he,” Jesus says.

    The man answers, “Lord, I believe.”

Last night at dinner, Jim told me that he saw our Norther Flicker with the yellow tail and black spots, on the suet, again. He took a photo.

Northern Flicker in our backyard; photo by Jim Crawford

Other woodpeckers, cardinals, robins, and small birds have returned, and though grackles and starlings are still coming daily, we are seeing the large flock, less and less.

Starlings; photo by Jim Crawford

Jim says to me, “You know, grackles and starlings are all part of God’s Creation.”

My experience with my bird project demonstrates to me the inevitable disappointment we experience whenever we try to do something good, no matter how small. Something out of our control will happen! But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do—or that we need to change everything about how we are doing it. What we need is a change of heart and a new attitude.

I hope you know that I am not just talking about my birding project, now. This happens with jobs and families, with our callings and in our church families when we do ministry together. Things won’t always go as planned. But new opportunities for ministry open up, and we will later look back with wisdom and insight gained from the experience, and say with gratitude and praise, “Oh, that’s what God was doing!”

Sometimes we who are sighted are blind to the Wonder of God, shining with bright beauty all around us. We need to ask God to open our eyes to the miraculous in our lives, in our church, in our world—to turn our gaze to the blessings of every day.

May you and I permit the Light of Christ to shine through us, moment by moment, so that others may see and know Jesus, and say with all certainty, “Lord, I believe.”

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for the Wonder of your Creation—for all the plants, animals, birds, and human beings, formed in your image. Open our eyes, Lord, so that we see people with your eternal perspective, your unconditional love, your lavish grace. Give us a new attitude, when we need it, so that we walk in your ways without stumbling and do your will. Open the eyes of our faith to the miracles of everyday blessings, shining Christ’s Light for all to see through our obedience, kindness, generosity, and service. May we say with all confidence, “Lord, I believe.” Amen.

[1] nature-anywhere.com/blogs/bird-feeding-academy/10-natural-ways-to-keep-grackles-pigeons-starlings-and-other-bird-bullies-from-your-bird-feeder-from-your-bird-feeder2

     [2] Richard Lischer, “Acknowledgement (John 9:1-41)” in Christian Century, 2012.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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