Here’s my adapted version of session 4 from the Winchester Lent course on being Agents of Social Transformation (John 9:1-41) for 11-18 year olds:
We are agents of social transformation using our influence as a diocese to transform public and personal life. We will demonstrate loving faith at work, in local communities and across the globe bringing healing, restoration and reconciliation, e.g. through Education, Social Enterprise, Health Care, Spiritual Care Teams.
There are many activities that will help your group try to understand how life must have been for the man in the story who was born blind. Here are a couple of options:
Blind assault course
Ask your group to divide into pairs, and invite one member of each pair to put on a blindfold. You can either arrange an assault course in the room where you meet or simply have a route that the ‘blind’ person must negotiate. The seeing member of each pair must guide the ‘blind’ partner round the room either by touch or by spoken commands. When the first person has had a go, switch roles (if you have time) and then at the end encourage them to discuss how they found the activity. Was it difficult to trust? Was it scary or frustrating? Did it change the way they perceived the room?
You will need: copies of a simple line drawing on a piece of paper (one for each round); blank paper and pencils. If you have a large enough group, split into two teams. If not, just do one. The young people stand in a line. Give the person at the back a piece of paper with a simple picture drawn on. Using their finger, they draw the picture on the back of the person in front of them, who must then pass the picture on to the next person in the line. When the person at the front gets the picture, they must draw on paper what they have interpreted. Repeat as many times as you like with different pictures.
Creative Worship Ideas
Do you remember the first time?
It can be difficult to imagine how the man in the story felt to see for the first time. Watch this clip of a baby hearing his mum’s voice for the first time after having a cochlear implant fitted:
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Ask the group how the clip made them feel. Ask them if they can remember times when they first felt God’s love for them, or first understood what it meant to be his child.
In your own words
Invite your group quietly to rewrite Psalm 23 in contemporary language. Ask them why they think that the image of a shepherd is such a powerful one. What image would they use in today’s culture? Ask if any of the images in the psalm make them think of their own neighbourhood or the world beyond. What do they think this psalm tells us about what God offers us and our world?
Bible Study Ideas/Questions
There are plenty of voices in this short passage, so you could ask different people to read the various characters: the disciples, Jesus, the blind man, the friends and neighbours.
Illustration: During the winter months as a cyclist I go to work in the dark, and cycle home in the dark. Over the years I’ve been blinded many a time by the new halogen bulbs that cars have. There you are cycling your way home, and then suddenly an eye-searingly bright light comes at you out of the darkness. Night vision gone, the only thing you can do is try to shield your eyes. And once the light is gone, the darkness is deeper, as the contrast between what remains on your retina and the gloom around you is that much more stark.
Jesus continues his ministry in John’s Gospel, and brings proceedings around him to a halt just as he did in chapter 7. Jesus the light of the world (see 8:12) once again reveals his glory, and blinds those around him. And one who was blind is then able to see the world as it really is for the first time and becomes a follower of Jesus the light.
The third strategic priority for our diocese is that of being agents of social transformation, allowing the light of Christ to permeate even the darkest parts of our life together as global citizens. With his help we can see the world as Christ sees it, and work with his Holy Spirit to bring lasting change to a broken world.
As Paul puts it in his letter to the church at Ephesus: ‘You were once darkness, now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light’ (5:8). How can we do that today?
Blind: individuals matter
We need to come alongside the unlovely and needy in our society.
Illustration: Who did it? Come on, who did it? I know it was someone’s fault, so I’m going to wait until whoever did it owns up. So who did it? I can wait here all day…. Does that remind you of school? It certainly resonates with mine. We live in a society that likes to apportion blame. If something bad happens, it must be someone’s fault. And once we know that, we can work through what compensation looks like. The man in the encounter with Jesus had been blind all his life, so to say he had done something wrong to deserve it wasn’t going to wash, unless he had sinned in the womb of course. And if not him, then who? Must be his parents!
Of course, we live in a world that is broken and, as a result, brokenness is part of our experience. As one speaker I heard recently said, ‘I know there are bad times still to come, but I trust God to see me through.’
The challenge is to see those in need around us, and to serve them. It’s not always clear who they are – sometimes they are dressed in smart suits, and carry briefcases; sometimes they are still in education; people who look okay on the outside but are dying on the inside. We need the blinding clarity of the light of Christ to help us ‘see’ those in need. And once we have seen them, to serve them.
Jesus is concerned not to apportion the blame, but to demonstrate the glory of God. As we serve him today that should be at the top of our aspirations.
Blinded: changing structures matters
We need to continue the mission of Jesus by working for a just present and future.
You know what a blind spot is. If you’re driving in a car and are relying on your rear view mirrors to check the lanes, there are some spots that you still won’t be able to see. The back right corner. The back left corner. Those are blind spots. Oh you can turn your head and take a gaze a those spots so that you will know what if anything is there, but for the moment that you check your blind spots, you are unaware of what is happening in front of the car. Blind spots. Blind spots are created by virtue that we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads, and that it is physically impossible to see everything at once. Blind spots
These people, these Pharisees here in the text of John 9 were said by Jesus to be blind. The irony is that Jesus had just healed a blind man. And in the aftermath of the story, when the Pharisees tried to find a legal technicality to undo the miracle that Jesus had performed, they reveal themselves to have a blind spot where Jesus is concerned. Jesus said that he came so that those who do not see may see, and that those who think they see will realise that they are blind. And revealing their arrogance and pride, the Pharisees responded to Jesus by saying, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” The man had just cured blind eyes, and the Pharisees were trying to say that he wasn’t of God. Blind spots.
Because, when we have spiritual blind spots, like these Pharisees in the story, we can’t see what God is doing. God had just performed a miracle through his only son, and still these religious leaders couldn’t see it. When you’ve got a spiritual blind spot, God can be doing something fantastic right in your midst and you still won’t see it. You can see how you want things. You can see how you think things should be. You can see what you want to see. But when you’ve got spiritual blind spots, you might just miss out on what God is doing right next to you, right in your midst.
I love this little joke:
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. After a good meal and a bottle of wine, they lay down for the night and wen tot sleep. Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend. “Watson, look up and tell me what you see.” Watson replied, “I see millions and millions of stars.” “What does that tell you?” Watson pondered for a minute.
“Astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Why, what does it tell you?” Holmes said, “Watson you idiot, someone has stolen our tent.”
Sometimes we are blind to what is going on right in our midst, and in a spiritual sense, we can be blind to what God is doing so well for us.
How many times have you and I seen people who are unhappy with their lives because not everything is going the way they want. Especially here in the United Kingdom, where the poorest of us lives so much better than so many people around the world. And too often we allow things to pile up on us and we miss out on what joy God has provided for us right here in front of us. Picking on ourselves because we got an A- instead of an A like your mate. Blind spots. We can’t see what great things God is doing right in our midst.
And if we did, we would jump for joy at just how good God has been to us. Food to eat. Water to drink. People to love. A place to worship. Air to breathe. Strength to live. Oh praise the lord. The Pharisees should have been jumping for joy that a blind man could now see. But they had a spiritual blind spot where it came to Jesus.
These Pharisees were religious leaders, well trained, educated, and respected in the community. They could speak doctrine with the best of them. They were known for their spirituality, for their religious observance. Good church member material were these Pharisees. We often have a go at them for their hypocrisy, for their outward displays of piety when God was looking at their inward feelings of haughtiness and arrogance. But that outward stuff, praying all the time, reading the bible on a daily basis, strictly adhering to religious law. But what Jesus says here is that even if you are spiritually gifted, there are still going to be some blind spots.
Follow me to I Corinthians chapter 13, and let us see what Paul had to say about this same kind of subject. I Corinthians 13 verse 1, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” No matter who you are, no matter your theological training, no matter your years of experience at being a religious person, everyone has a blind spot. And when you have a blind spot that you are unwilling to check on, and maybe you’re unwilling to admit you have a spiritual blind spot, then you just might miss out on what God is doing right there in your midst.
Not only will a blind spot keep you from seeing what God is doing, but another thing about spiritual blind spots as exemplified by these Pharisees is that a blind spot will keep you from seeing what you’re really doing. When you are driving a car and don’t check your blind spot, and you decide to make a lane change, you might not know it, but you might well be running into a car that is sitting right there in your blind spot. And even in a spiritual sense, these Pharisees in this text were unaware that with all their theological probing, with their debates about Sabbath laws and whether it was lawful to make a bit of mud and smooth it over a blind man’s eyes for the purpose of making him see, with all those legal ramblings, they couldn’t see that they were making this newly healed man wonder about the nature of his healing. They were trying to make him feel like some ungodly force, some unholy entity had brought about his healing. They were discrediting his sight as though he had no reason to be so jubilant about his miracle. They were so hung up on their doctrines that they were blind to what their doctrines were doing to real people. They were blind to the guilt they were heaping on a man that Jesus had just made whole. They were hurting the man. Where he had just been physically healed, they were emotionally and spiritually wounding the brother. And they couldn’t see it. They had a blind spot.
Oh how many times we have allowed our blind spots to cause injury to brothers and sisters in Christ. I know because I have been injured by those who had blind spots concerning ministers. Some folks think that ministers don’t have feelings, and it doesn’t bother us when they complain about us or that it doesn’t hurt us when they don’t turn up after we’ve spent hours preparing for a Sunday session. Some folks, now, nobody here, but some folks have blind spots. I know that our blind spots can injure our brothers and sisters in Christ not only because I have been hurt, but because I have injured some with my own blind spots. Oh yes. Sometimes I have changed lanes too quickly, without checking properly, and without knowing that I was causing injury to some one. I stand here as a witness to the power of blind spots today, that if we don’t check them out, if we don’t watch out, we might be injuring someone and not realise it because we are blind to that spot.
This happens so often not only in the Christian world, but in the social order as well. Some folks who are professing Christians have had some social blind spots where it comes to people of different ethnicity and different economic backgrounds, and different educational levels. White America for so long was blind to the humanity and contributions of Black America. We need to examine our blind spots and see if there is something from God that we might be missing. We need to check our blind spots to see if we might not be hurting someone.
Now, most of us who are drivers know that we have blind spots. We know that we better check our blind spots before we change lanes, or make any kind of move. And the thing about spiritual blind spots is that there is all the difference in the world between those who know they have blind spots and those who don’t know they have them. To Jesus in this text, there were essentially two kinds of people: those who were blind which he came to make see, and those who thought they were seeing when they were actually blind. Both of these were blind. But there is all the difference in the world to Jesus if you know you’re blind and if you don’t know you’re blind. If you have a blind spot and you know you have a blind spot, it will affect the way you proceed. You will act with more caution, you won’t be surprised and unsettled to learn that there was something happening that you didn’t know about. You won’t be amazed to learn that God was doing something with or without your permission. When you know you have a blind spot and find that you have been hurting someone as a result of that blind spot, you will feel remorse and try to change your behaviour so that you check your blind spot and prevent the hurt from happening again.
But when you have a blind spot and don’t admit it, when you think you can see, like these Pharisees, and you really are as human as the next guy, you won’t take caution to where you’re going and who you’re hurting. If someone gets hurt and you don’t realise that it was a result of your blind spot, you’ll probably blame the victim for the trouble. How many times have folks complained about civil rights leaders, who agitate and stir up trouble and make things uncomfortable for the oppressive classes? How many times have folks put into law their blind spots, keeping people from living free on the basis of their ethnic background and so forth. How many times have people, well-intentioned people, people who think they are doing right, actually wind up doing wrong and blaming you for bearing the brunt of it. These Pharisees had good intentions but they were blind and didn’t know it.
It’s simply not enough for us as the people of God to care for the victims of injustice. Of course it’s right that we should help restock food banks, and give money for wells to be built in needy countries, to offer our clothes to charity shops, to train as prison visitors, to pray and offer help to those on the streets of our cities, and to work with the homeless. But there is a bigger issue here – we need society to be changed; we need the structures to be flooded through with the values of the risen Lord Jesus. And for that to happen, we need people who will get stuck in and make a difference.
Illustration: A man watches a girl as she walks along a beach covered in stranded starfish. As he watches, he sees her pick one up and throw it back. She then goes along a little further and does the same. The man approaches the girl and says to her, ‘You can’t think that’s really going to make much of a difference can you?’ The girl looks at him, then turns away and carries on throwing the starfish back into the water one at a time. And the man watching noticed she was now muttering to herself. As he listened he realised she was saying, ‘Made a difference to that one; made a difference to that one’.
If we all play our part, we can see not just the needy cared for, but society itself changed from the inside out. We are part of the society; we are global citizens and part of our calling as disciples of Christ is to live his mission. He has entrusted it to us, and is with us in our endeavours by his Holy Spirit. His kingdom is still coming through people like you and me – what will you do today?
One way to explore what part we have to play in creating a just society is to consider what makes us sick! What gets your goat? What really irritates you about the way we are people together in this nation, in this world? Then, once you know what that is, start to make a difference to that ‘sickness’, prayerfully but with actions too. And don’t wait for a blinding light experience – there’s too much to do to just sit back and watch!
John Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing grace’ reminds us of his change of life as the light of Christ shone into his heart and transformed his life’s work.
Lectio Divina is a wonderful way to read the Bible with young people. It’s an ancient practice that builds on the idea that when we hear the same words repeated we hear new and different things each time.
Settle your group, and then ask three confident readers for their help. Explain that the passage John 9:1-41 is going to be read three times, slowly and carefully, and at the end of each reading there will be a pause for thought and reflection. Ask the group to listen to the readings carefully and to see which phrases, ideas and words catch their attention. When all three readers have finished and you’ve allowed a further period of silence, simply ask: What do you think God might be saying to us through these words?
If you have limited time, you could read just John 9:1-12.
- What might God be saying to us through these words?
- Jesus said ‘I am the light for this world.’ How many examples of darkness can you find in this passage?
- What can we do to bring light into our world?
How will our life together this week be different because of these words?
What am I going to think about?
One of the questions the disciples asked Jesus at the start of the story was what had caused the man’s blindness – his sin or his parents’ sin.
There is darkness in our world, and sometimes we need to spend time just wondering ‘why?’ Who caused it? Why doesn’t God just eradicate it?
Cut out some newspaper stories from the last few days about things going wrong, and spread them around. Ask the young people how these stories make them feel. Ask them if they know why there is darkness in the world. Ask them if they can think how God might be glorified in each of the situations.
What am I going to do?
Loving the world is something we • can do on lots of levels, and we’re actually called to do it at many levels. On sheets of paper, encourage your group to draw three boxes where they can write how they will endeavour to show God’s love to the • world on three different levels: with a person they know personally, in their local community and something global. You may want to prepare one
in advance to give the group an idea of what you’re getting at, e.g.:
- Transforming the life of someone I know – I will commit to having a cup of tea with Elsie, the elderly person who lives across the road, at least once a month, and to pray for her needs.
- Transforming my local community – I will commit to joining the leadership team of our Messy Church, and look for ways to invite a family that doesn’t come to church to join.
- Transforming the world – I will find out about a charity that is caring for people affected by Typhoon Haiyan and sell cakes after church to raise money for its work.
What am I going to talk with God about?
It’s likely that many of the young people in your groups have spent time thinking about what they want do with their futures. Some will already have settled on a future career, whether they want to go to university and what they might study if they do go. You could introduce this topic by having a discussion about what their hopes and dreams are now, maybe using this research from Mothercare, which asked 1,000 children in the UK what they wanted to be when they grew up:
Top 10 for all children:
Doctor (9%), Footballer (8%), Teacher (8%), Dancer (6%), Police Officer (5%), Firefighter (4%), Scientist (4%), Musician (4%), Actor (2%), Nurse (2%)
Top 5 for boys:
Doctor (11%) Footballer (10%) Dancer (8%) Teacher (6%) Police officer (6%)
Top 5 for girls:
Doctor (8%) Teacher (8%) Footballer (7%) Dancer (5%) Police officer (5%)
Once you’ve had a good chat, and compared your group to the average child in the UK, ask whether they’ve ever prayed and asked God what he might be calling them to do. Encourage them to spend some time this week talking with God about his plans for them and what the future might hold.