Raise Your Hand, Open Your Eyes, and Act!
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
June 23, 2019
John 9:1-7, 39-41 (MSG)
1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” 3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.” 6-7 He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw….
39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”
Back in 2015, a movie was released by Disney Studios titled, “Tomorrowland.” (How many of you saw it?) It paid homage to Walt Disney’s dream of creating a better tomorrow and a utopian world where every person has the opportunity to dream, discover, and create. It was similar to Walt’s original vision of “Tomorrowland” in the Disney Parks or what later became Epcot.
But as you find out early in the movie, many of the people on the Earth have become complainers. People have lost the vision, the dream, the hope of something better.
Actually, Casey, the main character finds herself in high school class-after-class hearing doom and gloom scenarios, while she simply waits with her hand in the air to ask her question. The movie depicts the situations our world is currently in as being in dire straits. As one person put in their review, they made it seem as though we were all “riding this giant space-bound ball to our doom.”
Yet when Casey finally gets to ask her question, she asks something profound. She says,
“I get it, things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it.”
Sadly, I think “Tomorrowland” is a bit surreal and hits too close to home at times. We have become a world of complainers and blamers – and complaining and blaming often stems from our fears. They are ways to avoid reality or acting on our beliefs, or simply avoiding or ignoring the dire situations we face.
Let’s be honest – we all complain and blame. It takes no special talent or skill and often they roll right off our tongues fairly easy. Yet, acting on our situations and problems is much different. Responding…or for that matter...raising our hand like Casey to question our motives may be the first aspect of responding.
The reality for Casey was that she was an optimist and she believed in a better way. And why was that? This is what intrigued me about “Tomorrowland” –
Casey was actually able to see!
In many ways “Tomorrowland” is a metaphor for our scripture text for this morning. I believe there were two different things happening in our scriptures. 1) Jesus is doing a miracle and healing a blind man – but even more 2) Jesus is teaching about the world’s condition and using his healing of the blind man as a picture of our spiritual or mental blindness that is causing the world to suffer and miss the greatness of what God is accomplishing through us.
Much like Casey in the movie, Jesus starts off trying to clarify things for his disciples. And in much the same way, Jesus says, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame.” For Casey it was, what are you going to do about it? And for Jesus it was, do you realize what I am doing about it?
Both “Tomorrowland” and this teaching of Jesus deal with the things that cause our blindness. Things like…
Unwillingness to listen
Which I believe all stem at some point from the big “f” word - FEAR.
Let’s be honest for a moment. This is what our world, our media, our social networks, sadly even our own religions at times have produced. We are surrounded by blind people – and sadly many of us are just as blind.
I sense the time is ripe for us, like Casey, to raise our hand…and begin asking for another way. Or as she goes on in the movie to work to find another way to proceed and ultimately be able to see.
Jesus said in our scriptures, “Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent [us] here…”
If all we are doing is spending our time on that list (I read earlier: Blaming, Complaining, Judging, Pointing fingers, Second guessing, Unbelief, Unacceptance, Unwillingness to listen) then we will be blind to…
· What God is doing in our midst and around us.
· What God wants to do through us.
· And even what God has already been doing.
We will soon find ourselves caught up or gripped by fear and blind to God’s work and will.
My dream is seeing people of faith – people in this very room – the scholarship recipients, their parents and families, the attenders and members of First Friends, the guests who are with us this morning moved to raise their hands in the midst of trials and tribulations, in the midst of struggles and pain, in the midst of the corrupt institutions and difficult relationships we find ourselves within, in the midst of family struggles, difficult classes, and worrisome news broadcasts, all while stating,
I get it, things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it?
Being able to see like Casey, must translate into doing something?
Even the former blind man in the story says something similar when he says,
“It’s well know that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will.”
Or as John Philip Newell put it in his book, “The Rebirthing of God,”
“We are experiencing a way of seeing that is vital to the healing of the earth. The question is whether we will translate this seeing into action, whether we will apply this awareness to the holy work of transformation…In other words, will we meet this moment or will we miss it?”
Now, each of you, scholarship recipients, are here today because a group of people were willing to say like Casey, “I get it, things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it?”
Those people were the Quakers specifically from Indianapolis. And they made a rather surprising decision after the Civil War. They decided to aid dependent African American children at a time when such benevolence was generally extended only to those who were white. This is how they decided to “fix” the issue.
Before an orphanage or what they called an asylum at that time was ever erected or thought of for white children in Indiana, The Indianapolis Quakers along with our Western Yearly Meeting opened the Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children. This was an effort that lasted from 1870 to 1922. History books note that Quaker interest in African American children developed in a time and place in which few whites believed in equality of the races in any respects. The Quakers were the Casey’s of their time raising their hands and finding ways to make a difference. Many Quakers in Indiana were treated badly for their beliefs, other did not participate out of fear.
Now, this is our history Friends, Indiana laws in the early nineteenth century barred African Americans from voting, testifying against whites, and serving the military. They were forbidden to marry whites, attend public schools, and access jobs. Thus, African Americans in Indiana struggled desperately to provide for their children. And much like the news still today, it is the children who would suffer the lasting effects of the racial terror and violence that the early Black Africans in Indiana would endure.
This Indiana orphanage was known by freed slaves from the south and Black entrepreneurs and was recognized for wanting to give quality care and education to the African American children whose parents could no longer provide for them. It became so well known in Quaker circles that donations started coming from all over, from other Quaker Meetings in Indiana as well as other states, then businesses, and even from the state government.
But it was a large donation by an unexpected donor that is the reason we are talking about this still today. John Williams was an African American pioneer from North Carolina who settled in Washington County, Indiana, near a Quaker Community. Unlike most African American Hoosiers who struggled to make a living, John made a substantial living as a farmer and as a rather famous tanner (shoe maker). But sadly, a successful Black Hoosier was not looked at very highly as the Civil War came to a close, and on December, 1864, John Williams became an innocent victim of racial terror and violence and was murdered on his own land at his own door right here in Indiana. Here is the actual account from Quaker Lillian Trueblood:
On the December night when the tragedy occurred, there was a light snow on the ground. The perpetrators of the deed came to the home of [John Williams who they called] Black John and aroused him from his slumbers. He ran out into the yard in his night clothes throwing his purse, which contained a small amount of money, behind the wood-box as he passed. A shot rang out and the victim fell near his own cabin door, the fatal bullet having entered his back. Since the slain man had just sold a number of hogs, a common belief, for a time at least, was that the motive for the crime was robbery. If so, there was disappointment, as Black John had left the larger part of the proceeds of the sale with William Lindley. There were those who believed robbery to be only the ostensible object of the killing, the real cause being race prejudice.
Because of John Williams and his friendship with Quaker William Lindley who he made executor of his estate, there is a Friends Educational Fund for you, our 31 recipients today, and now you know the story behind why we are gathered. It has been the Indianapolis Quakers and currently First Friends who have protected this estate, grown it, and helped carry on John Williams’ legacy to make a difference in the lives of African American students wanting to pursue college and further their education.
Just like Casey from the movie, the Early Quakers in Indiana, and John Williams, who raised their hands and made a lasting change, this is our moment. This is the moment you and I have been called to as a meeting and as followers of Christ. Will we raise our hands and seek to see with new eyes, to better the world for those we call our neighbor? I truly believe you and I have been called by God to not allow ourselves to become blind, to not get caught up in fear mongering, but to respond to make a difference in the lives of those around us. We must hear the call again today to “mind the light” and to truly see, to stand up, and say,
I get it, things are bad, but what are we doing to fix it?
Let us pray.