Friday, November 10, 2006

None So Blind

None So Blind
A sermon delivered Oct. 29, 2006
First Congregational Church of Murphys
Mark 10.46-52

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.” It is an old saying that carries a powerful truth – a truth regarding blindness and how it is often more a matter of the heart than the eyes.
Jesus encountered a blind man one day – a man who was really blind. Jesus and his disciples and a crowd of people were moving along a street alongside which this blind man sat. His name was Bartimaeus, suggesting that he was a regular on this particular roadside.

Imagine being Bartimaeus – if you can – on the side of the road that day when Jesus walked by. Your sense of hearing is heightened. There on the side of the road you hear more footsteps than usual. There is lots more rustling of clothes, more movement of people. Your ears perk up as you listen closely. You hear the name “Jesus.” Is he in this crowd? Has he come to your city? You’ve heard that he has the ability to heal. You get excited. “Could he heal MY blindness?”
It becomes apparent that Jesus and his attendants are very near. You want to get his attention. You may never have another opportunity like this one. From your place of darkness, you begin to shout and say,

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

This took place while Jesus and his entourage were on their way out of the city of Jericho – that legendary city in Israel’s history. The city of Jericho is best known as the place Joshua and the army of Israel had conquered many centuries before, by marching around it for 7 days until the city walls came tumbling down. Throughout those 7 days the people of Jericho refused to see that this invading army was about to conquer them. They suffered from a kind of self imposed blindness, and as a result, the city fell.

Jericho was also the city of the woman Rahab, a prostitute whose eyes were opened – in a manner of speaking -- to welcome the Israelites. She believed that “whoever they were and wherever they were on life’s journey” they were to be welcomed and not shut out. As a result Rahab is referred to in Hebrews 11 as one of the great cloud of witnesses who testify to God.
But Rahab and the tumbling walls of Jericho happened long ago. Now, centuries later, Jesus is in this legendary city encountered a man who was literally blind; blind as a bat.

We don’t know how LONG Bartimaeus had been blind, but it must have been for a considerable time, because he had resorted to the profession of many a blind or otherwise disabled person; he was a beggar and sat on the side of the road waiting for a handout.

We don’t know HOW he became blind. Later in this story he asks Jesus if he can see AGAIN, so he was not born blind. Had there been an accident? Had he been in a fight? Was he a victim of abuse or a vicious attack? Did he have what today would be a very treatable condition that brought on his blindness? It doesn’t make any difference. He could not see. That was all that mattered.

But what he lacked in vision, he made up in voice. He had a strong set of lungs, and often had to yell to be heard, especially when people were telling him to get out of the way, quit bothering them.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he yelled.

The first response to his shouts was a negative one, which often happens when people – children or adults -- inappropriately seek attention like this. We are told that, “many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ ”
You can imagine some in the crowd who knew Bartimaeus saying to him as they had many times before, “Be quiet! We have a guest here in town, and we don’t need your embarrassing outbursts. Sit quietly and listen to what he’s saying.”

Then “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ ” Here is the first indication that this story is not just about the blindness of Bartimaeus. Others are blind too. Those who tried to quiet Bartimaeus and put him back in his place were blind to Jesus concern for him – a concern for even this obnoxious panhandler on the side of the road.

In this story we are being asked to open our eyes. Even us, here and now; we of First Congregational Church. We who can see so well. Many of us have even had that common laser surgery that gives us new sight when our eyes grow dim.

The first thing that we are invited to open our eyes and see is God’s love for hurting people. Long before this story took place, when Jesus spoke in his hometown synagogue at the beginning of his ministry, he set forth the goals for his life’s work by saying that he had come to free the captives and to give sight to the blind. Here in this story he’s doing precisely that.
Do not to miss the most important thing here. Though we are sighted, we can suffer from a kind of virtual blindness. We must open our eyes to the needs of people around us; people we often overlook, people whom God loves, just like Jesus loved Bartimaeus. Virtual blindness happens when we fail to see the needs of others.

Remember the story of ZACCHAEUS? Who – by the way – was also from Jericho. The Bible tells us that because he was a short fellow, and because tall people were in his way, he was unable to see Jesus. As a result he climbed a tree and overcame his “short-sightedness.” Like Zacchaeus, we sometimes do not see because other people are in our way.
Virtual blindness also happens when we get so busy, so preoccupied, that we fail to see the needs of others.

Remember THE GOOD SAMARITAN story? It is about two very religious people who were on their way TO JERICHO -- by the way -- and came across a beaten and robbed man on the side of the road. Could have been the same road where Bartimaeus sat. The two men in the good Samaritan story were so busy with their religious concerns that this bleeding and dying fellow was invisible to them. So they walked on by. Did nothing. They had perfect eyesight, but they were blind, blind as could be to the needs of the man laying there. How does that kind of thing happen? Are there people in OUR lives whose needs we are blind to?

In the Bartimaeus story we are invited to open our eyes to people in need around us. Sometimes those people are close to us, family, neighbors, coworkers, fellow church members. We must open our eyes to them because God loves them and invites us to do the same. Ours is a merciful God whose heart breaks whenever people are in need.

It may have been Bartimaeus’ request for mercy that caused Jesus to halt. “Have mercy on me!,” he shouted. Upon hearing those words Jesus stopped what he was doing, and called to him. Bartimaeus sprang to his feet like a jack-in-the-box and “blindlessly” hurried to the sound of Jesus’ voice. With a racing heart he stood before Jesus ready for anything.

Jesus looked at Bartimaeus and asked him a question -- a question with an obvious answer. “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said, “My teacher, let me see again.” He had been sighted at one time and he desperately wanted to see once again. He longed to see,the colors of a sunset, the smile of a baby, the dark greens and browns and reds and oranges of the trees and leaves and plants and flowers,the brightness of a full moon,the snow on mountain peaks.

He had heard the words of the psalmist, “I lift up my eyes to the hills from whence my help comes,” but he could no longer have that experience of actually seeing the hills. And he wanted so much to be able to do that once more.

“My teacher, let me see again!”

Jesus then spoke those words of hope and encouragement and possibility that he had said many other times before, “Go; your faith has made you well.” He immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus.

Max Lucado in his book “God Came Near” tells this modern day story of a character much like Bartimaeus:

I was returning to my office when I saw him. He was singing. An aluminum cane was in his left hand; his right hand was extended and open, awaiting donations. He was blind. This man stood tall. And he sang. Loudly. Even proudly. All of us had more reason to sing than he, but he was the one singing. Mainly he sang folk songs. Once I thought he was singing a hymn, though I wasn't sure. His husky voice was out of place amid the buzz of commerce. After a few minutes I went up to him. "Have you had any lunch?"

He stopped singing and turned his head toward my voice. His eye sockets were empty. He said he was hungry. I went to a nearby restaurant and bought him a sandwich and something cold to drink. He was grateful for the food. We sat down on a nearby bench. Though sightless, penniless, he still found a song and sang it courageously. I wondered which room in his heart that song came from. His song was all he had. Even when no one gave him any coins, he still had his song. Somehow this eyeless pauper had discovered a candle called satisfaction and it glowed in his dark world.

I looked at the faces that flowed past us. Grim. Professional. Determined. But none were singing, not even silently. The irony was painfully amusing. This blind man could be the most peaceful fellow on the street.

[And then it hit me:] "Faith is the bird that sings while it is yet dark."

I helped my friend back to his position on the street. I tried to verbalize my empathy. "Life is hard, isn't it?" A slight smile. And he said, "I'd better get back to work."

For almost a block I could hear him singing. And in my mind's eye I could still see him. Though the man I now saw was still sightless, he was remarkably insightful. And though I was the one with eyes, it was he who gave me a new vision.

Open your eyes. To the needs of this globe we call home. Let God open our eyes to the needs of our planet. The way many of us treat this planet of ours, it is clear that there is plenty of “virtual blindness” when it comes to care of this earth.

Open your eyes to the needs of the homeless. I fear that many of us have “blind spots” when it comes to being concerned enough to do something for those even in this county who need affordable housing. In your bulletin is information about Habitat Calaveras, and their efforts to build homes for those in need. But the work will only succeed to the extent that good people are willing to open their eyes to the good that can be done.

Open your eyes to a vision of what we can yet be because of God in our midst. I know that some of you fear for the future of this congregation in this time of pastoral search. I encourage you to open your eyes to the one in our midst who secures our future. The same one who stopped and opened the eyes of that blind man so long ago. And gave him his sight.

May God give to us the vision to see the world, and our community as God sees it.

The Nugget, Nov 2006

"God is able to provide you
with every blessing in abundance…
God scatters abroad, God gives to the poor;
God's righteousness endures forever."
(2 Cor. 9.8-9)

November for us is a time when two key concerns get brought into clear focus. Our Stewardship campaign and Thanksgiving.

I hope you are making your plans to be with us for that special day Sunday November 12. That is when we will gather for worship at 9 a.m., and then share together in fellowship hall a Stewardship Brunch after worship, about 10:30. It will be an opportunity to celebrate our life together, as we think and plan for the financial support of the church in the coming year. We want everyone to be part of this important effort to underwrite the work of our congregation.

November is also a time of Thanksgiving, to celebrate that holiday, but also to find with ourselves the genuine spirit of Thanksgiving. There is no better way of doing Stewardship than by thinking of it in terms of gratitude. We have been blessed by God and need to respond with grateful hearts.

This whole matter of being blessed by God is something that the head has trouble with. But because we are people of faith, it rings true. We cannot escape it: we have made a place for God in our lives, and we cannot discount that. We hear words like those at the top of this article from the writings of Paul, about God being able to care for us. We hear words about not worrying endlessly about how we will get by if we give to the church. And deep in our hearts a familiar tone is struck. This language of faith strikes a responsive chord. The culmination of the whole matter was, for Paul, an expression of gratitude: "Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift."

A more lofty celebration of the gifts of God could not be made. A simple outburst of love and devotion and worship. This was the outpouring of a heart touched by God's abundant grace.

A couple was visiting a beautiful cathedral in a Midwestern city. They had just
wandered in off the street and wanted to rest for a few minutes. They sat down and admired stunning stained glass windows and solemn pillars and mostly empty pews on this Tuesday afternoon. The organ began playing, so they listen for a bit.

It was fabulous. After a few very impressive pieces, they saw the organist step away from the organ and start to walk out of the church. Only then did they noticed that this man seemed rather unkempt, not too different from some of the street people they had seen. One of them complimented the man on his beautiful playing.

“Are you the regular organist? Do you play here often?”

“Mine is an interesting story,” he said. “Are you sure you want to hear it?”

“Why yes, of course.”

“I once lived in this community, and am just back here for a visit and to play this organ,” he said. “A few years ago I was quite wealthy and was active in the life of this church. I did so well that I actually gave the funds to purchase this organ.

“But then I lost virtually everything. And now I am barely getting by. But I like to come here and see this great church, because it reminds me of how much good my giving is still doing. Do you understand what I am trying to say? All I have left is what I gave away.”
There will come a time when that will be true for each of us. And we will understand that all our giving does far more than we might imagine.

“Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift.”