Sermons 2003-2004

Who is blind?
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

Proper 25B 2003 Isaiah 59:1-19; Mark 10:46-52

...we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope like the blind along a wall, groping like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight.... (Isaiah 59: 9c-10c)

On the last day of sabbatical I went to Jim Godwin's little Methodist Church in Heathsville. I had wanted to do this for some time because I admire and respect Jim and am very fond of him as well. I am also very grateful to Jim for founding the Thursday Morning Lectionary Study Group which has come to have meaning at many levels, not just in the homiletical and hermeneutical enterprise for those who belong.

On that day Jim told this story (now somewhat adapted) about someone we will call Mary in another church in a different part of the country:

Mary was young, barely sixteen when she came to see Jim in his office. Her parents had divorced some years earlier and her mother had subsequently remarried. Mary had been abused by her stepfather. But she gained courage enough to leave on her own and go to live with her grandparents who were faithful members of Jim's Church. They brought Mary with them every Sunday.

It was after about a year of this that Mary came to Jims office. "Mr. Godwin," she said, "I want to be a Christian. Will you help me?"

Jim was touched but, having been told by her grandparents something of her background, he was curious and he asked her, "Mary, why do you want to be a Christian?"

"Because," she said, "I came here as an angry and unhappy young teenager and they welcomed me all the same, without question. And put their arms around me and loved me. And I now see that I want to be like them."

Like Saint Paul at the time of his dramatic conversion on the Damascus road, she saw a great truth. But like Saint Paul, she needed to see more. She needed to learn more about it. And so Jim spent a year in weekly catechumenal sessions before she was ready to be baptized and to understand what her baptism really meant.

Today's Scripture readings are all about blindness, about inability to see things. Isaiah describes the state of blindness, of unseeing, with great power. And the Letter to the Hebrews uses slightly different language to describe a form of spiritual blindness, a form of immaturity. And the miracle story of Blind Bartimaeus is a well loved and perhaps all too familiar story in the Gospel according to Mark. It is about blindness. But more importantly for us, it is also about seeing.

There are several interesting things about the story as it appears in Mark. Although Matthew and Luke have similar parallel stories they are not exactly the same. In Matthew the differences are greater than in Luke. In Matthew's version, it is two unnamed blind men who cry out and no mention is made of their faith playing a role only that Jesus pitied them. In Luke, Jesus does not have the unnamed blind beggar called, only brought to him.

Somehow Mark's story of blind Bartimaeus seems more real. Perhaps it is only giving the blind beggar a name that makes it seem that way. Mark even tells us the name of Bartimaeus father. But somehow we can see the scene more clearly through Marks eyes. Bartimaeus seems more human now, more real. We can see blind Bartimaeus sitting by the roadside, an outcast of society forced to beg because in that time and place there was no other way for a blind person to make a living. We can see the crowd telling him to shut up, telling him not to interrupt the progress of a well known person like Jesus.

The people in the crowd were blind, too, weren't they? They couldnt see who Jesus really was, this Jesus who reached out to the marginal people, the handicapped people, people considered sinful in society, like tax collectors, and Gentiles, and Samaritans, and the woman taken in adultery, this Jesus, this Son of God, who reached out to the people the self righteous judged harshly and condemned.

And we can see Jesus stopping when he hears the cry of Bartimaeus: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." It is important to realize that what blind Bartimaeus asks for first of all is God's grace and mercy and compassion. Bartimaeus, blind as he was, could see better than most people in the crowd. And could see better than Jesus' own disciples, James and John.

Only when Jesus asks, "What do you want me to do for you?" the very same question he asked James and John, who asked for power and prestige -- only when Jesus asks that of Bartimaeus does Bartimaeus ask that he be able to see again. And Jesus tells him, "Go; your faith has made you well." And immediately the no longer blind Bartimaeus regained his sight.

In a 1999 film entitled "At First Sight" is the story of a man born blind. He lives as normal a life as possible to include a serious relationship with his girl friend. She, however, wants him to be able to see. And she keeps pushing him until he agrees to a series of operations. The operations are ultimately successful and he can see. She is the first sight he sees. But he has no referent points. He does not know what it is that he sees. He becomes dysfunctional and disoriented. His normal blind world is shattered. Only as his sight begins to fail again is he able to return to what for him is a normal life. And finally, when he is completely blind again is he content and able to function.

Not every blind person reacts this way. Max Lucado, in his book, "God Came Near," tells the story of Bob Edens:

For 51 years Bob Edens was blind. He couldn't see a thing. His world was a black hall of sounds and smells. He felt his way through five decades of darkness. And then, he could see. A skilled surgeon performed a complicated operation and, for the first time, Bob Edens had sight. He found it overwhelming. "I never would have dreamed that yellow is so...yellow," he exclaimed. "I don't have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can't believe red. I can see the shape of the moon -- and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane flying across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light. You could never know how wonderful everything is."

What are our own blind spots? My great grandmother Scott was blinded by cataracts in a time before opthalmologists knew how to prevent and cure them. She was deeply pious and devout and she spent her days listening to Christian programming on her radio. She was also death on whiskey and had been a charter member of the WCTU, the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

But she had her blind spots. She insisted that she be given a small glass of several tablespoons of her herb medicine before she went to sleep. She became quite irritable if she had run out and it hadn't been refilled. As I grew older, I realized just what her herb medicine actually was. It was herbal all right -- but the herbs were in pure undiluted corn whiskey. She never knew that was what it was. And she always slept very soundly. My grandfather, her son, had a great sense of humor about this.

We all have blind spots, some of which might not be as harmless as a wee dram of corn whiskey and herbs at bed time. For some it is power and control. I was privileged during an earlier tour at West Point to have access to free Broadway play tickets through the New York City USO. A memorable play was "Butterflies Are Free". It was memorable in part because it was the last acting appearance of Gloria Swanson of Sunset Boulevard fame.

Ms Swanson played the lead role of the mother of a blind musician. The play was a classic about her wish to control his every moment so that, as she may have actually believed, she could keep him from hurting himself. And he resisted her at every turn, even moving into his own apartment and refusing to let her come and live with him. But in a stunning and moving end to the play she finally sees that he can become truly alive only if she lets him be independent and find his own way. And she tells him she loves him and steps out of his life until a time when and if he invites her back in.

For some people it is the blind spot about which Jesus spoke so harshly: self righteousness.

Ronald Patterson of Shiloh Church, Dayton, Ohio, tells the story on the InterNet of how he came to see himself as others saw him in an early form of Clinical Pastoral Education:

"One day many years ago, as part of my training, I worked at Boston City Hospital as a chaplain's assistant. I was assigned to a prison ward, and one of the prisoners there was a big-time drug dealer. It was my duty to visit him because he was very ill.

"Well, with the half-hearted pseudo-compassion of the typical do-gooder, I did my duty. Later, I confessed this to the Roman Catholic nun who was my supervisor. I said, 'How can I go and pray with this man who is ruining the life of this city? He deserves his illness and a whole lot more.'

"Do you know what she said to me? 'Patterson, who died and elected you God? Somewhere deep within that man, covered by the layers of pain and denial and every rotten thing he has ever done, there is the kernel of God's image. Your only job is to see that spark; and the only way you can ever see it is to forget everything else about whatever anyone else has told you about right and wrong and believe with your whole heart that the spark is there. He, too, just as much as anyone you will ever meet, is a child of God's love'."

So was blind Bartimaeus and so are all of God's children.


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