Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
“Blindness and Vision”
Scripture: Mark 10:46-52; Hebrews 7:23-28; Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126
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Blindness and Vision
Jennifer Davis Sensenig (CMC 10-28-2018)
Texts: Mark 10:46-52; Hebrews 7:23-28; Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126
Shout it out!
In Jane Hamilton’s novel, The Book of Ruth, the woman who tells her story, Ruth, fights to live a good life amidst many disasters and among many enemies. She is unconvinced by the local reverend and his Christian religion: The Rev… gives me his advice over the phone: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.” The Rev merely closes his eyes and trusts when he runs smack into a thorn bush. I have given up on speech with the Rev; there is no use explaining that you have to learn where your pain is. You have to burrow down and find the wound, and if the burden is too terrible to shoulder you have to shout it out; you have to shout for help. My trust, even down in that dark place I carry, is that some person will come running. And then finally the way through grief is grieving. There is nothing like lying down to bawl and choke, and then rolling over so the tears can drip out of your ears and settling in for a long sleep. Although I like some of the words in the Bible, I’m not ready for religion yet. Who knows, perhaps when I’m older it will come to me in a white flash. Nothing is impossible. I’m sure Jesus has good points too, and I wouldn’t rule out the fact that my vision just isn’t broad enough to recognize them.
Blindness and vision.
Bartimaeus was physically blind, yet he could see with the eyes of faith that Jesus was the one. And Bartimaeus had to shout it out. Have mercy on me! He cries loudly. Son of David, have mercy on me! Of course Bartimaeus is shouting. He used to be able to see. Now he is disadvantaged: he is blind; begging; and the crowds are against him. His public identity? An outcast, a reject. This is a pivotal story in the Gospel of Mark because Jesus goes public in a way that he has not before. Or is it that Bartimaeus outs him?
Here, outside Jericho, Jesus becomes publicly known as “the Son of David.” That’s a political name going back to Israel’s King David. You see, over many generations the people of Israel longed for a Son of David. When their nation was divided, when their kings were corrupt, violent and godless, when their countries were invaded and overrun by foreign nations they longed for a Son of David, a Messiah king who would rule according to God’s law and unify them as a nation of justice, mercy and peace. The people of Israel expected this Messiah to heal their nation. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
What do you want me to do for you?
Some of us came to worship this morning with anger toward God or anger toward people in our lives or anger toward our nation. Some of us are are hurt and sad. Some are grieving. Some are numb. Some of us are content, full of gratitude and happiness. Yet, most likely we’re holding back. We’re not inclined to shout. We’re not going to let just anyone know how it is with us. Of course God knows, but often we’re not telling God because maybe God doesn’t exist, or doesn’t care, or can’t do anything about our trouble. And even if we’re happy, would we credit God with the good things of life? Is God the praiseworthy source of peace and wellbeing? If the crowd with Jesus was not so different from us, then no wonder Bartimaeus stands out. This one gambles on the reputation of someone he can’t even see! He shouts.
Have mercy on me. The Bible says that hearing this shout Jesus stood still.
As a beggar Bartimaeus gathered coins flipped his way by passersby on the road outside Jericho. His cloak spread out on the road was his collection plate by day and his sleeping bag by night. But this cloak he throws aside in faith, risking everything. And though they had not met before, Jesus asked him the same question he asked two disciples in a private conversation: What do you want me to do for you?
Remember Brother Carlos’ sermon last week? Remember James and John–sons of Thunder? When Jesus asked them–what do you want me to do for you?–they wanted position, power, the right hand, the left hand. Bartimaeus says: Rabbouni, let me see again. How might we answer this question?
Where the crowd knew only a blind beggar, Jesus heard and saw a person with agency, capacity, faith and even prophetic purpose. Jesus sees Bartimaeus as truly a “son of honor” (Bar-Timaeus means son of honor). Jesus heals Bartimaeus as part of his public Messianic vision for Israel. This divine idea of a godly nation goes back before the time of Jeremiah, but here are the verses from the prophet:
Thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
“Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.”
And then, the king answers:
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great caravan, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble.
Oh, yes, Jesus heals the blind beggar. Oh, yes, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the Way. Jesus is the healing Messiah for Bartimaeus, for the nation, and for all nations. As an honorable, healed, follower of Jesus, Bartimaeus is a model of discipleship. He is remnant Israel saved, healed, and walking in faith, seeing the world through the eyes of Christ. Of all the people Jesus heals in Mark’s Gospel, this one is known by name, known for being a follower, certainly, known also for recognizing who Jesus is with respect to the nation. This healing story is a sign of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom–a new Messianic politics of hope and healing for the people who have been hurt or rejected or excluded, for the parents, for the pilgrims, for the weeping and grieving, for those who have lost their vision.
Two weeks ago we heard a story of Jesus inviting a rich man to sell what he owned and give to the poor and then follow in discipleship. The nameless rich man went away grieving because he had too much. But for God all things are possible. This week the lesson from Jesus is the healing of Bartimaeus. When we shout for help Jesus is eager to give us new vision for our life and our world.
Imagine Jesus hearing your shouts. Imagine Jesus looking your way, seeing you as you really are, and loving you as a sign of God’s kingdom. Everything that seems to disqualify us from being loved, from belonging to community, from being fully human is known to God without being an obstacle at all. God sees what is. God knows what needs to be healed. We even know what needs to be tossed aside. For God all things are possible. God helps us see ourselves and our neighbors with love.
Hearing the cries of humanity and the earth and compassionately seeing the deep faith and deep needs around us are essential aspects of discipleship. This is why Jesus is always curing the blind and the deaf. As our song said, the lesson from Jesus is to open our eyes and our ears. Imagine Jesus seeing the caravan of Central American neighbors thousands strong, making their pilgrimage through Mexico toward the US border. Recall our healer’s announcement of a new vision for nations. Imagine a world in which all of us who are blind with respect to immigrant neighbors can see again. Have mercy on us.
Imagine Jesus seeing the humanitarian crisis in Yemen in which so many schools have been bombed or turned into temporary medical facilities that over 2 million school children are not enrolled. What if the world were no longer deaf to these cries? Have mercy on us.
Imagine Jesus, himself a Jew, seeing the tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh yesterday in which 8 persons were killed. It is usually folks from the Christian tradition who perpetuate anti-Jewish perspectives and justify violence against Jewish neighbors. We are those who need to shout for help. Like Bartimaeus throwing off his cloak, we need to throw off lies and false theologies of supercessionism, and pursue a new path charted by One who sees clearly the Way of peace.
In the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, CA there are two entrance doors. One is labelled prejudiced and the other unprejudiced. It’s sort of a self-examination as you begin your tour. But the door labelled unprejudiced is locked. It is not a true entrance.
The Jewish designers of the museum decided that “the daunting task was to create an experience that would challenge people of all backgrounds to confront their most closely-held assumptions and assume responsibility for change.”
In other words, we are all blind. And even if we see with the eyes of faith, we see that we need help; we need mercy; we need healing. Furthermore, like Bartimaeus, we have agency, capacity, faith and even prophetic purpose. We can become part of the changes God is bringing about in the world.
Earlier this year we three pastors and five other CMCers participated in a racial equity training sponsored locally by Faith in Action, the NAACP and the Center for Interfaith Engagement. Our trainers from the Racial Equity Institute in North Carolina were excellent examples of admitting their blindness to the racialized history of this country and taking some personal and professional risks to seek help and healing for themselves and become help and healing for others. In recent months some of us who participated in the training have been preparing to share what we learned in an adult education class here at CMC that will begin in December. For me personally, the training last spring, the preparation for this class during the fall, and my local intercultural work through Faith in Action and various other connections is exposing my blindness to racism and the ways my community and my church perpetuates this structural violence. But I also experience Jesus helping me, healing me, so that I can see more clearly the path of love and discipleship, so that I can be a Christlike leader in our community.
Yesterday I was at a meeting with Latino pastors, Abel and Benita Castro from Iglesia Nueva Vida Pentecostal. They remembered the period in the 1990s when CMC offered space for their congregation to meet. Today they have their own building off of South 11 of about 150 adults and many children in their congregation. They will be hosting with CMC an ecumenical service at 2pm next Sunday right here. The purpose of the service is to welcome a busload of TPS activists.
About 20 persons whose Temporary Protected Status is threatened by changes in immigration policy will be arriving next Sunday during our worship service. Their bus looks like this and they are parking in our lot, so you can’t miss it. You’re welcome to attend the service, which will be mostly in Spanish with some English interpretation. Many immigrants in our community and in our country keep a low-profile in order to avoid attention, but this colorful bus is like a shout. And sometimes you have to shout it out.
Our theme music is “Jesus, I believe you’re near,” composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.
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