Dreaming with Eyes Wide Open

Will you join me in prayer…  Loving God, you came to us in Jesus and revealed how to show mercy and love to one another.  Today, we seek your patience as we continue to try to live up to our Christian walk.  Amen. 

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The beloved poet, Shel Silverstein wrote:

 

No Difference

Small as a peanut, big as a giant,

We’re all the same size when we turn off the light.

Rich as a sultan, poor as a mite,

We’re all worth the same when we turn off the light.

Red, black or orange, yellow or white,

We all look the same when we turn off the light.

So maybe the way to make everything right

Is for God to just reach out and turn off the light!

 

The story of the blind beggar begins in darkness.  It begins in emptiness.  It begins in raw need.  And as such, this son of honor, which is what the name Bartimaeus means, offers us a portrait of faith, this is what faith looks like.  Faith is needy.  Faith is eager.  Faith is assertive and hopeful.  Faith is impulsive and persistent and risky and raw.  Faith is personal and relational.  Faith ends something and faith begins something.  Faith is about God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  Most of all, faith formation often leads us down a road we would just as soon not travel.  For Bartimaeus, that road was on the outskirts of Jericho.  And through his darkness, this ancient character asks us today, “Where and when in our lives does God simply need to turn off the light?” 

 

Last week’s scripture text surrounded the theme of fear, with the disciples jockeying for position and security.  This week, the common thread is another “F” word, freedom!  A freedom sought through the eyes of a faith steeped in a belief that such liberty does exist. 

 

On Wednesday, I was invited to be a worship participant at Lancaster Theological Seminary.  As a two time alum I was excited for the opportunity to worship where it all began for me.  Worship elements were beautifully sculpted around healing from the many hurts domestic violence can create.  As I sat in the gothic chancel area of Santee Chapel listening to the story of one woman’s abuse, my eyes drew toward a stain glass depiction of Jesus healing the blind.  The juxtaposition of true life story and artistic rendering in glass of suffering were extremely powerful.  I knew at that moment that my presence at worship was not about a personal homecoming but about becoming aware of those sitting along my path asking for grace and mercy, for restoration and freedom.   

 

Irish playwright, novelist and poet, Sebastian Barry once claimed,
"Because it strikes me there is something greater than judgement. I think it is called mercy."  Bartimaeus wasn’t born alongside that road.  The powers that be put him there with the rest of the untouchable’s.  In their eyes, that was where he belonged, a helpless young man who had to depend on charity.  Jesus changed that.  Our great teacher didn’t see class division, but recognized each as equal deserving citizens.  In fact, through his mercy, Christ called out to the beggar and asked the same question to him that he had just asked his closest friends, “What is it that you ask of me?”  Bartimaeus responded, “to see”, and Jesus again asked, “What is it you want to see?” and the blind man simply stated, “Your face!” 

 

Fast forward a few thousands of years, and the followers of Christ have been facing this very scene on the borders of Europe, Where hundreds of thousands of desperate Syrians, Turks, Africans, Iraqis, Afghanis and others, fleeing situations they are powerless to change and in which they are unable to earn a penny, are sitting at the gates, begging.  Begging for food, and shelter, begging to come in: Begging to be allowed to find

their relatives in northern Europe or to find a place where they might find their freedom!  Theological writer, Nancy Rockwell has said: 

The arguments over aiding refugees are passionate and sometimes vicious.  Moral and immoral.   Those against aid argue for cultural preservation and religious homogeneity, and they warn of the danger of mixing races, faiths and customs.  And there is fear of terrorists moving in.  But it seems there is more fear of normal people arriving whose presence will change everything from the supplies the corner grocer carries to the price of rents and cars, normal people who will carry the seeds of change within them and begin the transformation of what is, into what may be.

After all, isn’t that what we as Christ’s followers fear the most, the effects of the unknown?  Today, it seems many churches have lost their way.  Focusing on the busyness of church life and fund raising instead of reaching out and letting go of those things which we feel are needed to create order.  Clergy are no different.  I know throughout the week I too become prisoner to the calendar and clock to the point that like the disciples, the needs of others are clouded over by my need to get things done.  I'm reminded of words I saw recently by the Franciscan friar and inspirational speaker, Richard Rohr: "We clergy have become angry guards instead of happy guides, low level police officers instead of proclaimers of a Great Gift and Surprise both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed at the heart of all creation. What would it look and feel like for the church to "take heart," as Jesus commanded Bartimaeus?”


For the blind beggar, as for so many others, trusting that Jesus cares about them is a matter of life and death.  It is life changing.  Do you remember Jake Olsen, the teenage football player for the University of Southern California that I mentioned last week?  Jake, who is totally blind, takes his position on the field as one of the team’s long snappers.  As the only blind college football player, Jake lives his life’s mantra, daily,   “When I learned I was going to lose my sight, I decided it wasn’t going to stop me in life.  Brokenness does not exist in the body… it exists in the mind, heart, and spirit.  My mind, heart, and spirit, remain whole.”  

 

Those fleeing for their lives whether they are victims of violence brought upon them by another, whether they are fleeing from National powers that only serve to oppress rather than build up, or whether they are escaping from the their own human frailty, seek mercy and freedom in Christ Jesus.

 

Today’s Gospel lesson is not about a blind man’s recovery of sight, as much as it is about a secure people’s blindness to those for whom faith is a matter of life and death.  It is becoming aware of those like Bartimaeus who have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  It is a message of re-inventing a cultural value system.  So now comes the hard work, if the story of Bartimaeus is not about visual restoration but about a value system to be followed, then we must ask each other and ourselves, what we would be willing to leave behind in order to truly follow Christ?  What is the proverbial cloak we need to abandon in order to clearly recognize our role in spreading Jesus’ love and mercy to another?  

 

Today is Reformation Sunday.  I rarely mention, or for that matter, celebrate the Reformation and its leader, Martin Luther, but today, I find the core value of the Protestant Reformation and Luther’s theories fitting with our theme of Freedom.  Because religious freedom was at the heart of what Luther believed to be true.  We might not practice the Lutheran tradition, but we are here today as the United Church of Christ because of the fight and work of those early Reformers who Protested

the practices of their oppressive Catholic Church.  I will not bore you with the details of the Protestant Reformation, but will note that it was based on Martin Luther’s objection of the Pope selling indulgences as a ticket for forgiveness of sin.  Everyone was convinced that through such purchases their past and the past of their loved ones would disappear and God’s grace and mercy would prevail in their lives.  Luther did not agree and stuck with his belief that grace was a free gift from God.  The Reformation and the religious freedoms we enjoy today stem from a greedy church and a concerned disciple of God.  Luther’s actions eventually freed a people showering them with free grace and mercy.

 

So here we are my friends, at the end of a long journey full of healing and teaching.  The ancient text we hear today places Christ at the edge of what is to come, suffering, death, and resurrection.  But the good news for all of God’s children is that because of Christ’s journey to the cross we are heirs to a feely given salvation.  We are the benefactors of freedom.  Our challenge is to approach such a Divine gift with hearts and eyes wide open.

 

My hope for all of us is that we recognize the words we hear in today’s Gospel as being a part of our very DNA, inscribed on our hearts, so that every beat and every breath is a reminder that we belong to the Creator of the Universe.  As we soak up Divine Grace and Love may we continue to have the courage to cry out in prayer, “My Teacher, let me see again!” 

 

No Difference

Small as a peanut, big as a giant,

We’re all the same size when we turn off the light.

Rich as a sultan, poor as a mite,

We’re all worth the same when we turn off the light.

Red, black or orange, yellow or white,

We all look the same when we turn off the light.

So maybe the way to make everything right

Is for God to just reach out and turn off the light!

Amen.