Sunday, October 25, 2015

From Blindness to Sight


Proper 25 + Year B              25 October, 2015               The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+

Job 42:1-6, 10-17                                                                                                           Psalm 126

Hebrews 7:23-28                                                                                                              Mark 10:46-52 

 In the movie titled, AIf You Could see What I Hear, Marc Singer portrays the story of a successful composer and night club entertainer named Tom Sullivan.  Tom is athletic, witty, quite a ladies= man, a talented singer and has only one small handicap.  When he was a baby the incubator had too much oxygen in it and he became blind.  Tom could have allowed himself to be the Apoor little blind boy, but instead he decided not to let his disability be a liabilty to his life. In this true story, so dramatically did Sullivan struggle against his limitations that his fiancee once  remarked Tom, the only one who knows you=re blind is you.

 We admire such persons in our world.  They are the over comers. Perhaps the most famous of these was Helen Keller whose work and fame became and encouragement and challenge to millions.   In the real world howeverCthe story of people with disabilities is less than glamorous.  The whole movement to acommodate through ramps and parking spaces is only a beginning of such realization and sensitivity.  How do we, perceive the blind person for instance?  Are we not somewhat uncomfortable?  Do we know what to say?  So much of our language is geared toward the faculty of sight.  In the movie, Tom Sullivans future mother-in-law was speaking loudly to Tom to which he replied Im blind not deaf!

We would almost have to be blind to really feel what this blind man, whom commentators have called Bartimaeus truly felt. If the disabled, the blind and the poor, beggars, are marginalized in our society today, can you imagine what it was like back then?  Some of you remember the days before social programs, government aid to the needy, even Social Security. On this day, there must have been something like the sensation  those who are shipwrecked have. They see a sail coming near and are fearful that it may pass them by and with it their hope of rescue.

Fanny J. Crosby, blind from early childhood and perhaps the most famous and prolific hymn writer that America has ever produced wrote a hymn about this incident: APass Me Not O Gentle Savior...hear my humble cry; while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by. Bartimaeus decides to take action.  He cries out in words of faith:  AJesus, Son of David have mercy on me!

Why does the gospel writer bother to relate this incident which is related in three of the four gospels?  Given the number of things in Jesus= ministry that did not get recorded, we must assume that the writer felt that this had real significance for us. It shows us that Jesus is a healer.  But in order for us to get the point we must look more deeply. 

Scripture speaks of blindness in two senses: the physical and the spiritual. Jesus was widely known to be someone who healed physically by the finger of God.  This fact of the historical Jesus is so well known that it appears in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus as well as the Jewish Babylonian Talmud.

But I want you to notice something very significant about this healing, the words that Jesus uses. First he asks what the man wants him to do for him, as he asked the disciples James and John last week.  A point to remember: it is never inappropriate to be specific with God. After being told, AMaster, let me receive my sight, Jesus  says this: Ago your way; your faith has made you well.

Faith?  What does faith have to do with it?  In a book called Athe Faith Factor, by Dr. Dale Matthews, a series of evidences, including scientific studies,  regarding faith and illness are related.  This has become so widely regarded that now over half of the medical schools in the United States offer courses or  forums on spirituality and health.  Faith has an interesting element to it...surrender.

This is not giving up, in some hopeless act of despair, but a powerful and positive act of surrender. Giving up is to refuse to take action.  Surrender is an action that must be repeated over and over with constant vigilance. It increases the quality of life.  It says, I cannot do myself.  I surrender to the One who can.   God answers prayer always, just not always how we think he should.  It gives reason to go on.

In spiritual blindness, faith takes on a new dimension. Scripture says that we are born into the world spiritually without the power of vision. Even a perfectly functioning eye requires light to refract within it to  obtain sight.  We need the Light of Christ.

That is why we say that Christianity is a Arevealed@ religion.  That faith cannot be taught, but must be caught.  It is beyond reason.With the failure of Science and Reason to prove their equality or superiority to God, we are left with another option in this post-modern age: to surrender to the One who can even when we cannot. You may have heard the expression: "seeing is believing", but in the world of faith: "believing is seeing."

This poor man was also saddled with the suspicion that he may have committed some sin that made him blind.   In other words, the suspicion was that he was morally evil. Dont think this primitive.  How often to people say, AI don=t know why God is doing this to me.  What did I do wrong? Oh yeah, its primitive alright.

I tire of people saying things like: Athis person caught AIDS through no fault of their own.  Like it would somehow be deserved if it were through some action that people thought was morally wrong.  We just dont get it.  We say stupid things like: Abut for the grace of God, there go I.  Until we see that there we go, we are just like our brothers and sisters, sinners in need of saving; sick in need of healing; blind in need of sight; beggars in need of mercy, we will never really know God.  In some sense, even some of the smartest, most rational, seeming spiritual people are BLIND in some areas.

We forget that we are all blind as far as God is concerned without the Light of Christ that illumines. What does that illumination do? It helps us to see things as God sees them.  It helps us to react as God reacts to things that we perhaps do not understand.  It creates a profound humility in us so that we turn from our arrogance, our Aknow it all-ness@ and realize that we are all beggars.  It has been said that Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where the bread is.  It is evident that Bartimaeus already had the faith that God requires.  He calls Jesus "Son a David" a name for the Messiah.  However he had already believed, Jesus knew it.

Jesus Christ causes everything to be cast into a new perspective. Jesus often comes to us in the poor.  This is why in the baptismal covenant we pledge these words: to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. 

It is this process that Baptism BEGINS...BEGINS...BEGINS!   No you have not arrived in Christ after Confirmation and we do a great disservice when we leave our children or any converts to the faith with that impression!  This growth should be intentional.  Church attendance should be intentional.  Our prayer life should be intentional. We must ask God to help us see.

We might begin this day, the first day of the rest of our lives with the prayer of the blind beggar: Jesus Son of David, Have Mercy on Me.   This is the root of that famous prayer from the Eastern Tradition that has come to be called the AJesus Prayer.  This prayer said in an attitude of surrender immediately gets Jesus attention.  It is the only prayer in the gospels that stops Jesus in his tracks.  It puts us in Jesus tracks.

Perhaps you remember the familiar text:

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,

I once was lost but now I'm found was blind but now I see."

These words were penned by John Newton whose story goes from an abused childhood to slave ship captain to saint. His earlier life was indeed wretched, but his later life was fully devoted to Jesus Christ.  In his later years, he developed a friendship with William Wilberforce, who eventually won the hearts of the British Parliament to completely abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.  His tombstone simply reads "

JOHN NEWTON,  CLERK, ONCE AN INFIDEL AND LIBERTINE, A SERVANT OF SLAVES IN AFRICA;  WAS BY THE RICH MERCY OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR
JESUS CHRIST, PRESERVED, RESTORED, PARDONED, AND APPOINTED TO PREACH THE FAITH HE HAD LONG LABOURED TO DESTROY.  NEAR SIXTEEN YEARS AT OLNEY IN BUCKS, AND TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS IN THIS CHURCH

At 82, Newton said, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour."

Let us pray this morning that our hearts may say, Jesus Son of David, Have Mercy on me! and that in that asking, in that surrender to God in Christ, we will be able each day to see with new eyes, to be with new purpose, to be able to follow the Master as did this once beggar now Saint of God who waits for us now truly seeing as one day we will truly see.