SERMON 10-28-18, Pentecost 23B, St. Monica’s Episcopal Church Naples
Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
At the age of 15, my father introduced me to beauty, sights, and thrill of aviation. Dad loved to fly and he loved the panorama from those lofty heights. Tragically, Macular Degeneration took my dad’s sight from him in his mid 70’s. Its debilitating symptoms transformed a once self-assured, hard-working, lover of the beauty of creation, into a man depressed, despondent, and dependent upon others for even the basics of life.
As a pilot and flight instructor myself, I have the opportunity weekly to see our world from a unique perspective. From that altitude you see cars, homes, streets, buildings, and structures that seem so insignificant. You see how roads, telephone lines, and public work systems make our daily lives possible, and connect us to one another. From that altitude, you see that there is a much bigger picture of life than what we perceive up close. Troubles, challenges, and the difficulties that often obstruct us, seem so small and unimportant, that is when you take a step back and take a strategic look at things. We often take for granted the gift of sight and how it influences the paths of life.
“He and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.” Today’s healing story is about a man whose life (whose place) as a member of the community was reduced to being merely a beggar, an outcast, and a “less than” as a result of his inability to see. The blind beggar was unable to experience the fullness of God’s grace with others, because he was bound up by the symptoms of an unknown ailment. He lived in despondency, with a lack of direction, and he was dependent on the charity of others; that is until Jesus came along, and turned everything on its head with a miraculous healing.
Sometimes we postmodern Christians hear these healing stories of Jesus and think, “Is healing like that really possible?” Science will tell you that we do not yet fully understand the mysterious connections between spiritual and physical health. I believe the miracles of Jesus hold great truths for us and here is why. Two years ago at a conference, I taught a class on spiritual resiliency to unit commanders from all over the State of Florida. I shared with them the results of a study on spiritual resiliency conducted by Mayo Clinic. Their research asserted that in multiple studies examining the spiritual variable in physical and mental health, those people who have religious involvement, experienced a 75% positive effect on health outcomes vs. those who did not. The health of body and spirit go hand-in-hand.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, “Healing is mediated through social processes and social structures. Religion is never simply about “me and Jesus.” It is also neversimply a matter of psychology, as if problems are just in one’s psyche or have to do only with one’s self- understanding.” (3) What Jesus did for the blind man had positive repercussions for him that went way beyond just the physical restoration of his sight, and Jesus heals us in ways we do not always understand but in which, we must participate actively. The blind man was restored to physical health, but he was restored to community. Blind Bartimaeus was restored to spiritual, emotional, and mental health, and made able again to take his place as an active, participating, and supporting member of the health of the whole community. Like him, we Christians who have been healed, become the healers for others.
Blindness to A New Vision
I want to share with you a story about a faith community who for many years was (in some ways) blind to the plight of their neighbors around them, and yet they had their eyes opened by Jesus. A nimble little church, about two hours north of us was struggling to keep one of its outreach ministries alive. The ministry eventually came to an end and the space where it was located was left empty and unused, but God had another plan. A team of parishioners began looking at their neighborhood around them and realized that many retired seniors (their neighbors) were being forced to decide between buying nutritious food or buying life sustaining prescription drugs. The little church also discovered that the children in the local elementary school who were on the food program went home on the weekends without nutritious food to sustain them. Jesus opened their eyes and they listened when Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.”
Today that little church provides backpack meals for over 100 elementary school students in their neighborhoods, and they have a full-blown food pantry that provides shelf stable food for seniors, families, and children alike. That little church had been blinded by the circumstances before them, but when Jesus gave them a new vision and the church folk listened to their neighbors’ needs, Jesus said to the church, “Go, because your faith had made you well,” and the Kingdom of God burst forth in their midst.
When we bring our resources and talents of hands and hearts to bear on the plight of others, we are essentially bringing health to our neighbors or rather, we are doing the ministry of Jesus. The mission of Jesus Christ and his church is to bring healing to all of creation, to open our eyes, cure our blindness, turn everything on its head, especially in our little corner of the world.
If we are honest, we all need someone to restore hope and bring back sight to our eyes. Some of the best teachers and mentors I have had in my life had faith in me, when I had no faith in myself, and they saw gifts in me, that I could not seen in myself. They opened my eyes to new potential, new ideas, new ways of being, and a new vision. That is what Jesus did for the blind man, the crowd around him, and that is what Jesus does for us. Jesus is always at work giving fresh eyes to his Church, so she might see and respond to his mission of love in the little corners of our world.
Jesus said to the beggar upon his regaining his sight, “Go, your faith has made you well.” GO! The man did not wait around and throw a party about his new sight, nor did he go back home to his family (if he had any). No, the man found physical and spiritual freedom through Jesus’ healing, and he decided to follow him and share his story with others. We need our eyes opened, so we can see that there is so much more going on in our world than what we perceive to be right in front of us. Imagine how the inability to see and to have hope, could encumber us from the healing God has in store for us. We need Jesus to heal us, and open our eyes to renewed vision for our ministry.
I wish I could take each one of you up for a flight and let you see the beauty of the neighborhoods around us. As an alternative, for the next couple of minutes, let me take you on a metaphorical journey, and share with you a vision for us, and maybe give you a new perspective and renewed hope.
Take a look over there at those neighborhoods around us for a moment. I wonder if in a year we could have at least five new Outreach teams directly and actively serving (or partnering with) area agencies in our local neighborhood to bring God’s Kingdom to bear on the poverty, suffering, emptiness, and loneliness of our neighbors? Take a look over there at how new people are finding God’s grace in this place. I wonder if St. Monica’s could grow our membership by at least 10-20% and embrace the diversity and gifts of our neighbors, growing our capacity for further mission in the local community?
Take a look over there at those awesome kids in our Sunday school each week. I wonder if St. Monica’s could grow in a deeper love of Jesus Christ, through more intentional, transformational, and life giving opportunities for Christian formation for all ages? Take a look over there at those who are healers in our midst. I wonder if we could grow our pastoral care teams: Lay Eucharistic Visitors, Healing Team, Stephen Ministers, Pastoral Care Team, and Prayer Chain Team to ensure all are cared for with the love of Christ carried within each of us?
Take a look over there at how much fun we have together during our coffee hour and other events like the one last night. I wonder if we could grow together as the family of God, coming together more often to love one another more deeply, know one another better, and transform as a church that plays and eats together, and one that shares our lives together. Take a look over there at our financial statements and how we are improving our oversight. I wonder if we could become more nimble, flexible, and responsible by developing financial strategies, budgets, expense controls, decision-making processes, and accountabilities to insure the longevity of our parish mission for decades to come?
How do you like the view from that lofty height? Can you see it? You know we cannot do any of this alone, nor can any of it come to life by only the work of one person or even a few people, but all of it is all possible. First, we need the great healer Jesus to open our eyes, to show us the way, to heal the wounds of doubt and despair, and then set us on the course to “Go.” Next, we need all of us, all of us who need the healing of the Master Jesus, to embrace the beauty of the vision before us. Are you ready for the hope, healing, and restoration God has in store for us? Can you see it? Let us pray, “My teacher Jesus, let me see again.” Amen
(1) Anderson, Mary W. “Blind Spots.” The Christian Century, vol. 120, no. 21, Oct. 2003, p. 20.
(3) Brueggemann, Walter. “Theological Education: Healing the Blind Beggar.” The Christian Century, vol. 103, no. 5, Feb. 1986, pp. 114–116.