Seeing Your Way Clear Mark 10:46-52

We see Bartimaeus because Mark points him out.  Though, we probably wouldn’t have seen him if we had been walking with Jesus that day through Jericho.  We tend or pretend not to see people like Bartimaeus.  Mark says a large crowd followed as Jesus and disciples were leaving this ancient city on their way up to Jerusalem.  That would have been good news for a blind beggar stationed by the road.  He could call out and perhaps someone would give him something to shut him up.  So he shouts, “Can you see your way clear, good sir, for a shekel or two for a blind man?”

We want to think folk were nicer in biblical times, blind beggars didn’t scam, so they didn’t have to work.  But, people are people; there were people back then who took advantage of others good will.  There were also people back then who tried not to notice those who were down and out.  Mark doesn’t even know the beggar well enough to call him by his real name.  He says, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, like saying Johnson, son of John.

The story makes me want to blindfold myself and see if I can walk from the pulpit to lectern.  It’s a little unfair, since I know this area well.  Anyone wants to see what kind of crippling experience that may be-bruised by flower stands jumping out into my path.  I might need one of you to take my hand and guide me, or at least to tell me where to go.  Perhaps, I should just sit down, like Bartimaeus who was sitting by the side of the road, the safest place for a blind beggar.  Yet, he didn’t have the luxury of doing nothing; he had to beg to stay alive.  His life was not an experiment.

Our lives are not experiments.  Some of us may feel like we are walking in the dark, having a hard time finding our way.  We may feel a bit invisible, off to the side of the road, unable to join the crowd, immobilized by our circumstances.  Here’s the good news: the same Jesus that opened the eyes of blind Bartimaeus is walking our way today.  Jesus can open your eyes so you can see your way clear to a new day.

Mark says the blind man was told by those in the crowd Jesus of Nazareth was leading the parade.  So upon learning Jesus of Nazareth was coming, something in Bart came to life.  The voice that begged for money cried out for something else.  Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.  Mark’s gospel draws a contrast between the disciples who are most privileged in their knowledge of Jesus and those who are strangers and social outcasts.  The disciples ought to know who Jesus is and put their trust in him; but they are continually confused.  Women, children, and blind beggars seem to know and simply place their trust in Jesus.  Bartimaeus the blind beggar, without a real name, shouts for mercy to Jesus, Son of David.

This is a confession of faith in Jesus as messiah.  It would have been remarkable to confess this Jewish man was the Son of God.  Frankly, it would dangerous to say anything positive about a Jew in a city under Palestinian control to this very day.  Then again, when we have nothing to lose, why not speak the truth and hope it helps?  Eventually it did.

At first the crowd tries quiets him, the way we do with inconvenient people who need Jesus; thinking we need to protect Jesus.  It is not just the destitute and desperate who need Jesus; we are all blind beggars in one way or another.  All of us in our own way have a need to shout for mercy.  Bartimaeus will not be denied.  He shouts louder and gets Jesus’ attention. 

Jesus calls the persistent blind man to him.  Bartimaeus throws off his dirty robe, bolts upright and runs to Jesus, no doubt bumping into lots of people along the way.  What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asks.  The question reminds us of the question he had just asked James and John when they came to him asking for a favor.  They asked for the prestige to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus.  Jesus said he couldn’t give them that power, but that they ought to follow him anyway.  See contrast again?

Bartimaeus implies he wants to follow Jesus.  My teacher, Rabbouni, in the Aramaic he says.  It is a term of endearment and respect, used only in Mark.  To call Jesus teacher is saying he wishes to be his disciple.

Go, Jesus says, your faith has made you well.  Immediately Bartimaeus’s eyes are opened; he sees Jesus.  This blind man with the eyes of faith had already seen Jesus as the Son of God.  Now he wants to be able to follow him without his handicap.  Again the contrast: those with eyes to see do not follow; others follow because they see with their hearts.

There is a passage in Isak Dinesan’s book Out of Africa: “Once, when Denys and I had been up flying, and were landing on the plain of the farm, a very old native tribesman came up and said to us: ‘You were up very high today, we could not see you, only hear the aero plane sing like a bee.’  ‘I agreed that we had been up high.’  He asked, “Did you see God?”  ‘No, Ndwetti, we did not see God’, I said.  He says “Aha, then you were not up high enough; but now tell me: do you think that you will be able to get up high enough to see him?”  ‘I do not know, Ndwetti,’ I said.  “And you, sir,” he said turning to Denys, “what do you think?  Will you get up high enough in your aero plane to see God?”  ‘Really I do not know’, said Denys.  “Then”, said Ndwetti, “I do not know at all why you two go on flying.

Many are like Ndwetti, who think the only way to see God is to get up high enough in our lives to catch glimpse of the divine.  Bartimaeus did not desire a lofty experience; he wanted to see God in a real and practical way.  Jesus always offers concrete ways to encounter God, so even the simplest could experience the greatness and goodness of all that heaven offers.

In this same chapter, a rich man comes to Jesus asking how to receive eternal life.  Jesus told him in order to see God he would have to see poor around him, sell his goods and give it away to them.  The text says he didn’t follow Jesus on his way, but went his own way, but sad-the contrast.

One writer called persons who were so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good, recreational Christians; they love the thrill of spiritually flying high, probing thoughts that don’t require anything of them in the flesh.  They are interested in eternal life and in the sweet bye and bye.  While their heads are up in the clouds; they look right past the people Jesus stops to talk with on the road.  Jesus is down on the ground asking us to do simple things in following him: like loving people as they are, noticing the poor, making friends with strangers, or giving our money generously away.

Don’t spend life waiting on a Jesus miracle of sight before you fully follow.  We are not to wait on Jesus to do a magic trick before we believe.  Miracles come after faith, not before; Jesus said the man’s faith made him well.  The adventure that opens our eyes comes after faith.  The fact we can exercise faith is a gift of God that happens in the quietness of our otherwise blind life, when we don’t know the future and are not sure of anything, except that we need to follow Jesus where he takes us.  So rise up in your blindness, throw off all that binds you, and place faith in the ways of Jesus.  Things will happen; don’t know what, but you’re going to like the ending.

Novelist, E. J. Doctorow says “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night.  The headlights only let you see so far down the road.  You can’t see around the corners until you get there.  You don’t know all the turns the road will take.  The characters are going to surprise you even as you write their parts.  That’s the fun of writing a novel.”  It’s the fun of following Christ.

Faith is walking to the edge of all the light you have and taking one more step!  Mark says when Bartimaeus received his sight; he followed Jesus on the way.  He didn’t know any more than any of the rest of us knows where Jesus way is headed.  This is the way it works: you see your way clear to follow Jesus and you start to see the way clear as you go.  Do you see?

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Published in: on October 28, 2012 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Excursions off The Mother Ship I Corinthians 12:1-11

A Ghanaian went into the African forest and came upon an eaglet out its nest.  He took it home and placed it among his chickens, ducks, and turkeys.  He fed the King of the Birds chicken feed.  Years later, a zoologist came upon the eagle among the barnyard birds.  He declared, “This bird is an eagle not a chicken“.  The owner said, “I raised him like a chicken, though his wings have grown to a span of 15 feet.’  “No,” said the zoologist, “It still has an eagle’s heart.  It can climb into the sky.”  “No,” said the owner, “It will never fly. it is a chicken.”  But, they agreed to try the bird.

The zoologist lifted it up the sky and with conviction, “Eagle, you are an eagle, you belong to the sky, not to the ground; stretch out your wings and fly.”  The eagle looked up and looked down and saw the chickens eating.  It jumped down and started eat with them.  “Aha!” said the man, “It is a chicken.”  The zoologist insists he was wrong and asked to try again.

The following day, the two men took the eagle up to the roof of the man’s house.  Again, the zoologist declared to the mighty bird, “Eagle you are eagle, you belong to the sky, not to the ground; stretch out your wings and fly.”  The same thing happened.  The peasant mocked the animal expert, telling him he was wasting his time, but the visitor asked to try again.

The next day, they took the eagle away from the barnyard to the mountain, where the sun was gilding the hills.  He lifted the eagle and declared, “Eagle you are eagle, you belong to the sky, not to the ground; stretch out your wings and fly.”  The bird shook as though it were being filled with new life; but did not fly.  The zoologist then made the bird look into the sun.  Suddenly, it stretched out its wings and lifted itself up into the sky and never returned.  It was an eagle, though it had been tamed as a chicken.

Passengers on the Mother Ship can forget who they are and why they are aboard.  We were ticketed as passengers by a graceful God, who invited us aboard.  We did not pay our own way; Christ the captain of the ship paid our freight and gave us passenger privileges.  We were set free from the captivity of the terra firma that keep us hemmed in and gifted to sail with Christ; sailing through this world and onto a heavenly shore one day.

The breath of God’s Spirit blows the sails of the Mother Ship.  The word pneuma, which means breath, is found repeatedly in 1 Corinthians 12.  Pneuma is what gets cut short when we have pneumonia.  We confess Jesus is Lord, because of the breath of God in us.  This is the same breath that animated humanity.  This is the same breath that blew open the Red Sea; liberating the children of Israel.  This is the same breath that filled the prophets’ lungs to speak God’s justice.  This is the same breath that seeped into the tomb; bringing Christ back to life.  Passengers on the ship are made alive and sustained by the life-giving breath of God.

Excursions are possible because we have God’s breath propelling us.  Even, when we feel de-pressed; not clinical depression that needs treatment, but our breath seems pressed out; the breath of God fills up our deflated sails.  The inexhaustible breath of God blows into our lives when we are up to good; or, to the common good, not just our own good.

It’s not enough just to ride around as passengers on the Mother Ship; we have work to do.  Passengers are the hands of the Mother Ship doing the ministry that doesn’t solely belong to professionals.  There is more to do than just pay tithes, pray in pews, and play with preschoolers.  Those are good things, but whether we are doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker; student, teacher, or student teacher; we are charged to take excursions off the Mother Ship.  We are to disembark and take a dingy into new water; touching real people’s lives.  Passengers can depend on this same breath of God to enable them to offer Christ in our homes, work, and school, everywhere.

We’ve been blessed with spiritual gifts for excursions.  I Corinthians 12 list the gifts.  There is another list in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.  The lists are suggestive, not exhaustive; named because they were the gifts needed for the circumstances at that time.  FUMC, Irving has particular gifts God provides for this moment in time.  Paul would identify some of the same gifts he speaks of in other texts if he wrote to Irving, probably mention others too.  We can insert names of people who employ those gifts, and ponder what Mother ship would be without if these gifts were not present. 

Each person called and gifted to serve somebody.  We are gifted to do our part, knowing what we can’t do; someone else is gifted to do.  We are to use our spirit heightened faculties of reason, intuition, imagination, and desire to venture out.  These normal faculties enhanced with extraordinary ability for the sake of others in God’s kingdom.  We use these gifts on these excursions, so we might feel useful in the world by helping others, while knowing the pleasure of being helpful.  We know the joy of the eagle who discovered the wings are for soaring, not nibbling in the yard.

Trying of forced to be something we are not is contrary to the Spirit, who equips us with our own gifts.  Not all are eagles.  There is nothing wrong in being a chicken, duck or even, a turkey.  For a person to think less of self because they can’t teach like someone else, while God gave them the gift of faith that more things are possible than most people can imagine is to impoverish the world.  To think less of self because we do not know what to say or do to bring healing to a hurting person, while we have the gift of discerning the will of God more keenly than most, is to miss the point of the Spirit’s work.  We are all different on the boat and the differing gifts of the Spirit are the great democratizing act of God.  Every gift is equally needed.

Passengers on the Mother Ship will find no classes of travelers or special berths of privilege.  Our spiritual gifts equally make us useful as leaders and followers at different times.  The deckhand is on par with the captain, the porter is as needed as the passenger, and the wait staff is as worthy and those waited on.  If we try to make distinctions we’ll burn out, not because lack of spiritual gifts, but because we’re not fulfilling God’s design.  Even if we’re trying to do good, if we are doing it with someone else’s gifts, we are on borrowed breath and we will run out before we sail home.

In churches, we are greeted by a person who has been faithful to the church longer than the average age of the members of the church.  They see pastors and members come and go.  This is the person who turns on the lights, puts out the bulletins, straightens the hymn books, and adjusts the thermostat.  This person was never asked by the nominations to a position.  They don’t even remember how it started.  They remember there was a job that needed doing and they knew how to do it.  For now it makes them feel good to be useful to God.  That is how spiritual gifts work when employed on excursions that serve others on and off the Mother Ship.

18th-century Rabbi Hayim said, “When I was young, I decided to improve the world. Then I discovered the world is so big, I had better begin somewhere.  I decided to improve the country and I realized the country is so huge.  I decided to improve the city and I realized the city is so large.  I decided to improve the street, but there were so many houses.  I decided to improve my house, and then I decided I had better begin with myself.”

Looking for an excursion to take so you can participate in God’s work?  Begin where you are; teach a class, read to a child, say no to the boss, say yes to your parents, give a tithe, aid the poor, or cry with a friend.  Begin by seeing what God is up to in your world and join in.  You have the Breath of God to empower you, the gifts of God to guide you, and the community of God to support you.  When you are up to what God is up to in the world, you will always be up to the common good.  “Eagle, you are an eagle, you belong to the sky, not to the ground; stretch out your wings and fly.”

The Fleet of the Mother Ship I Corinthians 3:1-9

The car ran off a bridge, but was saved because the car was suspended by one of the rear wheels.  Motorists stopped to render aid and the fire truck secured the car; hooking onto the bumper.  The driver was in hysterics.  Every time the truck lurched forward to pull the car onto the roadway the driver yelled, “I will do it myself…I will do it myself“.

Even in trouble, we tend to think we can do it ourselves.  We are able to do some things ourselves; but we accomplish God’s desires by cooperation.  God calls us to find partners on the Mother Ship, celebrating the good work each are doing.  We need others to make a difference, thus we are called to cooperate on the Mother Ship; sailing into 21st century waters.

Corinth is a most gifted church; she possessed all the spiritual gifts.  Yet, they are embroiled in a battle over whose gifts were the greatest.  Paul calls them worldly, not meaning people who smoke, drink, or chew, or go with girls who do.  Paul calls worldly those who argue, gripe, and quarrel.  The lack of cooperation among these Corinthian Christians causes Paul to call them babes in Christ who can’t handle the meat of Christian living. 

People aren’t impressed by unfavorable comparisons of others.  The person on the street has enough of that, so they don’t want to be part of any other “dog eat dog” organization.  So, people stay away when they perceive an uncooperative spirit in the church; figuring they can find more tranquility in their living rooms.  People are hungry to find persons who cooperate.  They want to unite around something positive not something negative; and speak for something not against something.

Cooperation grows as maturity occurs.  Terri and I hope we no longer have to say to our adult children, “Kids get along with each other and share.”  Adults can behave childishly.  A newly married couple opens a checking account and deposit their paychecks.  Then, they start spending as fast as they can to get out their fair share.  They soon find out that doesn’t work, when the lights get turned off and there are no groceries in the refrigerator.  Learning to cooperate with the checkbook happens as they mature.

Cooperation happens when we recognize God makes the assignments.  Believing God assigns the task makes teaching exciting, choir heavenly, leadership an honor, and service rewarding.  God must wonder why Mr. So and So wants to takeover Mrs. Do-Dad’s task and why is Mrs. Do-dad nosing into Brother Whatchamacallit’s job. We must not to put ourselves in adversarial positions on the Mother Ship; picking each other off.

God has gifted each of us for a particular task on the Mother Ship; making not only cooperation possible, but growth too.  Nothing stops growth faster than for the people refuse to cooperate in doing the task God has assigned in order to build the body.  Paul says they cooperated; he planting and Apollos watering, but God causing the growth because each did their task.

Cooperation calls for genuine humility.  Cooperation requires we put our needs aside to carry out the greater good.  Yet, we spend energy worrying who gets the credit.  Trouble can come in the church when we forget to give credit or give it wrongly.  What lies beneath the trouble is an anxiety God will not notice our good works.  Genuine humility is seeded in the firm belief God rewards the labor of the faithful.

The mother ship is like a symphonic orchestra; each member playing their assigned part to make harmony, not caring who gets the credit because reward comes on payday.  It takes a humble faith and trust in God to keep cooperating by doing our assigned task; not worrying who gets the credit.

Cooperation with others requires us to cooperate with God first.  An indicator we’re not cooperating with God is our difficulty in cooperating with others.  The text says getting along with others is linked to our partnership with God.  We indicate God may not have first place in our lives when we complain how unholy everyone is around us.  We give evidence of a poor relationship with God when we’re over concerned how unspiritual others are.  This implies a lack of faith in God’s gracious power to save and our lack of willingness to cooperate in that task.  It’s those who esteem others that demonstrate their faith in God’s ability to redeem every person.

Two fellows are riding a bike built for two up the hills of San Francisco.  When they get to the top, the fellow in front turned to the fellow in the back and says in exhaustion, “I thought we would never make it up that hill.”  The one on the back said, “We would have gone back down that hill if I hadn’t kept the brakes on all the way up.”  Do you know people like that?

Some are thinking. “You don’t know the cranky people in my life, which God asks me to cooperate.  I think Jesus said, “The cranky you will always have with you”.  If God is the center of life, we can cooperate with cranky people.  The love of God sheds abroad in our hearts, so we can love the unlovable; cooperating with God and uncooperative, cranky people.

Our self-reliant, independent ways magnifies who?  Us!  Cooperation magnifies God’s work, when it is seen in differing people do their assigned tasks in genuine humility, not worrying about who gets the credit; knowing cooperation means we are partnering with God for the sake of God’s visible and invisible kingdom right here on this Mother Ship called FUMC, Irving.

A 29-man crew, average age 72, manned the U.S. warship LST-325, which had carried men into D-Day.  They were sailing the ship from Greece to Mobile, Alabama; putting it to rest in a museum.  The crew was mostly WWII and Korean veterans, who paid their way to Greece and donated $2000 to cover expenses of recovering the ship.  They made the trip despite the Coast Guard warnings of crossing the Atlantic in the winter in that old of a vessel.  There was no glamour on this voyage as each man took his post and did his duty.  The cook was 74 year-old Joe Sadlier, a bus driver from Alaska who summed his feeling about this trip in this manner, I can’t think of any time I’ve been as happy as I am right now.

That is a perfect picture of the Mother Ship.  A church can weather any storm through cooperation.  There is no greater joy than when spirit blown cooperation occurs.  FUMC, Irving will become a an even greater thriving force for God and for good of neighbor as we demonstrate new levels of partnerships with each other and greater fleet in Christ’s church.  This will require openness to the Spirit that empowers us to go beyond our own ability to bring about genuine community.  The way to achieve meaningful participation and mutual affection among all is to be an open receptacle to wind of God’s Spirit that blows the Mother Ship’s sails.

I invite you to partake of this holy meal, receiving the means of grace that can open your heart to the Spirit’s wind in your life.  We come to remember Jesus who said what we have been saying when he spoke these words, “The person who is the servant and is willing to help with no regard for repayment is the greatest in the kingdom.”  Let’s do greater things for God and each other; cooperating together on the Mother Ship of FUMC, Irving.