Mark 10: 46-52

Back in 2009 I got a 2008 car that wasn’t new, but it was new to me. I still have it and really like it! But once I got it, my eyes seemed to open to others on the road who had the same kind of car! Has that happened to you?  When I got my first car—a ’57 Chevy, you’d better believe I noticed other ’55 – 57’ Chevys! We would see each other and perhaps honk, or nod, approval.  All of a sudden, your kind of car comes on your radar screen once you get it. Now that I have a grandchild, I notice the little boy toys or the little boy clothes that I used to walk by. I didn’t used to stop and look at them, but my eyes are open to baby things now. It seems that our brains can do all kinds of things, but there is a triage section of our brains that tell us what to pay attention to and what not to notice. Men, for example, are generally poor describers. We have brains wired to give the gist of a story; we are “What’s the bottom line?” kind of people. Women, by contrast, have brains wired for details.  If police ever need a description of a suspect, I hope they find a woman witness. Here’s how a conversation with a man would go: Policeman to man: “What did you see?” “A man.” “How tall?” “Not sure.” “What color hair?” “Kinda brown.”  “What was he wearing?” “I dunno; pants and a shirt.” That’s how most of my gender sees things! Ask a woman and the officer would likely get type and color of shirt, the style of pants, the kind of shoes, and the color of the hair sticking out from under a hat she can describe. Women, by the way God made their brains, are generally better at seeing things! But women, before you gloat about that, science has now also proven the no brain can do two things at once. Multitasking is a falsehood; the brain shifts back and forth from one task to the other, actually making both tasks done less carefully! Still I see women putting on makeup while they’re driving and men distracted by radio controls while they drive. And absolutely no one can text and drive well!

There are some people in our world who are born blind who, through some modern techniques and some miraculous work, get to see for the very first time. For those who have experienced it, they get overwhelmed by colors, and shapes, and brightness. Other people, by contrast, have spent a lifetime being able to see, until macular degeneration or some other disease or accident limits their sight. Once you have seen, it can be devastating to start losing your eyesight. And then there are those of us who can see just fine, they just can’t find things. That’s like me.   Just this week I needed one of the paper copies of our church directory while I was working at my desk at home. I looked all over the desk and didn’t see one. So I got up, went to another room in another part of the house, found our picture directory and carried it to my desk. As I arrived, right on top of my desk was a paper directory! Mary Ann was not home, so either an angel dropped it on my desk when I got up or I simply didn’t see it! Even sighted persons often can’t see, but more about that in a minute.

Today Mark’s gospel gives us a text with some very unusual details for a gospel story. First, Jericho, or the road to Jericho, was the site of three events that involved Jesus: one was the Good Samaritan story about a man on the Jericho road; another was the story of the wee little man named Zacchaeus and that happened in Jericho; and now today Jesus heals a man in Jericho. Like men today who sit next the entrance ramp or exit ramps of highways with signs, Bartimaeus was a beggar. There was virtually no assistance for blind people in the first century. In America we sometimes have corrective surgeries, we have guide dogs, signs in Braille, and recorded books sent to the home of blind people for no charge. The largest Library for Blind Services in our country is right here in Daytona Beach. But still, we know that blindness is debilitating even in this century. In the first century all a blind man could do was to beg and hope someone would put a shekel or a mite into his cup. It was a means of surviving; there was no welfare for widows, orphans, lepers, or the blind. Certainly some here today have had a beggar on a downtown street, or even at a convenience store, come up and ask for change, or even more. It can be unnerving, or irritating; or it can be an opportunity to help, depending on your point of view. On this day in Jericho—which by the way was one of the most wealthy resort cities in all of Israel—the  first thing we know is that a poor beggar still had not received the help he needed for the day.  The second thing we know is the name of the beggar. That is unusual. We never hear the name of the woman at the well, or the name of the rich young ruler, or even the name of the boy who contributed 5 loaves and two fish for the feeding of the five thousand. But we know this man’s name. Why? Could it be that Mark wanted to not make this person just “Anyman” but to make him real; to make the story not sound hypothetical, but actual?  Knowing someone’s name, especially his first name, can make a bond that creates a human environment. Knowing a name takes away depersonalization. So now we know the man’s name: Bartimaeus; we even are told his father’s name, though we could have guessed it. “Bar” in Hebrew means “son of.” Bartimaeus was son of Timaeus. So this blind man has a father and we know his name. How might the father have felt about having a blind son? How helpless must he have felt when he could not give his son sight? The third thing we notice is that the crowd only gets involved with Bartimaeus when Jesus acknowledges him. He’s there, likely crying out for help much of the day, and yet when Jesus hears him and then sees him, Jesus does an interesting thing. He doesn’t say to Bartimaeus initially, “What do you want?” He says to the crowd “Call him.” Jesus could have called him himself. Does he want them, even though their eyes work, to actually look at the man who had been ignored for weeks or even years? They have to call him, and to do that they can to acknowledge him. Someone in the crowd said, and we don’t know how he said this: “Take heart, get up, he is calling you!” The member of the crowd could have said that begrudgingly or encouragingly. We don’t know. But we do know from the words that Bartimaeus was either sitting or laying on the ground and no one said “Let me help you up and guide you to Jesus.” No one said that; they just watched; no one helped. Like the wicked stepsisters in the story of Cinderella when they prince asked for Cinderella instead of them, did they resent that Jesus looked beyond people of means and people of eyesight in the crowd who also were there to see him, to focus on the man in rags? Why didn’t Jesus help out someone else instead? Why did his ears focus in on the cries of a blind beggar? The fourth thing we notice is this: usually in the Bible demon possessed persons know who Jesus is—the Son of the Most High God—when no one else does! “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me!” This time it is a man who cannot see who knows Jesus! All the jokes about “Even a blind man could see that” really fit this story! A blind man shows a sighted crowd who Jesus is and how to approach him. “Master” he calls him, “I want to see!” Jesus could have said, “You can already see better than many others who are here,” but he knew this man was at a terrible disadvantage being blind. So he acknowledged his spiritual sightedness, (calling him ‘Master’ without seeing him), then he gave him physical sight.The man might have thought physical sight was the highest level of sightedness. But Jesus honored his spiritual sightedness more.

Church hymnals would be so much poorer without the hymns of a woman, like Bartimaeus, who could not see physically, but she could she spiritually in a mighty way, which is the kind of sight Jesus honors the most. That woman was Fanny Crosby, and every time you have been given a lift by singing “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine,” “To God Be the Glory,” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” or dozens more, it is because a physically sightless woman had spiritual vision. When the choir sang “Be Thou My Vision” today, they were singing anonymous Irish words written around 700 A.D. When I hear it as a sighted person, I make it my prayer that I may see the wounded better than I have before, the disabled better than before, the poor, the poor in spirit, and the disenfranchised better than I have before. Today we did not mainly hear a story about a man who could not see. We mainly heard a story about a community of people in wealthy Jericho who could not see like Jesus sees, when one beggar could. He could see and identify Jesus.

There is one final difference between this story and stories in other gospels. Jesus, here and at other times, tells those who he heals to go on their way, that their faith has made them well. That’s nothing new. But this time we find out that Bartimaeus did what others did not do, or were not permitted to do by Jesus; this time the gospel says that Bartimaeus “followed Jesus on the way.” What would have been waiting for him in Jericho?  Nothing: years of being treated as if he were invisible told him that.  So he left; he followed Jesus “on the way,” a phrase the apostle Paul later used. Bartimaeus followed Jesus “on the way,” a metaphor for the Christian life.

So today you might be able to see your bulletin, and read your hymnal, and drive yourself home. Some of you here cannot do any of those very well, if at all. But none of that matters the most to Jesus. What matters the most to Jesus is if you see him and those around you who he loves, in the many people you encounter each day. One of the people you encounter each day might be your Lord. If you can see your Lord when ever you care for the least of these, our brothers or sisters, then the most important kind of sight in the world … is yours. May each of us begin to lose any trace of spiritual blindness.

Jeffrey A. SumnerOctober 28, 2012   

10-21-12 Who Are You to Ask?

“Who Are You to Ask?”

I like Job. Job is a decent guy who has had every bad thing that could happen to him, happen to him over the last few months. He loses his money, his land, his kids are killed and he ends up covered with boils and lesions. Life is awful. His supposed friends show up, asking what he has done wrong to deserve this, since he surely must have done something to cause all this misfortune. His wife even tells him to just “curse God and die.” All he does though is cry out to God asking why, insisting that if he could just talk to God, he could work this all out. He wishes he had never been born

In the first lesson for today, God answers Job. He doesn’t give any nice neat sort of answer about why things went wrong or what Job could have done differently. No, instead, God basically asks Job who he thinks he is to insist on this knowledge. Who is he to think it would have been better never to be born? Then God spends the next chapter explaining how Job is not God. God is. And God knows more about the way things work than Job ever could.

The thing is, so often, we approach God as if God owes us something instead of the other way around. God owes us explanations of why things have happened in our lives. God owes us a way to fix the problems. God owes us a way out of this mess. If we just offer up the right bargain to God, then God has to make the deal with us.

But God is simply not in the business of rewarding and punishing human beings. God’s revelation to Job and to us is that the universe is far bigger, far stranger, and far more mysterious than we can imagine. A longer look at the ostrich and the sea and the eagle would help us to begin to see that.

God isn’t small. God isn’t so easily contained by the likes of us and our rules. One of my favorite books as a child was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This is C.S Lewis’ famous children series, where the central figure, Aslan the lion, is the Christ figure for a group of children in a land where animals talk. The part I’m going to read to you is when the Beavers are explaining Aslan to the children.

“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” Mr. Beaver said sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

God isn’t tame. God isn’t safe and yet, so often we act like God is. We act like we have control of God instead of the other way around.  Perhaps we need to recognize human limits more often, that we are not the source of all wisdom and knowledge. We are not as smart as we think we are. There are ultimate things that must be left to God.

Because we cannot fully understand God’s will and design, we should not try to answer for God. This is an importnat reminder for some Christians. So often, we can feel the need to defend God by explaining God’s actions in every situation. For some reason we are so uncomfortable with God’s mystery that we feel the need to constantly explain God’s ways, but we are really just guessing. In my own life, I know that in times of suffering I have been most comforted when a fellow Christian has admitted not understanding God’s actions, but has offered the inherent comfort promised and offered by God. This would have been just as powerful a reminder to Job and his friends as it is to us.

I can be okay with that. At least this answer isn’t telling us life is fair when we know it is not, or that we are sinners and deserve everything that happens to us, like Job’s friends try to claim. When I am suffering, I would rather hear “There are some things you cannot know in this life,” rather than “you are a sinner and this is a punishment to teach you a lesson.”

Now, I’m not saying Job did the wrong thing by coming to God with questions. Further on down the chapter God basically says “I’m angry with those three guys who kept mounting pious arguments to Job when he was suffering. Job is the one who has spoken right of me.” (42:7-10) Asking questions of God is not only alright, but encouraged. Laments are used over and over again throughout the Bible. It is never wrong to cry out to God when we are suffering. The problem comes when when we assume we deserve an explanation. The problem comes when we assume we know better than what God is doing.

Have you ever been in a car where the child in the back seat thinks he knows how to drive better than you do? I have. The voice pipes up, “Why didn’t you go through that yellow light?” or “You didn’t stop for long enough at that stop sign.” or “That car cut you off.” Now, the child has never driven in his life. I’m willing to bet that most of his driving knowledge comes from TV shows. But he thinks he knows enough to tell me, someone who has been driving for years and covered many hundreds of miles how to do it best. That’s what Job is like here. He’s trying to tell God how to handle things better than God has already done.

And that, of course, brings us down to the gospel lesson in which James and John act like two spoiled kids in the back of the car. I can’t help but wonder if they had to work up to this. The text makes it seem that they just jump right in with the question. And, this is immediately following Jesus trying to be as clear as possible about his coming death, not to mention all the stories leading up to this one where he seems to be practically beating them over the head to change the preconceived ideas they had of what the Messiah is. James and John basically attempt to call permanent shotgun in the child metaphor. They take one look at the minivan the disciples are headed for and yell out “We get front seat for life!” ignoring all that Jesus is trying to explain.

ss=”kix-line-break”>James and John are so very human here. They want the positions of glory and have no trouble asking for them, right in front of the rest of the disciples. Unsurprisingly, this upsets the other disciples and they start grumbling about what makes James and John so great. I wonder about Jesus sometimes when I read passages like this. I wonder about the tone of his voice when they come asking these questions. Is he exasperated that they are still not getting it after all this time? Is he amused at their childishness?

Jesus says to them, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been saying? It isn’t about what you get. It isn’t about being the best. It isn’t about asking for glory. It’s about serving others.

Here’s the thing. God loves us. God loves us absolutely and unconditionally and nothing on heaven and earth can ever or will ever separate us from that love.

But just because God loves us, that does not mean God needs to give us everything we ask or answer all of our questions. A relationship of love where one partner simply said yes and gave the other partner every little thing they asked for is not a healthy one. Love doesn’t mean always saying yes. Love doesn’t mean always giving into demands.

Love does mean that when the pain is real and we cry out, God listens. It means that God is with us just as much as God is with the rest of creation. God hears our cries along with those of the lions and the ravens. Love means that God wants our happiness, but doesn’t always give us what we think we need to get it. God can love us completely and still say no.

We turn to God with demands and bargains, acting like that is only what we are due, when instead we should be asking what can we give back. We demand honor and glory when we should be seeking how best to serve. Instead of trying to tell the God who made the universe how our lives should be run, maybe we should try to follow where that God is leading us. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, let us look towards all that God in his infinite love has already given us.

We do not fully understand God. We just can’t. God is bigger and more complicated than our human minds can comprehend. We no sooner could determine God’s reasoning for suffering or pain than we could understand the methods of God’s creation. Sometimes being a person of faith means that we accept our limited understanding of the world. It means we trust in God. We trust that God is good. We trust that God loves us, no matter what.

Cara Milne Gee

October 21st, 2012



Mark 10: 13-16

Today we are not going to consider the political climate of our country; today there will be no editorials, no rants and raves, no hot button issues. Today, for a few minutes, I invite you to think about who or what blesses you. What or who is actually a blessing? Although a blessing is usually defined as “God’s favor or protection,” today I hope you will include those places, or those persons, that fill you with something like peace, joy, or gladness. And I want to suggest that it is important especially to consider those in your life who have been a blessing. In his book THE POWER TO BLESS, Myron Madden believes, and cites Biblical passages where, we have the power to bless others. Can you imagine people who have received a blessing from you? Now that is daunting; to think that someone feels blessed because of you. Blessing, it seems offers a powerful sense of well-being and even gladness. Can you think of people who have blessed you? I can. Today I invite you in these few minutes, before coming to a communion table that symbolically stretches around the world, to think about the blessing you are about to receive. The central figure of the Christian faith is Jesus Christ. If he is your Savior then you know that he is about to offer you the blessing of sharing in this holy meal. At your baptism, whether you remember it or not, God’s Holy Spirit gave you a blessing. Just as the Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, so also the Spirit blessed you at your baptism. You may not know it; you may not have yet invited the Spirit to be active in your life, but you have already been blessed. Unlike a baptism that is designed to be done once, blessings are different; they can be offered several times over one’s lifetime. And they can appear in unexpected ways.  

Sometimes the world depicted on television can get me discouraged or mad. Does that happen to you? And so I am helped by being in the presence of people who have blessed me; some of those people are Mary Ann and all of my children. And one person who blesses me without knowing it is my grandson Calvin! My work usually consumes me for hours and hours every week, but two weeks ago we took time to go to Chris and Amanda’s house with the expressed purpose of babysitting Calvin for about four hours while his parents went furniture shopping. I learned that I could set all of the distractions of my life on a shelf for awhile so all of my attention could be spent just playing with, feeding, lying beside, and rocking that little boy. It was a bit of reset button from a frantic week. Without knowing it; without trying, that boy has become one of my blessings.  To be in the presence of someone who just needs to be, not to do, is refreshing. And I’ll never forget pronouncing God’s blessing on him in the service of August 26th. I am certain more blessings will come my way and yours in unexpected ways. Matt and Vicki honored me this week by saying that they are naming their baby boy, due to be born in February, “Shane Jeffrey.” Blessings abound.

In the gospel of Mark listen to what Jesus faced in the chapter before today’s passage: He had cured a blind man at Bethsaida, left Galilee to make the huge announcement acknowledgement that he was the Christ, and then he told his disciples the bad news: he would suffer greatly and be killed.  Jesus’ days were exhausting. But a blessing was about to be given. Our spent Savior took three treasured friends up a high mountain and there, in their presence, he was reminded of how he was loved: He heard eight life-giving words: from a cloud, as his Heavenly Father called out for others to hear: “This is my beloved son, listen to him!”  That was music to the ears of our Lord. Who doesn’t want to receive such words from a parent?  In their book WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBORS SAY? Facing the Fear of Disapproval, authors Patricia Berne and Louis Savary say “each of us wants to be welcomed and belong.” Our Lord then faced a storm of requests and challenges again after he came down the mountain, but he had been filled with God’s blessing, and with the power to bless others again. First he healed a boy with seizures; then he encountered a man who wasn’t sure he could fully put his trust in Jesus; and ultimately, he faced something that he surely wished never happened: his disciples argued about who was the greatest. It was a punch to the gut of their teacher. Then, to add insult to injury, the Pharisees asked him an entrapment question about divorce. The world had some challenges for our Lord, and it has some challenges for you and me. Just wrung out by that exchange, people were bringing Jesus their children for him to bless them. They must have believed he had the power to bless. His disciples, thinking their Lord was too busy to bless children, had to be stopped by the Master. Of all the things in his day he would love to be, one surely was to be a blessing to children. What an honor to have a parent trust you to be a blessing to their child! And so he used the child as an example, reminding a society that thought little about children, to give  them remember the children. Then he did what we love to picture in our minds: he picked them up, and he blessed them.

My colleague the Rev. Michael Foley is the pastor of Ormond Beach Presbyterian Church. He is taking some time off, to grieve. He is broken hearted. The love of his life Brenda, succumbed to cancer and infection. “What can we do to help you?” his congregation has asked him. In their October newsletter, he answers them: “If you want to give thanks to God for Brenda’s time with us- hold a baby and reach out the hand of fellowship to a family with young children.” You see, Brenda was all about blessing children, and their parents, by making their church a welcoming place for them; like we try to do; and perhaps as you do in your own way. Blessing children is important; but it is not enough. Jesus also blessed broken m
en, sinful women, those who were clearly his enemy, and even those around the cross. Offering blessing can change a person to their core. It can awaken, as John Bradshaw reminds us, their “inner child.” There is a child, still within you no matter how old, that will thrive on hearing a blessing from someone else. And there are people around you who will get their dry wells filled again if you bless them with your actions and your words.

Today if you decide to receive Holy Communion, hear Jesus whisper in your ear, “You are my disciple; with you I am well pleased.” And if you decide to receive the anointing today, you’ll receive a touch to your forehead with fragrant oil from the Holy Land, and the words of blessing “May you feel Jesus bless you today.” If you have discovered in the past few minutes that you are ready for a blessing, today is your day. Jesus not only blesses children, but the child in each one of us.

Bless others as a Christian gift to them; receive blessings from others so that your cup may be refilled with Christ’s love.

Jeffrey A. SumnerOctober 7, 2012