The Eyes of Reformation

John Wilkinson Third Presbyterian Church
October 28, 2012 Mark 10: 46-52


Let’s rehearse the scenario. Jesus and his growing, wandering congregation had been in Jericho. They – his disciples and the larger crowd – were leaving. At the side of the road out of town was a blind beggar. He had, in that early first century culture, two big strikes against him. He was blind – a physical and most likely a religious outcast. And he was poor – a social and most likely a religious outcast.

Think about him, and think about how you would connect with him if you encountered him right now. Day after day, year after year, sitting by the side of the road while the world passed by. If he was noticed at all, it would have been with contempt. A blind beggar.

And this crowd passes by. We don’t know how, but somehow this man had heard about Jesus. And whatever he had heard, and however he heard it, it must have been good. Somehow now he knew that Jesus had been in town. We don’t know how or what, but we do know that Bartimaeus had heard something good about Jesus, so much so that he risked yet one more opportunity for rejection by calling out. Jesus – have mercy on me. Have mercy on me. What did he want? Money? Sight? Love? Someone to care? So he cried out.

Jesus’ followers, his handlers, perhaps even his disciples, would have none of it. They had heard Jesus preaching and teaching and seen him healing. Just before this, he had welcomed a child, of all things, another first century person who fell into the “non-person” category. Jesus – have mercy on me. They heard the voice crying out. But somehow, all that Jesus said about God’s family, God’s community, had gained no traction, had not taken root.

So they told him, in essence, to shut up. Shut up – you are blind and poor, of no value, and there is no room for you in this growing movement. Know your place and keep it.

And like all those other moments, other days, other years, we wonder if that’s what he would have done. Would he have just retreated and shut down? But there was a moment, an act of grace, the pushing of the Holy Spirit, the spilling over of a lifetime of accoumlated rejection. Not this time. He called out again. He called out again. And amidst all the chaos and all the hoopla of Jesus and his entourage moving on, and the pressure to simply disappear, when he called out this time Jesus heard him. His voice cut through all the other voices, all the noise, and Jesus heard him. There are great moments in this story, and here is one. And Jesus stopped. Mark tells us that Jesus stood still. The outcast voice, steeped in rejection and mustering its courage one more time, cried out and cut through. And Jesus stood still.

But it gets even better. Call him here, Jesus tells his followers. What? Jesus, perhaps you don’t understand. This is a poor man, a poor, blind man. We have work to do, places to go, people to see, a movement to manage. In a value-added world, he has no value to add. So maybe we misunderstood you, or perhaps you don’t understand the situation fully. You really can’t mean that you want to see him.

But this voice had stopped Jesus in his tracks, so yes, in fact, that’s exactly what he meant. Bring him here. We can only imagine the scene. Chaos. Confusion. Curiosity. The crowd watching, and poor old blind Bartimaeus leaping to his feet, hurrying, rushing, to meet the one person who took him seriously, accepted him as a person, the one to whom he had cried out for mercy and who might actually deliver on that promise.

It is an extraordinary moment. Jesus cuts to the chase. You can look it up. “What do you want me to do for you?” We want to know what was going on in Jesus’ mind. We want to know what was going on in Bartimaeus’ mind. “What do you want me to do for you?” Had that been you, what would you have asked? He was ready. “Let me see again. “ Let me see. Again. And Jesus was also ready. Your faith has made you well. Your courageous, persistent faith in the face of rejection and ostracism, in the face of your tradition failing you, your community failing you, moment after moment, year after year. Your faith has made you well. And he regained his sight. He could see. Again. And he followed Jesus.

It is perhaps my favorite Sunday of the church year. Reformation Sunday. The day closest to October 31, when, in 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses, 95 theological propositions, to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This was a protest against the way the church was—in the context of this day, the things to which the church was blind – and it launched so much – modern day commerce, modern day democracy, modern day church.

It is perhaps my favorite day. It used to be a day when we celebrated how pleased we were that we weren’t Roman Catholic. Thankfully, we have evolved. Today we can mark our Reformed and Protestant heritage without such overt differentiation, such gleeful comparison. Today we can claim the gifts of Reformation without focusing on conflict, or the dozens and dozens of conflicts and schisms that have happened since. Today we can be thankful for our past, that predates this congregation but that includes it as well, since 1827.

And today we can ask questions – Reformation questions, that link this piercing, liberating, sight-restoring gospel story with our Reformation identity. What is our role – yours and mine? What is the church’s role? What is our culture’s role? Would we have been the crowd, regularly ignoring? Would we have been those followers, those disciples, outright rejecting? Would we have been the blind man – and if so, to what have we been or to what are we blind, and do we cry out and for what would we ask? And we are not Jesus, but we can certainly ask whether we would hear or not or stand still or not or respond or not, to whatever it is that seeks our attention.

These are Reformation questions, not so much about Presbyterian and Reformed doctrine, though that is embedded here, a clear and powerful example of grace that welcomes all. As much so, though, the Reformation response is about who we are and who we will be. Would we cry out? Do we cry out, when Jesus walks by? What have we heard about him and what about our lives calls us to cry out? Or, would we place ourselves in the role of his followers, the ones who would prevent access to the teacher?

And when we finally meet him, when we encounter him face to face, what will happen? He will ask us “what do you want me to do for you?” What do you want me to do for you? What will we say? What will our answer be? Have we been holding our voice for a lifetime, a season, convinced by society or our own self-imposed limitations that we cannot cry out? Have we been holding our hopes in, afraid or unable to cry out? How would you respond?

On this Reformation Sunday, to what are you blind? What blinds you? On this Reformation Sunday, to what are we blind? What blinds us? Us the church, us the world, us the culture? To what, and to whom, are we blind? What would we like to see, again or for the first time, when Jesus gives us our sight? How do we pay attention to a child's need, or a partner’s or a spouse's or a parent’s? How do we pay attention to a need of our own – something to which we are blind that prevents us from living the life God fully intends for us?

To whom, or what, is the church blind? People – GLBT people, others who count as outcast, voiceless? Who are our poor and blind? Are we blind to new ways of doing things, new ideas? Are we blind to the young? What sight do we need to recover? Martin Luther and John Calvin and our Protestant and Reformed forbears know that the church was blind. To what are we blind now?

Some 500 years ago the sight we regained was that access to grace, to God’s mercy and love, happened not through a priest, nor through dogma, nor through financial capacity. We as God’s people had all the access we needed, to the Bible, to church authority, to God’s very presence. That’s what all that business about priests in Hebrews is about. We gained that sight. Have we lost it? What do we need to gain?

And of our nation, our culture. What sight have we had that we have lost? What do we need to ask for, to re-gain? To whom, or what, is the culture blind, is our nation blind? The way we treat one another, the way we interact with other nations? In nine days, we elect a president. What would we want Jesus to do for us, for our world, as we make this choice? This is not about, it can’t be about, a particular policy or program or candidate. But it can be about the application of values.

Who are we in this story? Are we the blind beggar? Look deep inside. Perhaps your poverty and blindness, or mine, is not so obvious. Look deep inside. How can we cry out and see Jesus, see him more clearly that we follow him more nearly and love him more dearly? How can we see Jesus, see what he can do for us, see what he can do for others, see especially what he can do for those outside the circle?

Or are we the handlers and followers? Are we the ones in the way or are we the ones preparing the way, paving the way? As we follow, to what or to who are we blind? We are not Jesus, of course. But perhaps by following we can assist in sight recovery, we can help others have an unfettered and unimpeded encounter with this one who hears and stands still and heals.

We mark the Reformation today. We had seen but had lost our sight. The Reformation helps us regain sight, not just once five centuries ago but a continual process of sight recovery, formation and reformation and transformation. For ourselves, and for all those Bartimaeuses, who Jesus loves so much.

Perhaps we can sing. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost and now am found. Was blind but now I see.” Amen.

 

 

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