Monday, October 26, 2015

What Do You See?

Mark 10:46-52
Seeing Is Believing
As you know by now, I’m from Missouri where the unofficial state title is the Show Me State!  And just how did it get that reputation?  I will quote from the Missouri Government website,

“The most widely known legend attributes the phrase to Missouri's U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. While a member of the U.S. House Committee on Naval Affairs, Vandiver attended an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia.

In a speech there, he declared, "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." Regardless of whether Vandiver coined the phrase, it is certain that his speech helped to popularize the saying.”[i]

For most Missourians, seeing is believing.  Except where faith is concerned I’d have to see I whole heartedly agree.  Perhaps you’ve even caught yourself saying out loud or at least thinking inside your head, I’ll believe that when I see it!  “That” can be anything…I’ll believe them when I finally see that raise in my paycheck the company has been talking about, I’ll believe the weather channel when I can finally see that sunshine that they’ve been predicting, I’ll believe you when I finally see that you’ve stop drinking and have cleaned up your act. 

Seeing opens us to the reality of our lives.  And most people want reality these days right?  All you have to do is to watch television for an hour or so and you’ll be satiated with reality shows. The Biggest Loser is about the struggle of weight loss for some people, The Bachelorette tries to find a suitable life partner for herself in a matter of weeks.  I’m not so sure any of this is entertainment but it sure steers us away from having a look-see at our own reality.  

Our scripture today is from the 10th chapter of Mark beginning at the 46th verse.

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”  So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.  Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”  Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Blind Beggar Bartimaeus
Blind Beggar Bartimaeus is certainly one of the more familiar healing stories in the Bible; perhaps I’ll even use the word ‘beloved’ to describe this story of a man named Bar Timaeus or son of Timaeus.  He sits on the side of the road as beggars do, and still do to this day, if we choose to see them.  His other senses were clearly more highly developed and when he hears that Jesus has come to Jericho he begins to shout out loud, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 

People ordered him to be quiet but he didn’t listen to them.  He calls out again only louder this time, loud enough to get Jesus’ attention.  Then when Jesus calls for Bartimaeus they tell Bartimaeus to be of good cheer, and be happy – Jesus has summoned him.  Bartimaeus wastes no time, he tosses off his cloak so that he is completely unencumbered and runs to Jesus.  Jesus asks him just like he asked the Zebedee brothers from last week, “What can I do for you?”

“Rabbouni, teacher” Bartimaeus said, “Let me see.”  LET ME SEE.  Immediately, because of his faith he is sighted once again and follows Jesus.  His eyes were literally opened now to see Jesus descend over the Mount of Olives from Jericho into Jerusalem on a donkey, to watch the palm branches waving in the hot and dry spring air, to watch the many trials of Jesus and finally Jesus’ crucifixion.  Bartimaeus received his sight at the end of Jesus’ life. 

Spiritual Sight
My guess is Bartimaeus already ‘saw’ Jesus way before his actual sight was restored.   He was able to see with his heart what many others fail to see with their eyes.  He saw that Jesus could grant mercy to him, he saw that Jesus was compassionate and caring and that he, a blind beggar, would be noticed sitting there alongside of the road, that he was somebody.  And don’t we all want to be noticed by someone? 

He saw with his soul like a poet who reveals beauty in the ordinary, something that we might have completely overlooked.  Bartimaeus had spiritual insight and inner vision that Jesus was of the Davidic line which would make him the Messiah.  No one else saw this, only Bartimaeus.  We know that the disciples spent much of their time in a fog not being able to see what was in front of them.  But Bartimaeus did, he believed without seeing.  He was definitely not from Missouri!  If only it were as simple as that.  If only we all had the sight that Bartimaeus possessed.  Could you imagine what this world might be like.

What does it mean to see?
If you were blind and then your eyes were opened, what would you see in front of you?  What is the reality that is revealed to you when you gained your sight?  And what has your blindness prevented you from seeing?  Let’s be honest, sometimes we prefer to be blinded because to see means that we have to look at the truth that is right in front of us.  The truth can be filled with joy like seeing lover after a long absence, or it can be painful like watching your child fail at making the basketball team or the cheerleading squad.  The truth is always brutally honest and frightening.

Part of my job as being your redevelopment pastor is to hold up a mirror so that you might be able to see yourself as a congregation more clearly.  In order to do that though you must look deeply at yourselves, you need to open your eyes and have a Bartimaeus moment!  You must see the present reality and, simultaneously, see within your hearts and minds where Jesus is calling you. 

What I See
I’ve been with you now almost three years.  And in that time I’ve seen your loving acts of kindness toward one another.  There have been some significant changes with families and debilitating illness, and the passing of long time members.  And there have been some remarkable accomplishments from some of our members.  Members have moved away and members have joined our happy throng.  You’ve rallied around one another with cards, congratulations, flowers, meals, care, and support.

So you might say, why is there a need for redevelopment?  Aren’t we doing what Christ has called us to do as a faith community?  Well yes, you are.  But being the church and doing what Christ calls you to do really has two different components.  Christ calls us to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, etc., so you do that.  Your mission outreach is good, could there be more? Of course there could, the world does not lack for opportunities to serve.  Basically you’ve got that – you care that others are taken care of.

How we go about the business of being a church, well there is room for improvement and this is the tricky component.  We are not the future of the church, we are the present.  Our children all grown up, our little ones that cry out from the pews at inappropriate or maybe real appropriate times - they are the future of the church.  And what they think and what we think are uniquely different, thank goodness.  So it is hard to predict what the future church will need to be in order for them to be nourished in the Gospel and be challenged to make a difference in this world.  

It is difficult for us to envision and to see what it might look like 20 or 30 years from now.  But that doesn’t mean that we should not try.  Here is where that Bartimaeus leap of faith is essential.

Through the faith filled and very sacred work of redevelopment we are looking at how we can organize ourselves that adapts to the current milieu of today’s families.  There are many competing opportunities that we’ve never had to deal with before and the time that families have to give to church is limited.  Not because they are half interested but because it is the reality of their lives.  So we need to look at how we can become valuable players in this competition streamlining time commitments and the organization of boards and committees.  It can be done!  Bartimaeus faith is essential!

We need to look at how we welcome people into this beloved community.  Saying that we welcome all people and actually declaring that we will welcome each person, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, straight, married, divorced, single, abled, disabled, poor, rich are two different things.  Jesus took the time to talk to and include each person that he came in contact with.  Might we also have the vision to do so as well? This is not a political agenda.  This is extending a Christ-like, loving, extravagant welcome and declaring it.  For my kids, who are in their early 30’s it’s a no brainer.  For kids even younger they will probably say, why are they even debating this!   Bartimaeus faith is essential! 

And faith formation is another area for redevelopment.  What that is is recognizing that each one of us is on a journey.  Our faith is not stagnant but grows with us as we age.  How might we address the questions of faith in each phase of development to equip people on their journey?    We know that people are yearning for depth, nourishment, and accompaniment so we need to be able to address that with them. It’s that simple.  Bartimaeus faith is essential. 

These are just some areas where new vision is needed - where we need to be fully sighted, based in faith that where God calls us we will follow. 

Bartimaeus had no clue what he was getting himself into when he asked Jesus to heal him.  All he knew was that he was in need of healing and he had faith that Jesus was the one who could heal him.  He had faith that Jesus was the real deal and that his future was going to better off following Jesus.  And we need to have that faith too.  Our future will be better off putting our trust and hope in him that the decisions we make today will serve the needs of those who cross our threshold tomorrow.


Real Security

Mark 10: 35-45
In these crazy days of catastrophic change and uncertainty with random acts of violence springing up anywhere and anytime, countless instances of terror and terrorism both here and around the globe, is there anyone among you who doesn’t experience fear on some level?  Or, if not fear at least high levels of anxiety?  It’s a scarry, what if world.  I am not a grandmother yet and for as much as I desire to be one, I’m not so sure that I want grandchildren coming into this world.  I’m fearful, I have to admit.  And yet, I know that I cannot live out of a place of dread and apprehension, that I have to live into the future with confidence and faith that when, and if ever those little grands finally appear on the Wagner family scene they will be ok.  But boy, it’s tough!

Our reading today from the Gospel of Mark begs us to look at fear, faith and what security might mean as a Christian.  From the 10th chapter beginning at verse 35….
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him (Jesus) and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Jesus’ Tries
You know, Jesus tries so hard to give the disciples some sense of security for the future and for what’s going to be happening to him, that is his crucifixion, death and resurrection.  But they don’t hear it.  There is some kind of disconnect for them.  Whether they just don’t want to hear it or they just don’t understand what Jesus is saying, Jesus tells them three times what the future will hold and three times their responses are a bit off but oh, so human.

If you remember, Jesus tells them that he will be betrayed and killed and with that Peter rebuked Jesus.  Not quite the response that Jesus was probably hoping for. Isn’t that how we often react to information we don’t want to hear though? We get angry at the one who delivers the bad tidings and lash out at them.  But Jesus says to Peter ‘deny yourself, take up your cross, if you want life - loose it’.  He meets Peter head on, gives him instructions on how to live and then Jesus takes the inner, inner circle James, John and Peter up the mountain and his transfiguration occurs.

The second time Jesus shares with them about his future they are still up in the Galilee and he tells them that he will be betrayed into human hands, that he will be killed and after three days be raised up.  Still, the disciples didn’t understand.

If only they did they could prepare themselves for their future and hopefully feel some sense of security in that future.  They might not have been happy about it but at least they could take some measures to begin to reorder their life post resurrection.  That reordering is important work, it give us a safety net when we feel like we are tumbling far out of control.   Reordering allows us to decide what and who really matters to us removing the extraneous influences that detract us from fruitful living.

And the third time Jesus and his followers were on the road to Jerusalem and he tells them that he will be handed over to the scribes and chief priests.  He’ll be mocked, spat upon, flogged and killed.  I think it’s at this point that the disciples become a little vulnerable and shaky in the thought of their future.  They begin to sense that there is a fly in the ointment, there is something very fishy and way off.  Or just maybe they really do get it but are flat out afraid of what the future holds for them.

Biblical Exegesis
It is out of this third attempt that James and John – the bold and the brave – the brothers Zebedee pipe up.  “Rabbi Jesus, we want you to do what we ask you to do.”  Can you imagine?  Asking, or in this case demanding Jesus to do what it is that they want.  It seems rather bold to me, there seems to be a certain edge to what the Mr.’s Zebedee are asking. 

But Jesus reaction is quite remarkable, he doesn’t cut them off, instead he asks a question, as Rabbis do, “What do you want me to do?”  Well they want the best seats in the house.  A seat on Jesus’ right and a seat on Jesus’ left side, right beside him in all his glory.  They went for pay dirt, they want front row center in the orchestra pit!  But it seems a bit childish doesn’t it?  What if they were acting out of a place of fear rather than what seems to be narcissistic behavior?  This becomes a whole different text to talk about.

Security is a fine thing isn’t it?  I believe that is one of the top things that we all yearn for in our lives.  Security!  Financial security, security in our home, the security of what we think a higher education might bring, security of your health and health care system, national security - why all you need do is to pick up a newspaper or most any magazine and you’ll find articles on how you can make your life better and more secure.  When security is obtained it should always be followed with a big sigh of relief.

When you have security or feel entirely safe you have peace of mind.  And when you have peace of mind you are comfortable and stable.  You are free from anxieties and fear.  All your worries have been released or relinquished so that you can free yourself of that which might burden you and be engaged in activities and thoughts that delight you.  Everyone wants security because in this broken world there isn’t a whole lot that you can actually count on and we are often lured into a false sense of security and hope through unhealthy endeavors or material things.

Fear Breeds Insecurity
Fear, as we know and maybe have even experienced, breeds incredible insecurity. It forces us to act in the most unusual ways.  Remember back 15 years ago now.  Y2K?  Now you don’t need to raise your hands but, how many of you followed the Red Cross guidelines and made up a Y2K Preparedness Kit?  

As I recall however, there was a fear that resided just under the surface for a lot of people…waterless facets, empty grocery shelves, cash registers that wouldn’t open, power outages, bank failures, even rioting in the streets.

People were a little over the top.  When you are afraid you are not secure in your surroundings or your existence and that insecurity causes you to do or act in ways that will help to bring you that safety net, protection, well being and self-assurance, in whatever form it might take.  It’s a human response.  But we can’t live out of fear.  We have the best security of all when it comes to what really matters and when it come to what can truly bring us inner peace.

Jesus as our Security
We have Jesus, who through his human and divine nature, can calm our fears and reduce the anxiety that we experience in our lives.  By his example, through him we have faith; we can relax into the freedom from fear through God’s mighty act in human history.  Faith gives us hope in things we cannot envision for ourselves quite yet.

Rely on your faith in the God of comfort and love.  When fear creeps up face it head on, it will give you tremendous power over that fear.  Have courage, and be resolved to go forward no matter what the circumstance might be.  It’s a mind game that your faith can win for you.   And love, the New Testament tells us that there is no fear in love, love casts out all fear.  This is the deep and abiding love for God, for yourself, for your fellow human beings that walk upon this great earth.  This love that casts our fear will give you the inner spiritual resources that are needed to bring equilibrium back in your life.[i]   

You can master your fear. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Fear knocked at the door.  Faith answered.  There was no one there.”  Faith bests fear.  And this is the Gospel message for today.


[i] Summarized from a sermon, ‘Antidotes to Fear’ by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the book ‘Strength to Love’.

A World Communion Sunday Sermon

Matthew 26: 26-30
Jesus is very near the end of his life.  He has given the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  And, he says, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.[i]   Then he goes on to talk about judgment of the nations with a parable about feeding and clothing others.  “Truly I tell you,” he says, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”.[ii]   He is preparing his disciples for their future and for what yet was ahead for him. 

Then there was this plot that Jesus himself knew about but still continued on his way as if nothing else in this world mattered.  One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot agrees for only 30 pieces of silver to expose Jesus, his beloved Lord, to the chief priests so that they could detain him.  But first a meal.  A Passover meal as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew,

And while they were eating,

 Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

These are such powerful words, these words of institution of the Lord’s Supper.  I know that I am deeply comforted each time that I say them, or hear them before taking part in this banquet that Jesus has prepared for us.  For me they are a sweet lullaby that soothes my soul and invites me once again to remember the story of salvation of my life.

And so it is fitting that we look at them on this World Communion Sunday when we celebrate Christian unity and ecumenism.  This celebration first began in 1933 at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA out of conflict as a way to unite the divided into one Christian fellowship.  But now it has spread throughout Christian denominations world wide and so today, around the world, we take this cup and this bread as a sign and seal of our unity in the body of Christ. 

This sacrament and meal of love, this very simple loaf of bread and vessel of juice, and what Jesus told us to do and remember, becomes the thread that holds our Christian quilt together, or the music that helps our disparate voices sing in beautiful harmony.  And whatever way that you choose to understand this mystery of our faith, in the end we can know that bread and wine has been given to us by Jesus Christ as a means of grace and a way in which we can find harmony with one another.  

This meal of remembrance does so much for our aching bodies and searching souls.   I believe that beyond uniting us as the body of Christ, it fills us, it challenges us, and it empowers us for this world in which we inhabit so that we might be faithful followers of Jesus Christ when the current culture seems to have lost its way.

When we take this simple meal, that everyone is invited to partake, we are filled.  Maybe not physically filled because really, how can just a little sip of juice and a morsel of bread physically fulfill our bodily needs? It can’t.  We are spiritually filled in that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved by God.  Our spirit is fulfilled and that gives meaning to our existence and lives.  And who among us does not want meaning for our lives?  We know we are loved.  We know we are forgiven, we know that we have been created by God who knew us yet before we were even conceived.  That is what lends a meaningful foundation to the content of our lives. 

The meaning of holy communion is that you, with your warts and all, are invited to the table, there is a place set just for you because you are a vital part of God’s creation.   And it is at this table that your spiritual needs can be fulfilled.  It is God’s promise of love.  

And yet after our bellies have been filled, our souls satiated with forgiveness and the mercy of God I believe that this meal challenges us.  It challenges us to be better men and women, to live fully into our own God given talents and abilities and to live in the ways of Christ and remember the least of these who live in the margins of the page.  Not everyones bellies are filled like ours.  Real hunger exists in this world. 

The youth and confirmands have been hard at work this weekend at Heifer Farm.  Unfortunately there has to be a Heifer Farm.   Heifer works with communities globally to strengthen their local economies to end hunger and poverty.  Their goal is to make sure that everyone, on this planet has enough to eat.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  And how they do it is be sure that communities receive livestock, clean water and education to sustain their living -  a holistic approach. 

As myself, other leaders, the confirmands and youth traversed the Global village set up at Heifer farm we saw first hand what life would be like in Peru, Tibet, Africa,  the rural US and other countries where living space is limited, clean water a luxury, and an agrarian existence produced the only food you ate.  The kids eyes were opened to an existence that perhaps they had never experienced.  One of the members of the class will tell us a bit more when he returns next week.

This is the challenge of the Lord’s Supper, challenging us to get out of our comfort zone and to help others find a way to live a dignified and meaningful life. 

The world does not lack for challenges.   Let’s not let Heifer, Echo, or Columbus House do the work for us.  Let us come together and seek ways to alleviate hunger closer to home.  Filled with bread and juice we now need to help feed.  That is a challenge at our doorstep each day that we wake and take that first glorious sip of coffee.   

Finally, this simple meal of grace empowers us to take on the ways of Christ and to live them.  It strengthens us so that we are empowered to stand up to the injustice of this world and to see change.  It empowers us to meet the challenges of world hunger or any of the serious maladies of today’s world.  There is so much hunger in this world and it’s not just physical.  This meal empowers us to look around and to try and make a difference.  Yes, you, as one person, can make a difference in another person’s life that is hungering for meaning, for sustenance, for love.  That is empowerment.

You cannot possibly get up from this table the same way that you sat down  you are now agents of God’s transformative love.  

And Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my (cup) of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Eat, drink, be filled, challenged, and empowered.


[i] Matthew 22: 37-39
[ii] Matthew 25: 39-40

Pastoral Prayer for World Communion Sunday

Compassionate Christ, through you we are able to know the almighty and benevolent God and so we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for teaching us your ways, offering us your mercy, and for your redemptive act on the cross.  Connect us please more deeply with people around the globe as we share in our Christian life together.  Fill us with hope when we see despair and love, when we experience hatred, and goodness when all bad things seem to surround us.  Challenge us to work hard for justice in this world, indeed in our own communities so that all may live in dignity and have food on their table and shelter for their heads.  Empower us to be ambassadors of your deep and abiding love because it is our watch now and no other. 

We come to you now in soul filled prayer and anxious expectation so we invoke your spirit to be with us…


Grieving and remembering


Neighbors in Need, the least among us