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.
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.