Today, I invite you to use your imagination. Listen as I tell some stories, and put yourself into the story.
You are a blind person, living in ancient Jericho, a few miles away from Jerusalem. You used to be able to see, but an injury has taken away your eyesight. You can imagine what the scene looks like because you remember it in your mind.
The roads are dusty and noisy. There is a good well in town, and every traveler stops to fill up their water jugs for the next leg of the journey. Local people come by, too, to get their water. You recognize many of them by the sound of their feet, and the sound of their voices. You know which people will toss a few coins your way. You spread out your coat, to catch the coins and pull it toward yourself to gather the coins in.
One day, you hear that Jesus of Nazareth is coming to town. You have heard a lot about him. He heals sick people. He gives sight to the blind. He cares for poor people. You believe he is the Messiah who has been promised for so long. You want what he has to offer – healing for your blindness!
When you hear a crowd of people, you know Jesus is with them and you begin calling to Jesus. You want Jesus to pay attention to you. Many people tell you to be quiet. You get louder and louder; soon you are shouting. “Jesus, Son of David, Messiah, have mercy on me!”
Jesus speaks again and you get a fix on his location. You stand up so quickly the coins on your coat go flying. You head straight for the sound of his voice and kneel before him. Jesus speaks to you. “What do you want me to do for you?” “Rabbi, I want to see again!”
Jesus speaks miraculous words. “Because of your faith, open your eyes, and see.” You open your eyes and realize that you are looking into Jesus’ beautiful face. You know you must respond by taking up your coat and following him wherever he will lead you. You have been blind, but now you see!
This story is obviously about physical healing – Blind Bartimaeus is no longer blind. But it’s about much more when we consider the location of this story in the Gospel of Mark. There are two healings of blind men that serve as bookends for a number of stories about people who are blind in other ways. This includes Peter, who calls Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God in one breath, then scolds Jesus for having a death wish in the next. Many in the crowd see Jesus as sent by God, while most of the leaders only see him as a troublemaker, a false messiah.
… Today is the day on which we celebrate the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. So, here’s another story.
The setting is Germany, about 500 years ago and your name is Martin. You are a young Catholic priest. You have been reading the Scriptures, and noticing that what you are reading does not match what the church is practicing. Everything you have been reading tells you that God’s grace, God’s forgiveness is freely given. You have been talking and writing about this, hoping the leaders in the Church will take notice, but you have not had much success.
One day, you hear about a man named Tetzel. He is aggressively selling forgiveness. He promises that the Pope will declare that the time of your punishment after death will be shorter if you buy his pieces of paper. It’s the last straw for you. You know that forgiveness is not for sale; it is not up to the Pope to grant it; it is freely given by God. You are angry at the lies he is telling and selling, and hurt for the poor people who give their last coins to him. It is such a scam!
You take out a sheet of paper and sharpen your quill. Dipping the quill into the ink, you begin to write. In 95 short sentences, you outline the ways in which the selling of forgiveness is wrong, and against the will of God. In the morning, you take your paper and nail it to the door of your church, with the hope of helping the church see how wrong they have been. You are hoping they will realize that they have been blind, but now they will see.
… We know that there were many people who believed what Luther had to say, and many powerful leaders who tried to shut him up, and even tried to kill him. But enough people listened and believed and acted, and Lutherans today continue to have a unique voice in the community and in the world.
In the last story, I invite you to listen to some portions of a longer dialogue I found on a website called Fresh Expressions. http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/views/liturgy-voice
I lead a small missional community in a small market town that is socially and economically polarised. The aristocracy are often present in the parish church on Sunday mornings, reading the lesson with cut-glass accents gleaned from an elite education. On the other hand, a national survey showed our town to have very low levels of literacy with many people barely able to read at all.
At our ministry, we serve and journey with people who find themselves at the bottom of the heap, and we are learning to walk slowly together towards Christ. We are sure Christ would have spent time listening to the difficult stories of our people. He would have used the language of their everyday lives to weave his story into theirs, showing compassion to those who hung on to him to find hope and healing.
We find many of the traditional words of liturgy do not reflect our experience of life, or of God. These are not our words; culturally they have not come out of our hearts, our streets or our struggles, and so cannot easily come out of our mouths.
For example, there was a minister who was obviously well to do praying a prayer asking God to ensure a fair re-distribution of wealth and the worlds’ resources, and to help 'us' to help the poor. We had five people with us at the service who were desperately poor, several on their way to the local Foodbank after the service.
Responses to this posting varied. Some wanted examples of new liturgies. Some protested that the words of the liturgy are sacred and intended to include everyone. One priest mentioned that he had tried to introduce “liturgical experiments” and he had been forcibly retired by his bishop.
… As we discuss today blindness and sightedness, we all need to remember that any one of us can be blind, and any one of us can be sighted. It’s important that we pay attention to what Jesus is saying to all people, in Scripture, and in our lives today. It’s important to not assume WE are the ones who see, and all others are blind. It comes down, of course, to how we see people. We see the good in some people, and we are blind to the good in others. We see the God in some people and we are blind to the God in others.
Please pray with me. Gracious God, you give us eyes to see, but sometimes we are blind. Help us to see what you would have us see. Amen