Saturday, October 24, 2015

Blindness and Freedom

Mark 10: 46-52

Two thoughts are at play today. First, there is the thought of freedom – we are free to try and fail in Jesus’ name, because ultimately, there is no failure in Jesus, except failure to love. And, second, there is the thought of blindness, and having blinders removed from our eyes.
Let’s begin with a story. One day while Mike and I were in New Mexico, we visited the Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. We were fortunate to see the last dance of the day. Mike went to take pictures of the dancers and the drummers, and I sat down to wait for Mike.
Joe was stacking chairs near me. He told me my seat was safe, and I could stay as long as I wanted. I pointed to Mike, and shared that he was a transformed person with a camera in his hand. I said what Mike often says, “I don’t drink or drug or smoke. My addictions are books and photography.” I am used to waiting for him to get just the right shot.
Joe admitted that he’d been trying to quit smoking for years.  I encouraged him to keep trying. I added that my parents both died of lung disease because of smoking. His eyes widened, as if he had never heard about someone who died from smoking before.
As Mike joined us, Joe said he did wish he had a camera, and I said we would pray for him to quit smoking so he could develop a new addiction, to photography, in its place. I hope that our conversation opened his eyes, so he could see a different future, one free from cigarettes, but with a desire to grow his skills as a photographer.
We often call today’s Gospel story “Blind Bartimaeus” because that’s how the beggar in the story begins. “Bartimaeus” means he is the son of Timaeus. Perhaps his first name is Joseph, so his full name in English could be Joseph, son of Timaeus. 
Anyway, … we do not know why Bartimaeus is blind. We do know that Bartimaeus has no income because of his blindness, other than what he receives as a beggar. He cries out constantly, hoping for some coins to be tossed onto his cloak. “Help me, please. I am blind.” When he hears that Jesus is at the gate, he increases the volume and changes the script.  “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” He repeats this like a chant, over and over. People tell him to be quiet, but he gets even louder. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”
Finally, Jesus tells the people to bring Bartimaeus to him. “What do you want me to do for you?” “Let me see again,” Bartimaeus replies. “Your faith has made you well.” What did Bartimaeus do next? … He followed Jesus.
Very often in Mark and the other Gospels, blindness refers to more than the physical inability to see. It also refers to the spiritual inability to see. The Pharisees and scribes, and even the disciples are often blind to the meaning behind what Jesus is doing, right before their eyes. Jesus is reforming lives and faith and what it means to have a relationship with God, and they can’t see it.
We suffer from the same problem today. We can be blind to what Jesus is saying and doing among us. We tend to think that the way we have always done things is the right way, maybe even the only way, to do certain things. We are nearly as afraid as the Pharisees that making changes will not please God.
Four hundred ninety-eight years ago, a monk named Martin let go of his fear enough to find grace. He discovered that fear of sin and disobedience was keeping him from receiving the true gift of God’s love through Jesus. In objecting to the way the Church was blind to God’s grace, he freed himself to enjoy life and love God at the same time. In 95 statements, he proclaimed that God’s love cannot be earned through what we do. Nor can it be bought with cash donations. It can only be received if we open our hearts and minds and arms to let Jesus into our lives. It can only be received if we accept Jesus’ mercy and allow him to let us see again.
Jesus doesn’t want us to be afraid. There is no punishment in Jesus’ eyes for failure to try new ways of doing things, of worshiping, of praying, of helping people. We are free in Jesus Christ to love others, all others, as God has first loved us. We are free in Christ to be generous with what God has given us, which is everything that we have.
As a congregation, we have tried a lot of things in the seven years I have been here.
We have tried and liked or not liked new liturgies.
We have tried many ways to make it as easy as possible for newcomers as well as long-time Lutherans to follow the order of worship. We have gone from flipping pages in the hymnals, to booklets and inserts and hymnals, to TV projection of worship materials with the optional use of hymnals.
We have a somewhat simplified style of worship early on Sunday, and a new, different, worship opportunity on Saturday afternoon.
We fill more shoeboxes every year. This year, we made dresses and tie-died t-shirts to put in them. The quilters have disbanded and reformed. Quilts that used to go overseas are now being distributed to people in our community.
We discovered that we have enough money to repair the roof and buy a sign and upgrade the sound system and purchase the TVs.
Yet we have a challenge. We still don’t feel free to share our faith. We are afraid we’ll be laughed at or ridiculed. We are afraid we will insult or offend another person. We remain blind to the possibilities of sharing faith and discovering that the other person has been looking for someone to lead them to God’s love and forgiveness. We remain blind to the chance to offer mercy to someone crying out for a way to follow God.
Jesus says, we are free to try anything in his name. We are free to try new ways to worship, new ways to love and serve people, new ways to invite people to know Jesus loves them. We are free to let go of our fear and say, “Come with me and see how much he loves you.”
We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. This week, consider all of your freedoms, and remember you are free to share Christ’s freedom with someone else. Take off your blinders and see people who need Jesus in their lives. Invite them into the joy of following Jesus.

Please pray with me. Jesus, we thank you for the gift of life and freedom you have given to us. We praise you for all that you give us each day, and we ask that you take from us the fear that we are offending someone by sharing your mercy and love with them. Grant us the freedom to see clearly and love dearly each person we encounter. In your holy name. Amen