Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
Faith is so hard to talk about. It is easier to talk about lack of sight. But if we talk about lack of faith our words sound hollow. More than once we clergy must do a funeral for someone with little or no faith. Often that lack of faith screams out to us, but we would never say it to anyone. We are forced to talk not about faith but about those things that person valued. We are forced to talk about the physical world, or the books they loved, or the organizations they help or the family they loved. Those things are so easy to talk about. But talking about faith is very hard. Bartimaeus had faith and to Jesus everything including giving him back his sight was just an afterthought. Jesus like us knew that faith is the hardest thing to have.
I keep getting the question from one of my best friends, “Is there really a God.” So, one night after many years of this question, which normally meant that he wanted to argue that there was No God, I decided to deal with something very close to his heart, that reason and reason alone can make the world a better place. I quietly pointed out the work by Immanuel Kant, “The Critique of Pure Reason” is all about the limits of reason. Reason Kant points out is more about how our own mind works. It is a poor tool to find God. So, I was quickly told I did not believe in reason, to which I replied faith is a very hard thing, when it comes to reason my faith is limited. When it comes to faith in God I have been given the gift of faith of knowing that God is always with me. The argument stopped and has never come up again. Faith is hard for some and easy for others.
We can argue that Bartimaeus was a genius when it came to faith. He was not only a genius at faith, he was also persistent in his faith. As Kant was certainly a genius at philosophy we can equally say that Bartimaeus was a genius a faith.
Reason has real power in our world. You only need to look at the power of modern-day computer code to see the power of what Kant called “synthetic a priori knowledge.” Reason has real power we depend upon. Faith as well has real power and speaking for many Christians we depend upon it daily.
Bartimaeus sits by the side of the road. He is told to be silent, but he cries out more. He is passed by multitude follows Jesus. Imagine the isolation. Imagine what it is like to be blind but to hope to see. From deep within his darkness, a piercing light causes hope. From that hope he calls out.
Jesus' drama is precisely the opposite of Bartimaeus' stability. Jesus is in motion; he has gone to Jericho and now he is leaving Jericho with the same crowd in tow that brought him there. Jesus is in motion and crowded; Bartimaeus is not moving and alone. The contrast is quite awful in certain ways. Jesus steps out of himself into Bartimaeus, as the story develops.
Bartimaeus hears that he is near Jesus of Nazareth. He suddenly knows that Jesus may be able to help him. That word "vicinity" says it all. Bartimaeus had to hear that Jesus was near and feel that Jesus was near. He had to rely on the faith as opposed to the fullness of sight and sound. He bets on that much evidence. Then the crowd rebukes him for his faith! They tell him to be silent. What kept him going but faith? He was already up against dozens of obstacles….and now he is told to be quiet. Twice he repeats his plea to Jesus that he as Son of David will have mercy on him.
Finally, Jesus stops. He steps out of the crowd and its motion and its selfishness. He tells the crowd to call Bartimaeus to him. They do, even though they did not want to. When the crowd called the blind man, Jesus healed him. The crowd becomes compassionate at Jesus' invitation to the blind man. They tell him to take heart, that he has been noticed. They tell Bartimaeus to rise and come forward.
Surely the most moving point of this passage is when the seated, immobile darkened man stands up in hope and faith, at the invitation of the crowd and of Jesus. He accomplishes a huge act of courage.
His trial is not over though even though he is on his feet. Jesus interrogates him, wanting to know what he wants. What else could he want but his sight? Clearly, to Jesus, there were many things he could have wanted. His handicap was not his whole being, as Jesus saw him.
When the blind man says directly to Jesus, "Master, let me receive my sight, " Jesus says to him; in his typical modest miracle style, "Go your way, your faith has made you well." The sight was an afterthought. Bartimaeus' faith has made him well.
Many see faith as a gift. There is great power in understanding it. What Bartimaeus had was not obtained by spending hours trying to get to God by constructing a logical path to God. Bartimaeus just knew that God, i.e. Jesus has something powerful and wonderful that would help his life. There is certainly power in reason, but even more power in faith. Reason can run a computer and Faith in God can create a universe.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
Just like Bartimaeus was told to keep quiet when he yelled out the name of Jesus, there's a man in Bedford, Pennsylvania, who is being told basically the same thing. The fellow is getting opposition to a neon sign that reads, "Jesus is Lord" that he has put in place in the window of a building he owns in the town's historic district. In fact, local authorities have threatened to jail him and fine him if he doesn't take the sign down. The sign is 3 ½ feet tall and almost 100 feet wide and announces the message with flashing red neon bulbs. The man, who paid $10,000 for the sign, stuck to his guns, believing that the rights of free speech and freedom of religion were the constitutional basis for what he was doing. Over a year ago the fellow had applied for permission from the town's historic review board to place the sign. But his application was denied because of the size of the sign and the use of neon. Earlier this year, however, he learned that no permit was required for signs placed in windows, so he went ahead and had the sign made and installed. He commented, "There's nothing wrong with putting beer signs on the windows, so what's wrong with this?"
The story of Bartimaeus ends with the healed man traveling on the road to where Jesus is headed next. Ideally the church should always be "on the road" like that. But the reality is that most churches are tied to their brick-and-mortar buildings as the locus for their ministry, a phenomenon that some refer to as the church's "edifice complex." A designer in England, however, wants to enable churches to be able to hit the road when they need to. Toward that end, Michael Gill has invented an inflatable church. When fully filled with air, the structure stands 47 feet high at the top of the steeple and comes complete with an inflatable pulpit, an inflatable communion table, and even inflatable stained-glass windows. The idea is that since many people don't come to church anymore, this is the church's way to go to where the people are. The inflatable church fits in the back of a pickup truck, making it easily portable to wherever there is crowd gathered. Gill has even written to the pope to see if he would be interested in purchasing one.
At first Bartimaeus must have wondered what it was going to take to get Jesus' attention. A fellow down in Punta Gorda, Florida, had a somewhat similar dilemma. His concern, though, was how to get the attention of women. Apparently, the man was rather short and dumpy, and try as he might, he just couldn't get women to notice him. So he came up with an idea that really worked for him. He walked around town, and when he got near a female that he thought was attractive, he would pretend to start choking. He would cough and sputter and flail his arms around. Then, when the woman would come over to help him, he would suddenly get better and start hugging and kissing her to thank her for saving his life. The local sheriff's office received several calls about the man, but as far as the sheriff could tell, the fellow wasn't breaking any laws.
A variation of Bartimaeus' cry to Jesus is at the heart of the Hesychastic tradition, an Eastern Orthodox approach to prayer. Traditionally an Orthodox monk engaging in Hesychastic prayer would sit in a corner of his cell and bend forward until his forehead almost touched his navel. The symbolism was that the navel was considered to represent the "heart" of the person, from where earnest prayers ideally should flow, rather than simply from the mind. The Prayer of the Heart, or the Jesus Prayer, involved the constant repeating of the words "Lord, Son of God, have mercy upon us." The monk would speak those words in rhythm to his breathing, with the words eventually becoming as natural as the act of breathing itself.
During the period of the Great Awakening that swept through the American colonies in the eighteenth century, the gift of healing and good health was usually present as well. Jonathan Edwards noticed that when the Awakening was visibly present in his community, the number of sick church members dramatically declined. Instead of being asked to pray for several ill church members as was usually the case each Sunday, during the Great Awakening in New England, he observed that there was a period of months that went by without any case of sickness being brought to his attention.
Sometimes we associate the gift of healing only with extreme forms of affliction, such as leprosy or blindness. But God's healing is equally sought by those who suffer from less exotic forms of illness. Although the common cold is not considered to be much of a disease, as far as diseases are concerned, colds do wreak havoc with individuals and with the nation as a whole. It is estimated that each year in the United States the common cold costs Americans about $40 billion. That amount includes $7.7 billion for visits to doctors' offices, $2.9 billion for over-the-counter medications, and $8 billion in lost work days.
Many people surely must have written Bartimaeus off. Assuming that he was a blind beggar and that he would always be a blind beggar, most people in Jericho probably figured that Bartimaeus didn't have much of a future. In like manner, the great English essayist G. K. Chesterton didn't get off to a great intellectual start. Many people probably wrote him off in his younger days because he didn't even start reading until he was ten. His parents were so troubled by his slow development that they sent him to a brain specialist. But eventually he went on to become one of the most prolific and brilliant English writers.
Before he was healed, it was quite possible that Bartimaeus never considered the possibility that he would be drafted to follow Jesus. A British man was likewise surprised when he was drafted. The 80-year-old retiree received a notice from the Ministry of Defense informing him that he was being called to duty to fight in Iraq. The man, of course, was startled to read the letter, since the last time he had been in uniform was in 1942 when he took part in battle of El Alamein in Egypt during World War II. A government official later admitted that the draft notice was due to an administrative error.
According to the American Foundation for the Blind, there are about 10 million blind or visually impaired people in the United States. Of those people, approximately 1.3 million are considered to be legally blind. There are around 5.5 million blind senior citizens, and nearly 94,000 visually impaired or blind children, with about 10,000 of them being also deaf. Just over 7,000 Americans use guide dogs. Somewhere around 5500 legally blind children use braille as their primary method of reading. About 46% of visually impaired adult Americans are employed. Around 32% of those who are legally blind have jobs. Only about 45% of those with severe visual impairment or blindness complete high school, compared to 80% of those who are fully sighted.
Helen Adams Keller was born physically whole and healthy in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880. At the age of 18 months, she was struck by what was diagnosed as brain fever, which left her deaf and blind. Possibly the affliction was scarlet fever. The general belief at the time was that the affliction left the child mentally deranged. As Helen grew into childhood as a rather wild and unruly young person, that impression seemed to be reinforced. In 1887, just before Helen's seventh birthday, Anne Mansfield Sullivan came to town to be her teacher. Sullivan was a 20-year-old graduate of the Perkins School for the Blind, having regained the use of her eyes through a series of operations. From that day, the teacher and pupil were inseparable until Sullivan died in 1936. Sullivan began by placing a doll in Helen's hands and spelling out the word "doll" in her hands. Helen seemed to quickly learn the various letters, but it did not appear that she understood that those letters formed words which corresponded to various objects.
Finally, one day when Sullivan had taken Helen out to the water pump and was running cool water over her hands and spelling the word "water" for her, the light suddenly came on. Immediately Helen knelt down and touched the ground and demanded to know what the word for that was. By the end of that day she had learned thirty words. In1898 Helen entered the Cambridge School for Young Ladies to prepare her for eventual admission to Radcliffe College. She enrolled in Radcliffe two years later and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude in 1904. Throughout that entire time, Anne Sullivan was at Helen's side, spelling book after book and lecture after lecture into Helen's hand. Later, because of her wide knowledge and scholarly achievements, Helen went on to receive honorary doctorates from such schools as Temple University, Harvard University, and the University of Glasgow. As the years went by, Helen became a rather prolific writer, publishing books such as The Story of My Life, The World I Live In, and Let Us Have Faith. Helen Keller died on June 1, 1968, a few weeks before her 88th birthday. She was cremated, and her ashes were placed next to her teacher's in the St. Joseph's Chapel of the Washington Cathedral. At her funeral service, Senator Lister Hill from her home state of Alabama remarked, "She will live on, one of the few, the immortal names not born to die. Her spirit will endure as long as man can read, and stories can be told of the woman who showed the world there are no boundaries to courage and faith."
"There's none so blind as those who will not see." (Matthew Henry)
"He who hates not in himself his self-love and that instinct which leads him to make himself a God, is indeed blind." (Blaise Pascal)
"A blind man's world is bounded by the limits of his touch; an ignorant man's world by the limits of his knowledge; a great man's world by the limits of his vision." (E. Paul Hovey)
"If you wish to be disappointed, look to others. If you wish to be downhearted, look to yourself. If you wish to be encouraged, look upon Jesus Christ." (Erich Sauer)
"We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world." (Helen Adams Keller)
"To be blind is bad, but worse is to have eyes and not to see." (Helen Adams Keller)
"If cures were to be found for every illness ever known, it would make no essential difference. We should be sick, mad and blind as long as we allowed ourselves to be wholly preoccupied with the hopes and desires of this world." (Malcolm Muggeridge)
Listening in on the Minneapolis conversation about the so-called political eulogy given at Paul Wellstone's funeral is an experience in learning to see. Many believe that Walter Mondale, Wellstone's successor after the October, 2002 plane crash in which he and his wife and daughter died, lost the election Wellstone might have won because of Rick Kahn's eulogy. It was said to be "political."
Many of us can't see the difference between the political and the moral, the political and the passionate, the political and the personal. Some members of my own congregation are mad at me because my sermons are too "political." They aren't. State income taxes are a question of morality and justice as much as a question of party platforms; I have a right to preach about them as well as about the decriminalization of adolescence, the absolute necessity of universal health care, the need for Floridians to reduce class size, effect mass transportation, and provide universal kindergarten, just to get started. These issues are five times moral, one time political. I have convinced some of my members of this fact, based on the complimentary fact that the Bible is 80% about social and economic issues, what "all flesh sees together."
When people members say they feel "put down" or "compelled" or "judged" to have the same opinion as I, they are more than right. They are downright eloquent. They speak from the place beyond the facts. They tell me there is no space for grace _ and that breaks my heart. Many preachers get in trouble for being too political! We can enter the blindness of I'm right and you're wrong or we can dig deeper, with Jesus and find our way forward.
When people claim that Kahn had his heartfelt speech vetted by campaign politicians, they claim less that he should speak passionately about organizing and more that he was a phony, speaking from his bullet points rather than his heart. Kahn claims he was speaking from his heart _ and why would he not be? As a eulogist at his own best friend's funeral, the funeral of a politician, what if he didn't talk about politics? Would a teacher not talk about education or a doctor not talk about medicine at a co-workers' funeral? I think of an artist not mentioning the deceased's paintings as more than a little rudely disconnected. Thus the déjà vu all over again: something is bothering people about what Kahn did and said. It's not his politics. It is the fear that something manipulative, like campaign bullet points, had entered sacred space.
This manipulated space is a space of blindness. Bartimaeus would know it well. We sit by the side of the road. People walk by. Nobody listens, and nobody cares.
Listen to this argument make its rounds. Hillary and Bill Clinton don't have a real marriage; they have a political arrangement. That means the public feels manipulated by the appearance of marriage and the reality of arrangement. Or listen to the new book about churches, The Unauthorized Guide To Choosing A Church by Carmen Berry, a review which appeared in US News And World Report. "Never go to a church that is politicks from the pulpit." Ah. That would mean that the voting cards that many evangelical and fundamentalist churches give their members to take into the voting booth are signs that people shouldn't attend these churches _ but in fact people are flocking in droves to such churches that connect spiritual and political agendas. To remove politics from the pulpit would silence most of the Roman Catholic Churches, who passionately give out the phone numbers of politicians from their pulpits to stop abortion rights. Many Protestant denominations would find their entire tradition of social action undermined by such a thought.
A very powerful preacher said that he was changing his preaching style. He was going to preach "Bullet Points" instead of thematic or topical sermons. I need to tell him to watch out. I need to tell him that Americans don't like to be manipulated, whether by the right or left or middle, from the pulpit or by their presidents. Instead Americans like to see and connect to each other _ and that involves healing from our blindness and blind sidedness.
What if we were to change the language? Instead of saying that Kahn couldn't speak about politics at his best friend's funeral, what if we were to say that for some people politics is close to the heart. Not all politics is manipulation all the time. What if we were to say yes to politics and no to manipulation? Politics is the democratic work of the people. Manipulation is a form of advertising: we get sold a bill of goods and often find the bill for the goods way too high. It costs in the coin of thinking. It costs in the coin of passion. It costs in the coin of relationship. We always fear someone is conning (from the confidence man's trick) rather than talking to us.
Politics is our right to differ. It is also our right to think. It is our right to love justice and liberty, passionately. It needs to be guarded, not manipulated. When we manipulate each other and convince each other that we are right, we are the blind leading the blind. When we talk to each other about what we love and what matters to us, without the intent to control or convince, healing happens. We become people able to see our God and each other.
Visions differ, and artists see differently from the rest of us. Modesty was never a problem for James Abbott McNeill Whister (1834-1903). It is said that one evening he was watching a sunset with some friends, when one commented "How beautiful!" "I would have done it differently," commented Whistler.
Some have noted that Mark is interested not just in blind Bartimaeus's physical healing, but that his following Jesus "on the way" is intended as a contrast to the rich young ruler who did not follow the Master. Ched Myers in Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Marl's Story of Jesus (pp.281-282) sees Mark comparing the beggar's physical blindness to the spiritual blindness of the disciples. Two of them ask for power, whereas Bartimaus seeks merely the restoration of his sight. This use of blindness in a spiritual sense is well handled in the film The Year of Living Dangerously. The "blind man" is Guy Hamilton, an Australian radio reporter a newly arrived in Jakarta, intent on making a name for himself by scoring a major scoop. The dwarf Billy Kwan who senses in the Australian a potential friend and keen observer befriends him. Appropriately Billy is a photographer constantly taking pictures of the poor people of the city. Guy looks at his pictures, and when Billy tells him that the real story is not in the presidential palace but among the poor who clamor for food, Guy replies that no one is interested. Show them anyway, Billy tells him. Slowly, as Billy helps Guy make connections with important people, the little man who has become his friend, as well as his guide and journalistic assistant influences Guy. Guy's eyes are opened so that he begins to file reports decrying the poverty and oppression of the people. There will be backsliding, and toward the end of the film, Guy experiences a temporary physical blindness, but because Billy Kwan has become a Christ figure for Guy, leading him from blind indifference to the Australian gains a new sight that will impact the rest of his life.
Kant’s primary aim is to determine the limits and scope of pure reason. That is, he wants to know what reason alone can determine without the help of the senses or any other faculties. Metaphysicians make grand claims about the nature of reality based on pure reason alone, but these claims often conflict with one another. Furthermore, Kant is prompted by Hume’s skepticism to doubt the very possibility of metaphysics.
Kant draws two important distinctions: between a priori and a posteriori knowledge and between analytic and synthetic judgments. A posteriori knowledge is the particular knowledge we gain from experience, and a priori knowledge is the necessary and universal knowledge we have independent of experience, such as our knowledge of mathematics. In an analytic judgment, the concept in the predicate is contained in the concept in the subject, as, for instance, in the judgment, “a bachelor is an unmarried man.” (In this context, predicate refers to whatever is being said about the subject of the sentence—for instance, “is an unmarried man.”) In a synthetic judgment, the predicate concept contains information not contained in the subject concept, and so a synthetic judgment is informative rather than just definitional. Typically, we associate a posteriori knowledge with synthetic judgments and a priori knowledge with analytic judgments. For instance, the judgment “all swans are white” is synthetic because whiteness is not a part of the concept of “swan” (a black swan would still be a swan even though it isn’t white), but it is also a posteriori because we can only find out if all swans are white from experience.
Kant achieves what he calls a Copernican revolution in philosophy by turning the focus of philosophy from metaphysical speculation about the nature of reality to a critical examination of the nature of the thinking and perceiving mind. In effect, Kant tells us that reality is a joint creation of external reality and the human mind and that it is only regarding the latter that we can acquire any certain knowledge. Kant challenges the assumption that the mind is a blank slate or a neutral receptor of stimuli from the surrounding world. The mind does not simply receive information, according to Kant; it also gives that information shape. Knowledge, then, is not something that exists in the outside world and is then poured into an open mind like milk into a cup. Rather, knowledge is something created by the mind by filtering sensations through our various mental faculties. Because these faculties determine the shape that all knowledge takes, we can only grasp what knowledge, and hence truth, is in its most general form if we grasp how these faculties inform our experience.
Kant differs from his rationalist predecessors by claiming that pure reason can discern the form, but not the content, of reality. Rationalists, such as Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, speculated about the nature of time, space, causation, God, and the universe, and they believed at least on some level that they could come up with relatively confident answers through the exercise of pure reason. Kant, who was educated in this tradition, argues that his predecessors have not given any clear grounding for their metaphysical speculation, but that is because they assume that time, space, causation, and the like are the content of an external reality that the mind must reach out and grasp. Kant turns this assumption on its head, suggesting that time, space, and causation are not found in experience but are instead the form the mind gives to experience. We can grasp the nature of time, space, and causation not because pure reason has some insight into the nature of reality but because pure reason has some insight into the nature of our own mental faculties. (https://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/kant/section1/page/2/)
Kant argues that mathematics and the principles of science contain synthetic a priori knowledge. For example, “7 + 5 = 12” is a priori because it is a necessary and universal truth we know independent of experience, and it is synthetic because the concept of “12” is not contained in the concept of “7 + 5.” Kant argues that the same is true for scientific principles such as, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”: because it is universally applicable, it must be a priori knowledge, since a posteriori knowledge only tells us about experiences. (https://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/kant/section1/page/2/)
Kant differs from its predecessors by claiming that rationalists’ pure reason can discern the shape, but not the content of reality. Rationalists such as Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz have speculated about the nature of time, space, causality, God, thinking that pure reason was entitled to find satisfactory answers to these objects. (https://www.the-philosophy.com/kant-critique-pure-reason-summary)
Reason is limited because our mind is limited. These limitations have on many occasions been called “the problem of the green spectacles.” We think that we can clearly see the world not realizing all the time that we wear green spectacles and we see the world as green. The limits of our mind and the limits of our perception which is true of all human beings limits our ability to understand the world in which we live. That was Kant’s basic point. Faith gives us the limited ability to see not only a world of green but sometimes we glimpse the world of blue as well.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Give thanks to God at all times! Let praises to God be continually on our lips!
People: Let us worship the Lord and let us lift up the name of our God!
Leader: When we seek the Lord, God answers us, and delivers us from all that causes us to be afraid.
People: Many are the afflictions of those who are faithful to God. But the Lord saves God's servants. No one who takes refuge in God will ever be lost.
God of healing, we know the troubles that we face. But often, instead of giving voice to our pain, we suffer in silence. We keep quiet for fear that no one wants to hear about our cares. We say nothing for fear that there is nothing that can be done to help us. We speak no words for fear that perhaps even You do not care. Forgive our lack of faith that causes us to lose heart. Encourage us to call out to You, so that we may receive mercy, healing, and hope. In the name of our Savior we pray. Amen.
O God our Sustainer, You form light out of darkness. You bring hope out of despair. You create life out of death. Take these gifts and work wonders through them. Be present through them in miraculous ways to those in need. In the name of Jesus, the Son of God, we pray. Amen.
O God our Redeemer open our eyes to behold the wonders of Your power. All too often we focus on the limitations that we have. We concentrate on what we aren't able to do. And so we tend to excuse ourselves from serving You, because we assume that there is not much that we can accomplish on Your behalf. Therefore, remove the darkness that keeps us from seeing the brightness of Your glory. Grant us a vision of the life that You have in mind for each of us, so that we may step forward in the direction that You are leading us.
Even now, we lift up our voices to You, and we pray for Your healing touch in our lives and in the lives of those for whom we care. Remove the obstacles that have long stood in our way. Give us the boldness to leap to our feet and to begin following You in some new way, in some way that we never would have imagined to be possible. By the amazing power of Your grace, form us into faithful disciples, so that all the world may clearly witness that You are the foundation of our lives. In the name of Christ Jesus we pray. Amen.