What’s in Our Mind’s Eye These Dark Days? – October 28, 2018

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Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
October 28, 2018

Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126

In the Name of God Creator, Christ the Healer and the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life. Amen.

There is a commercial for an eye doctor in Connecticut in which a patient talks about her fear of having cataract surgery. Facing this probability in the next year, I fully understand her concern. She goes on to say that the ophthalmologist looked at her and said, “I know that your eyes are the window to the soul and I will take very good care of them.”

The fear of our losing our sight is probably one of the worst we can face. I’m aware of a number of people in our community who have had some serious issues with their eyes and how scary and debilitating that can be. So this Gospel story should be something to which we can relate easily.

Let’s have a look at this episode in the travels of Jesus. This blind beggar named Bartimaeus is one of the few recipients of healing in the Gospels who are given names. It’s always striking when someone’s name is preserved for us. The vast majority of those Jesus healed are anonymous—in fact basically all of them are unnamed.

It’s a reminder that the people Jesus healed were all flesh-and-blood human beings, not mere symbols of this or that condition, illness or disease. The poor and impoverished and disadvantaged were people with feeling, with a family history, with people who loved them and took care of them, whether or not any of the family was present with them anymore. These are real people who bear the image of God.

As Jesus is leaving Jericho with his followers, Bartimaeus calls out: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ and persists even though the crowd tries to silence him. Jesus has them bring the man to him and asks what he wants; he asks to be able to see again. The beggar, on being called to Jesus, discards his cloak. Why is this significant? Because that cloak would have served as his only protection from the weather. It would also have been his “sleeping bag.”

Once he cast it aside, there was no guarantee that someone would not take it or that in his blindness he would not be able to retrieve it again. Bartimaeus made himself totally vulnerable to Jesus and to the crowd.

What is it like to be that vulnerable? I can only try to imagine it. You almost have to be blind to understand what Bartimaeus’ life was like. Yet to some degree we are all vulnerable, all exposed to the elements of life and what it brings our way. Some of us to illness or loss, some more vulnerable than others to ridicule, prejudice, and belittlement. We are all vulnerable at least some of the time.

I suspect that is one of the reasons we are here. I suspect that sometimes, in our helplessness, we want to cry out to God in Jesus, “Have mercy on me!” And I suspect that all of us have in some way known God’s mercy and compassion, God’s healing power and abundant grace just as did Bartimaeus. 

Even if we have 20/20 vision or have no major impairment to our sight, blindness is a metaphor for more than obstruction of sight. I think these words of Episcopal bishop Steven Charleston may hit home. He says, ”We have all been in dark places, that shadow land just next door to what we call reality, where clarity is lost and doubt swells, where we are uncertain what tomorrow will bring, if tomorrow will come at all. The dark places can appear slowly or suddenly, but either way they cover us in a fog of doubt, leaving us feeling alone.

“It is at this moment that faith becomes our compass, for it reminds us that darkness is only a detour, never a destination. These small corners are not the true landscapes of our life. They cannot contain the power of love. We have only to listen to our heart. Then the Spirit calls for us until we find our way, out of the dead-end of worry, and back to the broad and bright streets of hope.”

If the eyes are the window to the soul, they are as much our window to the world. How do we see what is going on around us these days? A news headline this morning reads: “A Hate filled week in America.” Bombs sent to several prominent citizens including a former president and vice-president, two middle school girls planning to kill their classmates, praise of body-slamming, and then the horror of the murder of eleven worshipers at the Teee of Life Temple in Pittsburg yesterday a day after the interment of ashes of a young gay man violently killed in Wyoming 20 years ago. Are we in the thick of dark places that shadow land just next door to what we call reality, where clarity is lost and doubt swells, where we are uncertain what tomorrow will bring?

How vulnerable does it make us feel? Does anyone not want to cry out to Jesus like Bartimaeus and beg him to help us find our way out of the dead-end of worry and back to the broad and bright streets of hope? To sweep out the debris and drive back the shadows?

Perhaps the kind of sight we need to have restored is not in our eyes but in our mind. Perhaps we need Jesus to help us understand that God is still in charge, that, in the end, God will prevail and in the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.

Michael Mayne, the former Dean of Westminster Abbey wrote in Sunrise of Wonder: “Part of being human is to experience moments of true perception about those things that touch you so intimately that suddenly you see. What you see (or read or hear) at such moments has a ring of truth about it, not just of a general kind but as something that takes on a dimension and depth for you so that it becomes your truth. It seems to be making a claim on you.

“Such moments don’t come often. Hold on to them. Cherish them until they become so much a part of you as to be second nature. For there is only one persistent demand made upon us by the Spirit. It is that we are receptive. That we keep our eyes open, our minds unclosed. It is, in short, that we retain all our lives our sense of wonder.”

The late Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Homes once said that “the mind and heart, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas and compassion, never return to their original state.”

What’s in our mind’s eye? I pray that God will open the eyes of the people of this nation to see the world as God sees it and to plant in our minds and hearts the love and compassion of the Creator. Until then, we may shout out with Bartimaeus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us! That we might see again.”


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