Monthly Archives: October 2015

Blind Faith

 

Text: Mark 10:46-52          

        I’m sure you’ve seen the ad on TV where the elderly lady has fallen and is yelling “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”   It is an advertisement for a Life Line button and support system.   Many people laugh at the ad—-and it is a little over-acted—-but if you have been in that position you would not find it laughable.  

            The word “help” is one of the hardest words for Americans to voice. Most people would rather crawl out into the street than call for help.   There are many reasons for this.  

We were never taught how to ask for help and have few role models to follow.

We love our independence and the “American Way” is to be a “rugged individualist”, taking care of our own problems.

We are afraid to ask as we’d rather die than have people think we can’t take care of ourselves.

We are afraid that we will “bother” people with our requests.   I have been told many times by parishioners that “I didn’t want to bother you with my problem, as I know you are very busy.”   To which I always respond by saying—-if I’m ever too busy to stop and share people’s problems, then I should get out of the ministry!

Blind Bartimeaus had no such qualms about asking for help, and his story teaches us a lesson about asking for help and the meaning of faith and trust.   The greatest lesson he teaches us is that God’s healing should lead to discipleship.  

 

Have you ever been completely unable to see?   Although I haven’t experienced it, it must be terrifying. To not be able to see is to be completely vulnerable.   To not be able to see means you have to trust others to help you and to look out for you.   In one of my courses in Counseling Psychology, one of the exercises we did to experience the need for trust was a trust exercise where a person stood behind us and we closed our eyes and fell backward.   It required trust of the one who would catch you for otherwise you would end up with a very large bump on the back of your head.   Another exercise asked us to blindfold ourselves and let someone lead us through an unknown territory.   We were completely dependent on the person leading us to keep us from stumbling and falling over various obstacles in our path.   It gave me a glimpse of what blindness would be like.

            Blind people have much to teach us about trust and faith—-and the blind beggar Bartimeaeus teaches us about faith and trust through his story that we read in the Gospel of Mark today.

            Bartimaeus was a blind beggar.   He had no choice of what to do, as begging was the only way to provide for himself.   He was sitting by the roadside as the crowd of Jesus and his discipes approached as they made their way out of Jericho going up to Jerusalem.   When he heard that Jesus was about to pass by, without hesitation and without any sense of embarassment, Bartimaeus began to shout:   “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”   The crowd around him may have thought that he was making a scene and tried to silence him,, but he continued to shout until Jesus asked that he be brought to him.   Bartimaeus was blind and the only way he could hope for a productive life was to regain his sight.   He knew his need, but notice that he didn’t lead with his need for sight, but rather his need to be seen by Jesus.  

            He shouted “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner” and not “have mercy on me a blind man.” Bartimaeus seemed to understand that his vision was not only clouded but that he needed spiritual healing as well.   He opened himself to the possibility that his healing might be physical or spiritual, with an outside chance that it might be both.  

            One of the first things I learned in counseling psychology was that people have a “presenting problem” and an underlying “real problem.”   Bartimaeus seemed to realize that while his “presenting problem” was blindness; his “real problem” might be more than physical blindness.   He cried “have mercy on me, a sinner!” He realized that Jesus could do something about the things that bind him, as well as blind him.

            And Jesus responded by asking him:   “What do you want me to do for you.”?   And Bartimaeus responded by saying: “My teacher, let me see again.”   (not “heal my blindness”) and Jesus responded: “Go, your faith has made you well.”   (The Greek word for “healing” can also be translated “saving”).   God’s healing saves us. And immediately his sight was restored and he followed Jesus as a disciple on the Way to Jerusalem in grateful response.   He had more than his eyesight restored—-he was saved by the contact with Jesus.   God healed him through Jesus both physically and spiritually.  

And this is where we have a problem today.   I fear that too many Christians are “healed” and then just go on the way and not on The Way of Jesus in discipleship. Once we have been healed we go the way that so many people in Jesus day went—on their own way, not on the way of discipleship. Think of all the people Jesus healed—-the leper in Galilee, the roof-destroying friends of the paralytic; the man with a withered hand, the Gerasene demoniac, the 7 lepers ( only one of whom returned to thank Jesus); and so on and on.   They were healed and went their way and never are heard of again in scripture.   Blind Bartimaeus was different—-he followed Jesus as a disciple on the way to Jerusalem and death and resurrection.

       And this is the problem that we have in our modern times.     The church as the body of Christ on earth has been turned into an “itch-scratcher”.    There is a church I read about with a large sign in front of it that illustrates my point.

     One week the advertisement was “Lonely?” then come to our church. The next week the sign said:   “Depressed?”   Come to our church.   “Anxious?”   Come to our church.   Every week a different malady.   Every week the promise that Jesus could fix it.

     This is what I call a “Where-does-it-itch” style of Christian ministry.  You tell us, the church, where you itch, what needs you have, the church exists to scratch where you itch.   An example of this is given by preacher William Willimon, recalling a conference he was at where the speaker, a well known television evangelist said:   “God wants to meet every one of your needs in life.   Whatever your heart desires, bring it to the Lord in prayer”.   He then illustrated this conviction of divine beneficence by telling of a woman of his acquaintance who, when she had been unable to find a part of her favorite red shoes, prayed to God and….there were her shoes, right under her bed!

     Our church here wants to grow—-and it is tempting to do as one church grown consultant wrote:   “Go out into your neighborhood and find out what people need.   Child care?   Elder care?   After school programs?   Then begin those programs.   Churches who meet needs grow.”    

     And many of our churches do this and wonder why the people whose needs they provided for don’t become a part of their church.   Jesus could have asked the same question—-all of the people who Jesus helped—-where were they?   They went on their way—many times without saying thank you to Jesus.  

What churches need to do is not just “scratch the itch” but to make disciples of those whose needs they are trying to meet.   What people in the world today need is not “fixing” but transformation as they relate to God and follow the way that Jesus walked.

                                                                                   

Persons who have been touched by Jesus healing and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus, cannot just be “takers” but also need to be “givers”.   If you have truly been touched by the salvation and healing of God and have a personal relationship with God through Jesus, you will do the same thing that Bartimaeus did—–you will follow on the Way.   Bartimaeus alone among the other hurting, oppressed, victimized, suffering, hungry ones, became a disciple.   He had the ability to see, even when he couldn’t see, what Jesus was really about.

 

The story of the healing and the response of Bartimaeus invites us to ask:   What do I want from Jesus?  We look at Jesus, and too many of us see him as a solution to all our problem, freedom from our aches and cares, a magic want waved over our lives to fix everything. Too many of our churches begin with the selfish invitation to let Jesus fix our needs and never follow through with the selfless invitation to love and serve God and our neighbor as ourselves.   Jesus makes a claim on our lives.   This is the same Jesus that said:   “He who would be first must be the servant of all.”   This is the Jesus who said:   “He who would save his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”   This is the Jesus who said:   “If anyone would be my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”   The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross.   It is the way of discipleship.

 

     The real questions here are: Is Jesus our Lord, or our errand boy?   Are we his faithful followers or only his pestering clients?     A better question to ask is:   What does Jesus want from us.   And the answer Bartimaeus gives us—-follow Jesus on The Way.  

     What is “The Way”?  

It is the way of discipleship.   It is calling us to a life of service.   It is the way that Jesus walked when he was on earth.  

     There is a great gap between meeting people’s needs and calling them to discipleship.   The churches that truly grow are the ones that invite people to discipleship—-to a transforming relationship with God through Christ.   Amen

                                                                             

 

 

           

 

Advertisements

Without a Vision, the People Perish!

Text:    Acts 16:6-15

Do you ever have the feeling you are going around in circles and getting nowhere?   Do you ever feel that our church is doing that?     It’s a frustrating feeling!   You feel like you are trying so hard—-you are doing so much work—-but you don’t seem to be achieving much or getting anywhere.

One of the key reasons for this happening is our not being able to see what our destination or goal is.   Without that destination of what God wants you to do in mind, we are not  able to focus on where we are going——and we keep going in circles.

Although I grew up on a farm until 5th grade, we then moved to Abilene.   My last two years of high school and first two of college I went to work for a farmer near Abilene who farmed 500 acres of wheat as well as other crops..   After the wheat harvest was over it was then time to do the plowing with a five bottom plow.   If my employer wanted the field plowed so all the furrows were in the same direction, I found very quickly that thr first thing I had to do was plow a straight first furrow.   The only way to do that was to find something directly across the field from me and fix my eye on that and head the tractor straight toward it.   If I took my eyes off the destination for even a moment I would have a crooked furrow .   I had to stay completely focused on my destination.  

Long ago, the writer of Proverbs said words that relate to this example.   He wrote:   “Without a vision, the people perish”, as translated in the KJV.   It was important for Israel to keep in focus their vision of being God’s chosen people to spread knowledge of God to the rest of the world.

It is just as important for a congregation today to have a vision that they can focus on to achieve.   If it is to be achieved successfully, it must be God’s Vision, not just the congregation’s. Do you know what this church’s vision is?   (Please don’t all answer at the same time in telling me)   Is it a common, shared vision.?   Is our church focused on it?

A VISION should answer these important questions:

WHAT is our congregation’s purpose for living?

WHY is our congregation here in this specific place?

WHAT specifically is God calling us to do as his church?

HOW is God using us, or wanting to use us to make a difference in our world—-right here—right now?

If we have no such shared vision for our congregation, we really have no reason to live. WITHOUT A VISION, THE CHURCH WILL PERISH EVENTUALLY!!

In today’s text, the Apostle Paul is having a vision problem.   He and his missionary group were going in circles and not getting anywhere it seems. Paul’s idea was to head into Asia but that idea was nixed by the Holy Spirit.   He then decided that they would go toward Bithynia but this decision was also disallowed by the Spirit of Jesus.   Paul and his companions appear to be on the verge of traveling in circles when he finally received a VISION in a dream that directed their mission to Macedonia—to the West and not towards the East and Asia.  In Paul’s vision he saw a man in Macedonia calling for their help and immediately they set out for Macedonia—following the vision sent to him by the Holy Spirit.   They arrived in Philippi and there with the help of Lydia establish one of the strongest churches on their missionary journeys.

Two important things must be noted here about Paul’s actions. First, he was aware of the Holy Spirit’s leadership of their journey and when the Holy Spirit blocked where he thought HE wanted to go—twice—-he followd the leadership of the Spirit of Christ.   Secondly, after first being blocked and then again, Paul didn’t sit down and pout when denied the door to Asia. He didn’t say—“I’m not going to do anything until the Holy Spirit tells me what to do. He didn’t just sit and bemoan the fact that Jesus didn’t want him to go to Bithynia but Paul kept moving—thinking that “if we can’t go that way we’ll try this way”—But he listened for the direction of God’s Spirit as to where to move!!!   That is what we must learn from this scripture passage.

We listen for God’s Spirit to move us through prayer..   I’m sure Paul was in prayer most of the time.   We must never undertake any journey in the name of Christ except through prayer.   That is how the guidance of the Holy Spirit will come.

The English philosopher/political economist, John Stuaret Mill was prepare for his profession by a stern Scottish father, James Mill—himself a recognized philosopher/economist/ historian.   His father observed his son’s early brilliance and determined that the boy should be educated exhaustively in literature and the arts, science, history and philosophy.   However, he declared that religious learning was unnecessary and distracting, so he kept his son away from any religious education.   Later, John Stuart Mill (the son) declared, as he looked back on his youth, that he realized the profound sense of lostness and longing that had pervaded his heart.   Although his mind was crammed with information, John Stuart Mill declared his soul was “starved.”   Without the directional guidance of a God personally known through prayer and faith Mill likened himself to a well equipped ship, but with no sail.

How many of us are “ships without a sail today”?   In our personal lives and in our churches we are often without direction and work aimlessly and futilely to reach a vague destination that we do not know because we are not prayerful in communication with God.   And if God does communicate with us and his breath fills our sails—-are we willing to listen and rechart the direction of our lives as the Spirit leads us?   Because when God’s Spirit fills our sails we will often be taken into scary, ucharted waters.

I am fascinated by the fact that Paul never sat back and waited for God to give hims instructions.   God almost always seems to have to interrupt Paul on a journey.

Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the people of the Way when the Light hit him.

He had it in  his mind in the text today to go to Asia when God said, “Whoa” !

Then Macedonia opened up. Lydia was out there looking for God, a God seeker, a God fearer, when Paul came upon her and other women praying by the riverside in Philippi;

This leads me to think that maybe we need to get up and start doing what we think is God’s will now and trust that he will tell us what to do while we are on the way.   Maybe God never gives us more directions and more information than we need and until we have started moving in one direction, there is no need for God to correct us and tell us to change directions.   Perhaps to hear the voice of God as clearly and as fully as Paul heard it we have to be heading in some direction so that God can correct our movements..   Perhaps God will not give us more light than is needed for each step..

Our church is seeking a permanent pastor-–one that will work with us to build the church and to be a shepherd and a pastor to God’s people here in Eureka at Christian & Congregational Church.   The Search Committee cannot just sit and wait for God to send the pastor we need.   They must develop, through prayer, a clear idea of what that pastor should be.They must work and examine and search for a pastor—-but most importantly they must be in constant communication with God for guidance toward the right person—-the one that God intends for this church.  They must listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.   They must be willing to change their minds and change their directions as the Spirit leads them—-just as Paul was willing to be lead by the Spirit.  

We say we want to be a church that attracts children.   We have formed a task force to do that.   That task force must meet and discuss—-and work toward that goal—-but they will only be successful if they listen to God’s Spirit and let the Spirit lead them in directions they may have not thought possible. We must be able, through prayer to see what God’s picture of that church to attract children will be.   It will not perhaps be the pictre that the Task Forces has in its mind—it must be God’s picture.   That is only discerned by constantly talking and listening for God’s guidance.

God has a reason for this church to exist.   God has a purpose, a dream for this church to fulill in Eureka.   We must be open to the vision that will open to us as God leads us forward.   But meanwhile we must be striving to prayerfully find the answers to those questions I gave in the early part of this sermon:

  • WHAT IS OUR CONGREGATIONS PURPOSE FOR LIVING?
  • WHY IS OUR CONGREGATION HERE IN THIS SPECIFIC PLACE?
  • WHAT SPECIFICALLY IS GOD CALLING US TO DO AS HIS CHURCH?
  • WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH OUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS TO ANSWER THAT CALL?
  • HOW IS GOD USING US, OR WANTING TO USE US TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR WORLD—RIGHT HERE—RIGHT NOW?
  • As we struggle to answer these questions we must be prayerfully open to God’s Spirit and let that Spirit guide us to the answers that fulfill God’s dream for our church.   Once we have seen the vision, then we will be able to focus on it as Paul did..   Amen.