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Happy Mothers’ Day…and celebrating what’s in the Bible!

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

ZeusStatueWe too often think of God as if HE, like Zeus reigning havoc from Mount Olympus, were an outrageously virile, sometimes malicious misogynist.  Woe on us ladies, who are hapless helpmates if not also victims…

Well, there’s lots of history and literature behind such an misconception, but it’s not in the Bible!   Okay, okay, let’s be honest — some of it is…. BUT there’s much to commend a more gentle and feminine image of God.  I’m preparing for tomorrow’s message for Mother’s Day, and I’ve gleaned the following from several sources:

In the Hebrew Bible, El Shaddai is one of the words for God, along with Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim, and others. Although usually translated “Almighty God,” it might better be translated as the “Many-breasted One” from the plural of the Hebrew word shad, meaning breast, rather than the ancient Semitic word shadu meaning mountain.

A. Examples of God referred to as a mother:

  • a woman in labor (Isa. 42:14) whose forceful breath is an image of divine power
  • a mother suckling her children (Num. 11:12)
  • a mother who does not forget the child she nurses (Isa. 49:14-15)
  • a mother who comforts her children (Isa. 66:12-13)
  • a mother who births and protects Israel (Isa. 46:3-4). In contrast to idol worshippers who carry their gods on cattle, God carries Israel in the womb. The message to the people is two-fold: it demonstrates God’s superiority over other gods, and reiterates the divine promise to support and redeem. In short, God’s maternal bond of compassion and maternal power to protect guarantee Israel’s salvation.
  • a mother who gave birth to the Israelites (Dt. 32:18)
  • a mother who calls, teaches, holds, heals and feeds her young (Hosea 11:1-4) 2. Other maternal references: Ps. 131:2; Job. 38:8, 29; Prov. 8:22-25; 1 Pet. 2:2-3, Acts 17:28.

B: Examples of God doing womanly activities:

  • God as a seamstress making clothes for Israel to wear (Neh. 9:21)
  • God as a midwife attending a birth (Ps. 22:9-10a, 71:6; Isa. 66:9)
  • God as a woman working leaven into bread (Luke 13:18-21)
  • God as a woman seeking a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10)

C: The Holy Spirit is often understood to be feminine:

  • “Ruach” in Hebrew is a feminine noun; “pneuma” in Greek is neuter
  • The Holy Spirit is often associated with women’s functions: the birthing process (John 3:5; cf. John 1:13, 1 John 4:7b, 5:1, 4, 18), consoling, comforting, emotional warmth, and inspiration.
  • Some ancient church traditions refer to the Holy Spirit in feminine terms (the Syriac church used the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit until ca. 400 C.E.; a 14th c. fresco depicting the Trinity at a church near Munich, Germany images the Holy Spirit as feminine).
  • Sophia is honored as a goddess of wisdom. In Orthodox Christianity, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), is an expression of understanding for the second person of the Holy Trinity, (as in the dedication of the church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul) as well as in the Old Testament, e.g., Proverbs 9:1.

So tomorrow, with the children, we will pray:  “Our Mother, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”

And I do believe that the Father-Mother God will rejoice!

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Jesus Believed in … WHAT???

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

This was my Easter sermon at The Park Church in Elmira, NY — the church of the early abolitionists, Thomas K. Beecher, and Sam and Annis Ford Eastman, and of people who understand the radical message of Christ’s all-welcoming love.

 

Taking a lesson from Howard Baker, eminent politician and ranking Republican on the panel investigating Richard Nixon – the question is: “What did he know and when did he know it?”

Nixon protested that he didn’t know about the Watergate break-in until a year after it happened. But when evidence surfaced that he was involved from the onset, it wasn’t long before he chose to resign rather than be impeached.  Now, it seems to me that if the question of what Nixon knew and when he knew is was a critical one for U.S. politics in the 20th century, the question of what Jesus knew and when he knew it has been a critical one for … let’s see … almost 2,000 years!

What Jesus knew and when he knew it might also clarify the bigger issue of what he believed in. Why would he allow himself to go to the cross with nary a protest? If we can determine what Jesus believed in it might help us determine what we should believe in.

Did he, for example, believe that he was the one and only true son of God?  Did he believe he would reign from heaven after death? Did he believe that 2 millennia after his death, one out of every three people would profess faith in – and often be willing to die for – the values he espoused?  In short, did he – nailed to that shameful and vicious cross – have any notion that his death would change the world for all time?

If he had an exalted sense of himself as the son of God and just a few breaths away from heavenly paradise, then, in a certain way, that trivializes the viciousness of Good Friday.  And if the horror of Good Friday is diminished, so also is the elation of Easter morning. If nothing much happened on Easter, what are we doing here?  Why are we baptizing Tristan James – why do we call ourselves Christians, and why do we make certain life decisions and not others?

Something did happen on Easter morning – something very big indeed.  But I don’t believe that it has a whole lot to do with Jesus’ bodily disappearance from the tomb. As important as that is, I question whether it is the true source of our faith.  Let’s consider the bigger picture.

Many people assume that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the singular act that defines our faith. For them, his disappearance from the tomb on Easter morning is incontrovertible proof that he was the Son of God.  Anyone who questions the physics behind the Easter miracle is, by definition, not a Christian.

Others say that Jesus’ body was removed by stealth or that his followers concocted the story.  Some scholars note that Jesus was not the first or the last person to be resuscitated after death – in fact, we have Biblical stories of Elijah and Elisha, to say nothing of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter. Later, his disciples reportedly raised some people from the dead.  There were also resurrection stories in Egyptian, Greek, and Assyrian cultures circulating at the time of Jesus. So the disappearance of Jesus’ body was not the single most important fact that gave birth to the most powerful religion in the world for all known time.

Equally problematic is the idea that Jesus was a willing sacrifice for our sins.  This idea – called substitutionary atonement – posits that Jesus was a ritual offering intended to appease God from wreaking greater havoc on the rest of us.  In dying a horrible death, some people argue, Jesus took on the sins of all so that we will have everlasting life in heaven with God, regardless of our sins on earth. But did Jesus believe that he was the scapegoat for our sins?  Did he believe God to be a sadist demanding such appeasement?  — I think not.

Then there’s the idea that Jesus thought himself the son of God, which would explain his willingness to go to the cross as proof of his divinity – sort of “I double dare you….”  But I don’t believe that, mostly because – with the exception of the gospel of John, which was written much later than the others and has a decidedly Platonist influence – Jesus never calls himself the “son of God,” but rather “son of Man.” He doesn’t call himself the Messiah either, except to urge his disciples not to refer to him by that name. This suggests that Jesus thought himself fully human, fully able to suffer, fully able to die as all mortals do. So did Jesus think himself the only son of God? – Well, that notion doesn’t work for me.

Another question is what Jesus thought about the “second coming” and the “kingdom of God.” Scholars argue mightily on the issue of whether Jesus expected to return to earth in his human body, so I don’t know what to say about that.  Fortunately, there’s more clarity about the “kingdom of God,” so often illustrated by Jesus in parables.  The kingdom of God might (or might not) mean a future paradise in some far-away heaven, but it certainly does mean a loving and just world in the here-and-now.  This understanding of a generous and God-loving society undergirds Jesus’ every act and statement.

So, if Jesus didn’t believe himself the son of God, and if he didn’t believe he was the scapegoat for the sins of all mankind, and if he didn’t believe that he would come back to earth and vanquish all of his foes, and if he didn’t believe in a kingdom of God as happening only in some fairytale time and place, then what did he believe?

Writing 600 years earlier during the Babylonian captivity – a time of cruelty and dislocation for the Hebrew people – the prophet Jeremiah gives us a clue.  He assures the Israelites that God has not forgotten them and will come again in the future to restore their hopes and dreams.

“At that time, says the Lord, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people…. I have loved with an everlasting love; I have stayed faithful.”

Like Jeremiah, Jesus believed in the goodness and faithfulness of God.  That’s the big one.  Jesus believed that God’s love trumps human fear and cruelty.

But was that enough?  Was that enough to give him courage to patiently endure a vicious and unjust death?  What did he believe that somehow got transferred to his followers to help them follow in his footsteps, often going to their own vicious and unjust deaths? What did he believe that changed the world for all time?

As I was struggling with these issues, I discovered a sermon by Annis Ford Eastman, one of few women ministers in the 19th century, and a revered preacher and pastor here at The Park Church.  She begins her message by considering Satan’s understanding of mankind, as expressed in the conversation between him and God in the Book of Job.  The devil’s doctrine is this: “All that a man hath will he give for his life.”  According to Satan, life – and the more comfortable the better – is man’s prize possession.

But Jesus proved the devil wrong.  People are not driven only by love of life.  It’s not all about living for me and mine. Jesus felt that if he could illustrate the kingdom of God to decent, ordinary people, they would strive to change themselves and society so to create equity and opportunity for all. He believed miracles happen whenever individuals become agents of divine love, transforming the world through generosity of heart, mind, and spirit.

Jesus believed that we want to connect with God and each other.  We are happiest when we are doing good – not for ourselves only – but for each other and for God.  He knew that, despite the fear and cowardice that gripped his followers on the day of his crucifixion, their experience of transformation in his presence had forever changed them.  It was only a question of time before they emerged from their dark caves of mortal fear to follow his lead in bringing the kingdom of God to this earth.

In short, Jesus believed that selfless love can never be crucified or buried, but will rise again and again throughout our lives, throughout the centuries, throughout the millennia, whenever people give of their own pride and their own needs – and yes, their own lives – to become witnesses for and agents of divine love.

Jesus believed in the resurrection of the dead precisely because he – and any and all of us who give our lives to God – never ever really die.  Connection with God cannot die.  Goodness cannot die.  Love cannot die.  Even when our physical bodies disappear into the ground, the love we have shared and the goodness we have birthed live on through the ages.  This is the power of Christianity.  This is the miracle of Easter.

So, in closing, what did Jesus believe?  What did he believe in so fervently that he could endure condemnation and crucifixion? What did he believe in so passionately that it would change the world for all time?

In a word, Jesus believed in God , most especially the transformative power of God’s all-embracing love.

and he believed in … us!

… and that has made all the difference. Hallelujah!

 

 

 

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Following the Freedom Star: Prayer for a New Decade

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Dear readers: I’m taking a little break from writing about the spirituality of animals to reflect on Epiphany, the day when the wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The following is excerpted from a sermon I gave many years ago. The last year — to say nothing of the last decade — has been challenging for many of us and I (for one) would like to start the new year with more faith than fear. So I share this message in hopes that it will feed you with courage on the remarkable journey we call life.

Follow the drinking gourd

For the old man is a-waitin’

For to carry you to freedom

Follow the drinking gourd.


Do you see it?  There, up in the sky?  Okay, you see the constellation that some folks call the Big Dipper, and is also called the Drinking Gourd?  Yes, the one that looks like a great big water ladle.  Well, look at the two sides of the cup that are opposite the handle.  Figure out the distance between the two stars and multiply it by seven.  Move your eyes that far distant, and you will see the North Star.  It’s also called Polaris.  But I call it the Freedom Star, because if you follow that star long enough – months or years, not weeks – then you’ll find your way north, and you’ll be free.

During the darkest days in the history of our country, when whites bought and sold blacks whom they could then treat worst than the vilest of farm animals, there were a few courageous souls who developed an elaborate system of secret hiding places and coded messages to help runaway slaves find their way north to freedom. The system including such things as markers in trees, special lights hung out at certain hours, and quilts of particular colors hung out to dry. People walked hundreds, even thousands of miles, hiding in swamps, caves, and barns by day, and following the North Star – the freedom star of the Drinking Gourd – by night. Called the Underground Railroad, this secret network helped somewhere between 60,000 – 100,000 slaves find their way to freedom. The verses of the drinking gourd song were elaborate codes devised by an itinerant white carpenter – this is the “old man” referred to in the song – who went from plantation to plantation, teaching the song to slaves from Alabama and Mississippi. It led them up along the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers to the northern states and Canada. Hounded by dogs and slave owners, the runaways and their accomplices faced torture and certain death if they were caught. But, as the prophet Isaiah wrote 2500 years earlier, “The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light.” Think stars, think freedom. Follow the drinking gourd.

The black slaves and their white supporters were not the first to follow a star to freedom. January 6 is the celebration of Epiphany, when the wise men from the Orient followed a star to Bethlehem. It comes to us as a nice, romantic little story, but it was much, much more than that. First, it was a time of terrible oppression. The period of Roman occupation in Palestine was different – but fully as gruesome – as the days of slavery before the Civil War. Taxes were upwards of 60-70%, and people lost their land to pay tribute to the Roman empire and the Jewish authorities who supported Caesar. Some people sold themselves and their children into slavery, because it was that or starvation. Five percent of the people owned 95% of the wealth, and the rest suffered, cruelly and unmercifully.

Second, “kings” is a misnomer. The three men who came to Bethlehem were probably astrologers from Persia or further east. Astrologers were the first astronomers, who were, in turn, the scholars and scientists of the ancient world. The term “magi” meant someone of exceptional wisdom and knowledge, someone who could envision a world of goodness, kindness, justice, and freedom. In presenting Jesus with gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the Magi were acknowledging Jesus’ kingship, his priesthood, and his humanity, that is, honoring the fact that the powerful king and priest is also human and vulnerable – just like us. In recognizing the love of God embodied in this tiny child, these wisest of all wise men could see a way out of the oppression and injustice of the Roman empire. Think stars, think freedom.

Epiphany is a Greek word that means to “shine upon” or to “give light.” It is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term that Isaiah uses when he writes, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Epiphany means a dramatic uncovering or sudden awareness that changes one’s sense of reality. Suddenly you see what is happening and what is possible in a whole new light. It’s an “ah ha” moment, in which you blurt out, “Eureka – now I see it. Now I understand.” St. Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus was an epiphany. The slaves’ vision of freedom was an epiphany. The Magi’s recognition that a tiny infant could change the world was an epiphany.

I had a dramatic epiphany about fifteen years ago. My life had fallen apart – or so it seemed at the time – and I felt emotionally, financially, and spiritually destitute. One autumn weekend, I was camping with friends and we went walking late at night to watch shooting starts. Suddenly, some of the stars gently feathered their way to earth, making everything twinkle. The shrubs and trees and my friends and I had all been gently dabbed with fairy dust. I experienced a unity that I had never known before, in which there were no boundaries of time or place. Past, present, and future were one; here and there were one. The stars were friends and relatives who cared for me. The sparkles said, “You’re okay. You can do it. We’re here with you.” I felt hugged by God.

I told few people about it in fear that I would be labeled a religious nut case. Yet that autumn evening was the beginning of a transformation that eventually led me to seminary and ministry. The stars that came to earth and surrounded my friends and me were the most powerful gift I have ever received. I thought my vision was fairly rare me until I read a wonderful new book – Fingerprints of God by Barbara Bradley Haggerty, the NPR religion correspondent – and discovered that fully 50% of Americans have had a life-changing religious experience similar to mine. Think stars, think freedom. The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light. Follow the drinking gourd.

So what about you? What is your sudden new revelation on this Epiphany? Take a moment to consider those attachments that keep you from being fully free. Consider those fears that keep you bound in fetters. Is it anger? Is it jealousy? Is it loneliness? Is it an addiction that you would like to liberate yourself from? Is it a feeling of inadequacy – physical, psychological, financial, or other? – We are so attached to our emotions and material supports that they cloud our vision. We live in darkness, blind to the stars and to the Christ in our midst.

In your mind’s eye, feel the magi’s gifts coming to you. There is myrrh to recognize your humanity, incense to affirm you as an agent of God’s love, and gold to acknowledge your power. Feel also the stars that come and dance around you, kissing you with God’s comfort and affection. The gifts of courage, clarity, and vision are God’s gift to you. They are gifts of liberation from false attachments and false fears. Think stars, think freedom, follow the Drinking Gourd. On Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas, this is God’s most incredible gift to us.

Consider also the drinking gourds in your life. Certainly the communion cup is a reenactment of God’s greatest gift: to see ourselves, others, and the world in a new way – the way of liberation and of love. So also is a glass of water if we acknowledge it as the primary life force and also a means of baptism into a world ruled by hope instead of fear. Like the stars that point the way, these drinking gourds represent freedom from bondage, freedom from false attachments, freedom from fear. This is what the followers and supporters of the Underground Railroad saw. This is the Epiphany that the Magi saw – in the baby Jesus, we can find our freedom. Follow the freedom star. Follow the drinking gourd.

Follow the drinking gourd

Follow the drinking gourd

For the BABY is a-waitin’

For to carry you to freedom

Follow the drinking gourd.

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Spiritual Blindness

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

For various reasons that I will explain in a future blog, I have been tardy — well that’s an understatement — in posting blogs.  Although there will be a gap when I go to Nepal (to be explained in another future blog), I promise to post something almost every week.  So, here’s part of a sermon that I gave recently in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I hope you enjoy. The scripture I chose was Mark 10: 46?52, when Jesus meets the blind beggar Bartimaeus.

Good morning, and thank you for inviting me here to lead worship with you today. I was here for the General Synod a couple of months ago, and I’m delighted to be back in your wonderful city.

You’ve probably figured that our theme today is blindness – particularly the kind of blindness where we see only what we expect to see and thus miss what’s really important. At the risk of making a total fool of myself, I’m going to share a personal story. I have to tell you that is remarkable in its stupidity, and the only explanation I can possibly come up with is that I was pregnant at the time. Now, I’m not sure why that suffices as an excuse, but it’s the best I can do.

It happened in the springtime, right around Easter. A pair of mourning doves had made a nest just outside my kitchen window. There was a thin, gauzy half curtain such that I could watch the goings-on in the nest without their knowing. Once – just once – I found the nest unattended, with two tiny white eggs well nestled there. I found it auspicious, being in “the family way” myself, that these doves – these symbols of love and peace – had chosen my windowsill for their home.

It took me a few days to notice that the mother didn’t budge from her nest. All the while, the male sat watchful about twenty feet away, perched on the telephone while, cooing at her. At first, I was pleased, the mother incubating the future babies, the father alert and protective.

But then, something happened. Again, I can only excuse my subsequent behavior on my condition. But, as my due date approached, I also noticed that the female dove never left the nest. Hour after hour, there she was, blinking her eyes, nodding her head back and forth, but otherwise not a twitch. And I began to over-identify with her. There was the male, chirping at her from his perch of freedom, while she sat, devoted, attentive, and trapped in her motherhood. I kept waiting for him to bring her a worm or a seed or something. But no – just that constant harping.

My irritation grew. And then it began to fester. I am one of these lucky people who had a loving father and a good marriage, but suddenly every male in the universe became suspect. My husband, my father, my male colleagues at work, my dog – I began to eye them suspiciously. What selfishness lurked beneath the surface of the male species?

And, more importantly, what should I do for the poor dove? Should I take a small amount of bird feed and a bowl of water and put it on the sill close to the nest? My brain said that it was stupid to worry, and that one should not interfere with Mother Nature, but my heart was filled with empathy … and helplessness.

I asked my bird-loving friends what to do, and they were clueless. I researched it in bird books, but there was nothing on the proper care and feeding of an abandoned – well, not abandoned, but emotionally abused – mourning dove. Before invading her peace with the tender offerings of food and water, I – fortunately – called the Audubon Society’s help line.

An agreeable young woman answered the phone, and I explained my predicament. She was sympathetic as she acknowledged that this question had never come up before. She put me on hold while she went to ask one of the ornithologists.

When she got back on, she asked whether I was sitting down. When I said, “Yes,” she asked whether the male dove were still up there on the telephone wire cooing – that was her term, I called it yammering – at his mate.

When I said, “Yes, he is,” she said, with a slight chuckle, “Well, what you’re looking at is the female, not the male. It’s the father that’s sitting on the nest. They switch every twelve hours – she sits on the nest at night; he’s there during the day.

So there we have it – not only are doves the universal symbol of peace, but actual representatives of equality among the sexes!

(Well, I’m proud to say that I was humble enough to eat crow and apologize to all the men in my life.)

Now, you’re probably asking about the connection between my stupidity and our gospel lesson. Well, blindness – specifically spiritual blindness where we see the obvious and miss the truth – is a powerful theme in the Bible. Isaiah and the other prophets regularly scolded the Hebrew people for falling away: “Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!” Jesus also chastised the Pharisees by calling them blind fools.

And not just the Pharisees. This gospel story comes at the end of a long journey from Sidon, to Tyre, back through Galilee, to Judea, and now Jericho, the last stop before Jerusalem and the crucifixion. When the disciples fail to recognize the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus asks, “Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see?”

Just before this meeting with Bartimaeus, John and James are squabbling over which of them will sit closest to Jesus when Jesus comes into his glory. This naturally infuriates the other ten, who see the two brothers engaging in one-upsmanship. Throughout the whole long journey, Jesus has been trying – unsuccessfully – to explain what it means to be the Christ. He sees service; his followers see glory. You can feel his frustration. So, coming just after these arguments, the story about Bartimaeus adds an important new dimension to Jesus’ message.

Most of us struggle to find Christ in the people around us. We get distracted by looks, accents, style, externals. Not so with Bartimaeus. Blind though he was, he didn’t have any trouble recognizing Christ. In fact, he did a better job of recognizing Christ than everyone else in Mark’s gospel. The contrast between him and the disciples is laughable.

But there’s more – much more. Throughout the gospels, Jesus heals large crowds of blind, sick, and lame people. But none of them has a name. Except Bartimaeus. Of all of the poor and disabled people in all of the gospels, only this loud, in-your-face nuisance of a beggar, Bartimaeus, is given a name.

Why? — The name itself means “son of Timaeus,” so it is curious that he is referred to as “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.” It’s like saying, “Johnson, son of John,” or “Timaeus’ son, son of Timaeus.” What is going on?

There are several clues. First of all, Timaeus means honor. Secondly, the son of Timaeus — that is, the son of honor – refers to Jesus as the son of David – not once, but twice. Every Jew living in the time of Jesus knew that the Messiah – the king – would come from the house of David. But Bartimaeus is the only one in the entire gospel of Mark who honors Jesus in this way.

Third, he shouts. He is fearless. He knows something so important that he isn’t going to shut up, regardless of the consequences. There are a few episodes – but not many – in this gospel where people are loud. Mostly they are demons or nasty crowds.

Finally, Bartimaeus follows. This is the most significant clue. Blind Bartimaeus recognized Jesus for who he was, proclaimed it publicly, regained his sight, and became an apostle. That is so important, that I will repeat it. Unlike everyone else in Mark’s gospel, blind Bartimaeus recognized Jesus as the Messiah, announced it, and followed. That’s worthy enough – and unusual enough – to warrant a name.

In the children’s sermon this morning, I shared the story about The Little Prince. The fox is a special character, for he teaches the Little Prince how to tame – actually, how to love and to be responsible for – another living creature, whether it be a human being, a wild fox, or a thorny rose.

And then he shares his secret: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The Little Prince ponders that lesson and realizes that he needs to return to his home planet to care for his special rose. He then explains to the narrator: “The eyes are blind. One must look with the heart.”

So it was with Jesus and Bartimaeus. The disciples were vying for honor – James and John wanted to be honored above the other ten. Jesus chided them, urging them not to be like the Gentile rulers who lord it over everyone else. The entire chapter of Mark discusses true as opposed to false glory – which is not of status, but in service. And then suddenly the picture opens, and the son of honor is on the roadside, begging. He alone recognizes Jesus as the son of David, the true king, the person who serves and the one who should be honored.

Bartimaeus alone can “see” Jesus with the heart, since he cannot see with his eyes. Bartimaeus has spiritual vision and can see the essential things – to use the words of the fox and the Little Prince – that the others miss entirely.

What about us? How do we look at the world? Imagine that you are walking up a dusty path in Palestine – or, better yet, in the slums of Grand Rapids, or Chicago, or Detroit. You come across a blind beggar shouting from the edge of the sidewalk. The person is dirty, smelly, nasty. Can you see only the visual image, or can you also see that person with your spiritual eyes? Can you see the helplessness, the hurt, the despair, the emptiness? Can you also see the hope? Does that person have a name, or is he or she just an anonymous drain on society? Can you see the possibility inherent in this lost and downtrodden individual?

Jesus could. Jesus could see with the heart. Jesus could see the love within that troubled body.

Think also about what that person sees in you. Will you be seen as a “child of God” or just “a person of privilege”? What wonders lie deep within you that only those with spiritual vision can see? Is it a heart of gold or the dark void of anger, misplaced glory, and spiritual blindness?

Consider a family member, friend, or colleague who has been troubling you in some way. Can you see past the obvious? Can you see the pain – and the possibility – that lie deep within that person? Your eyes aren’t going to help you – only your heart will.

This, for me, is the true miracle of the story: it is not that Jesus was able to cure physical blindness – but rather, that both he and Bartimaeus could see the essential but invisible truths that we all miss when we are using only our eyes. The hero in this story is not just Jesus, but also Bartimaeus.

Earlier this morning, we sang a hymn asking God to “open our eyes, that we may see glimpses of truth thou hast for us.” In a moment, we’re going to sing another hymn  in which we pray, “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.” Let us ponder the words as we sing this wonderful tune. We are asking for God to direct our hearts and minds and eyes so that we can see God in all things and Christ in all people.

If you can learn to see in this way – at least part of the time – then you will discover that you, like Bartimaeus, are the stuff from which miracles are made.

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