“I Want To See”
At this point, I would like to ask a favor of you. The mask you have in your bulletin, I ask you to put it on. Please leave it on for the duration of the sermon.
How does it feel to wear a mask in church? Funny? Silly? Outlandish? Cool? Stupid? Sacrilegious? We will get to the purpose of the exercise in a minute, or I would suggest, there are several reasons to put on this mask today. The most obvious one is that we wear invisible masks every day and don’t even realize it. We pretend we are people we are really not all the time. Sometimes this is good. For example, there’s a time and place we need to exude confidence to our children even when we are frightened. However, when we are lying to a date, a perspective client or an employer that is wrong.
We can get into a habit of misrepresenting ourselves even to ourselves, because we can’t bear what we see. A few extra pounds? Just water weight. We’re scared so we have to act all tough and macho in front of strangers or friends. We really angry about something but we pretend we’re not: “oh, it’s nothing, really.” We can’t bear how slim our portfolio is in front of our broker. We can’t bear that we don’t measure up to the norms passed down from mom and dad or siblings? Where do we fit in with our culture? The dictates of our religion? Who are we, really? We have become a blinded people who cannot see who we really are; children of a loving God, called to an abundant life, which includes service in God’s name. How did this get lost in all the mustdos, oughtos, betterdos, betterthans, the shamings of religion?
Now we could spend all afternoon exploring how we’ve become blind as a people-and the church’s complicity in that blindness. I would prefer us to look at our blindness and how it harms us: let us look at the blindness of Bartimaeus, the blindness of the crowd surrounding him, and the sinful blindness which led the Israelites into exiles to become the remnant- that Jeremiah proclaims God is bringing back to Zion, and life shall once again be like a watered garden.
Blindness was a common ailment in the Ancient Near East, with the hot sun and the gritty sand, along with the regular eye ailments. At the same time, blindness, along with other illnesses, such as leprosy, being crippled, deaf, having seizures, was seen as caused by sin. Blinding was also an offense for crime. Blind people could not function as priests, sing in the Temple, or participate in some trades even though capable. http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/files/lwcF_pdf_ETB_BIPlus_Past_Spring95.pdf’
However Jewish people were often reminded to treat the blind with compassion; Opening the eyes of the blind was seen as a special attribute of the messiah. So the people lived a tension: living the reality of blindness and experiencing spiritual blindness at the same time.
As Jesus is leaving Jericho beginning his final approach for Jerusalem, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, sitting at the roadside, discovers who is passing by and shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus is the only person in Mark’s gospel who uses the royal title, “Son of David,” implying that Jesus is King David’s rightful and true heir. Given that this is a messianic title, and it is the messiah’s role to bring “sight to the blind” according to the projects (Isaiah 42:7; 62:1; 35:5), why as they so reluctant for Jesus to help Bartimaeus? They sternly tell him to be quiet.
The word really means a rebuke, and most of the time has been used in those exchanges when Jesus has rebuked his disciples for bad theology or bad manners, when Jesus rebuked the strong winds sinking the boat, or when Peter rebuked Jesus for proclaiming a suffering Messiah. The crowd here seem to do the same – rebuking, stifling, ordering Bartimaeus to be silent out of fear what such bold messiah proclamations would signify. They are blinded to Jesus by their fear, that it overrides their ability to be compassionate. Instead of wanting to help they hinder a miracle. This does not stop Bartimaeus, on the contrary, he cries out even more loudly again: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
At this point Jesus does something he hasn’t done at any point in Mark’s gospel. He stands still. Imagine that. Jesus, our Jesus, is on the move constantly. Of course at some points in time he was still in prayer, in conversation, in healing. However this is the first time our Gospel text notes it. Bartimaeus has caught Jesus’ attention. Now Jesus has observed how the crowd has attempted to silence Bartimaeus, so instead of addressing Bartimaeus directly, Jesus has the crowd bring him over.
Bartimaeus doesn’t waste any time. He throws his cloak aside. This is significant. For a blind man, the cloak was his table to gather money. The cloak was his protection against the elements. It was his sleeping bag. Would he be so sure it would be there when he returned? If he returned? He was leaving his past behind, without even a guarantee. He was placing total trust and confidence in Jesus.
Now Jesus has a question for Bartimaeus. Like last week, when Jesus asked James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus’ responded simple and clear: “My teacher, let me see again.” Apparently he had vision once. Jesus reacts by telling Bartimaeus “Go, your faith has made you well.” Faith is codified believe in dogmas or doctrines; in the gospels, faith means a trusting relationship with Jesus. So our text say he regained his sight, but really it means, “he looked up,” he looked up” for once he looked up and saw the world as God intended, he saw himself as God created him to be, and look what the text says next… Bartimaeus “followed Jesus on the way.” He left the beggar behind and became a disciple. He sees himself into a new person. In the next chapter of Mark, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowds will also learn to discard their cloaks as a sign of homage to Jesus and sing out:
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” I would like to think the example of the newly sighted Bartimaeus had an influence there.
Our lives of faith about going from periods of darkness and blindness to sight, a spiritual sight. God calls us to recognize how loved we are in Jesus, how gifted we are in the Holy Spirit, how privileged we are to serve as a people of faith in this world. Sometimes, like the exiles returning to Jerusalem, we forget who we are. We have to start over. In our exile we became blinded to the truth of our being. The good news, however, is that, like for Bartimaeaus, we get to begin again.
Now I asked you to wear these silly masks for a purpose. Not just because it’s coming up on Halloween. Not just to remind us of the danger of all the invisible masks we wear day in and day out.
I wanted us to wear these silly masks to share a story about one of my children’s favorite movies when they were growing up: the 2004 Pixar computer-animated movie called the Incredibles. It’s a story about a handful of superheroes who are left in the world and are in hiding. There’s a family of superheroes trying to lead an ordinary life. The two oldest children are discouraged from using their abilities. Their former life as crime-fighting superheroes is completely shunned. However, as the nasty super villain Syndrone threatens to take over the world and destroy the remaining superheros, a decision must be faced. Does the family move into action? Part of being superheroes is that everyone has a gift. To defeat evil, The superhero gifts must work together. It’s not like Superman, or Batman or the Lone Ranger, who get all the glory. Here, everyone’s gift fits together. They must cooperate with one another. The parents make a decision to support their children into becoming superheros. Yes, even the children help defeat evil. The right of passage of course is the uniform and the mask – which is way cooler than what you’re wearing now. During the process of becoming a superhero, the shy teenager, Violet is hunched over, her hair covering her eyes. By the end of the end, she is saving her family, saving the world, standing tall, her hair out of her face.
That’s what it means to be incredible today. For our church to thrive, we need to the Incredibles. We need to open our eyes to our individual gifts and the gifts that are present here, and in each other, and in our community. We must work together and serve together. We need to name them, in ourselves. Call them out. Encourage them in each other.
Today I want us to see. We can be that troop of Incredibles work together. Today I want us to see - that Jesus loves us – no matter how long our exile has been – whither it’s been self-imposed or we’ve left for other reasons.
Today I want us to see we can risk throwing off the cloak – whatever we have used to cover us up – to protect us or hide us.
Today I want us to see – take off the masks – and look up – and see the face of Jesus and know you are loved.
Today I want us to see – sight restored. We are truly Incredible. No masks. We can work together, serving to heal our world. What perfect vision that would be. Amen.