Once Was Blind (Message for October 25th, 2015)

Scripture:  Mark 10:46-52

You know we cannot be good at everything, and something that I have to confess to myself that I am terrible out is finding things.  Now I make up for this because I am usually fairly decent at remembering where I put things, but if I have to find something and I do not know where it is I struggle.  This is especially true if I am not entirely sure what I am looking for or if I do not have a good idea of the general area of where to look.   Given that this is a natural weakness of mine, I am not sure why we ever thought trying geo-caching would be a good idea.  Geo-caching is an activity, where small containers are hidden all over the place.  These hidden containers are registered on a website, and then people use an app on their phone to follow the map and find the hidden object.   Over a year ago, we thought this might be a fun family activity.  However, at this point we have given up, because failing repeatedly is not fun.   For example, in the Rest Haven cemetery around one of the decorative cannons there is supposed to be a hidden geo-cache.  I say supposedly because after spending forty five minutes looking for the silly thing once, we gave up.   The same is true for the geo-cache that is supposed to be at the Edinburgh Bed and Breakfast.   We did have some successes, but we had many more failures.   It was beyond frustrating knowing that this object that is more or less hidden in plain sight is within feet of me, and for the life of me I cannot find it. 

            Sometimes we cannot find things because there are all kinds of peculiar ways in which our brains process visual information.   To demonstrate what I mean, we are all going to take a test.  This video will give the instructions, but all you have to do is count how many times a ball is passed.   However, I think you will find this is harder than it seems:

            So how many of you saw the gorilla the first time?  Statistically, 50% of people miss it completely.   Their brains are so focused on following the balls that they cancel out all other information, including a gorilla walking through.  This initial study was done in 1999, and in 2012 a follow up study was done that yielded interesting results.   In the follow up study, a very similar video was shown.  It still had the passing balls and the gorilla, but it also had two other major changes.   This video was shown to people who had seen or heard the original video. Of those people 100% saw the gorilla, but 83% missed the other changes.  Their brains were so focused on making sure they did not miss the gorilla this time, they actually missed everything else.   These test show something very profound.   Sometimes we cannot literally see things that are right in front us.   In this morning’s scripture Jesus heals a blind man, but the truth we have to wrestle with is that all of us are blind in some way.  We might have our physical sight, but there are areas that our mind, heart, or soul are completely blind to.   As we identify those blind spots, the good news today, is that Jesus can heal our blindness as well. 

            There are three elements of this story that I think should be considered and can have a profound impact on our faith.   The first is what Blind Bartimaeus does, or specifically ask for.   We have to realize that Bartimaeus did not have an easy life, especially if he was born blind.   If he was born blind he would have been considered a mark of shame to his parents.  The thought process was, that children were afflicted with birth defects because of the sin of their parents.   We know this from an account of another blind man being healed in John chapter 9.  Bartimaeus would have grown up being treated like the literal embodiment of sin.  Not only that, but he also had zero job prospects, in the first century there was very little work that a blind man would be allowed to do.  This mean that he was resigned to a solitary life of begging.  He had to scrap by on the begrudging kindness of strangers.   Every day, the only real thing he had to look forward to was hoping he would get enough money so that he could go to sleep at the end of the day not feeling hungry.   If he could only see, then he could live a very different life.  He would not be cut of and alone, he would be able to work and support himself, he would be able to be a blessing to himself and others.   Of course, he wanted to see, so when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker, was passing by he knew this was his chance.  We get a clue though, that Bartimaeus had more than just a passing familiarity with Jesus.   He knew that Jesus was more than just another holy man, more than just another traveling miracle worker.   Bartimaeus addresses him as “son of David.”   There is no mistaking that this is a messianic title, by using this title Bartimaeus declared that he believed Jesus to be the Messiah.  What we can learn from Bartimaeus though is what he asks of the Son of God.  

               Even though Bartimaeus probably wanted to see more than anything, even though sight would have vastly improved his life, and fulfilled many of his wishes, Bartimaeus does not shout out “Son of David, heal me!”   He says “Son of David, Have mercy on me!”    The concept of praying for mercy is not something we hear a lot about today, but perhaps we should.   One of the oldest Christian prayers, dating back to the very beginning, is Kyrie Elision:  “Lord, have mercy.”    To ask for mercy is an acknowledgement that we have nothing to give, that we are asking for special privilege from a position of weakness.   To ask for mercy is a confession that we are not truly deserving, but we still greatly desire or need a special kindness given upon us.  To ask for mercy, is the somewhat audacious request to ask for a gift; specifically a gift that is given without strings attached and with the acknowledgement that it cannot be paid back.   When we ask God for mercy we do so from a point of humbleness and reverence, as we acknowledge that God is the only one capable of granting that which we ask.         

            We often simplify prayer down to “We can ask God for what we need and because God loves us he will give it to us.”   When this is all prayer becomes then the result is that we turn God into some sort Cosmic Santa Claus, or worse a divine vending machine that we can always go to when we want to be happy.    It is true that God loves us a great deal, and that God answers prayers, but when we take “Lord have mercy on me a sinner” out of requests something great is lost.  If mercy is humbly asking for a great gift we have no chance of achieving on our own, then the opposite of mercy is entitlement.  Entitlement is when we believe we deserve something just because of who we are.   If seeking mercy is based in humility than entitlement is based in pride.   We believe that we are entitled to something from God, because we are somehow special and deserving.  Bartimaeus could have easily felt that he was entitled to being healed.   He could have been bitter about living a lifetime with a disability he did not want, he could have demanded that he has paid his dues.   That it was his turn for something to go right, and that he deserved to be healed.     That is not what he does though, he approaches the messiah by saying “Lord have mercy on me.”  Jesus, overflowing with grace and mercy, calls him over and asks how exactly he can do that.    When we pray, what is the attitude you approach God with?    Do you approach the throne saying “Lord have mercy on me” or do you approach God expecting him to give you what you feel entitled to?   Now clearly, none of us are going to God in prayer and verbally say, give me what I am entitled to, but this is not about the words we use, it is about the attitudes of our hearts.   It is a question that we have to answer for ourselves.  In our relationship with God do we see ourselves as seeking mercy or demanding entitlements?   

            Perhaps the biggest faith issue with mercy vs. entitlements is how the rest of our lives are effected when our faith is not firmly grounded in the knowledge that we need God’s mercy.   If we live and pray in such away where we never say, “Lord have mercy”, then we will never know where in our lives we need God’s mercy and grace the most.   Bartimaeus knew his blindness, he knew the ways that he could not see clearly.   He was suffering from a physical disability, but perhaps we suffer from a spiritual disability.   Perhaps our blindness is one of the heart.  

            There are many ways, we can be spiritually blind.   One such way is in how we treat and regard other people.  A good example of this is Martin Luther, the famous reformer and founder of the Lutheran Church.   Many consider him a righteous man, and the writings of Martin Luther were instrumental in John Wesley’s conversion.   Yet, Martin Luther was still imperfect.   Because he wrote several books on the subject, it is well documented that Luther was a very strong anti-Semite, and he advocated for the burning down of synagogues, expulsion, and even violence against Jews.   Even someone like Martin Luther was spiritually blind in some areas.   Lord have mercy.   

            It may not be the Jews, but many of us have a spiritual blindness towards certain people.   I have spent all of my adult life working with teenagers in some capacity, and I have met my fair share of good Christian people with a spiritual blindness to young people.   When they see young people, they do not see precious creations of God, that God can use now to be a strong witness for Christ in a dark world.  No, these long time church goers only see kids that are probably up to no good, with pants that either hang too low, shorts that are too short, or music is too loud.   Instead of working to include people of all ages in age appropriate ways in the work of God’s kingdoms, teenagers are either shoved out or hidden in the church basement.   Lord have mercy.    

            We can have be spiritual blind to issues of justice and great need in the world today.  We are quick to get upset when the price of gas jumps up by 30 cents a gallon, but there is very little outrage over the fact that 273 million people do not have access to safe drinking water in the world or the fact that every minute of every day around the world 21 children under the age of five die from easily preventable causes.   Why, church, does our heart not break over this?   Imagine if all churches, collectively were as passionate about ending world hunger, as NFL fans were passionate about their favorite teams.   We would be able to end world hunger before the Colts make it back to the playoffs!   Lord have mercy

            Finally, we can have a spiritual blind spot to certain people.   This is a particularly tragic form of spiritual blindness, because it often has big personal consequences.   There are too many people who have sworn off going to church, because someone in the church has hurt them.   As Greg mentioned last week in his message, we seek God’s grace in abundance but we only give out a meager bit.    We are fairly quick to ask people to forgive our imperfections, but we have to be cautious of treating the imperfections, the failures, and the mistakes of others as unforgiveable.   We can be blind to forgiveness of others.  We are quick to pray “forgive us our trespasses”, but awe are also quick to forget the rest of it “as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”   We can be blind to forgive other people, the way that we have been forgiven.   Lord have mercy.  

            The final and perhaps most important element we can get out of this morning’s scripture is the last sentence: “Immediately her received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”   Bartimaeus had his greatest wish granted, he could now see.  Everything he could never do was now a possibility for him, and so what does he decided to do?   He follows Jesus.   The spiritual blindness in our lives, more often than not keep us from following Jesus as closely as we want to.   They are blind spots that keep us from more fully connecting with our Lord and Savior.    The joyful news is that the Jesus came to proclaim sight for the blind.   The Lord WILL have mercy on us, and heal us of our Spiritual blindness.  

            May the prayer of our hearts be “Lord have mercy.”   May we seek the Lord’s mercy with an attitude of humbleness not entitlement.   May we genuinely pray that Jesus will heal us of our spiritual blindness.  May we have eyes to see, hearts to love, and hands to make a difference.   May we be a people who can testify to the almighty power, grace, and mercy of God by proclaiming “I once was blind, but now I see.   The Lord had mercy on me.”