MCC Columbia, South Carolina
Forgive the stereotype, dear friends, but let me begin today with a story about a little old lady.
Age had robbed her of much of her sight, so her sons wanted to do something really nice for her.
Again, forgive the stereotype, but as men often do, they competed with one another. The first son bought her a 15-room mansion, thinking this would surely be the best gift that any of them could offer. Her second son bought her a beautiful Mercedes with a chauffeur included, thinking this would certainly win mom’s approval. Her youngest son had to do something even better if he were to compete. So he bought her a parrot, one that had been in training for 15 years to memorize the entire bible.
You could ask that parrot any verse in scripture, and he could quote it word for word.
Well, the little old lady went to the first son and said, “Son, the house is undoubtedly gorgeous, but it’s really much too big for me. I don’t need the mansion, but thank you anyway.”
She then confronted her second son.
“The car is undoubtedly beautiful. It has everything anyone could ever want. But I don’t drive, and I really don’t like the chauffeur. So please return the car.”
Finally, she went to son number three and said: “Son, I just want to thank you for your most thoughtful gift. That chicken was delicious.”
I share this story as a reminder, dear friends, that we’re all blind in some ways. It is the human condition. Physically, emotionally, spiritually — truth be known we cannot always tell one bird from another. Truth be known, we cannot always tell a theologically educated parrot from some good ol’ fried chicken. Our limited vision can bring about some strange consequences and, yes, if we let it, some unexpected blessings.
My partner Kevin’s mom shared with us recently that as she ages and as her sight dims, she’s found she needs to clean her house less often. She likes that — she no longer sees the dust — which she realizes is a good thing. For her, it’s simply delicious.
Dear friends, I believe we’re very much like the beggar in today’s good news. On this side of heaven — we’re very much like Bartimaeus. Our brother Bart — blind beggar Bart — if you will. And I’m convinced that’s a good thing — if we allow God to bless our blindness.
For some reason, known clearly only by God, we didn’t get 20/20 vision in all things on this side of glory. Scientists estimate that our universe may have 100 billion or so galaxies. It’s safe to assume that each of those 100 billion galaxies has at least 100 billion stars in it. So how many of those stars have we actually counted? How many of them have we seen? God — our priest forever in heaven — knows intimately each star.
Scientists tell us that our kitty cats see better than we do — that’s why they wander at night — it doesn’t look as dark to them. Truth is that goldfish — scientists tell us — see better than we do. Goldfish — they live short — seemingly uneventful lives — and then they get flushed. And yet, they see better than we do.
God understands all of this — and god knows each of us intimately. Our god — our priest forever in heaven — understands the human condition.
We are visually impaired in body, mind and spirit. Be suspicious, dear friends, of any religious institution, any denominational structure or any body of faith that claims perfect, 20/20, spiritual insight. Be suspicious — cry fowl — this may be nothing more than a well-trained parrot.
The good news for today is that God can and indeed will and indeed does and indeed desires to bless our earthly blindness. But we first have to accept what we cannot see. We have to recognize our need for better vision.
I ask you who in today’s good news is the more visually impaired? Is it Bartimaeus, a mortal with hardly a name — just the son of Timaeus — a mortal with little more than a label? One who has been forced day after day, year after year to sit by this busy road and to beg for food to survive yet another hour?
Or is it the crowd, including all of those many, many earthly priests, who have traveled to and from Jericho, making their religious pilgrimages — fulfilling their institutional obligations — year after year after year? Those who have tossed coins sporadically at the mortal with hardly a name? More times than not they have just passed — no longer seeing him or much of anything else of lasting significance.
Or if they do acknowledge him, drawing some strange comfort in the world as it is. At least they’re not a blind beggar along the roadside. At least they’re not like him. And, my goodness, haven’t they done their duty? They toss him a coin now and then. Something to keep him quiet — what more can he expect? They tolerate him — they let him beg along the roadside. He can’t marry, mind you. He certainly can’t be ordained. But they might bury him — as long as he stays a blind beggar along the roadside.
I ask you who is more visually impaired? The beggar who cries out to god — who cries for help — who cries for mercy — who refuses to be silent? Or, those who wish he’d just shut up? Just stop talking about it, they might say — not unlike the earthly priest at the big, old, fancy, uptown Episcopal church. I wish we’d just stop talking about it, he writes. Too much noise, he insists — haven’t we talked about it enough?
Apparently not — at least one of his parishioners disagrees — she’s struggling with how to live in a marriage with a transsexual partner. She’d like to hear more talk — but she keeps quiet — for now.
Who is more visually impaired? The earthly priests who tolerate the blind beggar — just as they tolerate Jesus, God in flesh, someone else along that same busy road? Or, our brother Bart? His theology is all wrong — his language is a mess — he’s never been to the temple. Yet he knows what he wants — what he wants desperately from God.
And he hears God’s voice. How delicious that is. He hears God’s voice. Not in the temple — but along a crowded roadway — our brother Bart, blind beggar Bart, hears the voice of God. And the earthly priests — those well-trained parrots — tell him to shut up.
I ask you — who is more visually impaired?
Praise god — our brother Bart, blind beggar Bart — doesn’t shut up. He gets up — he leaps up to his feet — tossing aside his only possession — he runs toward the voice of the one he cannot yet see. And, praise god, he knows what he wants, he knows what he needs, and he asks. How delicious is that!
In last week’s sermon, we heard two members of Christ’s earliest care circle — James and John ask for position. They wanted prestige, a title, a collar, better seats. Our brother Bart asks for help, for mercy, for vision. Dear friends, his earthly blindness is blessed.
“Go on your way, brother Bart, your faith has made you whole.”
How delicious is that!
I know that God can bless those who are visually impaired. I know the true story of a blind man named Jim who sought to become a stockbroker. He knew he had to work extra hard — and God blessed him with the help of a loving spouse. A teacher insisted that all trainees make 100 calls a day — Jim and his partner make 200. After six months, Jim ranked at the top of the firm.
He was so far ahead of all others that he was embarrassed. He asked the teacher why he’d done so much better than the anyone else. The teacher replied that she always encouraged trainees to make 100 calls a day, assuming they’d actually make ten. Because Jim took her seriously, he worked twenty times harder than the others. Jim’s blindness — and his hard work — was blessed.
I know God can bless those who are visually impaired. I know the true story of Alexis, a transgender parent who lost her sight in a job accident. In a tiny Florida home, she raised three daughters, who called her daddy. Alexis also sang for a living and for charity — raising money to fight aids and breast cancer. And she hosted countless care circles for people whose faces she never saw. Alexis spoke fondly of “her church.” It didn’t matter so much if she couldn’t attend. She saw the beautiful new celebration center with her heart, not her eyes. How delicious is that!
Prolific songwriter Fanny Crosby — who wrote the words to some of the world’s best loved hymns — who wrote them assisted by her life-long same-gender friend — once said she thanked God for blindness. She said it allowed her soul to see.
Praise god, we know the one who is our heavenly priest forever. We have heard Christ’s voice — and that inspires our souls to see what our eyes cannot. Like our brother Bart, we cry out to that eternal source of healing — and we will not be silent. We toss aside what has no meaning and we leap where we cannot see. God blesses all of our blindness. How delicious is that?
An odd story circulating on the internet tells of a successful young fellow whose priorities appear to be more than a bit blurred. This successful young fellow parks his brand new car in front of his office so that he might show off this luxurious possession to his colleagues. As he opens the door, a truck comes along, and completely tears off the driver’s door. He immediately grabs his cell phone and calls 911. A police officer arrives in moments. The man screams hysterically at the officer.
“I just picked up this brand new car yesterday, and now it will never ever be the same.” After hearing more ranting, the officer shakes her head in despair.
“You are so focused on your possessions that you don’t see anything else,” she says.
“How can you say such a thing?” the man responds.
The officer replies, “You didn’t even notice that from your elbow down, your left arm is missing. It must have been torn off when the truck hit you.”
“Oh, no!” screams the successful young man. “Where is my Rolex?’
A soul that is spiritually blind — it’s enough to make us cry fowl.
Dear friends, our divine priest gives us divine vision. We need to see nothing else. Jesus tells us to go. Let us follow brother Bart’s example. No longer a blind beggar but a follower, he goes. Scholars argue about what happened to him. But I think it’s clear. Brother Bart followed Jesus, and he became a priest forever.
Delicious, isn’t it?
Second pastor of Garden of Grace UCC in Columbia, S.C., Rev. Andy Sidden was selected by Barack Obama to deliver a message of tolerance to audiences attending a controversial 2007 gospel concert scheduled as part of his presidential campaign and featuring Donnie McClurkin, who had made statements that homosexuality is a curse that can be cured through prayer. Garden of Grace was formed in 1993 as Metropolitan Community Church of Columbia.