creating me [using words]

Archive for the tag “sermons”

How We Say It


Last week I heard a Christian comment, “I would rather offend someone into heaven than flatter them into hell.” I could not get over the absurdity of this statement. As if this person had totally forgotten it is by grace we are saved. That it is kindness that leads us to repentance. That God is infinite and unfathomable love.

I somewhat understand the sentiment behind the statement—that sometimes speaking the truth offends people inadvertently, and it simply will not do if we never speak up for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. But far too often, instead of hearing Christians speak up in love and compassion, I hear them going on the offensive. I think they think they are on the defensive, but either way, they sound as if they speak in order to insult.

This notion that we have to defend the truth by mocking our opponents is nonsense. I have never in my life met a person who was converted by a Facebook meme or a bumper sticker. I have never witnessed the grace of God invade a person’s life via ridicule of their former beliefs. It just doesn’t happen.

I know we would all be in agreement that it is past time we Christians took stock, not just of what we say but how we say it. I get it, that sometimes it just feels nice to say what we like, no restrictions, just let it out. Freedom of speech and all that. But we all know that authentic conversation isn’t quite that simple. There is a give, and there is take. I talk and I listen. I open myself up and I hold myself back. I speak up and I grow silent. Back and forth, back and forth until we call this a relationship, and it is the only, only way by which we learn and grow and love. Relationship is the only arena in which conversion occurs. Yes, of course, sometimes we say hard things that people don’t want to hear, but we say them on a foundation of mutual respect, thoughtful deliberation, and loving compassion.

No matter how good it might feel to release some steam, no matter how desperate you may feel to speak your mind, spewing is plain antithetical to the Gospel. The Gospel, which radically tears apart hostility and converts us again and again and again to the path of deeper love, demands a certain way of being and speaking and engaging God’s precious creation. No matter how theologically-correct your opinion, the attitude with which you share means more. Our words matter. And the way we string them together, and the tone of the whole endeavor—these things matter.

Take a look at how Peter handles this controversy with his fellow Jews. This is no small disagreement. Both parties feel that the truth, that God’s way is at stake.

Just think about what Peter was doing here. He was hearing, essentially, a new word from God. It’s not like he really had “Scriptural” support to back him up; the part of Scripture we rely on for these matters concerning the Gentiles was currently in the process of being lived out. So for now, it’s pretty much Peter and the Spirit versus the other leaders and tradition, his word against theirs. And he is clearly stepping out of bounds. He ate with people who don’t eat kosher, he’s consorting with Gentiles, he’s calling clean what was formerly impure. Peter is breaking the rules.

This made the other leaders anxious big time, and who can blame them? They were already breaking with convention by following this Jesus guy, and now Peter wanted to effectively toss their dietary laws and other restrictions out the window. Jesus would be more palatable if they didn’t stir the waters too much. Now they were really going to seem off the wall, with Peter of all people going rogue. He was supposed to be the leader! It would probably be okay if someone on the fringe of the movement—a teenager, perhaps, or a little old lady—thought outside the box, but not freaking-hold-the-keys-to-heaven-Peter. It simply would not do to have their leader gallivanting among Gentile homes. And so, they began to criticize Peter in an attempt to corral him back into obedience.

Peter could have gotten offended. Don’t they trust me? How dare they sabotage my ministry! This is so a power play. He couldn’t have gotten superior. Stupid apostles, can’t believe they call themselves apostles. Can’t they see what I see? That God has opened up the Gospel for everyone? Peter could have gotten confused and timid: Wait a second, maybe I have this all wrong. Maybe I misunderstood.

But instead, Peter just got friendly and honest and unashamedly open. He told his story, without hesitation or embarrassment or apology, without coercion or anger or frustration. He simply told a tale without demanding anything in return, and what would you know, it worked! They were silenced by his words, the text says. Peter had an impact just by telling a story.

One of the reasons his story was so effective is that he was anxious, just like them, at least to begin with, when God first showed up in a vision and told him to eat four-footed animals. “Surely not!” he replied to God with indignation, much in the same fashion these circumcised believers responded to the news that Peter had eaten with a Gentile (“Surely not!”). There was a kinship between their two reactions, but something happened to slowly change Peter’s perspective, despite his dogged persistence to stand firm.

But before he shared the part where he changed, he shared the part of the story where he resisted. It was if to say, “It’s okay to be on a journey about this. You may feel resistant at first—so did I! You may feel alarmed at first—so did I! You may even feel guilty at first—so did I! And then the guilt faded away into marvel, the alarm became gratitude as I witnessed the Spirit be so generous as to fall upon any and all.”

It wasn’t just a story about the conversion of Cornelius. It was a conversion for Peter too, and by humbly retelling this surprising sequence of events, Peter let his friends know, “It’s okay to change.” He made it clear for all of us that from the beginning of the Christian story that the Gospel doesn’t just get to you once; the Gospel transforms you over and over and over. If you find yourself dispensing it with the arrogance of someone handing out old news, chances are you’re no longer speaking of the Gospel at all. But Peter didn’t accomplish this message by cramming anything down anyone’s throat; he merely lived his story, then told about it, then trusted the story to do it’s own work, in its own time. Think of Jesus too, who lived a certain way and told parables and let himself be mocked rather than mock. There simply is not room in the Christian way for the haughty slander of our opponents; only space to tell stories, to listen to our enemies, to reenact the love of God.

Of course, I know myself to be preaching to the choir on this topic. Covenant is the kind of church that is determined not to be mean or ugly, and that is one of things I love the very most about this place. Here is a people you can trust. No one is going to bite your head off if you’re too liberal or too conservative. No one is going to call you a heretic just because you’re on an authentic journey of doubt and discovery. No one is going to shun you for your politics, your positions, or your denominational heritage.

But I guess what I wonder about is whether we would have the courage to tell a story like Peter’s, even if our friends wouldn’t agree with us. The occasional problem with being such nice people is that sometimes nice becomes a substitute for real encounter and honest dialogue. But church isn’t the place we come to cover up our opinions. Church is where we expose our opinions to the Spirit of God and to the spirit of our fellow believers, the place where our hearts get converted again and again.

For example, if we leave this text today in the realm of Gentile/Jew relations, it hardly has much relevance for us non-Jewish, non-kosher eating, non-first-century folk. But when I read Peter’s line, “The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us,” I can’t help but think, here’s a concept we are meant to broaden. But if we stopped and asked ourselves the question, “What is the biggest point of tension in our world today—the biggest dividing wall between ‘us’ and ‘them,’” I’m wondering to what extent we’d have the courage to speak our thoughts out loud? You may think there’s an anti-Gospel wall of hostility between this group and that group, but I may be stuck resolutely on my side of the wall, appalled that you could ever imply I need to move positions. It is risky, risky business to allow the biblical story to expand itself all the way into our narrow lives, and it turns out that if there’s anyone we are going to offend by speaking our truth, it’s probably the person down the pew, not the supposed heathen down the street. But though there’s potential for offense, the same rules still apply. Conversion, even the ongoing conversion of Christians, only happens in relationship, in conversations of mutual respect, by swapping stories, by using words with love and compassion, even when they are very hard words to say.

How might we risk increasing vulnerability with one another? How might we risk the expansion of the Gospel, so that we never find ourselves stuck in one place? How might we ask ourselves the hard questions, face up to the difficult points of tension in the world, become voices of bravery and beauty amidst the clamor of cheap contempt? I don’t exactly know how it is we grow braver and kinder instead of “scareder” and harsher, but I think it starts with telling our stories and listening to others, even if we or they sound too radical.

If, at any point along this risk-laden journey of ongoing conversion, we feel ourselves begin to reel off course, then we stop everything. I mean, halt literally everything, and go back to our Center, that is, the pulsing heartbeat of this place and it’s fundamental orientation towards kindness and the hostility-breaching love of Christ. We lean in, lean in far and long to this thing called Grace and we listen deep, and once we’ve heard the strains, we open our mouths and echo them back into the world, without pretension, letting the Wind carry our words where it will. Amen.

This is my sermon on Acts 11:1-18 from April 28, 2013 at Covenant Baptist Church


The Dark Side of Christmas

A Sermon . . . 

We light the Advent candles one by one, week by week, ever so gradually, because the dawning of light happens slowly. Outside of here, the pell-mell rush of the holiday season disguises the agony of real waiting. Waiting is hard work, so we lighten the mood and count our way to Christmas with cookies and candies and carols.

The world’s all abuzz except when we come here. Everything slows to a snail’s pace here, enough to annoy us a little when we bustle in all bundled up in holiday frenzy. The steady rhythm of worship collides with the chaos of our consumerism. We were probably more at home in the chaos, because waiting, real and honest waiting, is uncomfortable, slow, dismal.

The unlit candles symbolize we still sit in darkness, living in anticipation of the light yet to come. But no one wants to think about darkness this close to Christmas. Every store you enter is beaming bright with lights in defiance of the fact that outside the mall, it’s dark by 6 o’clock: our days are getting shorter; our nights are getting longer. It is a dark season.

Advent is like watching the sunrise build on the horizon, the dead dark of a winter night ever so slowly shifting to the pink hues of coming sun. Yet we remain camped in a dim place, blanketed by night sky, worried whether the rays will ever reach us, fortified by the hope that they will. That’s what Advent is.

We think of Advent as a celebratory preparation for Christmas day, and it is. Advent is also darkness, waiting, wondering, watching, longing. It is a needy, vulnerable place where the prophets are telling you the dawn from on high will break upon us, but the prospects of it being true seem bleak. Though it’s lined thick with hope, Advent is the seasonal dark night of the soul; it’s the story of those who wait in the shadows, and waiting is at the heart of the Biblical story indeed: How long did Abraham and Sarah wait for a baby, for a promise, how long did the Israelites wait for deliverance in Egypt, how long did they wander in the wilderness, waiting for the Promised Land, how long did they sit in exile and whisper hopes about a coming Messiah, how long did Anna and Simeon pray in the temple that they might see the Coming One? When Zechariah prophesied that the light would dawn on those who sit in darkness, it was more than a pretty phrase; it was a description of reality.

Personally, I’ve never felt the weight of Advent’s darkness like I do now. I’m more needy than ever before for the coming of some obvious light. I feel like one who sits in darkness, in the shadow of death.

According to Zechariah’s prophecy, the light is headed straight for me. How uncomfortably personal and direct. I don’t like this poignant promise from God, because what if it doesn’t come true for me?

I know you want to assure me that it will come true, but haven’t you ever felt that the light couldn’t possibly be meant for you? That the light couldn’t possibly be on its way to you? That you might as well get used to the dark, because the dark was here to stay? I mean, you’ve been there before, right? No sense pretending that the preacher isn’t as human as the rest of us. The thing is, I’m susceptible to despair too, only it’s my job to hold up the hope week after week after week.

You know what happened to me in the last two weeks? I let myself be a human, not a pastor, not superwoman, not the girl who knows what to do when bad things happen, but just a person who found herself in the dark.

And then one of you had the audacity or the good sense to light a candle and set it down in my darkness without pretention. And then another one of you did the same. And then another. And then another. Over and over, like you were forming a wreath of promises to encircle my dark place.

I’m probably breaking a sacred trust when I tell you this, but sometimes pastors talk amongst themselves about their congregations. Complain even. Gasp, I know, it’s terrible. And pastors sometimes, sometimes talk about their churches as if church members were a group of rowdy toddlers in their terrible twos or hormonal teenagers who bicker with one another. The pastor is supposed to be the all-wise parent trying to reign everybody in. I know, it’s hard to imagine a church bickering, but it happens. (Not everybody can be Covenant.) The way I see it, whether or not congregations behave badly, I don’t agree that we pastors should think of ourselves as parental figures.

Maybe it’s just hard to feel parental, when all of you are older than me. Or maybe, no matter how old I am or how old I get someday, I am in awe of you. I want to be more like you. I didn’t come to this church to fix you or guide you or change you. I wanted this job because I thought this is one of the best places in the world to live out faith, with people like you. I would like to be that person who celebrates you, who sees you, who walks beside you, and notices the way you shine. I came to this church because I was under the impression that we might be capable of inspiring one another—you and me. I thought we’d make a good team. I thought I would like to seek God with you, open the Bible and wander around inside Scripture with you, slowly find out how to love with you, become people who pray with you, figure out this gentle way of doing God’s work with you.

But I have to tell you, it’s hard to break the mold. Pastors are pressured to be all authoritative and knowledgeable and preachy; we’re supposed to keep it all together and keep it real all in the same effortless breath. I’ve been trying on my own to break the pattern, to dispense with being in charge in favor of being in cahoots with you in this grand scheme to love God and love our neighbors. I have wanted to inspire an environment of co-creators and co-conspirators, walking together with God and with one another, bearing light to dark places. But breaking the mold isn’t easy business. People still talk to you like you’re fancy and important and parental and learned and super spiritual. It’s hard work to try and get Kyndall more obvious than the role she wears and the title she bears, and it is sometimes difficult to convince myself that I am more than role I wear and the title I bear and to keep in mind that all of us right down to the babies are priests to one another.

But then this week, through no effort of mine, the mold got all broken, praise God. I mean, the circumstances were ugly but the responses were a thing of beauty that I’m still admiring. I plopped right down like a newbie to pain and you ministered to me. You took up the towel and washed my feet and I swallowed my pride and let you.

The thing is, I am grateful for all the candles you’ve lit on my behalf, but it still looks dark to me. Too dark to think, too dark to pray, too dark to trust. But I’m learning that having the courage to face your darkness can feel like you’re giving into the darkness and being swallowed by it like a coward, like Jonah running away and being overcome by the waves and the whale. That’s what grief feels like, but it’s not what grief is. Grief is walking straight into the setting darkness. You know you can’t run from the dark, so you square your shoulders, set your face to the east, and let the blindness come. Your friends will tell you that the sun also rises in the east, which means despite the terror of the looming night, you’re actually facing the right direction. You can’t know in that moment whether your friends are right about the sun, because grief clouds your head and fogs your hope. But this isn’t a failure to feel that your world’s gone fuzzy, so I’m learning. It’s all a part of becoming who it is you’re meant to be—to enter something really hard without knowing for sure what’s on the other side of pain.

When you’re at the place in life where you feel a hurt so deeply you cannot get out of bed, it turns out that the season of Advent belongs to you. It’s your dark night of the soul and it’s your impossible promise of coming light.

When you sit in darkness under the threat of loss and buckled by the heavy weight of life and risk, then you’re primed for light; you just don’t know it yet. You’re in that spot where God will seek you out and shatter your night and bind up your wounds and make you whole and send you stars that point to a Savior. You don’t know for sure if that’s the truth, because the night is scary, but even before there’s a single glimmer of the rising sun, there will be a prophet or two to hold out hope on your behalf. That’s the Big Announcement for which Zechariah’s son was born into the world to proclaim: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

It’s kind of like being outside at night, and you would be completely blind, except you’ve got the moon, though the moon is sometimes only a sliver. You know the moon isn’t real light, only a reflection, and maybe that scares you to walk the night by the light of the moon. But how is it that your friends could reflect such light into your heart at all if there wasn’t a Son somewhere around the curve of the earth, on his way to break in from on high?


Based on Luke 1:76-79: “And you, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Audio available here


What a Way to End a Year

No, I haven’t disappeared. Just wading through shit (sorry to be so blunt) right now, and it’s hard enough to breathe, much less write. But I’ll go ahead and share my sermon from last Sunday, which I was excited about at the time I preached it, before other unrelated things blew up in my face and fogged my whole perspective. So now I don’t know if it was any good or not. You can tell me. (Actually, if it’s not any good, don’t tell me, as I’m feeling fragile, and I work really, really hard on this preaching stuff. I am trying to become really good at it someday, as I think it might be my special way to help the world, but it takes a long, long time to get really good at things, and I’m still practicing.) Anyway, I thought this was an appropriate way to end the church year:


(P.S. Audio here, if you’re interested.)


“What is truth?” said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer . . .

. . . so begins Francis Bacon’s essay on truth from 1597. What is truth? It’s a question that has captured philosophers for millennia, though the skeptic Pilate scarce had the time to consider it. It was the only question he asked Jesus for which he did not care to hear an answer. He was interested in Jesus’ alleged kingship, where Jesus came from, what Jesus has done, but he did not listen to Jesus’ truth.

It was just as well, perhaps, that Pilate left the room without Jesus’ reply, because Jesus’ truth was hardly something that could be summarized and digested in a single conversation. Pilate was looking for evidence, not a whole new way of life.

When he did have room to answer, Jesus responded to Pilate’s whole interrogation in the predictable Jesus-y way: he evaded the questions, taking the dialogue his own direction instead. Jesus showed no interest in winning a debate. He came to earth to do one thing, he told Pilate: “to testify to the truth,” and such a testimony had little to do with an argument and more to do with how he lived and who he spent time with and that he healed people. His truth was embodied, not debated. He gave parables instead of lectures, because his truth was like stories that live in your heart. It wasn’t the kind of truth that could fit on a flashcard; it was the kind of truth that blew up the world.

How could all that living he had been doing fit into a measly question and answer session with Pilate? Jesus’ truth was a living, pulsing thing, which was not the solid sort of stuff an attorney could work with, but Jesus didn’t sweat over his lack of a defense. In fact, he embraced it. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he calmly told Pilate. “If it were, my followers would fight to prevent my arrest.”

And true to his word, there was no prevention, no defense, no attempted escape. The closest thing to a protest on Jesus’ behalf was the disciple who bravely or foolishly cut off a soldier’s ear in the Garden, but Jesus nipped that in the bud, healed his enemy’s ear, and told his beloved friend to put away his sword.

Here was a king without a military and a truth that could stand alone without an army. From Jesus’ perspective, his truth needed no defense. Wow. I have lost count of how many times in my lifetime I have heard the warning that truth is under attack in our country or world, and whether that is an accurate assessment of societal ills or not, I know that any attack—big or small, real or imagined—would not ruffle Jesus’ feathers a bit. He would look into our scared little eyes, gently remove the swords from our grasp, and say “There, there. Quit chopping people’s ears off with your biting rhetoric. How else will they ever hear me, unless you quiet down and let me tell my stories?”

You see, the major difference between Jesus and us is that he let people crucify him. We’ll fight tooth and nail to defend the truth whether or not the King asked for warriors. We’re so afraid he’ll lose without our help. But his kingdom is not of this world, and neither is his victory. The only way he fought back was to quietly come back to life after they beat him dead. He just lived, and that was his argument. Which is a hard game plan to follow for those of us who prefer a contact sport or an impassioned debate.

After college, when I trying to pick a seminary, I visited one campus where part of their sales pitch was to explain that if we chose their seminary, we would read more liberal theology than the liberals, so as to better defend ourselves against them. Something about that speech seemed off to me, even then. Needless to say, I did not choose that school; I opted for one where the truth was a wide world to explore rather than a battleground on which to stake a claim, where the truth was something with the power to make you come alive rather than something with the clout to make you belligerent.

Truth is less of a territory that needs defending and more like the energy that enlivens the world. Truth is the very spirit of Jesus Christ who fills you and guides you and moves you, and no one can take that Spirit away from you, so there’s no a need to take up a sword. So when you see people strutting around with the supposed truth strapped to their chest like a badge of honor, shut up your ears and run the other way, because that arrogance isn’t Jesus. Truth is not surety; Truth is patient discovery. Truth is the unrelenting willingness to transform and the ever-ready eye to see things in a new light. Truth turns you into putty, something of substance that can bend and arc and stretch and move along with the winds of the Spirit and the sudden startles of new insight. When you notice yourself growing stubborn and rock-like, that’s when you know you’re drying out and nearly empty: the truth is leaking or evaporating and you’re hardening like a lump of lifeless dogma.

I had to learn some of this the hard way on my journey to become a pastor because I had this call from God, and it was something I knew in my gut, but there were lots of people who didn’t believe me, and I could do nothing to prove it to them. Girls couldn’t hear a call from God to preach; it just wasn’t done. I knew it wasn’t done, and I’d never been one to rock the boat. But yet there was this stirring of truth inside me that countered the status quo. So I took that stirring and examined by every means I knew how: I prayed, I studied Scripture, I asked advice, I read books and articles and commentaries, I journaled. But having a good answer or the most-well documented research or the best logic wasn’t enough to convince my old church, my friends, my family. So I slowly began to learn that the Truth didn’t need to be defended at all. I don’t have to defend my vocation, my calling, my life to anyone; I don’t have to defend the truth. Because Truth is something inside me, and my job is to live it, not prove it. I don’t debate the truth; I seek to embody it such that you couldn’t kill the truth without killing me, because I think that’s what Jesus did. Truth was more than idea to him; it was an identity, a way of being in the world, and that was strong enough to stand on its own, without an army.

Truth isn’t really something you can diminish into a packaged defense—I mean, you can try, but you will always lose something of Truth when you reduce it like that. Fortresses are such puny holding grounds for Truth; the splendor will explode past the walls every time we try and contain it, so who are we to try and dig trenches?

I think this is why Jesus was reluctant to own up to his kingship when Pilate asked; he didn’t want to give the wrong idea about who he was. It’s hard to understand the kingdom of heaven when the heavenly kingdom is so dramatically different from all the kingdoms of earth. If we call Jesus King, we might get the wrong idea that King means something we’ve seen before—a dictator, perhaps, or someone who feeds off power, someone who demands, hoards, and wars, someone who conscripts labor for the sake of advancing his empire. So instead of explaining how he was different, Jesus showed us. This isn’t a King who needs defending; a God whose glory will be diminished if we don’t toe the line. This is a God with glory to share, glory to spare, glory he will allow to be smeared on a cross and hammered with nails. It is a truth-telling rather than a stance-shouting kind of glory. It doesn’t need to be brandished or flaunted or paraded or forged.

When they drug him away to be crucified, Jesus said, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” In other words, this is what God allows to happen to his truth-bearer. This is a King who allows his glory to be trampled and mocked without ever raising a fist. Who are we to think that we deserve to be believed in the world? Who are we to think we have a right to stand up and fight, when Jesus himself laid down and died? Mind you, I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus gave up on the truth. I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus ever subjected himself to the empire. I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus ever compromised an inch of who he was. But he radiated his truth in such a nonviolent, such a non-egotistical, such a non-domineering way that only the most sincere saints of God have ever come close to emulating his truth-bearing.

Miraculously, God entrusted us with the truth, entrusted us to pass it along the same way Jesus passed it along. But it didn’t take long in human history before soldiers would place the sign of the cross on their shields in hopes that God would help them win a battle, which is perhaps the most sacrilegious use of the symbol of the cross ever. And to this day, we find ways to decorate our shields with crosses, to use truth like a prop to bolster our opinions and give us a sense of superiority over others. But this isn’t the way of the Kingdom, and if we’d listen to Jesus, we would know what kind of King he really is, and by following him we’d become citizens of this strange, strange kingdom.

On my way out of the library this week, I stopped in front of a piece of art titled, “Thanks and Praises.” It depicted a circle of African-American women in long, flowingly, brightly colored dresses-yellow, orange, gold, green, blue red. With arms raised high above their heads, they were dancing, worshipping. Behind them, the background started dark then gradually turned to light, from left to right as if their story was one of light breaking into darkness. And it occurred to me that women who have known the horrors of human slavery do not offer praise and thanks, unless the Light that has come into their world is wholly different from the slave-owner. They pay homage to no king unless it is a King who sets them free. They dance for no owner, no master, no chief, no commander. They dance for the Truth that brings freedom.

It is toe-tapping Truth, this coming of Jesus into the world. You don’t worship him for his power, because he doesn’t wield power over you. You worship him for laying his power down in order to set you free. By God, this is a King like none other.

This is a King like none other. King is almost the wrong word, isn’t it? ‘Cause we’ve never seen anything like this before. We’ve never met a king like this One before. What is truth? How bewildering to discover Truth is a person, Truth is a spirit, Truth is that thing which won’t stop living even after you kill it. We’ve never seen anything like it. It’s enough to make you dance your praises. It’s enough to make you humble. It’s enough to change everything.

All praise and glory be to Christ our King, the bearer of Truth. Amen.


Blind Bartimaeus

I am struck by his stubborn persistence. The way Bartimaeus refuses to be silenced. That’s guts, or desperation, or some of both. There’s the way Bartimaeus jumps to his feet and leaves his cloak behind. If I were blind, I wouldn’t leave any of my possessions behind, for fear I wouldn’t be able to find them again. There’s the way Bartimaeus walks (runs?) to Jesus when he is called. A whole crowd of people, and the blind guy knows without hesitation which one to walk up to. And then there’s the way Bartimaeus gets what he asked for, but instead of running off to live his life, he keeps following Jesus.

I am struck by the crowd’s sudden change of tune. One minute they are rebuking Bartimaeus. The next they are cheering him onward. Presumably they had been following Jesus along the road, listening intently to the Rabbi’s words, soaking up his wisdom. With so many people and so many footsteps, they were straining their ears to hear. And then, this invasion: they smelled him before they heard him, and they heard him before they saw him. This dirty unwashed beggar interrupting not just the silence, but the cleanness and the sacredness of the moment, intruding the quiet anticipation with which everyone else was clinging to Jesus’ words. Like the fly that won’t quit buzzing or the workmen down the street who won’t quit hammering, there’s this persistent shouting that is ruining the peace, and the people are understandably irritable and intent on stopping the noise. But to the credit of the crowd, as soon as they see Jesus stop and call the man, they take their cues and change their attitude. They suddenly see the blind man for the underdog he is, and they become instant fans. “Courage! Take heart! Cheer up!” they egg him on to victory.

I am struck by the fact, that although he stops, Jesus makes a blind man walk to him. I mean, it just doesn’t seem very Jesus-y to me, to stand there like a game of Marco Polo, when it’s no game at all to the man who is crying for mercy. Why doesn’t God always rush to our side when we are in need? Why must we stand up and walk when we are the ones who can’t see where he is and he’s the one who knows right where we are?

I am struck that Bartimaeus regains his sight, which means at one time, he had it, and then he lost it. How does one lose one’s sight? Is it aging, or tragedy, reading without light or staring into the sun? When did you begin to lose the sight you once had? Was it age or tragedy or too much darkness or strain or stress or a general loss of wonderment? When did you stop seeing the beauty of the world or when did you stop seeing its ripped-apart-ness? When did things grow so dim that your eyelids drooped as if in slumber? Richard Rohr says “true seeing is the heart of spirituality today,” but “most of us have to be taught how to see” . . . which leads me to wonder was it Bartimaeus who gained his sight that day, or was it the crowd? Who learned the most about proper seeing?

I am struck that the crowd first saw a filthy beggar, but they kept one eye on Jesus, and when they saw him stop and turn, they turned to the beggar again and saw instead a champion of faith who deserved their applause. They began to will him to his healing—was it his faith or theirs that healed him? Maybe it was all the faith mingling together that made a miracle possible.

I am struck that Jesus had enough patience to let all this unfold. Compassionate man that he was, he must have been dying to run over and wrap this man in his arms. He must have felt the urge to scorn the crowd for their initial rebukes and prove them wrong by his show of love. But instead, the text says he stood still. “Call him,” he said to the crowd, giving them a chance to change their tone, a chance to participate in the miracle, a chance to cheer on a stranger as he reached for his healing. Jesus could have rushed forward in compassion and rushed the crowd right out of the moment. He could have forced them to be outsiders to the event, and if he were a less forgiving man, he would have been certain that the outside was where they belonged. But instead he offers an invitation to let them be the inviters to a man in need of mercy.

I am struck that though he is blind, that doesn’t stop this man from groping his way to his healing. Healing always feels like groping, does it not? Like you’re grasping for straws, like you’re following a mirage, like you’re teetering on a ledge, like there aren’t any handles, like you’ll fall any second and be more scarred than ever, like you might never get there, like you’ve no idea if the healing is light years away or just around the bend. The movement towards healing always takes place with fuzzy vision and an unclear path, just the soft hint of a voice calling you forward. Sometimes the crowds boo you, silence you, poke fun, and rebuke you. Sometimes you are astounded to hear people cheering you on, believing in you when you don’t have enough faith of your own. You cannot control the outcome or the timing. You cannot manipulate things in your favor, and that makes you feel as helpless as a beggar. But your one job is: don’t give up. Stay loyal to your healing. Keep asking for what you know you need. Don’t let a mob of people shut you down. Because somewhere in that throng is a Savior. Keep on searching ‘til you find your deliverance. Don’t be too mad if you are made to get up and walk, because it is the journey that heals you. The journey is your faith. We think that faith is an idea in our heads, but faith isn’t in our heads. Or we think faith is something we feel in our hearts, but faith isn’t in our hearts. Faith is in our legs. Faith is in our bodies, faith is in how we move, where we go. Faith is the journey we take, and the faith-less are those who stay put. Jesus says your faith will heal you.

I am struck, that though the text doesn’t explain this, the crowd must have parted in order to make a path. I mean, they surrounded Jesus, but here was a blind man on the fringes who must get to him. So they cleared out of the way. They didn’t steer him or push him or force him. They didn’t point the way to Jesus, because this man couldn’t see them. But they made a clearing, a wide open space in which he could walk. They didn’t clutter the way with their opinions. They gave no advice: “Get glasses! Try LASIK! Try religion! Spit and mud are rumored to work!” They said nothing of the sort. They just made Jesus accessible, that’s all. They stopped interfering with their rebukes and their wisdom. They parted like the Red Sea and let that man pass through to his Land of Promise.

I am struck that Jesus heals people. I don’t know if it’s the pain in the world, or the unanswered prayers, or my own lofty logic that keeps me from seeing. Seeing Jesus heal people. It is a long journey, but he’s healed me too—bit by bit, piece by piece—but I’m not so sure I’m seeing yet. I’m skeptical, cynical, and hard to impress, and I rely on the skepticism to keep me safe from disappointment. But I’m starting to learn that I’d rather suffer a disappointment or two than never get moving at all. I’d rather fall and skin my knee in route to healing than sit on my rump and scorn the difficulties of standing up. I’d rather grope my way towards Jesus than keep questioning why he seems to be playing games with me, hiding, standing still. I’d just rather move, you know? I’d rather put one foot in and see whether or not the sea parts than stay put with the assumption that there’s no possible way through the chaos. I’d rather trust the voices that say, “Come here! Cheer up! Take heart! Courage! On your feet! He’s calling you!” than the voices that say, “Shut up! Stay down! You’re not worth it!” I’d rather be Blind Bartimaeus with a shot at life than the nervous little girl who is too ashamed to beg.

I am struck, that even after you regain your sight, the journey isn’t over. The first thing you’ll see is the road. The Jesus way continues, if you follow your eyes. Amen.

This is my sermon from this morning, “Stay Loyal to Your Healing,” based on Mark 10:46-52.  To listen to audio, go here. To peruse other sermons, go here

Richard Rohr quote is from Everything Belongs (NY: Crossroad Publishing, 1999) 17.

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creating me [using words]


creating me [using words]