Being a disciple is harder than we originally thought. When he first asked us to follow him, we thought our lives would somehow be easier. We thought we wouldn’t have to worry about financial matters or family problems. He seemed headed for success – for some kind of political office, and then he would assume the throne of Israel as King. But then we, like the disciples, recalled all the talk about dying and rising and being a servant. It is not what we expected, and it’s occurred to us more than once that maybe we should turn around go back. But we stay, regardless of our fatigue and confusion, and we keep walking alongside him.
Suddenly, our thoughts are interrupted by someone calling for Jesus, and others telling him to shut up. But he won’t shut up. “Son of David,” he cries again, “Have mercy on me!” Jesus hears him this time and stops. “Bring him,” he says, and the man rushes toward the sound of Jesus’ voice. “What do you want me to do for you?”
It’s not a rhetorical question. Jesus isn’t being dramatic for the sake of the crowd, he just wants to hear Bartimaeus say it, to say explicitly what he wants. So the blind man sums up his heart’s desire in six words: “Master,” he says, “let me receive my sight,” he says, and Jesus replies, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus closes his eyes and when he opens them again, he can see for the first time. “Go your way,” Jesus tells him, but he does not leave the company of Jesus, perhaps because, like many of us, we find that once we regain our sight, we can’t go back to the way we used to be. We can only keep following.
This is a great story, full of courage and compassion, complete with a happy ending. It is a story about the kingdom of God, and we want it for our own – to encounter Jesus, to be called by name, to find the words to tell him what we want and to be healed, illumined, made whole. To trade in whatever blindness each of us has, to trade it for clearer vision, so we can see ourselves, see our world, without cloud or shadow.
In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes about the first people in the world to undergo successful cataract surgery. All of them blind from birth, they suddenly received their sight and were interviewed about what they saw. Their stories are surprising and moving.
One newly sighted girl was shown photographs and then some paintings. “Why do they put those dark marks all over them?” she asked. “Those aren’t dark marks,” her mother explained, “they’re shadows. That is one of the ways the eye knows that things have shape. If it weren’t for shadows many things would look flat.” “Well that’s how things do look,” her daughter answered. “Everything looks flat with dark patches.”
A second girl was so shocked by the radiance of the world that she kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When she finally opened them she saw only a world of light where everything was in constant motion. She couldn’t distinguish objects, but gazed at everything around her, saying over and over again, “Oh my God, how beautiful!”
But not everything was beautiful for these patients. Unable to judge distances, they reached out for things a mile away, or they stumbled over furniture they perceived only as patches of color. The world turned out to be much bigger than they had thought, bigger and infinitely more complex. Many became seriously depressed. Others, having seen themselves for the first time in a mirror, realized how often others had seen them without their awareness. The distressed father of one young woman wrote her surgeon that his daughter had taken to shutting her eyes when she walked around the house, and that she never seemed happier than when she pretended to be blind again. A fifteen year old boy finally demanded to be taken back to the local home for the blind, where he had left his girlfriend behind. “No, really, I can’t stand it anymore,” he said. “If things don’t change, I’ll tear my eyes out.”
It’s the same with us. We are often happy with our blindness, content to be in our own little worlds without the world’s problems distracting us or causing us sleepless nights or acid reflux or headaches. But Jesus persistently calls to us, “Get up!”
So what will we do? The question isn’t theoretical or hypothetical at all, because that’s what following Jesus is all about. Do we want to see or not? We can choose blindness and stay in our familiar dark, where all the edges are rounded off so that we will not hurt ourselves, where we need only concern ourselves with what is within our reach. We can stay with what we know.
Or we can jump to our feet, leaving our fear behind. If we are truly willing to see, we will see the good along with the bad, the love along with the hatred that exists in our world, the beautiful along with the hideous, the joy with the sorrow. We’ll meet many people who were invisible to us before: the homeless, the marginalized, those who suffer with HIV and AIDS, lesbians and gays, people who are frankly not welcome in other churches.
Two years ago, a handful of people said, “Yes, we are willing to see and to follow” and we planted the seed that is Holy Redeemer. We continue to grow and to bruise our shins from bumping into things, but we have created a place Jesus would be proud to visit. We’re expanding our vision to include everyone in the mission of this parish, and even though it is all still very new, we know we are on the right path.
As we cross the threshhold into our 3rd year as a parish community and we have much to be thankful for. We have much more to do, beginning with renewing our individual commitment to this ministry. “What is it that you want?” Jesus asks each of us tonight, and we say as a parish community, “Lord, we wish to see! We wish to be a place of welcome for all those abandoned by other churches. We want to be your presence for people who are rejected and turned away. We want to become what we believe!” And so we move forward together, following Jesus—even though the path will not always be convenient or without obstacles. It will interfere with our personal lives and with the way we spend our financial resources. Ultimately, if we are truly attentive to the call of Jesus, this path will sometimes be costly and difficult, it will require inconvenience and putting our own individual needs aside. It could also become the most rewarding work of our lives. The People of God are waiting for exactly what we ourselves have found here: a home of unconditional acceptance and love. There are countless others just like us in Fort Wayne, so if you will allow me the privilege of continuing to be your pastor, I ask that you join me in seeking out these people and bringing them the Good News that God loves them the way they are.