Getting Back on Track: Finding Perspective Again (for the First Time)
[audio http://www.opcbrookhaven.org/worship/audio/sermons/10-25-09.MP3] Psalm 34:1-8 Mark 10:46-52
There are times that we see what we want to see.
I’m reminded of the Halloween story of the mad scientist doing an experiment on frogs. He puts a frog down on a mat next to a measuring tape. He bends down over the frog, and he says, “Jump! Jump!” The frog jumps 20 feet. He takes out his notebook and writes, “Frog with four legs jumps 20 feet.” He picks up the frog and takes a scalpel (Halloween story, ya’ll; not for the faint of heart), and he cuts off one of the frog legs and puts him back down on the mat. He says, “Jump! Jump!” The frog jumps 15 feet. He writes down, “Frog, 3 legs, 15 feet.” He takes the frog again, cuts off another one of the frog’s legs, and puts him back on the mat. “Jump! Jump!” the frog jumps 10 feet. He writes, “Frog, 2 legs, 10 feet.” He takes the frog again, cuts off one more leg. He’s down to one leg. “Jump! Jump!” The frog jumps 5 feet. He writes in his notebook “Frog, 1 leg, 5 feet.” He takes the frog again, cuts off the last leg, puts him back on the mat, and says, “Jump! Jump!” Nothing. “Jump! Jump!” Takes out his notebook, and writes, “Frog, no legs, deaf.”
Sometimes when the evidence is before us, we interpret it as we would like.
We have been the spending the last month and a half or so looking at the travels of Jesus. We have been following the footsteps of Jesus in these stories and trying to get back on track in our own lives. Today, we are in Jericho, right next to the Jordan river. It is in the middle of the desert. But Jericho itself is a kind of oasis. So as Jesus and the disciples are moving from the Galilee down toward Jerusalem, they would stop in Jericho at this oasis, before taking the ascent up into the city of Jerusalem.
Today we are focusing on the idea of perspective. We began with perspective. How is it that we take a step back from where we are and get a sense of our context. We’re a little over half way through, which seems like a good time to stop again to try and get perspective because we often see what we want to see.
What better character in the Scriptures to teach us about sight than blind Bartimaeus. Here he is, this beggar, on the outskirts of Jericho, sitting by the road as Jesus and the disciples are walking by. He calls out to Jesus with an amazing statement of faith: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Here is this blind beggar, this outcast of society, forced to beg in order to make ends meet. And yet, he somehow recognizes who Jesus is. The crowd tried to quiet him. “Jesus is important. He doesn’t have time for people like you.” Bartimaeus response is to shout all the louder: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
But as soon as Jesus hears him, he turns the crowd. He says, “Call him her.” And the crowd says, “Oh, take heart! He wants to see you!” They have just been shutting him up and now they want to put him in the center of attention. And as heals him, he says that he went his way following Jesus as he and the disciples went on their to Jerusalem.
The irony of Bartimaeus is that he was blind; but he saw better than anybody else in that story. Nobody in the crowd recognized Jesus for who he was. Nobody in the crowd thought that Jesus would waste his time on a blind beggar. But Bartimaeus called out, called him Son of David, and asked for the impossible: to regain his sight.
There are times in our life when we need that moment to get perspective, when we need to see again as if for the first time, when we realize ourselves that we are blinded and need that divine opening of our eyes to see the world around us and to see our situation. And there are times when in order to get perspective we need to retreat, to get away. We talked about this before. If you don't have, in the rhythm of your life, regular time to get away, to spend time with yourself away, to reflect and get that perspective, whether it's daily or weekly or monthly or annually, some time to reconnect with what it is that's important to you.
But there are times when getting perspective means actually getting closer to God, prayer, discipline…The spiritual life is often like exercise. We may have the best intentions and we don't always follow through. But ultimately we know that we need to get in that discipline of being in regular prayer, Bible Study, in classes, discussions, retreat, time alone with God. But the question is how do we do that?
It strikes me that there are two different groups that we might fit into and are there in this gospel lesson. The first group is a group of one: Bartimaeus. Everything's been stripped away. He can’t see. He can't make a living for himself. He is begging and is dependent upon the kindness of strangers in order to make his daily living. He knows exactly what he needs for healing. He can’t see and he needs to see; and so he calls out to Jesus. It's very obvious the kind of person Bartimaeus represents. There are times in our own lives when we might feel a synergy with Bartimaeus, that everything we have has been taken away, and we're starting over, and we know exactly what it is that we think we need.
There’s this other group: the crowds. They think they've got it right. They think they know what they're doing. They are already following this Jesus and trying to keep the wrong people away. And they are fickle, flipping on the Bartimaeus issue when the wind changes.
Both groups need perspective. For Bartimaeus, it's obvious. In order to get perspective, he simply needs to see. The crowds, however, need perspective because they're the ones that think they've got their act together and it takes Jesus to point out what they’ve been missing all along.
Do either of these groups resonate with you? Do they describe you and your need for perspective? Maybe you’re more like Bartimaeus, knowing exactly what it is that you need. Maybe all has been stripped away and what you need is the encouragement, the boldness of Bartimaeus to go out and to ask for it. If that speaks to you, then my encouragement is to go and find that oasis, that Jericho in your own life: a place like your own backyard, or somewhere far away like the mountains; a time of day, maybe early in the morning or late at night is when you can be alone, where you feel most able to seek God. Ask for what it is that you think you need and Jesus will hear.
Or maybe you’re part of the crowd, thinking you’ve got it all together. Or maybe everybody else thinks you’ve got it together, but you know the truth about yourself. If that's the case, then maybe it's time to let our minds be changed, to listen again to Jesus, and hear that voice that might speak to us in a new way and help us to see things that we have never seen before about ourselves, about those on the margins, about the world around us. One of my favorite quotes is from Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision International: “Let your heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” Maybe that's the very thing that we need: to have the heart of God in our own lives, a heart that might break so we might see those blind beggars by the side of the road.
But more importantly, no matter who we are in this story, no matter where we see ourselves, maybe it's time for all of us to admit the truth: we are the blind beggar. D.T. Niles, famous theologian, says that the best definition of evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Friends, we’re just beggars. No matter how much we think we might have, all that we really have, and all that we really need, comes from the one who blesses us, the God who creates us, and calls us, and redeems us.
If we are in a place where we need to see again, as if for the first time, if we have been blinded, then it is God who brings the healing and will show us where to find that bread we need.
There's this thing about perspective. When I read this lesson, story I am struck by the fact that, for Bartimaeus, there’s a singular moment where everything changed. One day he was blind, he came to Jesus, and the next day he saw. There is this earth shattering moments where suddenly his life is changed. I don’t know about you, but I can't think of a moment of my life that has been like that. Maybe you have had that, which probably means that you have been broken so badly that the transformation is this outrageous blessing.
But maybe it’s more like moving a house. Around the corner, there’s a house being moved. The house was very old, and in order to protect the integrity of the foundations and to keep it from crumbling, they had to move it six inches at a time. On a day to day basis, it was difficult to noticed that the house had moved at all. But after a while, you might think, “Wasn’t that house next to the road, that one that’s back there in the woods?”
Maybe those moments in your life are more like that house. We might not be able to see on a day-to-day basis. But as we look back with that perspective, we can see how far it is that God has brought us.
I want to encourage you to be bold, to seek God - whatever that means to you. Tell God what it is that you need. The truth may be that when we ask for what we need it may really be what we want. God knows what we truly need. My fellow beggars, it is God who will give us that bread that will fill us and make us whole.
Special thanks to my good friend Issa in Gaza for the frog joke. He tells it much better than I ever could. Please say a prayer for Gaza today.