Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Is Seeing Believing or is Believing Seeing?

Sermon text from this past Sunday, Oct. 25th, 2015

Mark 10:46-52
Is Seeing Believing or Believing Seeing? 

When I first read the scriptures for today, I was struck by the sshhhing of Bartimaeus.  It really bothered me that the people around him tried to quiet his calling out to Jesus.  And I was a bit stuck there.  Then I remembered Job and how his wife and his friends also, kind of, shushed him.  They tried to get him to give up on his faith. All this shushing just really bothered me.  I just kept coming back to the blind man and wondering, what did it matter to the people around him if he cried out to Jesus?

I kept thinking about this poor blind man.  But I had no idea how to make a sermon about shushing.  So, I pulled out my good ole Wesley Study Bible and started reading the commentary and it pointed out that this blind man saw more than we thought.  This blind man saw Jesus as the Messiah.  He knew who he was and cried out to him as the Messiah, as the Son of David.  He recognized him with the eyes of his heart and his faith healed him, it transformed him it re-formed him.

Would you please pray with me?  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

I want to take just a moment to remind you that Christmas really isn’t that far off.  It is exactly two months from today.  That seems crazy!  Now, I love Christmas.  It’s my favorite time of the year and well, Susan has been talking about Christmas and playing Christmas carols for close to a month or more already.  So, please excuse me if we have a little bit of Christmas today.  See, I had been praying over these scriptures looking for a message, looking for words to share with you and then one morning, as I was thinking about getting up to get an early start to my writing, I started thinking about the blind man and his faith, his sight, and I remembered something.  I could hear a scene from the movie, “The Santa Clause” plain as day in my head.  It’s the scene after Scott Calvin, now Santa, and his son come to the North Pole that first Christmas when Santa fell off their roof and Scott put on the Santa suit.  Scott is in his Santa PJs and he is looking out over the balcony at the North Pole and just can’t believe his eyes.  He is talking with an elf and he says, “I see all this but I don’t believe it.  It’s a dream!”  to which the elf replies, “Seeing isn’t believing, Believing is seeing.” 

How true are those words for Bartimaeus?   The elf talks about how grown-ups just can’t believe in magic anymore, because she says, “they just grow out of it.” 

I think maybe something like this happens to Christians sometimes as we as we kind of become “adult” Christians, if you will, we sometimes “grow out” of our faith.  We grow complacent, we think we’ve got this and we stop actively believing.  Oh, we still believe but everything becomes routine.  Our prayers become the same, our study slows down.  We show up on Sunday, but everything is rote, it loses meaning, it’s just habit.  It’s just repeating words on the page or going through the motions.  But remember when it all had meaning?  Remember when you went through confirmation or first became a Christian?  When your eyes were opened to the meaning?  As we become the “adult” Christian sometimes we kind of lose the excitement of believing, of being a Christian. 

Have you seen the movie “The Polar Express”?  The little boy in this movie is getting older and he’s in that place in childhood where he’s just not sure he believes in Santa Claus anymore so the train, the Polar Express, comes to take him to the North Pole to help him to believe.  Throughout the movie, the boy realizes that he can’t hear the sleigh bells because of his disbelief.  Then a bell comes loose and rolls over to him.  He still can’t hear the bell even though he can see it and then in that pivotal point in the movie, the boy closes his eyes and as he shakes the bell, he then makes the decision to choose to believe, to actively believe, and suddenly he hears the bell,  it starts to ring for him.  He opens his eyes and at that moment can see Santa’s reflection in the bell over his shoulder.  He chose to believe and then he could hear and then he could see.
We can be like this little boy and when open our eyes we can really see.

Bartimaeus believes, he knows that Jesus is there even though he can’t see him and he cries out to him.  He knows that Jesus is the son of God, the Messiah and he knows that Jesus can heal him so he cries out to him.  The people around him try to quiet him, (for us it can our everyday lives that try to quiet us) but the more the people tried to quiet Bartimaeus the louder he got (and this is way we should be too.) The people seem to not think Bartimaeus is worthy of Jesus’ time, of his attention but Jesus hears the cries of Bartimaeus and calls him to come to him.  When Bartimaeus hears this, he jumps up and goes to him.  Jesus asks him what he wants from him and Bartimaeus replies, to see again.  At which point, Jesus says “your faith has made you well.”  And then Bartimaeus follows Jesus on to Jerusalem.  He becomes his disciple.  He is transformed, his life is transformed.  He has a sort of reformation, or re-formation of his life.  He goes from blind beggar to a believing disciple.

The thing about Bartimaeus is that he believed before he could physically see.  It wasn’t because Jesus healed him that he believed, no, he believed first.  Believing is seeing.  How often do we want to see first, so that then we can believe?  How often do we want some miracle, or sign before we can really believe?

A few years ago, Shannon and I led a Sunday School class and the book we were using was called “God Sightings.”  It was about looking for and seeing God in our everyday lives.  The premise was that by doing this we grow closer to God.  Sometimes we saw God in the neatest places or things. It was interesting how we looked differently and saw him in such different ways.  We had a young woman in our class who one time was out jogging and a butterfly joined her for the entire run! She shared that if just flew next to her, all around her for a lot of the run and in that moment she felt God’s presence and felt close to him. Another woman often saw God in people, in the things they said, in their faces or their actions. Some of us looked for him in the easiest of places, a beautiful sunset, a flower.  Other’s looked for him in situations in their lives or in the world around them.  Wherever we look we can find him if we only believe we will but sometimes we have to make a conscious effort to see or find him and then sometimes, he almost just jumps out at us!

Sometime, like the people tried to shush Bartimaeus, like they tried to get in his way, our every day lives, the every “dayness” gets in our way, our way of seeing!

There were weeks when no one had any sightings to share.  But I wonder if sometimes we were a little like the little girl from Miracle on 34th Street. 

Do you remember that little girl? She doesn’t believe in Santa Clause at the beginning of the movie.  As the movie goes on she starts to believe, she finds herself wanting to believe.  We see begin to see things that help her to believe and it almost seems that more she believes, the more she sees. But when she doesn’t see what she asked for under the tree, a card or letter a picture telling her where to find her Christmas wish, she struggles with her belief.  We find her sitting in a chair reciting over and over, “I believe, I believe, it’s silly but I believe.  I believe, I believe, it’s silly but I believe.”  I wonder how many times in life we are a little like this little girl.  We want to believe but we feel silly! We want to have faith but sometimes it’s hard!   Just like in our Sunday School class, we wanted to see God in the world around us but felt silly looking for Him or even sharing about it.  Or maybe we just didn’t remember to look for Him.  Maybe we let our everyday lives shush us.

But look at Job!  Through all his trials, the loss of wealth, of family, the illness, Job never lost faith.  He never stopped looking for or to God.  Oh, he got a little angry with God, he questioned God, he cried out to God in anguish but he kept the conversation going with God.  He never gave that up even when everyone around him tried to convince him to do so, even when they called him silly for holding onto his faith.  In the end, he says and this is Sherri’s translation not a direct quote, “I did not understand you but I asked questions, I talked it out with you and because of that, I heard you and now, now I see you.”  He didn’t let anything come between him and God.  He would not be shushed.

The thing is, those of us here and those of us who were in our old Sunday School Class already believe.  That’s why we are here!  But sometimes in our belief, we do become complacent.  We become used to our belief but if we open our eyes to him and see what he is doing around us, see what he is wanting us to see, and see with HIS eyes then we too can be like Bartimaeus and hear him call to us and jump up and go him and then be re-formed.   When we open our eyes to him we become more aware of him.  When we see God at work we can become excited, inspiried and then we open ourselves to an even stronger relationship with him.  As we start seeing him, we start spending more time with him, getting to know him better.  When we start seeing him, he draws in, pulls us closer.  As this happens, we can become more like Job, asking questions of God, trying to better understand him.   Then like Bartimaeus, we can call out to him, knowing he is there and understands and will hear us.

I have one more Christmas reference, sorry.  In the second Santa Clause movie, The Santa Clause 2, Charlie, Santa’s son, is struggling.  See, he really knows Santa, he KNOWS Santa is real. It’s his dad!  He can truly believe and continue to believe forever but he can’t tell anyone what he knows!  Can you imagine keeping a secret like that one?  He can’t tell because that’s part of the magic of Christmas, people, children believing, without seeing first.  He is frustrated and angry and is acting out.  He’s getting into trouble.  If he shares something like this people will think him silly.  People won’t believe him.  At the end of the movie, he finally gets to share it with someone and he feels better. 

I think sometimes it’s the same for us.  When our eyes are opened and we really start to look and see God, we then really start to follow him.  We become followers of Jesus, just like Bartimaeus did.  Jesus asked his followers to be witnesses to all he was doing, to all that God was and is doing so that we can go out and share it with others so that others eyes may be opened as well.

Friday, October 23, 2015


I have been busy, busy writing sermons and working on Christmas presents and family time and just living.  Sometimes, I think I get too caught up online, here on my blog or on my Facebook page and forget to live, so I've really been working on living lately.  :)  So... I've neglected this blog.  Today, I decided to share with you the sermon from last week.  It was laity Sunday and the theme was Unity.

Unity.  To me, unity means togetherness.  Unity brings us all together to act as one.  So basically, we’re all in this together and yet when we look around sometimes we see anything but unity.  We don’t see a lot unity in our government right now, we don’t see a lot of unity in The Church anymore.  Our communities have struggled a lot as well lately.  In our society today we hear a lot of arguing and fighting.  Just open up your facebook newsfeed and scroll through and you’ll see all kinds of us vs. them posts continually.  Or if you aren’t on Facebook, turn on the news and listen to the news shows.  It’s republican vs. democrat, it’s liberal vs. conservative, it’s young vs. old, it’s faith vs. faith, it’s I’m right and you’re wrong and there is no in between. For quite a few years now, if someone has a different opinion than ours we turn away from them.  If someone is different from us in looks or beliefs we push them away.  If we don’t like something about someone we often close our ears to them.  Sadly, we even see this disunity in families sometimes because of differing beliefs, political or religious, or different life styles.

I’ve always loved the TV show NCIS.  It stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service.  For some reason, several years ago, we stopped watching it.  Most likely because life got busy on us but recently, I’ve stated watching again on Netflix.  I watched an episode recently where a young marine was murdered as he was praying in a park.  Fairly quickly we discover that he was Muslim.  He had recently converted.  As they begin to look more closely at his life, they discover that his father was a chaplain, a Christian chaplain, in the military and that was fairly recent too.  As they interviewed different people in the young Marine’s life they discover that he was having some issues in his unit and in his family due to his new faith.  Eventually, we discover that his younger brother is the one who killed him because his faith was an embarrassment to his family and the Marine Corps.  His father was horrified.  I imagine that he was wishing that he hadn’t let this come between their relationship and he lost him before they could reconcile.

Unity. I looked it up in the dictionary, just because, well, that’s what I do, and one of the definitions said, “a condition of harmony.”  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Harmony.  When I think I of harmony, I think of music and the thing about harmony in music, is that it’s several different notes coming together to make one beautiful sound.  So, thinking about unity in the same way, unity would be the different coming together to make something beautiful.  To be in unity would be to live together in harmony.  That doesn’t mean we all need to change and be alike, it means we can come together in all our differences and work together, in this case in ministry.  We all work together in ministry to the world.  We all work together on the mission that Christ set before us and it also happens to be the mission of the United Methodist Church as well, to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.   That’s our ministry.

Now, you may be thinking that ministry is not your calling.  You are a lawyer, or a real estate agent, or a soldier, or a teacher or a mother, or secretary or a builder, a clerk, a mechanic and the list goes on and on.  And you are right we aren’t all called to pastor a church!  We have to have other vocations in order for society to work but we are all called to ministry.  Ministry isn’t just preaching, or leading Bible studies, or planning worship services or going to foreign countries to be a missionary and so on.  Ministry happens in our every day lives.  My daddy used to always tell us that our best witness was the way we lived our lives.

In our reading from Mark today, there is some talk about who can be next to Jesus, who would sit next to him in his kingdom, which we can kind of translate as who will be second or who will be great but Jesus tells them again that they should give up their selfishness, that they should stop worrying about who will be “great” and learn to serve others.  To serve, to be a servant.  Jesus taught this not only in word but also in actions.  He was a servant to all, to everyone.  Not just to those who liked him, who thought like him, who believed like him, no he was servant to everyone and by this, through this he made many disciples. Disciples who then were to go out and be in ministry too.

Here’s kind of a funny thing.  We are talking about serving people, about serving everyone no matter who they are or what they believe, or what they look like.  We like to focus on that, on who we serve and that’s a BIG thing, but this is a good time to also focus on who are ministers and who we minister WITH as well.

First, we have to recognize that all the ministry of the church cannot be done by just one person or even just a few people.  It takes all of us! 

I remember sitting in a committee meeting here several years ago and someone saying something about how when they go to certain meetings it’s always the same people at all the meetings, that there aren’t a lot of different people and that this was a struggle.  They talked about how they wished that more people got involved at which point someone asked, “Well, have asked anyone new to help?”  And I remember there was this moment of pause.

See, something I think that often happens in organizations, is that we get used to the same people doing everything.  We get used to always asking the same people to do things and forget to invite others into working with us in ministry.  On the flip side of this, I think often we sit around waiting to be asked to serve, to be asked to take part.  We wait for an invitation when we really we need to be stepping out and letting our talents be known and offering to use them in ministry.  It’s a tricky line.  The leaders in the church don’t want to push people away by pushing them into serving and then the people don’t want to seem vain, or full of themselves, or are afraid of stepping on some else’s toes.  The thing is, there is ministry enough for everyone both inside and outside the church.  There is!

You may be thinking you don’t have time to serve on a committee or sing in the choir, or help with the noodle luncheon.  That’s ok!  You can be in ministry right where you are!  Have you noticed the person a few desks, or cubicles or whatever down from you who seems to be stressed or unhappy, or just cranky?  Or maybe it’s the cashier at the store, or even a stranger in the hall or on the street.  Maybe you could be the person who offers them a smile and a friendly word or two.  That’s a huge ministry these days, one that is sometimes very neglected.  We all get caught up in our own little space and forget to look out and see who might be in need right in front of us.

Maybe you have a neighbor who could use a visit every now and then.  We have several people in our own congregation who would love to have someone to come and visit with them from time to time.  Or if you can’t get out they would love to receive a phone call that just says, “Hey, I was thinking about you!”

There are so many places both inside and outside the church for many hands to be in ministry together.  Together in unity, even when we don’t always see eye to eye, even we if don’t always agree on everything, we can and should be in ministry together.

We can’t rely on the pastor, the secretary, the education director, the music director, the youth director and so on to do all the ministry of the church alone.  We are all in this together.  We are all called to be in ministry as one body, reaching out to all those in need how ever we are able. 

We can be in ministry with the church down the street or with the synagogue, or mosque, or temple.  When we had the string of church fires several months ago, I read an article about a Muslim community raising money to help them rebuild.  I know of a Lutheran Church that is shares it’s building with a United Methodist church whose building is no longer standing.  I know of another Methodist church that has opened it’s doors to a Jewish community that was in need of a place to worship.  I’ve watched this congregation join with other denominations to be in ministry together to this community. 

If we all come together, there will be more that can be done to work towards our mission of making the world a better place, of shining God’s light throughout and in making disciples of Christ.  All of us together can do so much more than just one of us alone.