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