Sunday, October 25, 2015

Spiritual Blindness

Consecration Sunday October 25, 2015
Christ Church, Exeter, New Hampshire
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Mark 10: 46-52, Psalm 126
Dear Lord, help us to see again. Amen.

Human beings are wonderfully made. We have both material and spiritual parts to our bodies. We have eyes that can see things of this world, and eyes that see things that are other-worldly. To state the obvious, if our eyes are healthy, we can see. If we’re blind, like Bartimaeus in today’s gospel lesson, we cannot.
Now there are many reasons for blindness. Unlike ancient times, we know that blindness is not a punishment from God. Instead, we know that it is a result of many things like accidents, glaucoma, or macular degeneration. Our blindness can be immediate and irreversible, or it might be progressive, changing slowly over time.
There are two stories about blind men in the gospel of Mark. Both men are physically blind and both are healed by Jesus, one slowly, and one quickly. But Mark also tells us the story of spiritual blindness. The disciples of Jesus became increasingly blind to who Jesus was and what he was all about, despite his powerful words and actions.
On some levels, we’re all spiritually blind. We all have cataracts; we all have vision problems; and we all get infections. We’re blind to many of our own transgressions, and we’re well aware of others. Like Bartimaeus, we often cry out for God’s mercy, not only for ourselves, but also for our world.
The transformation of my own spiritual blindness has been both dramatic and slow. Like my physical eyesight it has changed over time. Sometimes I have seen Jesus from a distance, or not at all. Occasionally I need to squint, find magnifying glasses, binoculars, or rely upon the good eyesight of others. Other times, I have seen Jesus up close and personal, as if I’m sitting in the chair of my eye doctor.
I’ve had many vocations throughout my life. In retail stores, I sold hosiery, body wear, and children’s clothing. As a banker, I sold money at a price. Then as a lay person and later as a priest, I offered the good news of Jesus Christ, saying with a smile that the good news is free. And yet, I’ve learned that grace is not cheap; indeed, there is a cost to discipleship.
We lived in Newtown, Connecticut for almost 20 years, and both of our children attended Sandy Hook Elementary School. The memory of a young man’s decision to kill his mother, teachers, and children will never be erased from our memories or our history; everyone was affected by that violent act. Unfortunately, as you well know, it is only one of many violent acts throughout our world today.
When our children were younger, our family worshiped at Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown. Among many things, I  served on the vestry. During budget times, I often felt as if the rector was trying to take my money. I had this image of me holding my pocketbook and us having a tug of war over its contents. Trinity was known as the rich church on the hill; and I didn’t think this church needed my money. I didn’t have a job, we had small children, a good sized mortgage, and college bills were looming in the future. Let someone else take care of the church bills, I thought. I’m giving plenty of my time and talents, and that’s enough.
Before going to seminary, I was actively involved in our community, serving in town government to help create affordable housing, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, and through a coalition of 5 churches, we created a transitional living facility for homeless families. During this same time, my husband Paul began to see that his use of alcohol was ruining his life; I know that it was ruining mine and our children’s.
Both from a personal perspective as well as working with the homeless, I have learned 1st hand about the suffering that comes with addictions and homelessness. I too had young children, I was without a job, and I depended upon the actions of my husband for our security. Under different circumstances, I easily could have been without a home.
The people at Trinity Church taught me about God’s amazing grace. Twenty six years ago they supported Paul, me, and our children into a life of recovery and faith. Today, after 41 years of marriage, Paul and I now practice living and loving one day at a time. Through 12-step spirituality, we’ve learned that you can’t keep it unless you give it away; and so giving generously has become part of our daily practice.
Our son and daughter were raised by the people of Trinity Church. We saw how inter-generational worship and acts of charity can make a difference. The mission trips that we took were critical to our formation. We saw how lives that are destroyed by poverty, illness, government decisions, natural disasters, and random acts of violence can be rebuilt. We saw how blind we were to the suffering of other people. We saw how blind we were to our many blessings.
Paul and I come from families who are privileged, educated, and who regularly attended church. We learned many different things about money, one being that money is good, because it provides certain kinds of freedom and choices; and this is true. But our greatest learning about money came through our own suffering, and seeing the suffering of others. We came to see that money couldn’t ultimately save any of us in the end.
Theologians call the gospel of Mark as the one with the messianic secret. Mark’s gospel shows Jesus casting out demons, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, and raising the dead. And yet, for the most part, people were blind to who Jesus was. People were looking for a political king to save them, and Jesus was about to enter the capital city of Jerusalem, with disciples who wanted cabinet posts in his new administration. The crowds that followed him were calling for tax reforms.
Previous to today’s gospel passage, there is a rich man who wanted to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to go and sell what he owned, and give his money to the poor, the rich man could not do it. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”, said Jesus. His disciples cried out in fear, “Then who can be saved?”
The bad news for all of us today is that, like the rich man, we are all doomed. As my spiritual director is fond of saying, “We’re all goners.”  Whether we see death from a distance, or death up close and personal, we all face the cross eventually. And now, seeing the gospel of Mark from a distance, we know the messianic secret. We see Jesus differently, as the messiah who saves not only the people of Israel, but also the whole world. We see Jesus not as a powerful king but rather as a suffering servant. And so, the question is not, “Then who can be saved?” but rather,“How then shall we live?”
Money is a temptation for all of us. Although our dollar bills proclaim that in God we trust, we actually trust our money even more. We look to our presidents and kings, our high priests and popes, our military powers and financial markets, our medical technology, and even our human intelligence to save us; but you and I know, ultimately they will all fail us in the end.
As St. Paul said to the church in Corinth, we see now only through a mirror dimly. Our spiritual blindness remains. We still need other people to help us see God’s mercy and grace. We still need magnifying glasses to help us see what may be right in front of our eyes.
Today, I see the Church differently. I see the Church as a place where I can see God in real time, with real people, and through real events. Church is a place where I can throw off my own cloak of fear, knowing that God has the power to forgive me, to heal me, and ultimately to save me. The Church is a place where I can meet Jesus face to face. I see His Body and Blood on my outstretched hands, remembering that he stretched out His arms of love on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of His saving embrace.
Today, whether you are a newcomer, a long-timer, or a visitor like me, together we represent the Body of Christ. We are the head, the heart, the hands, and the feet of Jesus. We have been called by God for a purpose: to provide fuel for God’s mission of love.
I believe that giving money to Christ’s Church is important because it’s like transfusing some of my own blood into Christ’s Body. It’s like giving that nutrient drink called Boost to strengthen Christ’s arms and Christ’s feet for service. I think of giving money to the Church as if I’m buying corrective lenses for us all. And finally, I give to the Church because I believe in Jesus, who in the words of Samuel Wells said, "Jesus walked slowly, purposefully, intentionally into the eye of the storm, because only through the storm would he find what he was truly looking for; and what he was looking for was us.”
So here we are, us, sitting on the side of the road in Exeter, New Hampshire, blind as bats, and begging for mercy. Here we are, us, wanting to know that we’re not goners after all.
Given this good news, how then shall we live? You say in your mission statement that you will live joyfully, connect with God and one another, and serve the local and global community. I say, “Then give faithfully, give gratefully, and give generously for “the Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.” Amen.