"First, Connect The Dots"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 29, 2006
Job 42:1-6, 10; Mark 10:46-52
I enjoy the television commercial that lifts up a stereotypical quality attributed to a number of men. A family is driving their new vehicle and the wife is commenting on all its new bells and whistles. Finally she says, “We are lost. Why don’t you use our new navigational system?” He says, “We’re not lost. Ah, this looks familiar.” As the camera pans away from the drama, we see that their SUV is towing a boat and he’s making a right turn somewhere in the middle of the desert.
We get lost incrementally. It does not happen all at once. Sometimes we are surrounded with darkness and we do not have a clue that what is causing our disorientation is that we have unplugged ourselves from all the reminders that we are angels in the flesh. We miss the reminder that we were designed to remain connected to God whom we trust implicitly in spite of what is happening to us. There is absolutely nothing in our world that can instill more confidence than standing on that rock of understanding.
Our lesson today is the story of a blind man named Bartimaeus. Mark verbally paints a remarkable story for us. No doubt he had heard about how the love of Jesus expressed itself for people blind like him, but his physical limitation only allowed him to dream about a possibility of one day meeting Jesus.
That day came, however. The excitement began to build in him when he heard that Jesus would pass by the very spot where for most of his life he had begged for money. As Jesus drew closer he began to shout, “Son of David! Have mercy upon me.” People turned around and told him to be quiet. But he could not restrain himself. The possibility of leaving behind his blindness and the lifestyle to which his condition had relegated him was too much. He shouted all the more.
There was such intense eagerness in his voice that Jesus summoned him. Bystanders said to him, “Cheer up. Today is your lucky day! Jesus is calling for you to come to him.” He jumped to his feet, flung off his cloak and came to Jesus.
Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Why did such obvious human need escape the observation of the Master? Jesus knew what Bartimaeus wanted, but Jesus wanted to hear the request. Jesus wanted to know if he was prepared to give up the way he was earning a living. Was he prepared to begin his life-skill education all over again? Was he really prepared to reorder his priorities? The man said, “I want to see again.” Of course, Jesus healed him.
All of us have been at a place during our lives where we have experienced pain. For Bartimaeus, it was the pain of perpetual darkness. Apparently there had been a day when he was able to see. He wanted back that lost part of his life.
It is perfectly natural for us to blame our emptiness on something. Very rarely do we ever find ourselves thanking God for the gift of pain. Most of us would never think of doing that. If we did anything at all, we would more likely ask that God take the pain away. However, when we look at the purpose of pain, our perception about it may change. Pain is a warning that something is wrong.
A number of years ago, I had surgery for a triple hernia. Since the good surgeon performed his procedure through the navel, I was up and about the next day. No soreness at all because there had been no abdominal opening. Three days into my convalescent period, I was helping one of the men of the church remove the large steel plate that covers all the dimmer switches that govern the lighting in the sanctuary. He lost his footing and I found myself supporting the 30-pound plate myself. I felt this tearing sensation in my abdomen.
Within a couple of hours, I saw the outline of blood trailing about six inches just under the skin on both of my upper legs. The blood flow pattern for each leg was almost identical. I was fascinated by that so I called the surgeon to confess my sin.
He said, “Let’s connect the dots here. What did I tell you – lift nothing over 5 pounds for at least four weeks.” Then he said something that was both reassuring and it made me laugh. He said, “Do you think you are capable of ruining my work? You can’t. You’ve got a minor hemorrhage on both sides but it’s nothing to worry about.” In essence, he told me to go and sin no more. For those of you who may know Dr. Madalene Greene who has her practice with Bowie Internal Medicine, my surgeon was her husband, Barry. He has a remarkable bedside manner.
Emotional or psychic pain is no different. We may be grieving because of a loss or painfully distracted because of some sudden, accelerated change to one of our living patterns. We could be feeling guilty because of some behavior that evokes shame. We may feel frustrated that we cannot go back in time and do something differently. We may regret that we cannot fix other people so they are more to our liking. The same communication difficulties exist at our office, our marriages and with our children. We cannot understand why people are making us so crazy! The problem is always theirs; seldom is it ours.
When we understand the purpose of pain, it frequently offers guidance rather than torment. Pain frequently means that we have some homework to do somewhere in our lives. Sometimes that means a hip replacement, sometimes it means medication, sometimes it means that we must change how we order our lives and other times it means that we need to reconnect our branch to the vine, i.e., bring God back into the center of our lives.
John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement in England. He was a man with a powerful faith. He decided to put his faith to work so he came to America to convert the Indians. When he got here, he not only encountered a language barrier but his religious orientation and its symbols were very different from those of the Native Americans. He failed. Their faith, while different, was just as important to them as his was to the Wesley family. Where was God? After all, he felt called to convert the Indians.
He began dating a woman named Sophie Hopkey. John became so controlling and dictatorial during their relationship that eventually Sophie wanted nothing more to do with John. He pursued her with even more fervor and resolve to the point where she had to get a legal restraining order against him. He failed to recreate Sophie into the likeness of his mother, Susanna. Filled with pain he gave up on America.
He boarded a ship and headed back to England. That ship encountered a fierce storm. The intensity of the powerful winds caused large waves to crash over the prow of the ship. John was at his wits end. He heard singing and thought the angels had come to take him home. But, no, the singing was on his ship. There they were, a group of Moravians, exuding remarkable confidence in their trust in God for the outcome of all things. John slowly began to connect the dots. He discovered that he did not have a faith, i.e., trust in God that even remotely approached the level of the Moravians.
Most United Methodists know what happened next. John attended a Bible study at Aldersgate church and felt his heart strangely warmed. Finally, all the dots were connected and he understood that his greatest need and the cause of all his pain was his inability to connect the dots. Like the Apostle Paul, Wesley was so full of himself that there was no room for God’s presence. His life was communicating, “My will be done” not God’s. Ever so slowly John Wesley had been moving away from God. His own experience of pain and fear were warning him.
After this experience John Wesley’s movement became so powerful in England that his native land did not need to experience a revolution, as did France and a number of other nations in Europe. John Wesley had found a way to help people, who had lost their way, to fall in love again with life. His way of making disciples had a method to it, a method that would produce results. That is why we were called Methodists. It was a very derogatory reference in the earliest days as was the word Christian when it was used to label those who followed Jesus’ teachings.
From time to time, all of us need help to connect our dots. Bartimaeus wanted so badly to abandon his darkness that he came to Jesus willingly. John Wesley’s pain was a necessary step before he understood his need to connect to God, but this time from a sense of vulnerability. What about us and what about the people with whom we associate, some of whom have no church family and maybe we have not loved them enough to invite them to come here?
People expect a lot from a church when God has every right to expect a lot from people. St. Matthew’s is not the Bank of America as some people assume when they come in to the office and ask us to help them financially with utility bills and rent that are months in arrears. St. Matthew’s cannot guarantee that every person’s sadness will be lifted. St. Matthew’s and its pastors will never become everything people would like them to be, particularly when it comes to consequences in their lives that have been accumulating for years. We cannot undo that but God sure can.
When Bartimaeus wanted to escape the darkness, he knew enough about Jesus to think that he just might hold the answer. I cannot think of a better place to be than St. Matthew’s that is part of the Body of Christ.
This week I received a call from one of our members. Recently his health had been compromised and the outcome was uncertain. He said to me, “Dick, I felt your presence and that of the entire congregation when I was in the ICU. Everyone was there with me every step of the way. I am home now.”
There were the calls from people saying, “Do you still need clothing for that baby at Alpha House?” Not long ago I took a small bag to the house. On another day, I took five large boxes filled with everything from winter snowsuits to shoes. Thanks to people’s generosity, that little girl is well equipped for the months that lie ahead.
One of our ushers rushed her husband to Johns Hopkins. A nurse noticed that she looked completely depleted while sitting in the waiting room. Within a couple of hours, she was in a hospital bed and the blood work revealed that she had to stay. It was confirmed that she had leukemia.
Her husband died not far from her hospital room. She could not be with him. Most of you know the story well. During her absence, their home was refurbished with flooring, appliances and so much more. She will be home soon after five rounds of extended hospital stays where she received her chemo treatments. All subsequent tests have shown no cancer cells.
We are a very loving and generous congregation. As I did last year, I have snuck up on you with my annual money sermon. This was it! It was not painful at all to deliver. It was honest and sincere. This is our church. This is the hub that makes many wonderful things happen for so many people. We have learned how to allow our discipleship to show. We need to increase our financial support for the only Body of Christ that some people will ever know.
Next week you will receive a letter, an estimate of giving card and a short version of our 2007 spending-plan. For those of you who enjoy reviewing the entire financial plan, copies of that will be in the literature rack next Sunday. If you do not get a letter, I would like to know because occasionally our computer’s database misses a number of people. We certainly do not want anyone to miss out on this opportunity.
Remember, because we sow bountifully our congregation reaps bountifully. St. Matthew’s experiences this because of the spirit by which we live. Are we perfect? No! Are we a community that is alive in being the leaven for the loaf? You bet! We have connected the dots. I have every confidence that you will raise the amount you give to our church just as Lois and I will do. Just as we have done every year, we will raise the amount of our spending plan together.As with all things, it takes all of us to express our faith in this manner. We know the source of our strength. It was Jesus who said, “Follow me.” The more we do that, the more we can accomplish together.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you God, for bringing opportunities into our lives to express understanding, kindness and generosity. When Jesus came among us, he confessed that he had no place to lay his head. His message was simple – extend your hope among the troubled, your kindness among the lonely and your friendship among those who feel lost. Help us to remember that Jesus did not mind washing the feet of his followers. He found value in the one leper among ten who returned to say, “Thank you!” He felt compassion toward the widow who gave away everything that she had. Then he did the same with his own life. As we open ourselves to you this morning, touch our minds and hearts with your spirit and word. Call us with a voice that is unmistakably clear. Inspire us to listen to the words of your son, “Follow me.” Amen.