"Blindness May Be Baked Into Us”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 28, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Luke 2:22-35


    As we prepare ourselves to enter 2015, I thought we might check the pulse of our spiritual vision.  As the title of my message suggests, perhaps spiritual blindness is as much a part of us as our five senses.  What makes our life such an adventure is our blindness.  If we had all the answers to life's questions, we would never develop the curiosity to seek what we have not yet learned.     

    The Gospel of Thomas continues to be a source of inspiration for people who are not afraid to read early Christian material that never made it into the Bible.  This Gospel was among thousands of scrolls unearthed in Nag Hammdi, Egypt in 1945.  The Roman Church fathers thought they had destroyed all such material because these scrolls were counter to the theology and doctrines being taught by the trained priesthood. 

    In this last verse in Thomas' Gospel, we find the disciples asking a question that is also asked in Luke 17:20.  Jesus was asked, "When will the Kingdom of God come?" Jesus responded, "It will not come by waiting for it.  It will not be a matter of saying, 'Here it is' or 'There it is.'  Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it."  This is a different answer from the one found in Luke where Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is within you."  Actually, both passages are saying the same thing with different words. 

    Gnostic Christians traveled the more mystical and spiritual path.  The Roman Church devoted itself to preserving and refining Christian theology.  They were the ones that decided what books were worthy enough to be included in the Bible.  

    What causes us to go through life and remain unaware of the Kingdom of God that Jesus said was spread out over the earth?  There is no one answer that will fit everyone, but it should make us wonder. I want to read something for you that may help us to understand why our spiritual blindness may be baked into our nature.

The day was a cold January morning in 2007.  The place was Metro Center in Washington, D. C.'s subway system.  A man was playing six Bach pieces on his violin for about 45 minutes.  During this time frame approximately 2,000 people went through that subway station as they were on their way to work.  This drama was being video taped.


After three minutes a middle aged man noticed that someone was playing a violin.  He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried off to stay on his schedule.


Four minutes later:  the violinist received his first dollar; a woman dropped the money into his violin case and continued on her journey. 


Six minutes later:  A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him; then he looked at his watch and started walking again.


Ten minutes later:  A 3-year old boy stopped to listen but his mother took his hand and pulled him along so he would keep up with her swift pace.  The child released his mother's hand so he could stop to listen. Once again, his mother urged him to keep up all the while he continued to turn his head to watch the violinist.  This was the response of several parents.  In each case without exception, children were forced to keep up with their parents.


After forty-five minutes had passed, only 6 more people stopped to listen for a short time.  Twenty more people gave him money as they continued to walk at their normal pace.  The violist collected $32 for his playing. 


After one hour, he finished playing and silence took over.  No one noticed that he had finished his performance.  No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.


What the people passing through that subway station did not realize is that the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world.  He was playing one of the most intricate pieces of music ever written with a Stradivarius violin worth 3.5 million dollars.  Two days prior to his subway performance he was sold out in a Boston theater where the average cost of a ticket was $100.


The Metro Center performance was organized by The Washington Post newspaper as a social experiment about people's ability to see the extraordinary in an ordinary setting.  They wanted to know if the daily routine of people could be interrupted by something magnificent taking place.  Would people be inspired if the source of that inspiration came in an unexpected context? 


A possible conclusion reached was this:  If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the greatest musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, how many other things are we missing?

    Listen again to that Thomas passage: "Jesus responded, "The Kingdom will not come by waiting for it.  It will not be a matter of saying, 'Here it is' or 'There it is.'  Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth and people do not see it."

    In our Scripture lesson today, we find Mary and Joseph taking their toddler son to the Temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated to God.   Our lesson tells us that the three were greeted by Simeon.  Simeon believed that God had assured him that he would not die until he saw God's promised Messiah.

    Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon said, "O God, with my own eyes I have seen the salvation that you have prepared for people all over the world:  A light to reveal your will, will become visible to the Gentiles and it will bring glory to your people Israel."  Mary and Joseph were both stunned when they heard the words coming from this man.  (Luke 2:30f)

    What caused Simeon to recognize in Mary and Joseph's toddler the characteristics of the promised Messiah?  The answer to that question can be found in an earlier verse where Luke says, "He was a good man who was waiting for Israel to be saved." (Luke 2:25)  He was looking for God's activity. 

    Most of us are not waiting for God to do anything.  Waiting for God to act has not been a part of our faith and traditions as it was for Israel. In fact, Christianity stresses the opposite.  Jesus asked his followers to go into the world and make God visible.   

    Do we ever stop to consider what has been happening to us?  What are we doing to ourselves that hinders God's visibility in the world?   Everyday our newspapers and other news outlets are filled with stories of humanity behaving at its worst. 

    Our senses are bathed with beheadings, bombings, airline near misses or deadly mishaps, serial killings, cyber attacks, identity thefts and the result of natural disasters caused by abnormal weather patterns.  In the evenings, people watch programs like NCIS, Criminal Minds, and a host of other programs that keep us focused on the struggles between the good and evil appetites of fictitious characters.  How desensitizing to God's activity can we get? 

    A producer of YouTube videos wanted to know what would happen if he gave a homeless man $100.  His videos are devoted to expose what is really happening in western societies.  He did so and the man went immediately into a liquor store as the cameras were rolling.  This act reinforced everything he suspected about the homeless.  After being in the store for a considerable time, he came out with a large bag.

    The homeless man, however, walked across the street and began giving two homeless women bread and meat from the deli for sandwiches.  He distributed food to all the homeless that were in the park.  No alcohol had been purchased.  The producer of YouTube was shocked with disbelief. When approached to explain why he had done such a thing with the money, the homeless man said, "It makes me feel good to share with others what I have received."  How many people will see this side of homelessness? 

    A person walked into one of the Phoenix stores here in Bermuda and paid off the balances of the lay-away accounts for families that are struggling financially.  We will be surprised if we see a front page headline featuring this story.  Was this God's spirit at work?  We were told that it was the work of a secret Santa.

    The two police officers that were assassinated as they sat in their cruiser dominated the news.  What may have been missed by the public is that the children of the deceased officers are having their college education paid in full wherever they want to go by the New York Yankees. Both families will have their mortgages paid in full by The Stephen Siller Foundation.

      If God wanted us to become more visible to everyone in some concrete way, God would have no trouble doing so.  However, the invisible Spirit of God's activity is spread over the earth and humankind cannot see it.  Somehow society feels more comfortable attributing loving deeds to a secret Santa.  Those who have been sensitized by the spiritual dimension of life can recognize the presence of God every day of their lives.

    Think of it.  God chose a very obscure part of the world to have Jesus born.  The baby came through a peasant woman and was reared in a community of illiterate people.  He grew up to change the world without the assistance of Facebook, YouTube, or a web-site.   

    God works slowly by our standards.  The entire population of the earth had to die several times before Jesus' message began to circulate outside of the Middle East.  Creation is a process that has taken eons to become what it is today.  As humanity has developed better tools for communicating, beginning with the printing press and now the social media activities already mentioned, the presence of God's creativity will greatly accelerate.  However, even then, the only ones who will see it will be those who interpret such events as a God thing.

    In 2015, let us adjust our vision and look for the good in others, rather than through the cynical attitudes that many of us have.  Better yet, why not participate in making God visible.  Remember Thomas' Gospel, "The Kingdom will not come by waiting for it.  It will not be a matter of saying, 'Here it is' or 'There it is.'  Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it." 

    Let us choose to live in such a way that others will see this Kingdom consciousness.  Let us reveal God's spirit through what we say, what we do and what we give away.  God will do the rest in ways we could never have anticipated.