Monday, June 8, 2015

I Found a Sermon From the Past

In going through my office (over-filled as it is with 17 years of books, memories, and papers), I found some of my old sermons.  I never know whether to save or toss.  This one I preached the year we decided to read the whole Gospel of Mark between Advent and Easter.  The text I preached on comes up only rarely in the Lectionary it is about a blind man who is healed by Jesus.  When Jesus asks him, he says, "I see people… but they look like trees walking."  So, Jesus heals him again.  (Mark 8:22-26)  Anyway, here's what I wrote, back then:

"A Second Touch"

One of my favorite books as a girl was called Half Magic.  It was a fantasy pre-curser to the Harry Potter tales.  In this book, four children find a magic coin.  Of course, they don't realize that it is magic right away.  They simply pick it up from the street and put it in their pockets because it looks interesting and shiny.  Innocently enough, they discover that when they wish for something it comes true.  Sort of. The first thing they wish for on a boring summer day is for something exciting to happen, like a fire.  As soon as the words are out of their mouths, the fire truck races by and they discover that a child's tree house is on fire.  By trial and error, they discover that their coin is actually only half magic, and for them to get their wish to come completely true, they have to wish on the coin twice.

When I hear the story of Jesus healing the blind man, this is the first connection that comes to mind for me:  "you have to wish it twice",  For, amazing enough, when Jesus first touches the blind man in Bethsaida and makes him see, it seems as though he is only half healed.

Jesus, like a doctor checking to see if his operation was successful, asks him "Can you see anything?"  He reports, "I can see people, but they look like trees walking."  Sounds familiar to all of us who wear corrective lenses, doesn't it?  So Jesus needs to touch his eyes a second time, after which he finally "sees clearly."  The sights are no longer blurry for him.  There are no fuzzy edges, no mistaking a human being for a street sign or your garbage can for a pedestrian.  Not only can the ma see, but now he can successfully interpret what he's seen.

In case you are wondering, there is no other story in Scripture where Jesus needs to heal someone twice in order for them to completely healed.  And this particular story is found in no other Gospel.  If it seems unfamiliar and puzzling, that might be the reason.  It is uncommon and out of character for Jesus.  We have seen many sides to Jesus' healing so far.  We've seen him heal with a word or a touch.  We've seen him heal people who have simply touched the hem of his robe.  We've seen people who have immediately gotten up and walked, or who immediately gotten up and walked, or who immediately were cleansed of their leprosy.  The deaf man was commanded "Be opened!" and his ears were opened and he spoke plainly.  So why should Jesus need the touch the blind man twice?  Somehow, like the coin that was only "half magic", it seems that Jesus is less powerful than he was before.

Yet if we were only to focus on Jesus' power here, I think we would be missing the point.  For some reason or another, the blind man needs a second touch.  He needs to see again, and then to see clearly, and there is something that rings true for us in this healing.  Perhaps it is because we don't experience healing so often as immediate, but gradual, and in stages.  So it's comforting to know that there is a second touch available, if you feel that you are on the way, but not quite there yet.  Perhaps it is because we understand the complexity of our senses, sight and hearing and taste and touch, that this healing rings so true to us.  There is seeing and there is understanding what is seen.  There is hearing and there is comprehending what is heard.  For those of us who wear glasses, there is that moment when we saw for the first time when leaves really looked like -- the sharpness of color, the distinctiveness of their shapes.

In the let couple of years, I've learned a little about the procedure called "cochlear implants."  They allow people who have had hearing loss to begin to hear again.  But the effects of the implant are not immediate.  They are gradual.  People begin to hear and distinguish different sounds, then words, more and more.  And every person's hearing comes at a different pace.

Why is this?  It seems that the brain needs to re-learn how to interpret what it is receiving from the ear, and that this is a process that doesn't happen all at once.  It is one thing to hear the sound, and another to understand it.  It's the same with sight -- at least it seems so from this gospel.  It's one thing to see -- and quite another to understand what you are seeing.  It might be the difference between fuzzy and clear vision itself.  But it might be the difference between seeing something and really seeing clearly what it is, and what it means.

Remember that just prior to this healing Jesus becomes frustrated with his disciples once again.  They have not understood his reference to " the yeast of the Pharisees" and are discussing the fact that they don't have any bread.  (Actually, they do have bread -- one loaf.)  Jesus hears them and responds, "why are you talking about having no bread?  Do you still not perceive of understand?  Are your hearts hardened?  do you have eyes, and fail to see?  Do you have ears, and fail to hear?"

It's clear that Jesus believes that the disciples need a second touch.  They see, but they don't perceive.  They hear, but they don't understand.  Their brains have not quite learned how to interpret what they have seen and heard so far.  There is something missing, something for which they need a second touch, so that they can see clearly who Jesus is and what is his mission.

do we need this second touch as well?  Are there blurry places in our lives, where we are not able to see clear or speak plaint about what we have seen and heard?  Right now in our national life we see war with Iraq coming into sharp focus -- but so many things still seems blurry that we aren't sure what to make of it.  The right course of action is not clear to everyone -- the risks of action or inaction are not clear to everyone.  And the same thing is true as we seek to live out our faith in our daily lives, in our work and in our families.  What vision informs our priorities, our values, how we spend our time?  In the busy-ness of our daily commutes to work, to sports events, to evening classes, to doctor appointments, to worship, to school concerts, to family gatherings, what is important to us can become blurry and unfocused.

Oe thing is clear:  the disciples lack of vision focused on bread.  They saw it, but they didn't really see it.  They had seen it multiplied, but somehow still worried whether they  would have enough.  They had seen it broken and shared, enough for everyone with leftovers, and still they missed its significance.  They Syrophoenician woman saw it and demanded the crumbs.  She saw that there was enough for her.  She saw the abundance of bread with left-overs, even though she had not seen 4,000 people fed.  The first thing the disciples missed, that their eyes failed to see, was the abundance of bread.

"Why are you talking about having no bread?"  Jesus asks, and you can't help hearing his frustration.  As our eyes wander through this sanctuary, and out in our community, do we see the abundance -- or only the scarcity?  It's easy to be focused on budget cuts and shortfalls, on what we lack and what we fear.  That is easily visible.  But do we have eyes to see the abundance in this congregation and that surrounds us?  Do we have eyes to see all the gifts of grace that are available to us?  As I have come to be acquainted with this congregation, one by one, I have come to realize the incredible gifts that you bring with you here.  Someone has great artistic skills -- another an inspiring singing voice -- another a passion for working with families in conflict -- yet another a desire to work with new immigrants.  In church-based organizing there is a particular skill or tool we use to uncover these gifts, called a one-to-one.  In an intentional conversation, we respectfully listen to one another, hear each other's stories, frustrations, hopes and disappointments.  We learn about the unique gifts and calling we bring together for the sake of the gospel.  We learn to see in each other the abundance God has given us.

The other thing the disciples missed when they saw the bread was its brokenness.  It was after the bread was broken that it could be shared.  As Jesus goes on to predict his suffering and death, the disciples are steadfast in their lack of understanding.  They never quite get the necessity of it.  And the cross is still a puzzling sign for us -- a sign of victory, but a sign of defeat as well, a source of shame and failure.  In a culture that is success and wealth oriented, what does it mean to see, to really see that the bread that is broken gives life?

Just this:  that God can find we can find a meaning for our own pain, our tragedies, our sufferings.  It means that God has not abandoned us, but is at work in those very places in our lives where we grieve, where we question, where we suffer, where we struggle.  Author Elizabeth O'Connor considers that Alexander Graham Bell's mother and wife were both deaf, and that Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb, was afraid of the dark.  "At the center of our pain," she writes, "We glimpse a fairer world and hear a call."  When we receive God's second touch, we see bread broken, we see bread shared.  When we receive God's second touch, we understand our mission both to share the world's pain, and to heal it.

Every week we see bread -- bread that is abundant and bread that is broken for us and for our lives.  Every week we see -- but do we really see that the bread broken and shared, the bread of suffering and abundance, is the bread of life, our Lord?  Do we see that we receive his suffering and his life, to heal and to share with one another?  Or do we need a second touch as well?  A second touch to see Jesus as the bread of the world, enough for everyone, with leftovers.  A second touch to see his power working in us, broken but abundant.

It's the way our brain works, you know.  We hear, and bit by bit we learn to understand.  We see, and finally we learn to understand.  We see, and finally we perceive.  We do need a second touch… and God gives us a second touch.  That is why there are two sacraments -- baptism and the Lord's supper… one happens only once, and one happens again and again.  For we always need a second touch, and another taste…. to see our Lord more clearly.

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