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The Sermon

     A woman came home one day to find that her house had been broken into. She immediately called the police and told them. The nearest officer to her house happened to be a K-9 unit, so that officer was the one who responded to the call. The officer drove up to the house and proceeded to let the dog out of the car.  The woman came running out of the house when she saw the police car but stopped when she saw the dog getting out. She threw up her hands and said, "Great. This is just great. Not only have I been robbed, but now they send me a blind police officer!"

     Bartimaeus, the blind man, was sitting in his customary spot. No telling how long it had been his spot. He'd shuffle out every day and sit in the same spot along the busy street leaving Jericho. Those few people who had a conscience and a touch of empathy would toss a coin or two into his begging bowl. And he probably made just enough to feed himself one day at a time.  Most people, though, walked on the other side of the street. Afraid that whatever sin God was punishing this blind man for was contagious. That's what they thought back then, that blindness was God's punishment for sin, either yours or your parents.  Because he was blind, he was ostracized and cut off from normal society. 

     When he heard that Jesus was coming, he could hardly wait. It would seem that Jesus’ reputation had preceded him along the way. All Bartimaeus wanted was a “chance to see.” And when Jesus got close, to the embarrassment of all those around, Bartimaeus started hollering at the top of his lungs, hoping to get Jesus' attention.  It worked.  Jesus paused and asked him what he wanted. Bartimaeus said, "Let me see again." And Jesus did. Jesus gave Bartimaeus a chance to see but Jesus gives the credit to Bartimaeus’ own faith. 

     Now, as was done for Bartimaeus, Jesus offers us all a chance to see in whatever way we are blind.

But what would have happened had Bartimaeus refused to open his eyes to test the cure? Perhaps he was afraid of being disappointed. Perhaps he was afraid that having sight would not meet his expectations or seeing may not have been as good as he thought he remembered it.  All of us have had experiences where we were afraid to test a situation we had hoped for. It won’t be long before we start seeing all the familiar Christmas movies. Christmas Vacation is one; Chevy Chase anticipates a significant bonus check from his employer, and when it’s delivered a day late he holds on to the envelope and shares with his family his big plans for a backyard pool. When he does open the envelope, he finds that it isn’t the check he expected but membership in the Jelly of the Month Club. He rants and raves and through a series of slapstick events he winds up with what he got last year with an increase – and a pool. Or what about that favorite family recipe we had such fond memories of, but when we found the yellowed paper in the book and put it to the test, we found that our memory of the taste was fonder than the reality of the taste in our mouth?

     Properly seeing is not just a function of eyesight alone but also requires “assembling” all the available clues in order to make out what something really is.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, told a story about himself. He was waiting for a taxi outside the railway station in Paris. When the taxi pulled up, he put his suitcase in it and then got in the taxi. As he was about to tell the taxi driver where he wanted to go, the driver asked him: "Where can I take you, Mr. Doyle?'' Doyle was astounded. He asked the driver if he knew him by sight. The driver said: "No Sir, I have never seen you before.'' Doyle was puzzled and asked him how he knew he was Arthur Conan Doyle.  The driver replied: "This morning's paper had a story that you were on vacation in Marseilles. This is the taxi stand where people who return from Marseilles always wait. Your skin color tells me you have been on vacation. The ink spot on your right index finger suggests to me that you are a writer. Your clothing is very English, and not French. Adding up all those pieces of information, I deduce that you are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.''  Doyle exclaimed, "This is truly amazing. You are a real-life counterpart to my fictional creation, Sherlock Holmes."  "There is one other thing,'' the driver said. "What is that?' Doyle asked. "Your name is on the front of your suitcase.''

     It wasn't the powers of deduction. It was the power of observation. That taxi driver's lenses were clean enough to observe what was going on around him. He had the proper focus.  Being among those who believe Jesus to be who he says, he required that we have a whole new focus on ourselves and the world we live in. One of my seminary professors taught that “the Christ event” (life, death and resurrection) is like a lens constructed at the historical time in which Jesus lived through which all that happened before his ministry and all that has happened since he walked the earth is focused and has meaning.  In order to be faithful followers, we have to view the past, present, and future through this same lens and see what is happening through Jesus’ eyes.

     That day on the Road to Jericho, Bartimaeus was given a chance to see. And he took it. He opened his eyes, developed the proper focus, gained the spiritual insight he needed, and "immediately followed Jesus." Jesus healed Bartimaeus of his blindness.  But the thing is, you don't have to be blind in order to need to see; or, in order to gain new sight. God always gives us new eyes to see through. New eyes, new eyesight, new focus, a new clarity of vision, and a new vision for our lives. All we have to do is ask.

     Jesus asks us the same question he asked Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do for you?" All we have to do is answer saying, "A Chance To See."  His love and grace have already provided it for us; all we have to do is ask and take the risk to actually look.

     This story ends with Bartimaeus following Jesus “on the way.” The same can be true for us. 


     Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

October 10, 2021

     Being a kid who grew up in Akron, I was not very familiar with tall buildings. Sure, there was Oneil’s and Polsky’s downtown but they were far from being skyscrapers. Both buildings had elevators but they just lifted people a few floors and, when shopping with my parents, we went up and down on either the elevator or the escalator.


     It wasn’t until I was a freshman at Ohio State that I became aware of the secret of taller buildings. I lived in Morrel Tower – one of two housing units on the Western edge of the main campus. My room was on the “twenty-third” floor – the top floor. But one day while I was sitting with friends in the grass outside the dorm, I counted only twenty-two rows of windows going up the building. I started to wonder how this was. The lower two floors were the public areas – 1-maintenance, laundry, storage, food services, 2-main lobby, common area, etc. Students used two banks of elevators that went up the central core. The girl’s elevators served the lower floors and floors three through twelve. The boy’s elevators served the lower floors and floors fourteen through twenty-three.

     The “secret” was that the building did not have a thirteenth floor – at least it did not have a floor that was identified as the thirteenth floor. The same is true in most tall buildings – the thirteenth floor does not appear on the directory or the elevator panel. It’s an accepted practice.

     Located in mid-Manhattan is Trump Tower – a building listed with 68 stories, according to most reference sources. At least that's what the books say. And, in fact, there is a button for the 68th floor in the elevator. Pushing that button takes you to an actual floor whose apartment numbers begin with 68. Yet Trump Tower doesn't have 68 stories; it actually has only 58 stories.

     William Poundstone, in his book Biggest Secrets, points out that prices of condos in New York City rise in proportion to height. Therefore, he suspects, someone in the Trump organization fudged by having the top floors of Trump Tower designated 66 through 68 on the elevator. As a result, many buildings in Manhattan are actually taller than Trump Tower, but many of these have fewer listed stories than Trump Tower supposedly does. The General Motors building, for example, located a few blocks up Fifth Avenue is 705 feet high (vs. 664 for Trump Tower), but it has only 50 stories. Sometimes, things are not exactly as they seem.

     Mark tells us the story of a day when Jesus was making his way through a community of people when a young man ran up to him and knelt down. The crowd must have been impressed to witness such devotion especially since the young man was wealthy – probably from a family of wealth. This young man was undoubtedly sincere when he asked the wrong question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" As a person of wealth, he may have appeared that he had it made. But his question indicates that he knew that something was missing and he figured he could ask Jesus how he could buy his way into eternal life.

     Actually, his mistake is revealed in his question. What must I do TO INHERIT eternal life? If eternal life is an inheritance, by definition, who we are and who we belong to is far more important than what we do. Inheritance is usually a matter of belonging to the right family. If you belong to the right family, you are probably going to receive your inheritance automatically. Your name is going to appear in the will and the Probate Court will acknowledge that you are a rightful heir.

Of course, in the secular world, it is possible to lose your inheritance. For example, you could lose your inheritance if you do something grievous to tick off the person who holds the purse strings. "Be nice to Aunt Sally, children. She might leave us a nice inheritance. If you anger her she may cut you off.”

     This young man is unsure whether he is of Christ’s family. He wants to know how he should be “nice” to Jesus in order to guarantee life eternal and it is awarded to him. He assumes that his behavior can, in some way, work to his advantage but he needs it straight from Jesus’ mouth what it is he is to do so that he does not waste his time and effort. Given the information, he wants he would be able to get on with his life trusting that his “after life” is assured.

     Jesus doesn’t fall for the young man’s humility act. The kid presents himself assured that he has been following all the rules but he needs this last test answer. Knowing the kid wants the quick answer Jesus lays things out that take the wind out of his sails. Jesus turns to the young man and says to him "You know the commandments: You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother." And the young man says, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth."

     And Mark tells us that Jesus, looking at him, "loved him.” Jesus isn't out to simply trip this young man up. He wants to help this young man to get beyond himself and into the kingdom. So, he got off to a bad start with Jesus by idle flattery. So he asked the wrong question. Jesus prefers someone who is still groping for answers than someone who is so self-satisfied that he or she no longer even bothers to ask. He was a young man with great potential and Jesus loved him.

     There was just one insurmountable problem—the young man’s life was built with a few missing floors that he was willing to overlook. You know how the story ends. Jesus says to him, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

     This is the only time Jesus makes this particular demand of anyone. It is obvious that Jesus was looking directly into this young man's heart. This young man was a person of obvious sincerity and character. He had everything going for him, but Jesus knew that his privileged upbringing could stand in the way of his discipleship. It's hard to have lots of money and pick up across.

      Money is not the only barrier to cross-bearing. Each of us have a few unmarked floors missing from our person and Jesus, in His love for us, is willing to love us and show us the way to filling the voids. Not to eternal life alone but to living our lives to the fullest. And instead of looking the part we can appear to others to be closer to who we really are. 


These earrings are made by residents of a community located outside Phom Penh, Cambodia. The artisans recycle bomb shell and bullet casings that were discharged in their country during the sixties and seventies.

"...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;..."

How do we remold ourselves?

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