A Sermon for the Twenty Third Sunday after Pentecost

By: David H. May, Rector


So something happened about a week and a half ago where I realized with a start that I was turning into my grandfather, and not in a good way. I was watching tv. And at the commercial break, it being so close to election day, we viewers were treated to four political ads in a row. But these ads weren’t the bright, breezy ads where the candidate is surrounded by his or her beautiful family and then earnestly faces the camera and talks about how they’re ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. No, these were those grim, hateful ads that feature grainy, dark distorted pictures of the candidate’s opponent’s face, the most unflattering one they can find. You may be familiar with these kinds of ads.

I remember thinking, ‘come on, you know that we can actually tell that you’re making your opponent look awful and menacing and really bad; you know that, right? We can see what you’re doing.’

And here’s where my grandfather came on the scene. I remember when I was a little my grandfather would talk back to the nightly news. So while I was watching one of these attack ads I groused aloud to the tv, ‘oh for crying out loud’. So that can’t be a good sign.

Ads like these want us to see things – the world, other people, events in the very worst possible way. They want us to see the worst; almost program us to see the worst. And that worries me. Because in wanting us to see the very worst, they need for us to be blind to something else: the great mystery of life, and the mighty miracle of love upon which everything that is has been built by God. This is what faith in God’s beloved one, Jesus and his holy life give us eyes to see. Here and there, now and again, we do see that our own lives are a part of a much larger, holier, greater life – that is where our true found. Can you see that?

Maybe I was grousing at those ads because of a glimpse of that just a couple of days before. There is a family in this parish who give a home to a new baby for short period of time as that baby awaits his or her more permanent foster home. And it’s their practice to bring those babies here to the church for a blessing.

So the couple and I set a day and time for them to bring this beautiful new baby. When they arrived here at the church I asked if they would mind if a few of us who were there joined them in the church and they said, ‘oh of course!’ So we gathered around the altar in Little St. Mary’s, members of the staff, two unsuspecting parishioners who just happened to be there, the couple and this new baby. We lighted the candles on the altar and said the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, together, and prayed our prayers for him: ‘bring this child to love all that is true and noble, and just and pure, lovable and gracious, excellent and noble, following the example of Jesus’; and then we asked for God’s blessings for this little baby boy while each person there laid their own hands upon him in blessing: “May God the Father….grant you his grace. May God the Son, who sanctified a home in Nazareth fill you with love; may God the Holy Spirit, who has made the church one family, keep you in peace.” And then we shared the peace together. And we blew out the candles and continued on with our day. At least in a way. Because I think we’d been given eyes to see again, and to see ourselves as a part of our much larger life in God and our true life, our true home found in him.

The gospel reading tells the beautiful story of the blind man Bartimaeus and how he comes in the dark to Jesus. ‘Let me see again, Lord’, Bartimaeus says, and he can see again.

I do not for one minute wish to minimize the great miracle of a blind man’s desire for his physical eyes to work again. I can still remember the day I received my first pair of eyeglasses when I was 11 years old. I remember looking up at the night sky and having my breath taken away at what I saw there. All my life I had thought that stars were sort of smudges of light in the dark sky. I thought that’s what stars were. Now I saw clearly that they were brilliant point of light that really did twinkle. Amazing! So, how much more for the physical restoration of Bartimaeus’ sight, to see the whole world come into crystal clear view.

But now that he sees again will he always be glad for that. In those first days, he follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem overflowing with jubilant crowds shouting that their Messiah has come. But that sight turns dark and grainy and distorted. And he sees how fear and betrayal will crucify Jesus just days later. He sees that now too.

Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “what do you want for me to do for you?” I want to see again. And so he sees. We see too. But what do we see? There is so much to see, so much. I remember walking down the streets of New York City once and in a flash I realized that there were hundreds, thousands of human faces passing by. But they might as well have all been balloons as much notice as I took of any of them.

Occasionally, though, we are given the gift – like blind Bartimaeus – of being able to see again, to see the faced of Jesus, to find our life in him.

The first days after September 11, 2001 – the day that we saw the Twin Towers impossibly collapse to the earth, were such days as I have never seen. Everything and every square inch of everything was so intense and alive, and so fragile and precarious and all of us with it. I remember making a conscious decision that afternoon to put one foot in front of the other, to keep my bearings.

I am something of a creature of habit and one of the ways I put one foot in front of the other was to stop on the way home at a Lucky’s market to get a soft drink. For a long time, years, the same man was always behind the counter. He was usually silent. I’d say, ‘how are you?’ and he may or may not say, ‘fine’. But that’s about it. He was a big guy, a few inches taller than me, but a big bear of a man. He had big plastic, black glasses with thick lenses that he had to push back up onto the bridge of his nose pretty frequently.

Sometimes, I thought he didn’t like me. Maybe because I had a collar around my neck. Maybe because he didn’t like my breezy, maybe a little too care-free way of greeting him. I tried a lot of different approaches with him. I finally decided that he was just doing his job and that he wasn’t really interested me. Or probably anyone else. He came, did his work, and went home.

The afternoon of September 11th, putting one foot in front of the other, I stopped at Lucky’s on the way home. I filled my cup, walked to the counter and put it down near the scanning wand.

And then it happened. He didn’t scan my cup. He looked at me. I could see all the way into his soft eyes, so large behind his thick glasses. Eyes which I realized with a jolt I’d never seen before. He kept looking at me and I kept looking at him. We just stood there. Then he looked down at my cup and picked up his scanning wand and then put it down again. His eyebrows went up in this funny kind of way and then he blew air out of his mouth – the way you do when you’re trying to get ahold of yourself.

Then he looked at me again and said, ‘you ok?’ I nodded and said, ‘yeh, I’m ok. You ok?’ He nodded and we kept looking at each other. He scanned my drink and told me the amount, which he never did. I watched him making change – raising his eyebrows in that funny way, pushing his glasses up. I took my change and lingered trying to think what to say. ‘Have a good day, ok.’ He said, ‘thanks, thanks. You too.’

Outside in my car I said, thank you God, thank you, because right now, I can see again. I can see Jesus in that man and I know how to follow you.
Too much tries to show us a grainy, distorted dark world these days. But this world is built upon the love of Jesus and we with it. Let us see again, Lord Christ, in the people, in the events of this very day, and our call to follow your holy life, and lay our hands of blessing upon it too, and see that we are a part of your much larger, greater, holier life. Let us see again too. Amen.