Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Tonight I'm speaking at Otter Creek's Vespers service on the sense of sight. And I've hit some writer's block, so it's not done yet. Here's what I have so far and if you want to hear the rest of it, come to the service at 7 tonight or I'll post it after I get home from church.

Addendum: And here's the final version...

When Scott asked me to be a part of this series on senses, I specifically requested sight, because in the realm of the empirical senses, I can honestly say that it is the one that I rely on the most, and the one that I get the most frustrated that I can’t use to sense God. But more on that in a second.

In the Gospel scripture for tonight, we have an interesting story. To put it into context, this takes place right before the Triumphal Entry in Chapter 11. And just before this incident, as recorded in Mark, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, have just asked to sit at Jesus’ left and right hand when he comes into his glory. The other 10 got very upset at this and Jesus had to calm them down with this passage in Mark 10:42-45. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.” Immediately after this, the entire group heading to Jerusalem comes across Bar-Timaeus, a blind man. The disciples still being concerned with their positions rebuke Bar-Timaeus, until Jesus stops them. Now to understand this, we have to understand the nature of blindness, particularly within the ancient culture. If you were blind, you weren’t worthless, but your value to society was much smaller. And interestingly, Jesus seems to have a particular affinity for blind people. Healing the blind was one of his “more common” miracles, with 5 separate healings of blindness being recorded in the Gospels and when Jesus announced his ministry in Luke 4, he quotes Isaiah and specifically mentions the blind recovering their sight. I wonder sometimes if this healing of blindness is the desire of God’s to be known by His people, or if it’s simply a desire to help people, to give them the ability to take care of themselves.

The interesting thing about the context of the passage is the blindness that the disciples show just before the incident. They argue amongst themselves about position and just after that, they come across this man begging at the gates of Jericho. While they had been so concerned with their positions of power, Jesus takes the time from going to his triumphal entry, the time when he will be at the height of his popularity, the time when the greatest worldly adulation he can receive will be his and he stops to talk to Timaeus’s son, the blind man. To talk to him and to heal him.

Now it would be very easy for me here to point out our flaws. It would be very easy to point out how many of us get more concerned with our positions in society and in the workplace and even here in church, to stop and show love and concern for those who need it. I could talk about how our neighborhoods and our cars can be a hindrance to us truly interacting. I could talk about how even our charity can make us blind, about how we think that giving money somehow gives us license to be blind to the actual people in those problems. But I won’t. I won’t talk about those.

One of my biggest frustrations with God is my inability to prove for certain that He is there and that He is who He says He is. Maybe it’s a certain point in my life or maybe it’s an ebb in my faith, or maybe it’s challenges to my faith. There are times when I want to be Moses and to talk with God, or hide in the cave and see his back, just to be completely positive that what I have said that I’ve believed for 35 years is the actual truth. That He is there, that He is who He says he is. I want proof. I want that day as the old hymn says for the faith to become sight. There are days that I feel like I can’t go on saying that I believe in this crazy ludicrous idea without some kind of proof, some kind of certainty.

But incredibly, there are times that I think this desire for proof is an actual blindness itself. Because what it does is blind me to all of the stuff that God is doing around me that is proof of who He is. When I am straining and squinting so hard for this proof of God, that’s when I can miss Him. That’s when I miss the loving touch of my wife being proof of His love, when the smiles on the faces of my children is the touch of His Spirit. When the word of forgiveness from a wronged friend is the evidence of His compassion. When I wake up and peer out the window onto my yard covered in unexpected, untracked, unspoiled snow, or when I come home and see that same snow covered yard, now with grass showing through and the tiny snow man and the meticulously created snow angel, proof of a snow properly enjoyed. In this, I see His love of Creation and me as a part of that Creation. If I search so strongly for proof, I miss it. Because God in his mercy has provided examples of proof all around us. Look around this room tonight. The people that you see in here are examples of Him, even when we walk out of this building, we will be able to see proof of who he is. It has been said that “All truth is God’s truth.” I think in a similar way, all that is good in the world is from God. And we should take the good of the world as that, even in the face of unspeakable evil, even in the face of a world where parents beat their children to death, where young girls are raped in Africa because men believe it will make them immune from AIDS, even in a world where evil looms large and sometimes seems invincible. Even in a world where we struggle to pay bills and keep cars running, and spend time with our families. All the good, all the beauty we see is from God and we should celebrate that sight, we should exult in it, we should GLORY in that gift.

It’s not for nothing that Hebrews talks about faith being the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things that are unseen, but we also have to recognize the proof all around us. While sometimes it becomes too easy to rely on sight, we also have to recognize the blindness our sight can sometimes bring us. But it’s when can recognize our own blindness, both to the people around us and to the way that God presents Himself to us before our very eyes, it’s then that we can cry out, “Son of David, Have mercy on me. I want to see!” and God in his mercy can grant us sight.

Jesus often ended his statements by saying, “Those who have ears, let them hear.” I will adapt that by giving this exhortation. “For those that have eyes, let them see. And for us who struggle with blindness, give us sight.”


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughts tonight, Phil. I think sight would be the sense I would most hate to give up as an avid reader and lover of God's beautiful creation. Yes, my prayer with you would be help me to see the things I should see and to be thankful for the things I do see daily. Miss Judy

fabricsnob said...

wish I'd known you were speaking. I would have skipped Beth "glory" Moore.
Thanks for your message though.

steve said...

Thanks, Phil. For me, one of the things about not being able to see God and prove that he exists, is that it makes faith necessary. If God showed up like other people, believing in Him would be nothing special, and moreover, I wouldn't really have a choice--if He were visible it would kind of force me to believe in Him.

I am reading Brennan Manning's "Ruthless Trust," and he is talking about the "kabod" or glory of God, and the scenes in which Moses is allowed a glimpse of God's back--because seeing His face would destroy him. And yet, seeking His face is what I am doing (and what David did). It doesn't make sense logically, but as a way of living, it works better than any other I've tried!

I remember the old adage about the blind person who has an amazingly developed sense of hearing. Maybe we have a spiritual blindness to hone another sense--faith, perhaps? We walk by faith and not by sight?

All that being said, it's still frustrating not being able to see Him! Or rather, having to wait until God knows when . . .

1 John 3:2 "But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

Malia said...

You did good :)

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