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October 28, 2018

“Coming to Our Senses”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Psalm 34.1-8 (19-22)

Mark 10.46-52

October 28, 2018

Some of you are cradle Presbyterians, growing up in the PCUSA. Some of you grew up without a faith and your path led you here. Some of you grew up in other traditions and have happened upon the PCUSA church for various reasons. Your past, no matter your path, has shaped your religious experiences and your current faith will continue to shape your future, as well.

Today we are looking backwards at our history. We celebrate Reformation Sunday on the last Sunday of October each year, remembering those who have paved the way and fought the good fight of faith. We lift up those Reformers like John Calvin and Martin Luther – the big names who criticized the church and attempted to make changes, causing a schism. Yet, we also remember those who made an impact on our personal faith lives, like Sunday school teachers and parents and models of faith that guided our spirituality.

We look at history, but today we also look at the future as we celebrate Stewardship Sunday. Each year we faithfully put together a budget, planning to continue ministries and try new ones, and give generously to support those ways God has led us in the community. In many ways, we are creating history. We are in the midst of history and the future – perpetually.

Many of you know that I was raised in the PCUSA but also gained a variety of experiences in different faith communities along the way. In high school I attended a youth group at a Pentecostal church. In college I roamed around a bit and attended a Baptist church and an Evangelical Presbyterian Church. In seminary I experienced the Episcopal church. I always came back to the PCUSA denomination, but I am grateful for the journey I took because I have taken aspects from my other denominational experiences that have helped inform my current faith.

One quality I took was emotional and experiential. I think that being able to experience religion with our various senses reminds us that we are human beings and that God gave us these senses to experience the world. So, God intends for us to smell and taste and hear our faith. Different denominations tend to cling to different senses. The Episcopalian faith has sometimes been called “smells and bells” but that is because they do incense well, allowing people to experience God through smells and hearing of music and bells. Pentecostal churches often focus on the emotional aspect of God and the sense of touch and healing. The PCUSA generally focuses on the intellectual aspect of our faith. Our senses - all of our senses- must be engaged.

Sometimes when others do not intuit with the same senses, we exclude. Both passages today are about senses. We begin with the Gospel of Mark, which describes a man who senses with everything except sight – and that seems to be so much of the focus, because this story has become known as “The Blind Beggar.” He has a name but most commentaries and titles of this passage call him by his disability.

Jill Duffield, editor of The Presbyterian Outlook, tells a story about how she and her husband were driving around town and there was a man on the corner holding a sign, asking for money. Her husband said, “Oh, that’s Paul! He hangs out outside my office sometimes and we chat! Hey, Paul!” She notes that most people would see this man as just another homeless man on the street, but he had a name and identity and family and place.[1] Bartimaeus, the man in our passage, also has an identity.

Our scripture does not have person-first language. Instead of “Bartimaeus” or the “friend of Jesus” or “the man healed by Jesus” he is classified by his lack of sight and his socio-economic status. He intuits the world in many ways but the author of this passage, the disciples, and probably the world tells him that he needs to function in a certain way – through sight.

The most recent edition of Presbyterians Today contains an article with insight from a woman I went to seminary with – Deb Trevino. Deb is blind and fought her way through seminary because the world is not set up for people with sight impairments. Her books were not offered in braille, and there were many activities in which she felt excluded. In this article, Deb said, “It’s not that the blind are marginalized. We’re not even in the margins yet.”[2]

Bartimaeus is noticed, but not welcomed. The disciples tell him to be silent – he is being too loud. Society and those in power often tell those who are being noisy for justice to be silent. The disciples are uncomfortable. They do not like this man who is different shouting out and they attempt to hush him. Yet, Jesus asks him to approach. Jesus asks him what he needs. He is patient and still. He talks to him when others merely ignore him. Rather than assuming what this man needs, Jesus asks him. Rather than pushing away, he brings him closer. Rather than healing in privacy, as he did with others, he does so in public. This time, he also doesn’t tell the person who was healed to be silent – he allows him to speak freely.[3]

There is a theme of not being able to see – or “spiritual blindness.”[4] The people in the Gospel of Mark are not seeing what Jesus is saying. They do not understand what he is telling them. Yet, someone who cannot physically see, can see what Jesus is saying quite clearly. He calls Jesus the “Son of David.” Theologian Marva Dawn says: “There is something seriously wrong with our lives and churches if we are operating out of strength, rather than the weakness in which God tabernacles.” [5] The disciples see his sight as a weakness, but perhaps it is a strength because he is able to intuit God’s word in different ways – ways that they cannot. The disciples perhaps believe they are superior in some way, but this man understands in a way they do not.

All of us have a sense that is stronger than another. Some of us learn best visually, others through touch, and others through hearing. I’ve offered a variety of sensory options today. Some people doodle while they listen, and they can understand better when they are drawing. What may seem like someone is not listening, might actually help them to process the information a little bit more.

This passage is also in comparison with the earlier passage about James and John. These disciples went to Jesus and were asked, just like Bartimaeus, “What can I do for you?” James and John wanted prestige. Bartimaeus sought healing. The disciples wanted to avoid suffering, but this man had already experienced suffering.[6] These disciples have no idea, but this man that they silence understands.

I believe theologian Walter Wink summarizes this passage well: “The gospel teaches, not that we are all equal, but that we are all incomparable. Each person is unique in the eyes of God. All people, regardless of how they score on the popularity ratings of “normalcy,” are of infinite value, are infinitely treasured, and are infinitely interesting… The problem is rather with the idea of normalcy itself. Those with disabilities are a continual accusation to those who have sold their souls to normalcy. No wonder people with disabilities are sometimes hated, shamed, or ignored. They are an ultimate threat to a “normal” person’s very self-definition. Their very existence is a mute reminder that the “normal” person has lost what is most precious, most incomparable, about themselves in their very anxiety to fit in. So the world is divided up into two groups after all. Not, however, the normal and the abnormal, or the able and the disabled. Rather, the line is drawn between those who are aware of their disabilities and those who are blind to them.”[7] This man, talking to Jesus, somehow threatens the disciples. He threatens them because Jesus has told them over and over he must die, and they do not understand. This man understands, and threatens the disciples and how they view the world.

The psalm offers sensory experience, as well. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” The psalmist is inviting us to experience God, to taste God. One commentator writes that the “whole person have access” to God.[8] We are not just to think about God but to see God, smell God, taste God, feel God, hear God. We do this in a variety of ways – through artwork, through music, through dance, and more. These must be accessible. So, communion is a way that we can experience God through taste. We have to offer gluten free bread for those allergic to gluten, and juice for those who are addicted to alcohol. This makes communion more accessible for people.

So, on Reformation Sunday, we know that we have Reformers that probably wouldn’t agree with all of the sensory parts. John Calvin did not like stained glass windows or images in the church because he felt, like other reformers, that the pictures could become idols, or even replace God. Yet, I believe it is important to realize that the pictures can be used in worship as a way to understand God and enhance worship, not to become God itself. We can learn along the way. Calvin actually said: “although the primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and heart, or in the soul and its powers, yet there was no part of man, not even the body itself, in which some sparks did not glow.”[9] We glow in different ways. God’s light shines in us through many ways. We are reformed and always being reformed. God is always shaping us, always teaching us. We learn from history and we help shape the future.

How do we make worship more accessible? How do you experience God best? How can we give of our gifts – financial and otherwise – to show what we value most in our faith? Love God with your heart, mind, and soul, and all your senses. Amen.

 

 

 

 

[2] Randall Otto, “Including the Blind in Worship” in Presbyterians Today, October 2018, Vol. 108, Issue 5, p. 24.

[3] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 453.

[4] Victor McCracken, “Mark 10.46-52” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 212.

[5] Michael S. Beates, Disability and the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 2012, 90.

[6] Cynthia A. Jarvis, “Mark 10.46-52” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 212.

[7] Walter Wink, “’Normalcy’ as Disease: Facing Disabilities,” Church & Society (May/June 1995), 16-17.

[8] Lisa D. Maugans Driver, “Psalm 34.1-8 (19-22) in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 204.

[9] Michael S. Beates, Disability and the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 2012, 92.