By Rev. Joan Kessler
“Change your words. Change your world.”
For me there is something incredibly compelling about that video. It’s that piece of cardboard with the hand-written script. And we have all seen it before, different words but perhaps the message the same: please help me. “What did you do to my sign?” the blind beggar asks. And the confident woman replies, “I said the same thing, just different words.”
She writes, “It’s a beautiful day, and I can’t see it.” And the money starts dropping on his cardboard mat. His situation is the same, but those around him suddenly see him differently. He is like them. His experience is the same as those with sight. He is their equal. He just doesn’t have the physical vision to see it for himself.
Bartimaeus, the blind man in Mark’s gospel, doesn’t have an advocate. He is on his own, sitting by a rest stop on the outskirts of Jericho waiting for Jesus to come by. And he is a beggar making a scene…He is shouting for Jesus’ attention and not garnering any sympathy from those who pass him by. He is marginalized, placed on the fringes of society. The conversation is the same day after day, and people pass him by and p0retend not to see him. They tell him to be quiet.
But he has a voice, and on this particular day he finds it and he is determined to get Jesus’ attention. He is going to speak up and name what he needs the most – to see again. Jesus shows compassion for him. He stops and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”. “Teacher, I want to see.” ”Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.” And with that, the blind man’s sight is restored.
Healing stories are difficult because we know from our own experiences and those we care for, that words alone are not enough to cure an illness. We need medical intervention as well as positive reinforcement that comes through words and supportive actions. But on the other hand, I find a great deal of joy in this story. My holy imagination goes to work and I wonder… What if something miraculous did happen that day and changed Bartimaeus for the rest of his life? Was he physically able to see again? I don’t know. And I don’t know that it matters to me.
But he left that encounter with Jesus a changed person. Because maybe for the first time in his life he shows the world that he is more than his disability. His faith sustained him and kept him hopeful.
We know faith by its definition as the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen. There is no certainty of outcome. Just as blind trust about Bartimaeus, and he isn’t afraid to call out to Jesus and disturb the peace and make a scene because he has suffered long enough. And this is the day that change can happen.
The woman in the video that we watch just moments ago rewrote the blind man’s message and effectively changed the conversation. And this week, I have been considering the conversation around vaccination for COVID and the impact it is having on the social fabric of our society… upon family, friends, co-workers.
You see, I love and care for unvaccinated persons the same way I love and care for vaccinated persons. I don’t seem to have the ability to distinguish one from another. And it is important to me that you know how I see things. I wear a mask, I wash my hands often, I am cognizant of the space I occupy and my social activities. This is how I feel safe when I am in public spaces.
We are in difficult times, both socially and economically, because of differences in choices. We need only watch our nightly news cast to know this. And, as a faith leader, I feel it is time for the church to find a voice and call attention to this reality and ask: “What role can the community of faith play in changing this conversation around vaccination?”
It is important to recognize that anti-vaxxers and the vaccine-hesitant are not the same group, yet it often seems that they are lumped together. Fear and anger rage on both sides of the issue. But what toll is this going to take on our relationships on the other side of COVID?
I feel ready for a return to the building for in-person services with vaccination recommended. And I haven’t arrived at this decision lightly for our safety is my utmost concern. And I know it is a monumental decision for all of you.
My vaccination gives me confidence, along with the safety protocol I just named. And I have heard from many of you that a return to the building, to the church, will only happen with proof of vaccination for those who are attending. I share with you that we are an overwhelmingly vaccinated group.
On Tuesday, our council will decide about a timeline for a return to in-person services and what in-person services will look like. And Winfield United is a community of faith that is known for its inclusiveness, where all find welcome. It’s a place for coming with our doubts, asking, and wrestling with questions…
I hope we can find a way to leave the door open and continue to be a place of welcome for everyone. We have been astute about safety and sacrifices since the very beginning. It is time to knit back together the social fabric which has been torn apart these past months. Because if churches aren’t going to do this hard work, who will?
How can we begin to change the conversation? The story of Bartimaeus’ healing and restoration happened because he spoke up for what he needed most. The story says he wanted to see again, but maybe, just as much, he wants to be seen and be understood. And Jesus makes this happen. It’s the whole point of the Gospel story: we are seen, we are loved, sent on our way. Restored and shown wholeness. And we hope it’s the activity of our faith.
May we continue to be open to those who perhaps hold a different viewpoint from our own. To be open, to be ready, to be heard. Good objectives for us as we continue this most valuable conversation. In all we do, we are not alone. Thanks be to the God of hope and promise, and for each one of us with an opinion that might be different... AMEN