Sermon October 25, 2015
Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Mark 10:46-52
“What You See is What You Get”
One of my favorite stories is one Annie Dillard tells of her childhood in Pittsburgh. When she was six or seven, she would take a precious penny of her own and hide it for someone else to find. She would hide it along a sidewalk and then take a piece of chalk drawing huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After she learned to write, she labeled the arrows: “Surprise Ahead” or “Money This Way”. She was so excited to imagine someone coming along and finding this treasure. She wouldn’t stay to watch the story unfold, but would go home and not think of it again until she was gripped by the impulse to hide another penny some months later.
I love that story, but even more, I love her reflections on it. She says this, “It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But—and this is the point—who gets excited by a mere penny?...It is dire poverty indeed when [one] is so malnourished and fatigued that [s/he] won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But, if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 14-15)
I first heard that story when I was a freshman in college. I don’t know if I picked up pennies before that, but I have picked them up ever since. I was so struck that I could choose to ignore a penny as insignificant and not worth my attention or I could see it as an unexpected gift. When I heard this story, I made the decision to see every penny as a gift. I decided to choose to see the gifts in each day. A few weeks ago, we gave you bracelets to wear with the word Grateful on them. The bracelets are a reminder that throughout our day, we choose what we see. How we see profoundly affects how we experience and live our lives.
Last week, Job heard from God and realized that his view of things was very small. God opened his understanding by showing him that there is a whole universe and there is always more than one person can see. This week, we hear Job responding with humility and then the Disney happy ending. If you try and push the theology of God gives and God takes away, you will end up disappointed. This is a story written to try and explain where God is when we suffer. Notice there is no answer to why people suffer. What we do witness is Job hanging in there with God. We see how Job keeps his relationship with God alive rather than giving up and we witness God showing up for Job in a way that changes the way he sees the world forever. If you were hoping for some simple explanation, you will be disappointed. I am glad that we don’t get that because life isn’t simple. It is messy. It is complicated. It is mystery. Job takes us into the depth of mystery and invites us to hang out there awhile and see what happens.
We get two stories of seeing today. Bartimaeus is a blind man who sits on the side of the road begging with only his blanket to offer protection and comfort. He hears Jesus coming and begins to cry out for Jesus to notice him. The crowd tells him to be quiet. How embarrassing to have this man begging when Jesus comes through town. Despite their best efforts, the crowd doesn’t silence him and Jesus tells them to send Bartimaeus to him. Note two things here: 1) Bartimaeus is the only person Jesus heals who is named. It is a reminder that people are not to be cast off and forgotten. 2) When Jesus tells the crowd to bring him, the crowd suddenly changes their tune and pretends to be hospitable where just a few moments before, they were trying to make Bartimaeus invisible.
Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants. He doesn’t have to think about it. He knows. He wants to see. Jesus restores his sight and Bartimaeus follows him. It raises some questions about who really sees in this story. It is interesting that the followers of Jesus were the ones who chose not to see Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus suffered from blindness, but he saw Jesus even before his sight was restored. I would like to think that as the crowd witnessed Jesus healing Bartimaeus, they found their sight restored as well.
Last week we explored the topic of seeing as finding our place in the big picture. This week, it seems important to talk about seeing as a matter of focus. How do you choose to focus your energy? The Grateful bracelet comes from the awareness that a life steeped in gratitude really makes a difference in how we live. Research has shown that gratitude improves physical and psychological health. It enhances self-esteem and helps us sleep better. Gratitude reduces stress and fosters resilience. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/) University of California, Berkeley has invested several million dollars in a project called “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude”. Harvard Health Center has written articles about the benefits of gratitude. Gratitude is about seeing. It is about noticing the gifts in the midst of everything. Sometimes they are not easy to see. When Diane Harrison Ogawa began practicing gratitude, her husband had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a terrifying time for their family. She made a commitment to express gratitude every day. Sometimes, the thing they were grateful for was that they made it through another day, but they were faithful to their commitment to be grateful and it changed them.
Gratitude isn’t all sunshine and roses. It certainly isn’t Disney happy endings. Gratitude is choosing to see the pennies we pass by every day. They take many shapes and forms. This week, I felt grateful for a dry house on a wet day. I was grateful for our 135th anniversary celebration. I was grateful for conversations with people. I was grateful for the sound of the dryer. I was grateful for an early morning run and a brilliant sunrise. I was grateful for a dog that will run with me anywhere anytime. I was grateful for a spouse who was present at big moments and small. I was grateful for a friend who has stuck with me through some difficult times. I was grateful for my Dad turning 80. I was grateful for the sound of my son playing the guitar and my daughter laughing. I was grateful for a good conversation with my brother. I was grateful for rain. I was grateful for more than enough food and especially chocolate cake! I was grateful for work that feeds me and calls forth my best energy.
I think that the texts today speak to our life as a congregation. Like Job, we have the opportunity to focus on God in our days. We can focus on God when things are going beautifully and when things make no sense at all. If we give our best energy to staying engaged with God in all things, we will find a perspective that is not possible if we resort to the simple platitudes that Job’s friends used. In the gospel reading, we learn that we have the opportunity to shift our focus when we get off track. The crowd thought they should silence Bartimaeus, but Jesus called them to pay attention to him. We won’t always get it right, but we can stop and re-focus when we mess up. As we focus our energy, our lives will follow. When we focus on love and compassion, love and compassion will flow from us. When we focus on pettiness and judgment, we will reap disappointment. I think Annie Dillard was right that what we see is what we get.
Last week, Lee Albertson charged us to be true to our mission to live God’s love, justice, and inclusion. If our life as a congregation can be steeped in that mission, the gifts that flow out of us will be worth more than all the money in the world. Taking our place in the story will also ask us to focus our energy for the coming months. Let us focus on God who has given us everything we need to continue and see what God has in store for us now. Just imagine what we will see and where that seeing will take us!