Sermon by The Rev. Christopher W. Hogin
Sunday, October 21, 2018
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The Gospel: Mark 10:46-52
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
The Reverend Christopher Hogin
Our Blind Eyes
Mark 10: 46-52
The Episcopal Church of The Ascension
October 28, 2018
About nine years ago I was in Rome, Italy. Rather than visiting the popular tourist destinations, an out of the way place called, The Crypt of the Capuchins piqued interest. Frommer’s guidebook described it, and I quote, “one of the most horrifying images in all of Christendom.” I was intrigued.
The crypt contains no stone carvings or icons. Instead, a visitor encounters seven chapels adorned with the skeletal remains of over 3,700 bodies of former Capuchin friars. The remains date from the 1500’s to the 1920’s. In some rooms, bones are twisted into sculptures. One space contains a mosaic of skulls woven into an intricate design shaped into a cross. In the final room, the resurrection chapel, full-bodied skeletons from the 1500’s, face the viewer as if speaking. Below a sign proclaims the following message:
“What you are now we used to be;
What we are now you will be.”
It sounds disturbing, but it’s not. In a strange way it’s peaceful. It’s not a place of horror, it’s a place of holiness. In fact, it’s profound to think that friars from 500 years ago are still witnessing a powerful theological message today. They ask us to see truth. They ask us to open our blind eyes so that we may all see ourselves more clearly. This truth is literally stripped to the bone, and exposed to the world. Their decaying bodies become lenses aimed at focusing our vision on the reality that our mortal bodies decay.
I was struck by a tremendous contrast when I walked out of the crypt and into the late afternoon sunlight of a bustling city. A sleek sports car zoomed down the street. In a nearby café a tall thin man with chiseled good looks, dressed in a tailored suit, sat sipping an espresso laughing with his equally attractive companion, a woman in a red dress and flowing black hair. It was such a contrast from the skeletal remains in the chapel. Yet someday, these two bold and beautiful souls, will also follow the same trajectory as the Capuchin friars. At that moment they were probably blind to that truth.
In all four gospels, blindness is mentioned no less than 27 times. Blindness receives a tremendous amount of attention. Both physical and spiritual blindness is emphasized. Our gospel in Mark is another example of Jesus interacting with the blind. But in his this gospel, unlike others, he never actually touches the blind beggar. Rather, he heals with the following words, “Go your faith has made you well.”
Your faith has made you well. What does that mean? The famous atheist, social commentary writer, and scientist Barbara Ehrenreich says, “I don’t want to believe, I want to know!” That may be admirable, but we never truly know do we? Faith is not some irrational response to the unknown. Faith means seeing truth more clearly. It means recognizing one’s limitations, and then relying on God to navigate the cycles of change. In essence, faith is about trust.
Christ came to release us from our blindness so that we might see more clearly, just as that beggar does. Through Christ we see that God is with us in our suffering. Through Christ we see how God wants us to treat one another. Through Christ we see that healing and salvation is God’s purpose for us all. Christ helps us see this through gospel. The word gospel itself is a Greek word that means “good news.”
The good news is that whatever we are enduring now, it’s temporary. On this earth some will enjoy riches, some will endure poverty. Some will have health, others will live in sickness. Some will have meaningful relationship, others will live in loneliness. Whatever it is, it’s temporary. Let me say that again, whatever you are going through, it’s temporary All of it ultimately withers, turns to dust, and blows into the wind.
The good news is that’s not where the story ends. The good news is that Christ defeats death. The good news is Christ helps us transition from this world to the next. The good news is that Christ heals, renews and makes us whole. That’s the good news.
The Capuchin friars echo this witness of the good news with their skeletal remains and proclaim, what you are now we used to be, what we are now, you will be. The message is written in the present tense. It has a dual meaning. They are not only referring to their earthly skeletal remains, they are also referring to their new selves, their souls transformed into new creations—creations healed and renewed: what we are now, you will be. It’s a powerful witness calling us to open our blind eyes so that we can see more clearly the promise of the gospel.
Wherever you are in life right now: healthy or sick, young or old, depressed or happy, confident or in despair, rich or poor—whatever it is—it’s temporary. It’s as fleeting as the autumn leaves falling from the trees.
But that’s okay, because God through Christ is with us. God is with us as we learn and grow through relationships. God wants us healed. God wants us turned into new creations. May we all see that. May our own faith heal our blindness. May we see the gospel more clearly, trusting in God’s work not only in us, but in the whole world where healing and a new creation emerges.