LET ME SEE AGAIN!!
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Bethel UMC: Peoria
It’s good to be here today. I thank God, your Senior Pastor, officers, members, and friends of Bethel UMC for the opportunity and privilege to be in God’s service, one more time. It didn’t have to be. My bed could have been my cooling board. My home could have been the great outdoors like many of our homeless brothers and sisters. My job could have been sitting in the employment office looking for a job. All my family could have gone home to live with God. Stranger things have happened. So, I’m glad to be here right now. For when I look back over three score years and six, I have to say like John Newton, the preacher God forgave for being a slave trader, “through many dangers toils and snares, I have already come. Tis’ grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” Every now and then, life reminds us of the gift of vision.
Today’s gospel emerged when our Lord passed through Jericho en route to Jerusalem. A blind beggar heard that Jesus was passing by. He began shouting, screaming, and crying out to Jesus. The crowd told him to shut up. He screamed all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Attracted by this boisterous request, our Lord called the man into his presence and asked him what he wanted. “Let me see again,” he said. Our Lord restored his eyesight on the spot saying “your faith has made you well.” There’s a message in his sight problem that speaks to church and community. He had it. He lost it. He regained it, by faith.
HE HAD IT
The blind man who stood before Jesus could see at birth. Yes, he could see day and night, the sun and the moon, the effects of thunder and lightning. He knew the color of his Mom’s eyes and the tint of her hair. He knew the muscled stature of his Dad, chiseled from hard work in the field. Schools, roads, playgrounds, friends were embedded his memory through sight and experience. Selecting clothes to wear, eating a meal, walking up and down steps were among the countless movements he took for granted. Seeing provided this man with the opportunity to compete on an equal footing with his peers for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He saw good and evil in his own society. Jews and gentiles, good and bad Samaritans folk who were born blind or suffered unfortunate medical conditions that turned health and wholeness into pain and suffering.
In researching some facts on the life of the late Ray Charles, I learned Ray Charles and the blind man had something in common. Both of them were born with sight. Listen to this excerpt. “Ray Charles was not born blind…it took almost seven years for him to lose his sight…which means he had seven years to see the joy and sadness of this big and wonderful world”…seven years to burn the portrait and love of his parents into the recesses of his mind…seven years to see the things connected with Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter…seven years to lock away the sights and sounds of the black church and it’s music into his soul…seven years before the light switch turned off in his head. By then, Ray had caught a vision unobstructed by physical impairment. Quipped Ray, “I was born with music inside me.” Charles sang and played until seventeen Grammys, Heads of State, the world and Rolling Stone magazine acknowledged him as # 10 on their list of 100 greatest Artists of All Time and # 2 on their list of Greatest Singers of All Time.”
Ray’s vision about the future reminds me of the pioneers of Bethel. Whoever they were, they envisioned a future beyond their lives. They conceived a church ready to “rescue the perishing and care for the dying.” They envisioned Bethel becoming a salvific place for African-Americans climbing up the rough side of the mountain. Bethel was born during a time when 11 o’clock was the most segregated hour in America. If persons wanted to enjoy the songs of Zion, pray and shout in the spirit, hear the gospel preached in the idiom from persons who understood what you were going through publicly and privately, you came to citadels like Bethel. Have you continued to serve Jesus like you did when you started? Have you built a building, a church, a community open to all God’s children? Have you made a place for the least and the lost, the lost and found, the young and the old, the abled and the differently-abled in this your 101st year? Do you see still as God sees or have you lost your vision? The blind man standing before our Lord had one goal in mind. Jesus, Rose of Sharon, Lily of the Valley, Bright and Morning Star, Bridge over troubled water, Mary’s baby, “Let Me See Again.”
HE LOST IT
Before the blind man ever makes a request of our Lord for healing, he learns to cope with his blindness. No longer a boy but a man, apparently with no one to care for his daily needs, he becomes something that we all dread, a beggar. Apparently, he is not rich or middle class. Family members are a no show. In all kinds of weather, he sits on the roadside and begs for whatever passers-by give him. Folk look down on him. Some are afraid he may hurt them. Some passers-by wish he would go to work. You know what we say. “Find a job flipping burgers. It would keep him off the street.” True. But would flipping burgers heal his blindness? Would flipping burgers remove the man from very place where he met the Christ? Would flipping burgers deny him a legitimate opportunity to meet one who could transform his life forever? If actions speak louder than words, I’d say maybe. Opportunities to meet Christ are endless. Christ shows up anywhere. John Wesley reminded us of this very fact when George Whitfield introduced him “field preaching.” Wesley found it hard to accept. He thought the “…Saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.” However, Methodism took off when Methodists met the people where they were.
When it’s all said and done, the blind man not only became a witness to “field preaching” but a recipient “field healing” as well. The man learned to cope with blindness. More importantly, he had not given up hope of seeing again. Holding on wasn’t easy. The man heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing through town. So, he shouted for Lord to have mercy on him. First, rejection from the crowd came swiftly. The crowd sternly ordered the blind man to be quiet. They couldn’t hear Jesus nor could their own needs be addressed. Some people believed the ragged beggar had no manners. He refused to wait his turn. When the crowd tried to shut him down, he shouted even louder. Second, some of the crowd’s rejection was rooted in the man’s blindness. Nobody knew what he wanted. That he longed for some of the same things he wanted certainly was not assumed. How can one or many truly understand the longings of differently-abled persons if they have not walked in their shoes?
For example, I never understood the need for large print bulletins until the aging process messed with my vision. When Bishop Kiesey followed me in Michigan, I learned a similar lesson afresh. To utilize the three-story Episcopal Residence fully, she requested that that put a chair glide on the steps to get her upstairs. They did. This conference has anticipated the similar circumstances. A concrete ramp has made wheelchair passage into the Episcopal Residence more accessible, etc. Apparently, the Jericho crowd wasn’t tuned into the needs of this man or Jesus’ concern and determination “for recovery of sight to the blind.” Last but not least, the man was a beggar. Daily, he sat by the roadside begging money from whoever would pass by. Few knew what he did with the money or where he lived. They disliked anybody begging for money. And they didn’t like any beggar making them feel guilty about their fortune or his misfortune. For these reasons and more, the crowd sought to silence, dismiss and block the blind man’s passage to Jesus. But they failed. Perhaps, none of them had lost sight once enjoyed. Perhaps, none of them were reduced to begging for a living. None of them had to deal with the dirty and demeaning looks of crowd. More importantly, none of them had lost eyesight they once enjoyed. Like the woman with the issue of blood, the blind man tried any means necessary to change his condition. If it meant begging, so be it. If it meant having the crowd tell him to pipe or rejecting him on another basis, so be it. He was blind. If making a fool out of himself would attract the attention of the Savior of the world, so be it. With Jesus, he had a chance to see. So he kept on hollering, “Lord, have mercy on me.”
The blind man’s presence on the Jericho Road raises the question of blindness for the church. Has the church lost its capacity to see the less fortunate on the Jericho Roads of life? Have we been so fearful and frightened by beggars, the differently-abled, the least and the lost, that our safety is more important than addressing human need? If so, the church has lost its vision. And where there is no vision, the people perish.
The writer of Revelation talked about seven churches. Some had lost their vision. Others suffered partial vision loss. Of course, none of them can be compared to the present circumstance of Bethel. But let tell you about them anyway. The church of Philadelphia had kept the faith. Churches at Smyrna, Pergamum and Thyatira had suffered partial vision loss namely faith struggles, allowing false teachings promoting idolatry and non ethical expressions of human sexuality. Churches at Ephesus, Sardis and Laodicea seemed completely in the dark. Ephesus “abandoned the love it first had for Jesus Christ.” Sardis “had the name of being alive but was dead.” And Laodicea was neither hot nor cold. I saw it as rich, needing nothing. Nevertheless scripture described the church as “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” Churches who have allowed themselves to fall in such conditions ought to be crying in the wilderness “Jesus Savior, pilot us.” What does this really mean for Bethel UMC? If there is any place where Bethel UMC has lost its way, lost the vision that God has meant for you, or lost your eyesight regarding the neighbor in Peoria, Illinois, imitate the blind beggar. “Ask the Lord to have mercy upon you.” (Song, O Lord have mercy, have mercy on me-maybe) Ask Jesus to let you see again.
HE REGAINED HIS SIGHT
Early on, I mentioned the late Ray Charles and how he lost his sight at seven years old. Also, it mentioned how he regained a measure of sight and vision. According to the internet article “Ray Charles had two no nonsense parents. After Ray became blind, expectations remained high. He did chores at home such as chopping wood, helping with meal preparation and occasionally watching over his little brother. Neighbors complained. But his mother countered that her son was blind not stupid. Moreover, Ray was expected to do for himself and Aretha and Bailey Charles set the course for their son’s life none too soon. Aged 10 when his mother and aged 15 when his Dad passed on, Ray became an orphan at 15 years of age. His only brother had already drowned in a wash tub incident. What does one ask of God at 15 years old, blind and orphaned? “Lord, make a way out of no way.” Ray attended Florida’s State School for the Blind and Deaf from 1937-1945. There, he learned to play the piano, the saxophone, the clarinet. There Ray trained as a classical pianist. But his heart was sold out to boogie-woogie, jazz and gospel music in the Baptist Church. Music gave him eyes to see the world in its good and bad sides. By the time Ray Charles died at aged 73, God let him see again, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Countless times, I have quoted James 4:2;”We have not because we ask not.”
Look what happened to the blind beggar. He asked to regain his sight and received it immediately. But it would not have happened without faith. In this story and countless, our Lord keep giving a message that works over and over. “Go, your faith has made you well.
The blind man possessed a strong faith. He begged for his food daily and received it. He successfully went to and from the roadside without being robbed or killed. He lived with a faith that somehow, someday, some way, he would see again. When our Lord came within earshot of his presence, the blind man let out a blood curdling yell heard round the world. “Son of David, Have mercy on me.” His request of let me see again had been accompanied by a faith they would not shrink. “Go,” Jesus said, “your faith has made you well.” The man regained his sight for two reasons: he asked and he possessed strong faith.
If Bethel UMC felt like it had lost some of its vision and cried out to God. And if God called the church to stand before Him asking Bethel what do you want me to do for you, what would you say? Would you ask for more members, more money, more of Pastor Rose Booker-Jones or a new building, etc? God put a similar question to a young man who had been called to lead a nation. Quite frankly, Solomon had no clue. Asking Solomon “what should I give you,” young Solomon gave a response for the ages. Solomon simply asked for wisdom needed to lead and guide the people under his care. God was impressed. Because young Solomon refused to ask for power, prestige and money, long life and vengeance against his enemies, God promised to give Solomon what he wanted and the power, prestige, money and long life he never requested. Why did Solomon receive more than he asked for? He asked and had a strong faith that wisdom would be enough.
In 1868, a blind hymn writer named Fanny Crosby made a usual visit to a prison to encourage the inmates through prayer, song, a little preaching and good old fashioned pastoral care. Like Ray Charles and the blind beggar, she had not always been blind. As she turned to leave the prison, a prisoner out “Good Lord Fanny, do not pass me by.” Struck in the heart by the prisoner’s plea, Fanny went home that night and wrote a hymn we are still singing over 100 years later. Crosby thought about the man in prison whom she almost passed by. Fanny thought about the blind beggar whom our Lord almost passed by and wrote these words. Pass me not O’ gentle Savior, hear my humble cry. While on others thou art calling; do not pass me by. Savior, savior; Hear my humble cry; while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.” In this case, our Lord restored the sight of the blind man. He asked. And he regained his sight because his request of “Let me see again” was a powerful act of faith. Amen.