Good morning, Bethlehem Baptist Church! Thank you again for this second invitation to be with you, to worship with you and share God’s Word here. I want to thank Pastor Quann of course for this warm welcome. And Pastor Phil Krey and myself, and all of us from St Andrew’s also want to thank The Reverend Tripline for sharing the Word up in Perkasie, PA today.
The connections the Holy Spirit is making between our communities are amazing. I especially want to thank BBC’s Social Justice Committee. Lead by such powerful and faithful leaders: Deacon Dean Parker, Minister Jarkeer Lasseter, Deacon Ron Bradley and Deaconess Michelle Taylor-Bradley, and all the others who have been faithfully meeting every other Monday with St Andrew’s own Advocacy Committee: Thank you.
What has come out of these meetings between BBC’s Social Justice Team and St Andrew’s Advocacy Committee, on top of all the powerful conversations about race, racism and how to heal our nation and community—what has come out for me is an intense spirituality. An awareness of God’s powerful love, a knowledge that Jesus is here, and a feeling that the Holy Spirit is between and among us, yearning to fill us and heal us. And that’s what led me to these two pieces of Scripture, from chapters 7 and 8 of the Gospel of Mark.
I love the Gospel of Mark. Some scholars say it is the oldest, the most raw and original of the Gospels. The heavens are ripped open, Jesus is baptized and the Spirit screams down, Immediately, Mark writes, Jesus is sent out into the wilderness. And immediately Jesus is on the road healing and casting out demons on his way to the saving Cross… Mark is gritty. And today I want to focus on some gritty healings in the Gospel of Mark. With the man whose tongue is tied and cannot hear—Jesus uses his spit and sticks his fingers in his ears. With the man who cannot see—Jesus uses his saliva again and lays his fingers on his eyes. It’s not like these two men read about Jesus in a book and were healed. They didn’t hear about Jesus from a friend and meditate on him from afar. These are up close and intense encounters with Jesus.
A long time ago, back when the Christian Church was very young, believers had some different ways of reading the Bible. It’s almost like they had difference lenses to look at the words of Scripture, to bring out different shades of meaning, different layers. And I want to borrow from this toolkit of the young Church today.
One way they read Scripture, of course, was literally. So, here, Jesus healed these men. Reading these stories in a straightforward way—these two men are brought to Jesus by others. Carried, coaxed, and cajoled by their friends. And then Jesus takes them into private. Led up to the savior by their community, these encounters happen in secret.
Another way the old Church read Scripture was looking for Jesus, looking for how it showed forth Christ. And here of course that’s easy: Jesus in his ministry has the power to take away infirmity, God in Jesus is more powerful than sickness. Jesus gives us perception—Jesus helps us to hear and to see what is true. Maybe it takes a few tries, but when we run into Jesus we are changed. That’s who Christ is, according to these healings in Mark.
And that leads to the next way the Early Church read Scripture. They would ask themselves, and we can ask ourselves too: What does this say about me? What does this say about my life and my community? This way of reading Scripture might lead to ask: What can’t we hear? What can’t we see? What can’t we say, because our tongues are tied? And the answers to these questions are what the BBC Social Justice Committee and the Advocacy Committee from St Andrew’s have been exploring.
And lately, we have been reading a book at the recommendation of Deacon Ron Bradley, called White Fragility. And in this book by Robin Diangleo, she talks about a kind of blindness. She calls it color-blind racism. And this is when folks, mostly white folks of course, pretend not to notice race. And often this idea harkens back to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” From The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963—Where he said that he dreamed of a day when he would be judged by the content of his character, not the color of his skin. Diangelo argues that white folks then, as now, seized this line as a solution to the horror and injustice that is racism in America. If I pretend not to see, we say, then I can’t be responsible for the way folks are treated differently. But pretending not to see is not sight. It is just another kind of blindness.
At first, Jesus laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” People aren’t trees! They aren’t foggy, stiff, unclear blobs. We are different. We are unique and diverse. We have different histories, different experiences of America. And for too long these histories and experiences have been full of injustice. So when I read these healing stories from the Gospel of Mark, and I ask myself how they speak to my life, how they speak to the life of my community at St Andrew’s: I know that first Jesus gives us vision to know he is indeed the Son of God. But Jesus also gives us the sight to see one another finally as we truly are. And this includes the experience of race.
But if we follow along closely these stories from Mark, giving us sight isn’t all Jesus does for us, this isn’t all that the Church of Christ can do. In these healings from Mark, Jesus also opens our ears. Jesus makes us able to hear, able to listen. And, again, what a time St Andrew’s has had listening to Bethlehem Baptist. It’s so important that the healing of the deaf and tongue-tied man, comes before the healing of the blind man. The vision that we all have gained is only because we have been made able by the Holy Spirit to listen and, in turn, to speak. How fitting that back on December 7th, you all invited St Andrew’s to be part of a discussion with Congregation Beth Or after we all watched the documentary I Will Not Be Silent, about the early days of the civil rights movement and Rabbi [Joachim] Prinz’s impact on it. To be able to say “I Will Not Be Silent” means to be given the gift of speech. The gift of speech at St Andrew’s often means the gift of confession—to speak to God, and to our neighbors too, that what we have done wrong and what we have left things undone.
But what has Jesus made you able to speak out loud like never before? What has your encounter with Jesus made you hear? What has Jesus given you the vision to see? And that takes us, I think, to the last way that the Early Church read the Bible. The fourth lens they used was kind of like “the big picture” lens. It means to ask: What do these healings in the Gospel of Mark say about the Kingdom of God to come? For starters, I think God is reminding us that we start out blind, deaf and silent. We are sinners. But God does not leave us this way. Jesus comes to us. Jesus comes and grabs us. All throughout history, throughout American history, though the world would keep you deaf, blind and silent—Jesus has another way, Jesus has the power to heal, to give us strength.
And so often this power of Jesus comes through His Church. Like the folks in the Gospel of Mark, we are brought to Jesus with the help of others. We are all threads in a great and beautiful tapestry called the Church. That goes all the way back to that first blind-man-made-well. Tomorrow, of course, we celebrate a wonderful, courageous, faithful thread in that tapestry named The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But there are so many other threads stretching out in all directions. Forward and backwards from Dr. King. threads that white folk have often been blind to: Links behind Dr. King, like the Black Pennsylvanian Quaker and activist Bayard Rustin, who was responsible for organizing the March on Washington and brought nonviolence into the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Threads in front of Dr. King like Stacey Abrams, the daughter of two Methodist ministers, and especially now Senator-elect The Rev. Raphael Warnock. But it’s not just activists, elected leaders, people with their faces on TV. This great, big, diverse tapestry is so big and long—mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, all those who’ve had our personal and gritty encounter with Jesus. A tapestry of folks who’ve heard for the first time our names being called, and whose tongues have been loosed to proclaim Christ’s mercy and justice to the world. And also, by Christ, made able see each other for who we are, different and yet united in Christ. Made by Christ to hear the cries of injustice, to hear the stories of survival, And made able by Jesus, together, to speak out in celebration and speak out for justice together.
As I’ve heard Pastor Quann so often say, I will repeat, it seems that we can’t wait for the government to do this work for us. We are all links in this chain called the Church. And Jesus has made us well, Jesus gave us the power of the Holy Spirit.
All so that: the Deaf will Hear, the Blind will See, and the Silent Shall Speak.