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s142g03 Lockleys 26th October 2003 Sunday 30

"Call him here" Mark 10.49

Sometimes the occurrence of a miracle blinds us to some of the other things that happen in a story.

There is, for instance the interaction with the crowd and the blind man, which is important enough to be included in the story. Indeed the first half of the story is really about the crowd and the blind man - not about Jesus at all. The blind man must have asked those nearby the reason for the commotion about him. And the crowd take it upon themselves to tell him to be quiet. The presence of Jesus was only for them.

Then Jesus calls on the crowd to change their minds, he calls on the crowd to invite the blind man forward. So the purpose of the healing was as much for the crowd as it was for the blind man. They were being told that God's mercy extended to others beyond themselves. Not only were they being told, they were being invited to do the inviting themselves.

A long time ago I was alerted to the issue of gender specific language, and now I do try to make everything I say non-gender specific. But now, when I read old books, one sees how pervasive gender specific terms have been, and I recoil. I suppose that it was largely unconscious in the past, but having been made aware, there is really no excuse to continue to alienate half the world's population.

Similarly when I read the gospel accounts, I now pick up on how frequently other people wanted to manage Jesus' life. People, including the disciples, but as with this example, by no means restricted to them, wanted to tell other people that they had no business with Jesus. In the case of the centurion who was devout and kindly disposed towards them, they encouraged Jesus to see him. No doubt they hoped that the centurion's kind disposition would continue, if not be magnified.

Jesus tells the crowd that they needed to repent of the exclusive god and be instruments of the graciousness of the prodigal God before them. They were to call the other person forward.

The crowd wanted nothing from Jesus except his exclusive attention. Jesus looks beyond the crowd to the one outside, the one who has to shout to make himself heard, and from whom the crowd could not expect to gain any advantage later on.

And this led me to some meditations on the relationship between the divine initiative and our co-operation. Jesus, could, I suppose, have shouted back to the blind person to come forward, yet he calls the crowd to do so. This sceptical, self absorbed and exclusive crowd is called to invite someone else forward, to be served ahead of themselves. The point of the story is not just the healing of the blind person, but the invitation for the crowd to participate in the miracle, to be participants rather than obstructionist.

And we as the Church are similarly called to be participants in the miracle of inclusion of others, rather than obstructionist.

Jesus asks the blind man what he wanted Jesus to do for him. This might seem obvious - that the blind man wanted to see - but the man might well have been content for Jesus to make the others round about him more accepting and generous. Now that would be a miracle!

And this bids us ask the question - what do we want from Jesus? Do we want nothing but his attention all to ourselves? For all we might pray and give of our time and talents, this is not a prayer to which Jesus will ever accede.

A while back I had a letter from the Vicar General concerning the Bishop Nomination Committee and the consultations that will happen in the Diocese as to what sort of person we think might be a good Archbishop. And I thought to myself wryly - what we really need is someone to save us from ourselves!

Jesus tells the cured formerly blind man to go, not to follow him. Jesus didn't act in order to gain another committed disciple. He acted to show that the other person was important. In the end it is more important for Jesus that we recognise the importance of other people than it is to religiously express our devotion to God or to Jesus.

This leads me to the question of whether the crowd or the blind man appreciated what Jesus had shown them? Did the crowd understand their role in the miracle that happened and did the now sighted man similarly understand the role the crowd had? Were they still blind, despite their ability to see with their eyes?

The real question is are we blind still or do we see what our role is to be?

It occurs to me that Jesus didn't berate the crowd for being sceptical, self absorbed or exclusive, he calls them to include someone else. Neither did Jesus berate the blind person for his inability to see.

And so this is what we are called to do - to call others - not to berate them for not believing in Jesus, nor to cajole them into doing so. We are not to berate others for their inabilities or inadequacies. We are not called to question other people's faith or sincerity, we are not called to prove their orthodoxy, we are called simply to call and welcome others. As we do what Jesus says, calling others into fellowship, our faith in Jesus will be strengthened, and others will "see" what we are actually on about.

For it really isn't helpful to anyone to have a deep and meaningful relationship with Jesus. We all want a relationship with other people. And this is what Jesus offers to everyone.

It is actually quite miraculous that what we really want is what Jesus also wants for us and for everyone - it is what Jesus says is the most important thing in life.

There is another form of blindness that I want to address and it is one that afflicts us all - myself as much as anyone else. The reality is that others see us with much more clarity than we ever are able to see ourselves. One of the ways we can avoid self discovery - and a way favourite of 'professional' people (yes - particularly clergy persons and mothers :-) is to spend our time being helpful to others by pointing out their inadequacies, and thinking "What a good person am I!" The reality is that the things which really upset us in others are precisely those things we don't admit to ourselves that we do to others.

It is therefore a complete delusion to think that standing up here in the pulpit *telling people what they ought to think, believe and do* is easy or even a desirable occupation. It is hard work, because the words are just as much directed at myself as they are to anyone else - if they in fact are directed towards anyone else at all.

May I repeat - we as the Church are similarly called to be participants in the miracle of the inclusion of others, rather than obstructionist. It doesn't matter who we are or who others are - what they have done or not done, what they believe or don't believe, etc., etc. - you know all the rest.

So often we want others to change to make it easier for us to cope with them. I have my suspicions that preaching has been seen as making sure that the lay people are kept on their knees, ever trying unsuccessfully to make the grade - to keep the priest from getting angry. And I wonder if this is not how we approach God, eternally trying, but knowing that we can never really succeed in keeping God from getting angry? This is not good news - for of course the good news is that we don't have to try. God is happy with you and with me, miracle though that might appear to us - and all we have to do is to extend the recognition of the happiness of God with others to others.

This is the miracle of communion and fellowship - this eucharistic community where we are grateful for the presence of others, rather than people with better things to do than associate with the likes of others.

Currently the Anglican Communion is faced with the question that some people want to be associated with us as they are, and others want to leave our fellowship if these others are admitted. It is the ones who want others excluded who want to make our fellowship into a time of weeping and gnashing of teeth more appropriate at a funeral - they have somehow got in here without a wedding garment. God will not have the joyous celebration of the kingdom spoiled by such. If a time of weeping and gnashing of teeth is what people want, God is quite happy to send them elsewhere to do this all by themselves.

A final reflection on the divine initiative and our human co-operation. The church is a divine initiative, because we are called to be enriched and encouraged by *others*. God is not going to spend eternity keeping each and every one of us happy either, when God has put a whole lot of people around us who are entirely able to help us too. We are called to co-operate with God and accept the help people other than God (and the Rector) have to offer us.



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