Sermon Text: You Can Observe a Lot by Watching
You can observe a lot by watching. The late, great Yogi Berra said that.
A surgeon was giving a lecture to medical students. The surgeon said, “You need two skills: freedom from nausea, and the power of observation.” And the surgeon picked up a beaker of liquid. The liquid looked and smelled disgusting. The surgeon dipped her finger in the fluid. Then she licked her finger.
She put the beaker down and asked the students to do the same thing. One by one, they gathered their first-year-medical-student courage and they all managed to do it without throwing up. The surgeon smiled and said, “You all passed the nausea test. But you flunked the observation test. None of you saw that the finger I licked was not the one I dipped in the beaker!”
You can observe a lot by watching. Pay attention. Open your eyes.
The story from Mark’s Gospel about Bartimaeus is not only about the power of Jesus to heal. It is also about gaining true insight, and having deeper vision, and opening the eyes of the heart.
As with all good stories, the punchline comes at the end. Bartimaeus gets his eyesight back and opens the eyes of his heart. And the punchline is this: “At once he was able to see and followed Jesus on the way.”
It’s not just about physical eyesight...it’s about true vision.
Jesus invites us to see the world in a particular way, through the lens of compassion. That’s how he approached everything. Jesus wants us to see the world as a generous gift of God with plenty of provision for everyone. And of course, the key is that we learn to share.
Jesus pointed to God’s generosity, and lived it in his own life. Jesus calls his followers to do the same. That’s how you follow him on the way, like Bartimaeus did.
I read about a young girl who loved to walk to school. One day, the weather was iffy, but she walked anyway. In the afternoon, a thunderstorm was brewing. So her mom drove to pick her up. The mom saw her daughter at a distance, walking under the dark sky.
Mom noticed something unusual. Every time the lightning flashed, the girl stopped, looked up, and smiled. Her mom pulled up beside her, and the little girl got in the car. Her mom kissed her, and then said, “Why did you stop and smile?” The little girl replied, “God keeps taking pictures of me.”
Okay, I know that’s naive. But wasn’t she seeing something of the wonder of the world? Wasn’t she a little like Bartimaeus in seeing the way of joy with her eyes open?
So maybe that’s a story for childhood. But here’s one for the grownup world. I read it long ago in a book called “The Faith Club.” And I like this image enough to share it whenever I can.
A dad always told his daughter the Paper Bag Story. He would say, “Imagine this: Take your problems — all of them — from the tiniest, annoying little stuff to the most horrific, difficult challenges. Now put all those problems in a brown paper bag. Imagine that everyone in the world took all their problems and put them in their own brown paper bags. Think of all those bags piled up into one gigantic mountain of brown paper.”
Now, if you were told you had to pick up just one bag of problems and take it home with you, do you think you’d pick someone else’s bag? I don’t think so. You’d scamper like crazy to find your own bag in that mountain of brown paper.”
This dad told his daughter that story many times as she grew up, especially when the daughter was facing some kind of problem.
Now, toward the end of this man’s life, it was tough. His business had failed. He’d lost most of his money. And the pain of his final illness was bad enough for him to be on morphine. His daughter asked, “So, Dad, if you had it to do all over again, would you still want your own brown paper bag?” The father did not hesitate. “Absolutely,” he said, “Yes.”
The daughter decided that if her dad could accept his final challenge, she could find the courage to face her own paper bag full of challenges.
Her father said yes. She herself said yes. That little girl smiling at the lightning said yes. Blind Bartimaeus said yes.
And Jesus said yes. Even in the ultimate struggle Jesus faced, remember that he said, “Thy will be done.”
And he taught us to say the same in that prayer we use all the time.
The story of Bartimaeus is about gaining the ability to see...not just with the eyes, but with the heart. Jesus invites us to a certain way of seeing. Jesus pictures a world which is the gift of a generous God. And there is plenty for everyone, if we are willing to see and to share.
Our job is to say yes.
And, like Bartimaeus, to follow on the way.