“Practice Makes Perfect”
Last week the Morgan Academy Pee-Wee football team wrapped up an undefeated season. If that isn't impressive enough, they did it without allowing an opponent to score on them once during the entire season! Even for pee-wee football standards, that is incredible. Some of the players include some of our own—Cink Minter, John Beekman, and Wilks Chittom. Congratulations!
(Morgan Academy Pee Wee Football Team)
While the 1994 St. Francisco 49ers Pee-Wee football team that I played on didn’t hold opponents to zero points over the course of the season, we did manage to go undefeated and win the championship that year. I can’t brag too much about the championship because I suffered a season ending injury four games into the season when I broke my elbow after diving for a lose fumble.
I’ll have to admit that I was kind of relieved because I didn’t like football practice. While I loved game day and the cheering fans, it didn’t seem worth it to suffer all week in order to get there. Like Allen Iverson, a famous basketball player, once said at a more memorable press conference, “Why are we always talkin’ about practice? I mean we are talking about practice and not the game!”
Over the last several weeks in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been holding practice for his disciples. Jesus has been coaching them up on what it means to be a follower of Christ. And so far, Jesus and his team have 100 points and the devil has 0. But Jesus warns the disciples about an opponent even more powerful from the devil. So he tries to prepare the disciples with some extra strength and conditioning drills.
Jesus teaches them that this kingdom is inaugurated through the death and resurrection of the Son of Man. Jesus teaches the disciples that his kingdom will see the 2nd and 3rd teams move to 1st team. Jesus says that his new world will be run by a ruler who is servant to all.
It doesn’t seem like the disciples like practice either because they keep on wanting to talk about the big game, they are looking ahead. They can’t wait to run through the Jerusalem tunnel to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The disciples can hardly contain themselves and are anxious to see Jesus sack the Roman authorities. Bear with me please; I’ve been known to take a metaphor too far.
Jesus tries to warn his followers that the execution of his game plan won’t look quite like what they envision. He knows that the disciples will never understand his game plan unless they are ready to see where they are weak, unless they are ready to learn from their mistakes.
So before the big match-up, Jesus schedules a non-conference game in order to help the disciples get a live tune up for the main event. The match-up is against a seemingly weak opponent in a blind man named Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus shouts, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” However, the disciples try to hush the man and tell him to keep quiet. The disciples have seen this play before. The last time someone called Jesus the Messiah, Jesus told them to tell no one about it. So the disciples are doing what they think they are supposed to do.
Plus the disciples just witnessed James and John get admonished by Jesus because they try to tell Jesus what to do. So when Bartimaus tells Jesus to heal him, the disciples are quick to stop the man from falling to the same trap as they did. But the disciples haven’t seen the entire playbook. They haven’t caught onto the fact that Jesus is setting up the biggest counter play of all time.
The disciples are left scratching their heads when Jesus responds differently to the blind beggar. Jesus stops and says to the crowd, “Call him here.” So the blind man throws off his cloak and he asks, “My teacher, let me see again.” And to that Jesus simply says, “your faith has made you well.” The man was immediately healed and follows Jesus on the way.
Ultimately, we should conclude that the disciples and the blind Bartimaeus have different intentions behind their questions. While the disciples hope for personal gain, the blind Bartimaus trusts that only Jesus can heal him. Notice what Bartimaus does after he is healed. Bartimaus follows Jesus along the way. This healing leads Bartimaus to become a follower of Christ. I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience where healing was the path to discipleship. I’d love to hear your story sometime.
So in short, this encounter exposes his followers’ biggest weakness; he exposes their complete lack of knowledge of what the Messiah is all about. Yes, the Messiah or the Son of David is poised to be king but he doesn't plan to get there by total domination of the opponent but instead through the rarely called play of compassion and mercy. Bartimaus sees that Jesus’ mercy is the key to victory, but the disciples are blind to this truth because of their blind ambition for power and control.
Jesus is teaching the disciples that in order to truly follow him they must be healed from their own spiritual blindness. Up until this point, the disciples have been blind to what it means to be true followers of Christ. Jesus is trying to get them to see that his kingdom doesn’t look like the kingdoms of this world. He is telling them that discipleship has nothing to do with climbing the company ladder. Discipleship isn’t about personal gain. And discipleship is definitely not about deciding who is worthy enough to come to Christ for healing.
This morning I am compelled to bring up a group of people who are often deemed by our society and even our church as those who are unworthy of healing. In a sense, these people are also blind. For the majority of their lives they are confined to a cinder-block house and for most of these people this is probably the best place for them to be.
(Donaldson Correctional Facility)
As you know, Justin Averette recently was on staff for Kairos Prison Ministry at Donaldson Correctional Facility in West Jefferson County. Donaldson houses many inmates who are on death row or who serve life sentences where they spend their entire lives living out the consequence of their sin. You might even say that we are blind to these inmates because they are out of sight and out of mind.
However, through Justin God gave St. Paul’s the opportunity to not only notice these men but to help these men know the healing power of God’s love and grace. Jesus calls these men into our midst and like the blind Bartimaus many of them are hungry to see again.
Many of you made cookies. Some of you gave money. And our children decorated colorful placemats that were reminders of God’s love and the beauty of God’s creation. Justin sat at a table with a group of these men for an entire weekend and in Justin’s words his job was to “listen and love.” He wasn’t charged with saving these men. He wasn’t charged with condemning these men. All he was asked to do was respond to Jesus’ commandment of love.
During open mic night, some of the men stood up to talk about what the experience meant to them and there was a refrain. These men were familiar with outside groups and outside church groups coming into prison for a weekend. But these men said Kairos was different. Instead of being treated like prisoners or even animals, the Kairos ministry team treated them like human beings, like children of God. In my words, the Kairos team lived out the words of our Baptismal Covenant that says, “respect the dignity of every human being.”
Friends, like the story of Bartimaus, the story of what happened at Donaldson this past weekend is not only a story of healing for the inmates but also a story of healing for us. Jesus is using the good news to save us from the presumption of believing we know who is deserving of God’s love simply because we are on the inside, simply because we are Jesus’ closest followers. God is reminding the Church again that the best examples of faith are often given by those who are on the outside.
Jesus is reminding us that discipleship is not about having our own wishes and desires granted. Instead, discipleship is about telling the world that the healing power of God’s love is available for all even for those who are most isolated from our communities even those who have essentially isolated themselves.
You may be wondering what kind of faith is being exhibited by these outsiders. Let’s revisit the part of the lesson that says, Bartimaus throws of his cloak. This is significant because this cloak is the only thing in this world that keeps this blind man safe. This cloak is his only possession and so to throw off his cloak is a sign that this man has been given a faith to trust that only Jesus can give him true security not only in the life to come but also in his earthly life.
I know that throwing off your proverbial cloaks is difficult especially if you have multiple cloaks to protect you. If you throw off these cloaks, then you become vulnerable in this often times cruel and mean world. You expose ourselves to a higher likelihood of pain and disappointment.
But the good news says that at the same time you throw off your proverbial cloaks you move closer to experiencing the power of God’s healing love. The good news says that when you throw off our cloaks, then you move closer to wearing the gown of Jesus, you move closer to being covered by a security blanket that can never fail you.
As much as I want to say just do it! I know that this takes practice, a lot of practice. The disrobing of your earthly cloaks takes spiritual discipline. And hopefully your spiritual disciplines will help you trust more and more that God will provide. Remember that you say that prayer all the time when you say, “give us today our daily bread.”
How can you practice? The first step is hard because it starts by deciding how you use your money. After all, your money is how you acquire many of your cloaks in the first place. Speaking from personal experience, I know how hard it is to change how you’ve always spent your money. But I can also speak from experience and say, the more I give up control of my money to God, the freer I am to draw closer to the healing power of God’s love, the freer I am to trust that God’s way is better than my way.
And believe me, I am not where I think I should be, but Jamie and I are working on it. We are practicing, and you should know that I still don’t like practice. But it’s not about me—it is about continuing the mission of God in Christian community for the benefit of God’s creation.
I practice because I know these spiritual exercises will better prepare me to be a disciple of Christ. If I truly want to call myself a disciple, then I know I must put my money where my mouth is and my mouth is usually in the Church and in the world proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.
I want to close with another practice drill. In your prayers, I invite you to ask, “What do I need form God? What do I need God to do for me so I can be healed? And listen to how God is responding. Listen to how God is revealing your blind spots. It may take some time but once you see your blind spots, ask God to heal you. Figure out what cloaks you need to throw off so you may have the grace to draw closer to the healing power of God’s mercy and love. Amen.