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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”
We are all blind. We see what we want to see. It is like we have blinders or
filters on sometimes and cannot see the side areas, up or down. And many
times, I am beholden to someone or something to point out that I have tunnel
vision, and, if I am wise, I will learn from it.
How do I fall short? How do we fall short? One way is by thinking errant
thoughts – thoughts about returning hurt for hurt to someone who has
wronged me. Sometimes I want to seek revenge for a perceived slight. . .
other times I am so caught up in my own life and lifestyle that I neglect and
ignore others. Even those closest to me.
So, sometimes I pray, but I really only want God to comfort me the way that I
want it and when I want it. And I fulfill my own desires and take my future into
my own hands. And we clutter our lives with so much stuff, so much
technology & information, so much gossip, romance, prejudice and idolatry,
that we can no longer sense when the Holy Spirit is moving in and among
But this is nothing new. It is the story of the human condition. It goes back to
the book of Genesis, in the Garden of Eden and the fruit plucked and eaten
from the tree of life. It has been going on since time immemorial. The story
of the Golden calf, countless stories of breaking the commandments, David
taking the wife of a soldier under his command; the preaching of the
prophets and the criticism of the Pharisees by Jesus, all of this is not new.
Even the best fall short. We will fall short. Unless something happens.
As it turns out something did. Jesus touched him. Jesus touched his eyes.
Jesus changed his heart. Jesus got involved in his and the people's lives
directly. That is the difference between the blind man and us: Physical
proximity to the savior. We are at a great disadvantage. If we want to have a
similar transforming experience, we either have to have a lifechanging
personal physical experience, or we have to gather our souls together, and
our kindred spirits, and bring the power of the Holy Spirit, somehow, to the
I wonder if we might listen better if I preached sermons of fire and brimstone,
as in those preached by Rev. Charles Grandison Finney, the preacher and
author of the Great Revival of the 19
was a Congregational and Presbyterian minister in the early days of Ohio's
history. He was an Abolitionist, the first President of Oberlin College, which
was the first college to include women and blacks.
Rev. Finney was a leading preacher against the evils of slavery. And this
was in the early 19
young that the founding fathers had just completed the work of designing our
government and had signed the Constitution. You know, “we, the people in
order to form a more perfect union” started electing Senators and
Representatives for the first time. It was also the time when the South first
started talking about leaving the Union, leaving the USA . And politicians in
the north were building the case to abolish slavery, which eventually led to
the Civil War. Anyway, the Abolitionist preachers were traveling the
countryside, and I imagine that many of them came to this very church, back
when it was called the First Congregational Church of Cleveland. And the
good news in those days was that our country no longer had a need to keep
Century. If you never heard of him, he
century, about the same time that our country was so
Many landowners in the south, who were on the opposing side of the
argument, had build huge empires on the backs of slave labor, and would
not give their economic plan up without a fight. Plantations with hundreds of
slaves could harvest cotton and other crops and make materials in such
large quantities that the slave industry built their southern economy. People
of the north started setting free their slaves from the beginning and calling for
all Americans to be allowed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness. A slave would be no longer 3/5 of a man. It took years
for everyone to see slavery the same way, and I believe there are still
corporations who thrive on keeping income low so that the few at the top can
have their million dollar pay checks. There are still whites who dont
But back to the point about having our eyes opened. For those who are not
physically unblinded, Jesus is spiritualized. He became part of us when he
was resurrected by God, and came into our midst, and comes to us in the
form of the Holy Spirit. But we have to recognize it, we have to see it. Open
our eyes Lord to see the spirit of the living Christ among us.
God has promised to give the spirit to those that ask. “If ye then, being evil,
know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your
Father which is in heaven give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” If you
ask [for] the Holy Spirit, God has promised to give it. But the spirit cannot
work in people who are twofaced. A minister was once visiting in the home
of a lady who was constantly complaining about the women of the church
didn't understand her. And the minister could give her no encouragement.
Not long after that, some of the ladies from church came to see her, and she
protested and was very much offended because they had not called before
hand, but, because she was also very happy that they showed her attention,
she pressed them to stay and spend the day, and declared she simply could
not let them go. Her constant complaints made the visit next to unbearable.
After a couple of hours, they excused themselves, and as soon as they were
gone, she called the minister, wondered why these people had so little sense
as to be always troubling her, and taking up her time. The minister
immediately rebuked her for being a hypocrite. On the one hand, she
complained that people didn't like her and then on the other, she said people
should stay away. So much insincerity that this discussion amounted to
downright lying. Can you see the deceit in this woman’s complaints? She
could not, apparently.
Open my eyes, Lord, to your Spirit, which is here, and everywhere, and yet,
we overlook the multitude of little things, people call them little sins, but God
will not call them little. There are people who will pray, and appear very
pious, and wonder why they cannot be happy, and say they have the Spirit of
God! Yet, they cannot see. They have no compassion for their fellow
human beings. They are blind to the little sins that they happen to commit
each day. Sins of omission, keeping people out of their lives. Making choices
that keep people from pursuing better lives of life, liberty and pursuit of
I believe it has to do with a looseness of moral principle. People have no
conscience about little matters, and they sit in the church, and hold onto their
sins and it is disgraceful to God to dwell and have communion with such
persons, who will take an advantage and cheat their neighbor out of 50
cents, just because they can do it and not be disgraced. Now we are getting
to the heart of it. I believe people are driven by the satisfaction of seeing
someone else go down; its almost like they have a misanthropic spirit that
makes them hate others, so much so that they take satisfaction in hearing
others rebuked; but if the truth touch them, they directly cry out that it is
personal and abusive.
So many people are not willing to accept criticism. And they hate it when
others are right. And they even hate the opinions that others have when they
do not agree. And so it is when they go against the will of God. They hate
people, and they hate God. but they want God as the fall back plan. If I get
hurt God will you rescue me; Bail me out, so to speak? 23
again. But don’t make me commit, and certainly don’t ask for a contribution.
So persons may desire the Spirit of God on some accounts; from a regard to
the comfort from fear and joy of heart which it brings. If you know what it is
by former experience to truly commune with God, and how sweet it is to feel
a connection with and to be filled with the Spirit, you cannot but desire a
return of those joys. And you even may pray earnestly for it, and to pray for a
revival of your religious core. But on the whole you are unwilling to take the
whole commitment. Or it will require so many sacrifices, that you cannot bear
to have it. There are some things you are not willing to give up.
This is true about giving to the church. Many people make a note to
themselves to be generous one minute but when the offering plate comes
around they have no more money; and then they look at the money coming
into their bank accounts or see all the cash when they cash their check and
forget to follow through. It is more important in their minds to buy food,
clothing; the toilet tissue is running low. Bills need to be paid.
One of the consequences of having the Spirit is that you will be called to
Give to God first. And you will be called eccentric; and probably you will
deserve it. How often I have heard the remark about such and such
persons: “He is a very good man—but he is rather eccentric.” That’s good I
think . . . there is such a thing as being so deeply imbued with the Spirit of
God, that you must and will act so as to appear strange and eccentric, to
those who cannot understand the reasons of your conduct.
St. Paul was eccentric and was accused of being deranged by those who did
not understand the views of things under which he acted. He had a
conversion experience, which he describes in Acts 25 where he changed
from being a hitman for the Pharisees to an evangelist for Jesus of Nazareth
– but, traveling to Damascus with the authority to judge Jesusfollowers
commissioned by the chief priests, during the heat of midday along the road,
he said: “I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me
and my companions.
saying to me in the Hebrew
me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’
The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to
appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me
and to those in which I will appear to you.
people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you
eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of
Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place
among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
14 When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice
language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting
I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
I will rescue you from your
Even though Saul/Paul was not physically touched he was healed. Jesus
opened people’s eyes. We must let Jesus in and allow him to touch us,
slather mud on us and then when the mud is cleansed from our eyes we will
see. I had a moment of clarity last week when a man came to our drop in
center and was sitting there in a chair most of the week silently. He had a
grossly disfigured face with one check caved in and his mouth awkwardly
grimacing. And then he was there on Saturday; but he could not stay and he
was asked to leave multiple times and he kept sneaking back in. So when I
arrived for band practice, I started getting angry about this and though he
protested, eventually got him out to take him to Metanoia, which was not
satisfactory to him. He left as soon as he arrived. And I thought he had been
scared of some of the drug dealers and predators who prey on those who
get Social Security checks.
But his face haunted me for days, and Jesus opened my eyes to this man’s
situation. He had a birth defect. I believe he had a caved in cheek from birth
and he had lived in the basement of someone’s house for so long that he
was scared of society, of people, of light, of everything. And he didn’t know
how to fend for himself, and he needed help and protection and to find a safe
place to lay down and rest. I hope he got it, because it most certainly was not
going to be these shelters or overnight drop in centers. +
My eyes were opened to the plight of this severely wounded soul. I see this
man representing the lost and forgotten and outcasts, and I really don’t
understand it, but I could not see the suffering that was happening to this
child of God who had walked into my life and asked for some help. I could
not see how to really help him and I am a little bit ashamed of that.
And so Jesus, through this man named John, who was grotesque in
appearance, who was exhausted and worn down and in many ways
hopeless, Jesus opened my eyes once again to empathy and connection
with the passion story, the story that we are going to live through soon
enough because holy week is just around the corner. Look, see what God is
doing in your life and allow God to open your eyes to the ways that human
beings treat each other and together, lets do something, whatever we can to
alleviate suffering in whatever we attempt to do.