Tag Archives: Bartimaeus

Prozac Leadership and The Power of Negative Thinking


Happy Ever After

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 34: “I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me; he freed me from all my fears. The oppressed look to him and are glad; they will never be disappointed.  The helpless call to him, and he answers; he saves them from all their troubles.  His angel guards those who honor the LORD and rescues them from danger.” (vs. 4-7)

My first reading of these verses in preparation for today made me a bit nervous.  It seemed to say, “Pray, and you’ll never have any worries.”  Sometimes the way we worship, and what we say to each other as Christians suggests the same thing: if you’re a Christian, you’ll never have any worries.  And, of course, if you do have worries, then you’re not really a Christian.

No Room for Pain?

As I read this part of the Psalm, I couldn’t help thinking about little April Jones.  I’m not sure if you followed anything of April’s story on Sky News.  Hers is a story repeated all too often in South Africa, without the media coverage April received.  Five-year-old April was abducted from near her home in a little Welsh village last month, while playing with some friends.  She was apparently taken by a man well known to her and to the girls she was playing with at the time.  He is in police custody, charged with her abduction and murder, but, in spite of a massive police search, there has been no sign of April.

I was reminded of the service of support and encouragement held in the local Anglican Church on the first Sunday after April’s abduction.  The community was hurting.  The people were struggling to understand what had happened in their midst.  The police had just decided to add a charge of murder against the man they had in custody, and it suggested to the desperate community that the police had given up on finding April alive.  They were trying to come to terms with that as they gathered in the local church to worship.  Not for anything would I have wanted to be in the shoes of the Anglican priest who led the service, or of the Bishop who gave the sermon.

It was a very beautiful and very moving service, and the Bishop spoke very beautifully into that situation.  Maybe that was exactly what the friends and family needed, but as Jen and I watched the service, I couldn’t help thinking, “There’s something missing.”  I am looking on from a distance and I’m completely out of touch with what was going on, so this is not a criticism at all, but I was surprised that there was no room for questions, no lament, no anguish. Sorrow, yes, an expression of pain, but no anguish, no anger.

I wondered about people in the community who were angry: angry at what had happened, angry with God, angry with themselves, angry with the world.  And I wondered about our own Christian community and churches all over the world. It seems that we expect people to leave their anger and negative thoughts outside the door when they come to church, so that we can worship God with happy thoughts and positive attitudes. 

A Little Perspective?

Perhaps we think that putting our anger and other negative feelings aside while we worship allows us to forget them and we’ll go back into the world feeling happy again.  And sometimes we do just need a little perspective.  As we focus away from ourselves and onto the glory and wonder of God, we come to realise that these things that churn away inside, are not so important after all.  They are insignificant in the bigger scheme of things.  And that is sometimes an important thing to realise.

But some of the things that grab us and shake us and leave us angry or depressed, some of them, are far from insignificant.  They are real; they are beyond our ability to deal with; they deserve our attention.  The disappearance of a little girl from the heart of her community is surely one such.  What then?  

I believe our failure to acknowledge our true feelings in church and among Christians, our silence about these things, encourages the idea that real Christians don’t get angry; good Christians don’t get depressed, and if you’re serious about your Christian faith, getting rid of negative thoughts is top priority. 

But we can’t do that, because all our feelings, positive and negative, are part of who we are, so we split our lives in two: our “good Christian” lives, where we don’t have any negative feelings, and what we call the “real world”, where our real feelings get expressed.

Prozac Leadership

Of course, it’s not just the church that suffers from this denial of the negative.  There’s a whole industry out there.  We live in a “let’s all be positive and happy” world.  Positive Thinking is a massive world-wide industry, powered by motivational speakers, writers and psychologists.  And the pharmaceutical industry merrily manufactures “happy pills” and skips all the way to the bank.

I was interested to read in the Mail & Guardian last week an article called, “Punching a hole in positivity”, which tells of a new movement exploring the upside of negativity.  The article quoted studies that warned against “Prozac leadership” in business, and describes how “it promotes artificial happiness and discourages critical reflection, leaving companies ill-equipped to deal with setbacks”.  It has been suggested that much of the economic meltdown around the world has been caused or exacerbated by such “Prozac leadership”.  Risk takers are not challenged, and whistle blowers are denounced.

Be Happy

In the same way, we silence negative thoughts or uncertainty in our personal lives. Which isn’t really surprising.  Newspapers and magazines (and a plethora of books) encourage us with a daily stream of headlines such as ‘10 ways to happy’ or ‘Five things you can do to get happy’.  And it’s all sold as a “one-size-fits-all cure for every problem.”  Even though each of us is different in the way we experience pain and heartbreak and life itself.

And we in the church do the same thing.  Only, for us, it becomes a moral or spiritual issue as well.  The way we worship, the way we speak to each other, suggests that unhappiness is a lack of faith; anger means you don’t believe in God; depression is a sin.

I’m not encouraging moaning and whining.  Let’s be clear; people who find fault with everyone and everything drain us as they have drained themselves.  There are people who are unsuccessful and blame everyone else but themselves.  There are those who sit around and complain instead of finding ways to make their own and other people’s lives better. 

But we in the church often begin to resemble what someone called “motivational rah-rah speakers.”  The cheerleader-types who say, “Jump up and down, hug your neighbour,” and then they walk away. James warned us in James 2:16: “What good is it to say to fellow Christians who are hungry and without clothes, ‘God bless you!  Stay warm and eat well!’ if we don’t give them the necessities of life.”  He may well have said, “What good is it to say to those in pain, and angry with God, ‘Be happy!  Stay positive!’ if we are not willing to share their pain and hear their anger?

Don’t get me wrong.  Motivation is a good thing, and looking for the positive in things is helpful.  President Obama’s 2008 slogan, “Yes! We can!” was a great idea.  But what if, in this situation, in this person’s life we just…can’t?

I want to say two things as we share in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  It’s a word to those of us who tend towards the “rah-rah” type, and want everyone to smile and be happy all the time, those of us who are uncomfortable with expressions of fear and uncertainty and anger against God.  And it’s a word to those who are struggling with life or with a particular issue, and don’t know how to express it, or feel you’re not allowed to express it, and shouldn’t even feel it.

Read the Psalms

First of all, I want to say, read the Psalms.  Read the Psalms.  You will find in them an expression of all our human emotions, positive and negative.  And you will discover there that God is not shocked; God hears it all.  He loves to hear his people pray from the heart.  And remember the psalmists weren’t mavericks on the edge of society.  These were the hymns that God’s people sang.

There is Psalm 22, a cry of anguish that Jesus himself used in his agony on the cross, and Psalms 35 and 42.  Often beautiful expressions of praise and adoration come at the end of a Psalm that begins with agony and anguish, as in Psalms 28 and 130.  It’s as if the psalmist is saying, work through your agony in openness and honesty with God; tell him how you are feeling, and he will break through.  Even the confidence of Psalm 34 is tinged with the reality of the psalmist’s own pain.

And then there is Psalm 137—a terrible cry, in which there is no hope and no pity; a Psalm so awful that you’ll never hear it all read out in church.  Read the Psalms. 

If you’re tempted to stop people expressing fear and anguish and pain and anger towards God, read the Psalms.  If you are worried that God won’t listen to your fears and anger, read the Psalms.  In them you will discover that God hears his people: happy or sad, high or low, ‘yes we can’ or ‘no we can’t’, God hears his people’s cry.

Bartimaeus

The second thing I want to point out to you is about Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus was blind.  You knew that.  But when Bartimaeus called out to Jesus outside Jericho on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”  No one seems to have said to Jesus, “Him?  But he’s blind!”

And no one went to Bartimaeus and said, “Hey, Jesus is calling you. You’d better stop being blind, so you can go and talk to him.”

They said, “Hey!  Get up; he’s calling you.”

Invitation

The Communion we celebrate tonight is an expression of Jesus’s presence, and of his call to us to receive from him forgiveness, and hope and healing.  He doesn’t say to us, “Stop being blind and angry, stop being afraid and hurt.”  He says “Come.” He invites us as he invited Bartimaeus, blind and dirty from the roadside.  And to those of us who can see he says, “Bring him, bring her.”  Bring those who are hurting and can’t see the way forward. Bring those outside in the community.  But be warned, as we search for ways to reach out into the community around us, those whom we will meet there are hurting, angry and afraid.  Our job isn’t to fix that; it’s simply to meet them, and bring them to Jesus.

There is healing here; there is hope as we gather around this table.  For some, it will be like scales falling from their eyes, as it was for Bartimaeus.  But for most of us who come here, it is the beginning of a journey, as Bartimaeus also discovered.  And if we bring each other to this feast, we will be able to share that journey together.

 A sermon preached at Prestbury Methodist Church on 28 October 2012
Scripture: Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22); Mark 10:46-52

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Personal Shopper: Outcomes-Based Prayer


Have you ever thought about how cool it would be to have a Personal Shopper?  You send off your shopping list and it all just happens.  Of course in this digital age it would all be on your cell phone.  You update the list from last week, press the button, and wait.  Soon, very soon, your Personal Shopper arrives with a Colgate smile and your goodies, just as you ordered.

Well I’m all in favour, but I have to let you into a secret, although I’m pretty sure you’ve already worked it out: God is not our Personal Shopper, and prayer is not a shopping list.  Prayer is about engaging with God on the issues we are concerned about.  Of course as we grow in prayer, we begin to engage with God on the issues he is concerned about, but we start with those things that we can become passionate about; we engage with God and we offer ourselves as part of the solution.

The problem in this day and age is that the world focuses almost exclusively on outcomes.  Outcomes-Based Education is a little discredited as a policy, but the principle is still very much intact.  No one wants to know how many books you’ve read.  All they want to know is, Did you pass the exam?  How hard you worked is not important; did you graduate?  And, in the world of work, no one is interested in the time and effort you put in.  Did you make the sale?  You might be working harder and longer hours than anyone else in the office, but who cares?  Did you get the report in on time?  That’s what matters.

So our shopping-list prayers are well suited to the modern world.  “Here’s a list, God.  Please give us the results we want.”

But God says, “No!  That’s not how I made you; that’s not how I wired the universe.  The journey is much more important than the destination; the relationship is much more precious than results.”

Prayer is not about results, it’s about relationships.  Results, such as healing, may emerge from our prayers, and sometimes the relationship emerges from the healing.  That’s what happened to Bartimaeus.  He received his sight and he had a choice.  Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.”  He was free to go, but he chose to follow Jesus; he chose the relationship.  But ten lepers were healed by Jesus; nine of them took their healing and ran.  Only one returned to say thank you; only one allowed his healing to grow into a relationship.  For the others the relationship was lost.

When our prayers are shopping lists, and we only look for results, we lose the greatest gift of all, a relationship with the one who made us, with the one who loves us.

These thoughts emerged when I was writing the story of Bartimaeus.  If you haven’t come across it yet, you can read it here.

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We, too, are blind


Bartimaeus

Lord, we too are blind,
But we don’t want to see again.
We are blind to the pain and the poverty around us;
We are blind to the loneliness of people we meet;
We are blind to the violence and disrespect people suffer,
to the quiet desperation caused by debt, and addiction,
by ill-health and fear.
We have seen too much; there are too many broken people;
Lord, we don’t want to see anymore.
We feel safe in our blindness.


But, Lord, our blindness paralyses us.
Our lives are empty if they are not filled with people.
We lack integrity if we isolate ourselves and remain alone.
“A person is a person through other people.”
Without them we are less than human;
And through other people we come face to face with you.
You come to us, not on the clouds,
But in the poor, and the blind, and the lame.
Our blindness cuts us off from them
And we are cut off from you.


Help us, Lord, to recognise our blindness
To know just how paralysed we are.
Give us the will to see again,
To shout with Bartimaeus:
“Jesus, Son of David, take pity on us.”
“Teacher, Lord, we want to see again.”

Amen

A prayer written  for use with the Bartimaeus story

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Blind Faith: Bartimaeus’s Story


I want to tell you a story about someone who refused to just send off a shopping-list prayer and ‘hope for the best’.  His prayer was a determined effort to make a difference; in his case a difference to his own life.  And he discovered that, if prayer and healing don’t come out of a relationship with God, they just might lead to one.  (Mark 10:46-52)

BEGINNINGS
Bartimaeus was blind.  He went blind when he was five years old.  But Bartimaeus wasn’t the sort of person to sit back and wait for stuff to happen.  He had a cousin, Samuel, who was paralyzed as a young boy when he fell out of a tree.  Sam had given up on life.  His parents took him to the pool of Bethesda a few years after it happened.  They had tried everything else.  Bethesda is where an angel was said to trouble the water—the first person in the water when the bubbles came was healed, they said.  The problem is that there were just too many people there.  The family worked hard.  For a few years someone would stay with Sam all week and try to get him in the water, but even getting near was a mission.  Eventually Sam gave up and told them not to worry.  He began to make friends and enjoy the company, so his family would take him there at the beginning of the week and fetch him before the Sabbath.  No one expected him ever to walk again, least of all Sam.

BETHESDA
When Bartimaeus was about ten, his family took him along to the Bethesda pool.  Sam had already been there nearly 20 years, but Bart couldn’t stand it.  He couldn’t see the people but he felt the atmosphere.  “Everyone’s sick here,” he said.  “I don’t want to sit around with sick people all day.”

“But you’re also sick,” his Dad said.
“No I’m not!  I just can’t see.”
“Yes,” said his Mom.  “But here you can get better and then you’ll be able to see again.”
“But Sam isn’t better,” Bart said, “And he’s been here forever.”  Well no one could deny that, so Bart stayed at home.

GROWING UP
Bart made friends pretty easily and he played with the boys in the village.  But once he was old enough to start working, no one would have him.  His old friends were trying to find work themselves and saw Bart as a liability.  Bart’s family didn’t have much, and when his father died, his brother had to look after their Mom.  He would have helped Bart too, but there wasn’t very much to go around, so Bart decided to look after himself.  His Mom worried about him.  She said he should go back to the pool of Bethesda.  “At least you can get a bit of food there and, who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky and get healed.”

“I’ll be alright, Mom,” he said.  “A couple of friends of mine have got a plan.  We’ll be fine.”

He didn’t tell his mom that his friends were also blind and that the “plan” was to beg.  And for the next 15 years or so, that’s what he did.

“And what’s wrong with that?” he said to his brother a few years later.  “You’re stuck here trying to make ends meet, and me?  I’ve seen the whole country.”
“Anyway, I’m owed something,” he went on.  “There are plenty of fat cats who’ve got more than enough and to spare.  It’s their duty to give to the poor; especially if the poor happen to be blind as well.”

A lot of that was bravado, of course.  What he said was true enough, but Bart wanted to see; he wanted to see more than anything else.  But he wasn’t going to sit around a pool moping about what he didn’t have.  He was going to make the best of what he did have. 

JERICHO
“Jericho!” he once said to his brother.  “Jericho.  That’s where the money is.  Everyone comes to Jerusalem for the big festivals, and they are usually very generous to people like me.  It’s part guilty conscience; they want to make up for all the bad stuff they’ve done before they go to the Temple; and it’s part showing off how good they are.   Whatever!  It works for me.  But in Jerusalem there’re just too many people and you don’t get enough exposure.  But Jericho?  It’s perfect.  Before Jericho everybody’s busy focusing on the journey.  Beggars are just a nuisance.   But once they’ve reached Jericho and had a rest there, the focus is on Jerusalem.  It’s the last stretch, and they start to think about what they are going to do, and that’s where I come in.  I’m part of their preparation.  I’m the opportunity to start putting things right and fixing the wrongs of the world.”

“And after the festival?  When everyone’s going home?  What then?” his brother asked him.

“Well, some people still have money left they are willing to part with, especially if they’ve had a good time.  ‘A good festival, was it?’ I ask with a bit of pain in my voice.  Then they feel sorry for you, and a bit guilty that they can travel to the festival and you can’t.  But you don’t get as much as when people are going to the festival.”

SAM
Then came the day his cousin Sam was healed.  The one at the pool of Bethesda.  Thirty eight years he’d been at that pool—every single week.  He’d given up being healed long before.  Every now and again someone would offer to help him into the water but he’d wave them away.  “Oh, don’t worry about me,” he’d say.  “Help old Joseph over there rather.  He’s far worse off than I am.”  His family wondered if he’d know what to do if he got his legs back.

Then one day he walked into the village.  Yes, walked!

Thirty eight years.  He was 12 when his family first took him; now he was an old man of 50.  After everyone got over the shock of seeing Sam on his feet, he told them what happened.  Jesus, the preacher from Nazareth everyone was talking about, had walked in among the sick around the pool.  He hadn’t made a fuss.  No one seemed to recognise him. 

“I didn’t know who he was,” Sam said, “but he stopped and crouched down next to me.  He looked at me—probably a few seconds, but it seemed like eternity.  Then he said, ‘Do you want to get well?’  I mean, what a stupid question; but somehow it wasn’t.  He seemed to be looking deep inside me and asking about things far more profound than my wasted limbs.  I wanted to say, ‘Of course I do!’ but I wasn’t so sure anymore; so I told him how the water thing worked and how difficult it was to get in.  Then he said, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.’ ”

“What?” everyone blurted out at once.  “Just like that?  After 38 years, just ‘get up and walk’?”

CHOICE
“It’s crazy, I know,” Sam said.  “But for the first time in 38 years I stopped and looked at myself.  I’ve always waited for other people to help me and I’d given up on any sort of useful life.  I guess I’d become comfortable with the impossibilities.  Now suddenly I was confronted with a possibility; and here was a man saying to me, ‘It’s up to you.’  It’s the first time anyone has said that to me.  Nothing has been up to me; everything depended on other people.  And in those few seconds I saw everyone who had ever helped me and worked so hard for me.  People whose help I’d taken for granted, and probably abused.  You folk!  And I thought, ‘Yes!  I do want to get well.’  And as I began to move, I felt such unbelievable pain in my legs as they started to come to life again.  It lasted about a minute but by then I was on my feet.  I was gobsmacked, and by the time I had enough sense to thank the man he was gone.  Of course I got into trouble because I was carrying my mat on the Sabbath.  I tried to tell them that I wasn’t really working; it was just part of the healing process.  They didn’t believe me; wanted to know who had done it.  Well, it was only later that I saw Jesus in the Temple and realised it who he was.”

BART
When Bart heard about Sam’s healing, he was determined he would see again.  “Jesus is going to heal me,” he kept saying.  Sam tried to play it down a bit.  “There were hundreds of people at the pool.  Jesus only seems to have healed me that day.  I don’t know why.  How do you know he’s going to heal you too?”

“He’s healed blind people too.  I’ve heard,” Bart said.  “If I just get close enough to him; if I can just look him in the eye.  Well, ok, if he just looks me in the eye, I know I’ll see again.  Then I’ll be free.  Then I can do what I want, go where I like.  I won’t ever have to follow anyone around again.  I’ll find my own way.”  There was no persuading him otherwise.

“Next month is Passover,” Bart said.  “Jesus is sure to go to Jerusalem and he’s bound to pass through Jericho; and I’m going to be there.”

JESUS
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.  When Bart heard that Jesus was in the crowd passing his spot, he shouted as loud as he could.  “Jesus! Son of David, take pity on me.”

People on the fringes of the crowd were trying to hear what Jesus was saying as he walked along, so they tried to shut Bart up.  But he was having none of it.  He was determined to see again. 

“Jesus! Son of David, take pity on me,” he shouted even more loudly.

Jesus stopped and told his friends to call Bart.  Bart jumped up, dropped his coat with his day’s takings in it and ran, stumbling to Jesus.

And you know, Jesus asked Bart virtually the same question he’d asked Sam: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Well there was no hesitation from Bart.  He’d been waiting for this all his life.

“Teacher, I want to see again,” he told Jesus.

“Go,” Jesus told him.  “Your faith has made you well.”  Just like that.   No drums, no fanfare.  And Bart could see.

He was ecstatic.  He wanted to run the 30 miles back home to tell everyone.  He was free.  For the first time in his life, he was free.  He stood blinking in the light for a bit; then he looked long and hard at Jesus, who had already started on his journey to Jerusalem, and Bart made up his mind.  He followed Jesus on the way. 

A story told at Prestbury Methodist Church on 11 September 2011
For Sam’s story, see John 5:1-15

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Bart and Sam: A Story to Follow


Pool of Bethesda - Model of Jerusalem in the L...
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The Bartimaeus sermon has turned into a story.

I was struck by the similarities and differences between Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) and the man healed at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18).  They tell us a lot about prayer and healing, and our involvement.  They tell us (surprisingly) that God answers our prayers whether they are prayed earnestly with desperate determination, or fearfully, uncertain about what we want.

I was also struck by the fact that Bartimaeus had a choice.  He was set free; Jesus said to him, “Go.”  He was free to go where he liked.  He chose instead to follow Jesus.  His prayer didn’t come out of a relationship with Jesus, but it certainly led to one.  It strikes me that God is much more interested in our prayers than we are perhaps, and he is certainly far more interested in our talking to him than in our use of special words and formulae.  People often ask, “Are we allowed to pray for this or pray like that?”  My response is, just pray.  The more we talk with God the more natural the conversation will become, because what is natural for me may not be natural for you.

What emerged from my preparation for Sunday was a story; a story about Bartimaeus and his cousin Samuel, the guy from the pool of Bethesda.  You didn’t know they were cousins, or that his name was Samuel, did you?  Well there you are.  I’ll post it to the blog for those who can’t get to Prestbury Methodist Church on Sunday morning, but you’ll have to be patient; it’ll happen over the weekend sometime.

Do come back and let me know what you think.

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Cross-Culture: Bartimaeus’ Demand


Eustache Le Sueur, Christ Healing the Blind Ma...
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We are running a preaching and Bible Study series on Cross Culture.  No, it’s not what you think, although that’s also needed, isn’t it?  This is on the Culture of the Cross.  We are looking at four aspects: the cross, as it brings about forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and transformation.  We have looked at each of these four from God’s perspective as it were; although that’s a bit of an arrogant statement isn’t it?  Put simplistically, how does the Cross become the instrument of God’s forgiveness, healing, reconciliation and transformation?

We are now looking at these same subjects from our perspective—how does the cross bring forgiveness, healing, etc., into our lives.  Finally we will look at them with the community at large in mind.

The story I wrote on the Prodigal’s older brother kicked off the series looking at forgiveness.  Next week I will be preaching on the cross bringing healing.  I have chosen to use the story of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10: 46-52) as our focus.

There are three things that appeal to me in this story in the context of the cross and personal healing.  First there is the element of prayer, what we might call ‘real’ prayer.  Bartimaeus’s “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me” is reminiscent of Jacob’s “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Genesis 32:26); there is the same urgency, the same determination to be healed, the same confidence that this is what God wants to do, and the same commitment to help make it happen.  It’s a prayer that truly partners with God for healing.  Prayer for healing is one of the opportunities God gives us to partner with him in re-creation.  We can sit back and see what happens or we can grab the opportunity with both hands and express our commitment as Jacob did and as Bartimaeus did.

Second is the question Jesus asks (all of us), “What do you want me to do for you.”  It’s a question the cross poses.  Healing, like salvation, is not cheap; it comes at a price.  What do we expect or hope for?  Are our sights set too low?  Are our expectations so broad as to be out of focus?

Thirdly, Bartimaeus was set free by Jesus (verse 52a). But he used his freedom to follow Jesus on the way (verse 52b).  That is always the choice that the cross gives us—take up your cross daily (or don’t).

Have you anything to add?  Any thoughts for me to use or to avoid?  I’d love to hear from you.

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