These are my thoughts for October 25, 2009, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost. This is also Reformation Sunday. The Scriptures for today are Job 42: 1 – 6, 10 – 17; Hebrews 7: 23 – 28, and Mark 10: 46 – 52.
I am entitling this piece Part 1 because, at this moment, my sermon for next week at Dover is tentatively entitled “A New Vision”. I know that I will be basing part of that sermon on the Epistle/2nd reading from Revelations so that is where I got the title. But there is a new vision in the Scriptures for this Sunday, a physical new vision (from the Gospel reading in Mark) and a metaphorical new vision (from the Old Testament/1st reading from Job). So it makes sense to entitle this message the same and just have two parts. And with it also being Reformation Sunday, we are offered Luther’s vision of the new church.
There are those and there will be those who said that Job had it coming to him last week when God challenged him and asked where he, Job, was during the creation. In today’s Old Testament reading, it may be that Job is apologizing for even thinking that he somehow was on the same level as God, which, of course, he wasn’t and could never be.
But the Book of Job holds a place in the Bible, not as traditional wisdom but rather as an alternative wisdom. And, if you look at and read this book from that viewpoint, you can see an entirely different take on Job’s comments in verses 1 – 6. Traditional wisdom will tell us that one does not take on authority; one does not call authority to task. But the alternative tradition would have us first do that, to ensure that authority does keep its promises and does take care of the people.
As an educator, we have to deal many times with students’ conceptions and misconceptions about a topic. We may think that certain ideas are well understood but unless the ideas are tested, previous thoughts may not always be removed from the thinking process. We may teach that all things fall at the same rate but if you ask a high school student which falls faster, a feather or a hammer, they will inevitably answer a feather. The answer is more intuitive than you might think and unless proof is offered that the hammer and feather will fall at the same rate, they will hold onto the old idea. (“Hammer and feather experiment from Apollo 15”) One of the problems that we have in science education today is that there is no clear understanding in either the public sector or with many science teachers about what a hypothesis and theory are.
If we accept the notion that a scientific theory is “an idea about something, but not necessarily true”, then we will have troubles explaining the world around us and be unable to move beyond our present vision of this world. (“What makes science ‘science’?”) The notion of what a theory is and what a theory isn’t what a theory means and does are topics for discussion at another time and place (though you can see some of my thoughts in my piece “The Processes of Science”).
For the moment, we want to exam how Job’s vision of God has changed and what it means for us. Job, himself, will admit that he was babbling on about things and that he lived on the rumors of God. But now, having sought God and having encountered God, his vision and his understanding of God have changed. As it states in verse 6, he will no longer live on the “crusts of hearsay or the crumbs of rumor.”
To me, this means that Job has had his God moment, that singular moment when his understanding of who God is becomes complete. Too many people try to tell you how to have this moment and how it must fill certain requirements and what must happen. But this is the old way, the way that society in Jesus’ time was taught and what so many people try to teach us today. They know the way and their way is the only way; if you do not it as they prescribe, you will fall into purgatory or even worse, below.
But, like Bartimaeus, if we seek God through Christ, it will be our faith that gives us the ability to see. Note, in the beginning portions of the Gospel reading for today, the comment by Mark that many tried to keep Bartimaeus from crying out to Jesus as He walked by. They all recognized the authority that Jesus had but, in the old school way of thinking, in the traditional way of thinking, to approach authority figures, to demand of them anything was unthinkable and unacceptable.
But we also know that Jesus did the unthinkable and the socially unacceptable. He offered a vision that struck at the heart of society, at the ways that society worked and operated. He offered a vision that went beyond the status quo. On this Sunday, when we stop to consider what happened that day some five hundred years ago when Luther nailed the 95 theses on the church door, we need to begin our thought of a new vision for the church. It will be a vision, not of days long past, but of days to come. The power of any true vision is to offer an alternative to the existing reality, to think outside the box and around the corner.
Borrowing from Michael Riddell and his thoughts (Threshold of the Future), if a vision is to have the power to change reality, it has to be found in the arena of the imagination. The language of vision is found in symbol, myth, and poetry. When people use such language, there exists the probability that people can once again entertain the dream that things can be different from what they are now. Visions are nothing more than the operation of an alternative consciousness that allows the imagination to produce a new scenario that is radically different from the present one.
Martin Luther offered a new vision of the church that enabled the people to be empowered. John Wesley offered a new vision of the church that brought the words of the Gospel into reality and offered hope and renewal to all the people. In his faith, Bartimaeus gained his sight. Through Christ, God has heard our cry. It is now time for us to offer a new vision, a vision not of today but of tomorrow.