Monday, April 4, 2011

Guest Sermon: This is MY Story!

This past Sunday, the congregation at Fairfield Highlands Presbyterian Church was blessed by the ministry and preaching of the Reverend Doctor Margaret Aymer.

Rev. Dr. Aymer is Associate Professor of New Testament at Interdenominational Theological Seminary, and has a special interest in biblical hermeneutics, particularly how African diasporic communities signify the Bible as “scripture.” Some of her most significant publications are “Teaching Christians to ‘Read’: Theological Education and the Church”; “Empire, Alter-empire and the Twenty-first Century”; First Pure, Then Peaceable: Frederick Douglass Reads James; and the 2010 Horizons Magazine Bible study, Confessing the Beatitudes (Presbyterian Women, Inc., 2011)

More than that, Margaret is a dear friend whose life is a witness for Christ. I hope you enjoy the sermon as much as we all did!

Jesus was a sinner. Let’s just start there. Oh, I know you modern people believe he was the Son of God, eternal begotten of the Father and all that. Hey, so do I. But this is my story, and if you want to understand my story, you first have to get this. To an observant, holy, religious, Bible-believing person—and you gotta remember, everyone in this story is supposed to be an observant, holy, religious, Bible-believing person—to a holy roller like that, Jesus was a sinner.

This is my story. I’m the one they used to call “the one who sits and begs.” No one ever knew my name...and I guess that’s all right. It’s not important anyway. Besides, I wasn’t important enough to have a name, not a blind beggar like me. Blindness! What a burden in a society where there was no Braille, no guide-dogs, and very little work that didn’t demand the use of your eyes. My parents took me to doctor after doctor, but who had ever heard of curing a kid that was born blind. Blind, I tell you. So what was I supposed to do? I had no job. I had no rich in-laws. Who’s going to marry off their daughter to a blind man with no prospects? I had no future. None. So I became the one who sits and name, no status, no-body. Okay, okay—I know God never made a “nobody,” but this is my story.

So this guy comes along, and next thing I know he’s smearing something warm and sticky over my eyelids and telling me to go wash myself in Siloam. Hey. What else have I got to do today? I’m a beggar. At least it’ll break the monotony and I’ll have a story to tell Bartimaeus the next time I see him... I mean the next time I BUMP INTO him. Literally. So, I go, I wash, and it’s the strangest thing. It’s like... how do I describe it... it’s like the first time you know, really know, who you are and that God loves you exactly that way; it’s like the first time you hold the hand of the one you love, the first time you kiss; it’s like the first time a baby sees a bubble, or the first cardinal of spring. I COULD SEE. See! And the strangest words kept echoing in my ears: I am, I am, I am...

Anyway, let me go on. As you can imagine, the neighbors were confused. They didn’t recognize me, because I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing—sitting and begging. People don’t like change; it upsets their little universes. Oh, I’m sure you love change, don’t you? I mean it doesn’t upset you at all, and you deal with it gracefully. Well, you are saints, the lot of you. But this is my story. My neighbors? Not so graceful. Poking at me, looking me up and down, and talking about me as if I wasn’t even there. “Nah, that ain’t him.” “Of course it’s him.” “Couldn’t be. He’s been blind since he was born.” “I’m telling you, it’s the same guy.” On and on. And the I am, I am, I am, bubbled up from inside myself until I was saying it out loud. “What was I saying?” I wondered, and forced myself to stop. But the echo persisted inside me like a heartbeat: I am, I am, I am.

Well, I caused an Oprah Winfrey-sized media frenzy in my little town, let me tell you. They took me for a Sabbath-approved short walk to a house where some Pharisees stayed. Pharisees. Got to love ‘em. They really, really, really want to be right. They really, really, really want to be holy. They really, really, really want God to love them best. So they try really, really, really hard to be super holy, religious, Bible-believing, observant people! In fact, they try really, really, really hard to make EVERYBODY super holy, religious, Bible-believing, observant people!

See, you Christians, you’re lucky. Now that you know that you can’t earn grace, or forgiveness or the mercy of God, now that you have stopped sacrificing lambs because you gave only eight percent of your oregano to the priest, instead of a full 10 percent, I’m sure you don’t have any really, really, really super holy, religious Bible-believing, observant Christians, right?

Anyway, they took me to the Pharisees. And the Pharisees were...well...disturbed. I mean, they were happy for me, all right. The healing thing was PHENOMENAL. And they were thrilled that I would now become a sacrificing, tithing full-member of the believing community. But the problem was the timing. I mean, it was Sabbath after all.

Look, I don’t think you get it, so I looked it up in one of your modern English translations. Sex, sexual and intercourse—three words you modern folk use an AWFUL LOT—only occur 30 times in the New Revised Standard Version. Sabbath? Try ONE HUNDRED NINETY TIMES! Sabbath is over six times more important than who lies with whom.

Seriously, if Jesus had broken the “sex” laws, come on. Who cares? Abraham, Job’s daughters, David, Ruth, I hear even world leaders like the sex laws. But Jesus broke Shabbat! Not even a marginally holy, religious, Bible-believing, observant person broke Shabbat in THOSE day. OY! So, can you blame them for being a little upset? I mean, in their world, Jesus was a sinner.

But, you see, this is my story; so when they asked me, I told them. I told them and their friends from Judea. Look, I’m not a theologian. I’m not a biblical scholar. I’ve been blind all of my life, so NO I can’t read the Torah. I’ll take your word for it about this Shabbat thing and all, But I gotta tell you—I think this guy’s a prophet or something. Look, don’t get your knickers in a knot. I’m not challenging your authority and I don’t want your job. I don’t have to go to your synagogue—you never let me in there before. But, you gotta admit: only God could have done what was done to me. So you see, I don’t know if he’s a sinner, and I don’t really care. Because this is my story. This morning, like every morning for the last 25 years, I woke up on the street, reached for my beggars’ bowl, and started to beg for alms just like every other day. Then this guy smeared some stuff on my eyes and told me to wash. And I got to tell you, I was blind, but now I see. I was blind, but now I see. I was blind but NOW...

And they kicked me out. Super holy, religious, Bible-believing, observant folks don’t like it when you tell them your experience is more important than their Bible. Of course you Presbyterians know that, don’t you; that why your leaders take vows to uphold scripture as an authoritative witness—along with revelation, and not as some perfect book without any mistakes at all written by the holy hand of Moses direct from haShem, blessed be.

So, anyway, they kicked me out. And he comes along. And that “I am, I am, I am..” started getting louder and louder. And he looks at me, and I see him—I don’t just see him, I see him—I get it. He’s I am. He’s the way. He’s the truth. He’s the life. He’s the vine. He’s the bread. He’s the one who opens the door to whosoever believes. I get it. So he asks me: do you believe in the son of Man. And I say, yes, I believe. I believe because when I’m with him I see, not only the real, mundane things that I used to bump into before. When I’m with him, I see the God who loves me. When I’m with him I see the Spirit that gives me the power to do love and justice in the world. When I’m with him I see the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

I bet you know what I mean, don’t you? I bet when you’re with him, you feel a love greater than the love in this room on a Sunday morning. I bet that when you’re ordained by him as elders and deacons and baptized members of the household God, sent to do his ministry in this world, you get, you really, really, really get that God so loves you. I bet, when you worship him you see his face in those who lay down their lives for each other, for this church, for this community every single day. You do, don’t you?

So I bet it wouldn’t matter to you if other people called you sinners, would it? I mean, some people could call you sinners just for having me up in your pulpit, couldn’t they? Some people could call you sinners for mixing the races, or ordaining women. Some people could even call you sinners for using the “wrong” translation of the Bible. Well, it could happen. Like I said, it probably won’t now that most of you are Christians in this country. You see, you Christians have got it made, what with all of that grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you preach about.

But, here’s a tip, from one who knows. In case someone should ever call you a sinner—someone who really, really, really wants God to love them best—you just tell them this. I don’t know if I’m a sinner or if I’m not. But I know this much. They used to call Jesus a sinner, cause he didn’t always do what the Bible said do. And you know what, once I was blind, once I was afraid, once I hated myself, once I was lonely, once I was scared, once I was the one who used to sit and beg, but now, through amazing grace, now I see. This is my story.


1 comment:

  1. I love this! Wish I could have heard it. Always impressed when someone preaches as a 1st person narrative, I haven't been that brave, yet. This makes me want to try. Thanks to you and to Rev. Dr. Margaret!