Blind



Blind
Text: 2 Kings 6:8-23
Northminster Presbyterian Church
February 26, 2017

It was my first day back on campus after summer break, and I was happy to be back.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my parents and I loved hanging out in Metairie, and I didn’t hate my summer job.
I also liked this project I was working on: A friend named Mark and I were putting together a musical. It was called Inferno and it was about a journey through hell with a 17-year-old kid who died in a car wreck. It was meant to be performed in a planetarium. Mark wrote the words and lyrics; I was writing the music.
I was happy to be back on campus: being on my own again, going to class again, learning dozens of new things every day again, seeing my friends again.
This was pre-Facebook. This was even pre-internet. Talking to my friends over the summer would have involved something called a “long-distance call,” and those were expensive, so I didn’t know anything about their summers.
Yes, it was my first day back on campus, and I was happy.
Walking across the quad in the afternoon, my friend Carol and I saw each other. She gave me a smile. A very nice smile. The kind of smile – warm and bright and pretty – the kind of smile that makes you feel special and beautiful and, well, I was already happy. It was the kind of smile you hold onto in your heart.
Carol was a friend, but I didn’t think she was the kind of friend who would give me such a gift.
She and I fast-walked toward each other. Carol wrapped her arms around me and squeezed. Hard.
I was more than a little surprised. I hugged her back.
“It is good to see you, Tim,” she said, when we finally let go.
“It … good … see … too,” I managed to pull out of my very confused, very busy brain.
We each had somewhere to go, but we agreed to meet later and talk.
*******
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of all that.
Like I said, Carol was a friend, but not particularly close.
Did Carol think differently about me? Had she spent the summer coming to the realization that I was an amazing guy, and that she had never really appreciated me?
I mean, it was about time SOMEBODY realized how incredibly cool I was. Carol was smart and fun and kind and pretty. Why not her?
*******
Later on that day, we saw each other again, with time to talk.
Carol told me she was really flustered dealing with all the little, stupid things that crop up as part of every day, and that she still hadn’t really gotten over Mark’s funeral.
While the phrase “Mark’s funeral” should have stood out, I didn’t think much of it at the time. Mark was the guy I was writing the musical with.
When Carol said “Mark’s funeral,” I figured she meant that Mark’s aunt or grandfather had died, or something like that. You know… That funeral Mark had to go to. Mark’s funeral.
When the conversation circled around, I asked Carol who died, and how was Mark taking it.
“Oh my God,” Carol said, not in any way taking the Lord’s name in vain. “You don’t know.
“Mark’s dead.”
Days before, Mark had been killed by a 45-year-old drunk driver just feet from campus. He was dead instantly. His funeral was that morning.
On top of the shock and the growing sense of loss, there was something that troubled me much, much more.
I had been… SO… BLIND!
Not only had I been happily walking around campus the day of my friend’s funeral, I had completely misinterpreted Carol’s wondrous smile and hug earlier.
Carol had seen me, smiled at me, hugged me because she thought I was grieving, and she wanted me to know that I wasn’t grieving alone. She was sharing her brokenness with my brokenness.
What a fool I was!
Yes, I know: I couldn’t have known. No one told me. It’s not my fault that I didn’t see.
But there were plenty of signs that something was very wrong on campus, and looking back after Carol opened my eyes, I could see them. There was sadness all around, and I chose to ignore it because I was happy. There were friends of mine who were nearly in tears, but I paid it no heed because I was feeling great.
I’m not saying I did anything wrong; it’s just that it’s important for me to see the world as clearly as I can, and that morning, I didn’t see the world at all.
*******
The Bible text for this sermon is not in the weekly lectionary, so there’s a reasonably good chance you’ve never heard a sermon on it.
It starts with a blind king.
Not blind like Stevie Wonder, but blind nonetheless.
The king of Aram probably considered himself quite important even though most people these days don’t even know there ever was a kingdom named “Aram.” Still, he couldn’t even seem to set a decent ambush on  the Israelite army.
The Israelites always knew about the ambushes, and when the other side knows about your ambush, you’re pretty much just sitting around while they find another way.
The blind king thinks there’s a traitor passing secrets to the Israelites, which seems pretty reasonable, but is completely wrong.
It turns out the Israelite prophet Elisha knows everything the king says, either because Elisha has God-given mystical mind-reading powers, or because the king is as dumb as he is blind, and Elisha has just figured him out. (Either reading of the text is possible.)
What follows is a pretty typical overreaction of a powerful person who ends up feeling stupid: the king of wherever-it-was sent an army to pick up this one guy.
Because Elisha’s never gonna see that coming.
(Oh, and by the way, this army, sent to pick up Elisha, is the only army we’re going to need to worry about from now on. The Israelite army could have just stayed home and taken a nap for the rest of this story.)
All right, so right here is my favorite part of the story.
It’s early morning. The rooster crows and Elisha’s servant drags himself out of bed.
Stretch.
“Ah, well,” he thinks, “the water bucket isn’t going fill itself.”
He grabs the bucket and opens the door. It’s a good walk to the well, but at least it’s not too cold and there are all those soldiers and chariots on the hills surrounding the city.
Wait… what?
The servant runs back inside and tells Elisha that there’s an army parked outside, and he’d better think of something fast, or they were both gonna die.
Because, you see, the servant was blind.
Not blind like Stevie Wonder, but blind nonetheless.
Elisha asks God, and God gives sight to the blind.
Suddenly, the servant sees that just behind the army of the king of wherever-it-was was an army of angels. Where the king’s army had horses and chariots, the angel army had horses and chariots… OF FIRE!
Don’t be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.
*******
Apartheid in South Africa was a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination, where a tiny minority of white people controlled almost all the wealth and power, and the black people who were the vast majority (South Africa is in Africa, after all), were beaten, jailed, or killed if they even tried to resist.
It ended in 1991.
I know. It should have ended in 1891, if it were ever to get started.
Before the end of apartheid, there was an ecumenical service at the Cathedral of St. George the Martyr in Cape Town, South Africa. (I heard this story from Jim Wallis, who was there.) The service was to be led by a black archbishop named Desmond Tutu. It was a substitute for a political rally that the government disallowed.
To make sure he understood the point that being a man of the cloth didn’t make him special, the government jailed Archbishop Tutu for several days prior to the event.
The blind government.
Not blind like Stevie Wonder, but blind nonetheless.
At the service, just as Archbishop Tutu stood to speak, hundreds of police pushed into the crowded cathedral, armed not just with guns, but with notepads and tape recorders, trying to intimidate the man, trying to make sure he stayed in control.
Nevertheless, the archbishop preached what he was going to preach about the evils of apartheid. He declared that this injustice wouldn’t endure.
And then he talked to the policemen.
“You are powerful,” he said. “You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”
The packed house stood and started dancing. The policemen didn’t know what to do.
Don’t be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.
*******
Going back to the Elisha story: The army of the king of wherever-it-was started to attack when Elisha asks God to make them blind, and God makes them blind.
Not blind like Stevie Wonder. Blind more like the stormtroopers in the original Star Wars: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”
Elisha goes up to the army and says, “Elisha? Oh, yeah, I know the guy. He doesn’t even live here. Come on, I’ll show you where to find him.”
The blind army follows the prophet until he takes them to Samaria, one of the capitals of Israel at the time. (I know that might sound weird, but this was long before the “Good Samaritan” story. It’s kind of complicated.)
But in the Israelite capital. we then meet the second blind king of this story.
Not blind like Stevie Wonder.
The Israelite king is overjoyed to see an army of his enemy walking happily into his capital. He goes up to Elisha.
“Do you want me to kill them?” he asks. “I want to kill them. It’s OK to kill them, right?”
You see, for blind kings, the only answer is power. Kill your enemies, or anyone who crosses or disagrees with you. Crush them. Smash them.
But Elisha is not blind. In fact, he and his servant are the only ones in this whole story who aren’t.
He asks the king if the king’s power brought these men to him.
It did not.
He tells the king to feed these men, show them hospitality, and then send them home.
The king of Israel might have been blind, but he wasn’t stupid. He listened to the man who had kept his armies alive all this time.
He gave the enemy army a great feast, and then sent them back to wherever-it-was.
And, instead of the blind king of wherever-it-was avenging the loss of his army, he chose to keep to his own side of the river.
He had just sent an army after one man, and had them return talking about how good Israelite cooking was, and maybe asking why their own king never served them a feast like that.
*******
There’s something important about this story that maybe you missed: The only way the servant could see the army of angels is for him to look at the army of the king of wherever-it-was.
Hiding your eyes in the face of what frightens you does not help you see better.
I know, it sounds obvious when I say it like that.
The only way that Elisha manages to keep from being blind is that he keeps his eyes open, and he keeps his attention on God.
And by that, I don’t mean looking heavenward with a blissful smile. I mean keeping his eyes here, in this world, this place where God is. He could see because he was paying attention to the people around him, people God loved and in whom is God’s image.
Elisha sees his servant frightened, and asks God to give him comfort. What the servant and both kings see as an army and a threat, Elisha sees as men, and gives them hospitality. What the world sees as kings, Elisha sees as men, often blinded by fear and lust for power.
Archbishop Tutu saw the people around him, the oppressed and afraid, and stood with them, inviting their oppressors to join them.
When Carol smiled at me and hugged me all those years ago, I was blinded by my own happiness. I looked at myself, how good I felt, and I missed what was going on around me.
After my eyes were open, I saw the real gift in Carol’s smile and hug, the way the other people at my college looked to help those who were mourning, worked to grieve with them, and help them through the shock and the loss.
And now, looking back and looking forward, I can see, dimly to be sure, but I can see God in everything around, God’s love lifting up the lost and lonely and forgotten, even giving sight to the blind.
No, it’s not all rosy rainbows and lollipops. There is real danger here, real torment, real harm being done to people with no voice, no power, no money, nothing, it seems, but God’s love.
But I try to remember Elisha’s words: “Don’t be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.”
I try to look through the army of terror and pride and hate and spite and see the army of angels behind. Sometimes, thanks to God, I can see them.
Sometimes, thanks to God, I can even hear God’s voice to all of us in the words of a blind man.
Blind like Stevie Wonder.
“You are the sunshine of my life,” God says, “That’s why I’ll always stay around.”
“You are the apple of my eye,” God says. “Forever you’ll stay in my heart.”
Don’t be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.

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