Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Believing is Seeing
Closer to God, a Lenten sermon series from Luke, Week 5 of 5
Preached March 21, 2021 for the 9:30am Worship
This is the last week of our Sermon series for Lent Caitlan and I are calling “Closer to God.” So far, Closer to God has meant:
Looking for God in the ones we’ve been told or imagine as our enemy.
Challenging anyone who blocks justice or mercy with small actions done for others.
Trusting God is more forgiving, merciful, and inclusive than we’ve been taught or might believe.
And, daring to set aside a percentage… if not 10%, then maybe 8%, or 5%, even 1% of our income to grow relationships and help build God’s coming kingdom.
This week, we finish the series with the word of the Lord from…
Scripture Luke 18:31-19:10
31 Then Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be handed over to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. 33 After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” 34 But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who were upfront sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” 43 Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.
19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was going to pass through it. 2 (but) A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, and on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus because Jesus was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 See, the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
Sermon Believing is Seeing
The blind man is never named. The rich man is named Zacchaeus.
The blind man is unemployed, a beggar, and flat broke. Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector, top-level management, and quite well-off.
The blind man is outside the community, by the road on the way into Jericho. Zacchaeus is inside the community, a resident and homeowner inside the city limits of Jericho.
The blind man is out of the loop and has to ask others, “What’s going on?” Zacchaeus is well-connected and has already heard… Jesus of Nazareth is passing through.
The blind man cannot see therefore shouts for Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Zacchaeus finds a way to see, up a tree, but is quiet from his perch.
Jesus asks the blind man a question, “What would you like me to do for you?” Jesus gives Zacchaeus a command, “Hurry! Come down. I’m staying at your house tonight.”
The blind man gets to ask Jesus for what he wants, “Let me see.” Zacchaeus, in being confronted by Jesus, sees and surrenders to what Jesus wants.
The blind man regains his sight, follows Jesus, and glorifies God! Zacchaeus stays put but pledges to give half of his net worth to the poorest and to repay anyone he ever overcharged four times what he took.
The crowd praised God when they saw Jesus heal the blind man. The crowd grumbled and complained when they saw Jesus headed to the house of the sinner Zacchaeus.
Jesus tells the blind man, “Your faith has saved you.” Jesus tells the people about Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house because he too is a son of Abraham.”
Do you see the differences? Do you see the similarities?
Getting closer to God is different depending on where we are when we start. So, to get something from this story about getting closer to God ourselves, we’ll need to pause and be honest with ourselves about who we are in the story. What is our starting point?
Are we more like the poor blind man, someone outside the community, or are we more like the fairly wealthy Zacchaeus, a connected insider? Would we boldly cry out for help, publicly, no matter who is listening or watching, because our need is so great, and we don’t care what other people think, or would we find some way to glimpse what God might be doing from a safe distance, a safe altitude, not jump in on the ground floor or call attention to ourselves? Do we already believe so strongly, we have been waiting and preparing for this moment, knowing when we cry out, we will be heard, or are we not sure what we believe, just curious enough to observe, but not courageous enough to participate?
It's no coincidence these two different but similar stories about seeing and salvation come right after the disciples cannot see. Jesus tells the disciples what is about to happen. “The Son of Man will be handed over from the Jews to the Gentiles and will be mocked, insulted, spat upon, beaten, and killed. The third day, he will rise.” But the disciples couldn’t see it. For whatever reason, it was hidden from their understanding. They couldn’t grasp what Jesus was trying to tell them.
And with the disciples unable to see, believe, we are given two similar but different stories about seeing, believing. But which comes first, seeing or believing? For the blind man, believing is seeing. For Zacchaeus, seeing is believing.
Sometimes, people ask me how an Engineer became a pastor. Well, it’s a long story, too long for today. I can remember what happened, but only in retrospect am I becoming able to understand why or how.
The earliest part of me that developed was the “seeing is believing” part. I loved the calculations, the finding of an answer to a question or a solution to a problem. I loved building prototypes, testing them, improving them. I loved the way ideas sprout from mind to paper to reality. In my younger years, the engineering profession allowed me to lean into that perspective, that seeing is believing way of life. Once I could really see a design in my mind, on my dry erase board, in my 3D modeling software, I began to believe it was possible, much like I’m still doing today with the old pink house on North Queen Street. Seeing is believing is like Zacchaeus.
But that side wasn’t enough. When Jill and I were married and needed to solve things, fix things, in ourselves, in one another, in our relationship, sometimes I couldn’t see it. But for whatever reason, whenever she and I believed it was possible, love would win, we would hold on and find a way together, it happened. The same seemed to be true in parenting. There were times I couldn’t see how to parent. Our three boys are similar but so different, and each one needed something unique from us, from me. I’ve made mistakes parenting them. But usually, when I rely on belief first, belief God has them, God is with them, God will guide them around and through my mistakes, I begin to see. In relationships, believing is seeing, like the blind man.
In the Zacchaeus way seeing is believing, and belief waits on the other side of seeing. Zacchaeus struggled to see, then found a way, climbing up a tree. From there, he could see Jesus, and that seeing sparked his curiosity or questions into belief that became action.
For those of us who lean toward “seeing is believing,” Jesus is less invitational, and doesn’t ask a question, what do you want? For the Zacchaeus, and Engineer Joel, and perhaps some of you who lean toward seeing is believing, we need to expect an interaction with Jesus to be less friendly and soft, more direct and commanding. “Zacchaeus, get down. Come here.” For those of us who lean toward seeing is believing, we need to expect Jesus to be less invitational, and more invasive. “Tonight, I am coming to your house. I’m going to stick myself into the middle of your life. I’m going to disrupt your routine. I’m going to put myself in your private or secret places. I’m going to demand your attention. We are going to talk about the things you don’t want to talk about.” That’s how God moves closer to us, if we happen to lean toward the seeing is believing way.
For the believing is seeing folk, or parts of us, the blind man way, that’s where Jesus is more gentle. “Yes, yes, come here. What do you need? What can I do for you?” But remember, this part of us cries out for God with no embarrassment and no concern for what other people might think. This part of us is desperate enough to beg.
If we are like Zacchaeus, we shouldn’t expect God to be gentle, invitational, and ask us questions about what we want. If we lean toward seeing is believing, we should expect Jesus to confront us, demand our attention, reveal our secrets, and expect a sacrifice.
If we are like the blind man, then yes, Jesus will be softer, more invitational, and ask us what we want. But this comes when we cry out for God with an honest desperate voice.
If you’d like to find yourself Closer to God, consider... do you lean more toward seeing is believing, or believing is seeing?
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown