Created for Connection

Luke 18:35-19:10

Listen to the sermon:

This morning I would like to start with a game called, “Would you rather?”

In this game you are given a choice of two options. Would you rather do one thing or the other?

The game often asks thought provoking questions like, Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or one hundred duck-sized horses?1-duck-sized-horse-vs-100-horse-sized-ducksThe questions I’d like to ask you are a little simpler than that.

Would you rather go out with a big group of friends on a Friday night or would you rather stay home in your pajamas?

Would you rather have 1,000 friends on Facebook or would you rather not have social media at all and three close friends who you only saw in person?

Would you rather have a conversation with one person or would you rather hang out with a group of people?

Would you rather be the center of attention or would you rather not have anyone notice you at all?

The way you answer these types of questions can indicate whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.

We might think of an introvert as a quiet or shy person who keeps to themselves or an extrovert as a loud, charismatic person who has never known a stranger.

introvert_extrovertBut the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is not as much about volume as it is about what gives you life, what charges your batteries. If what fills your soul is being around people, you are probably an extrovert. If you are a person who enjoys contemplative prayer and taize music and going for a long run in the woods, you might be an introvert.

You might not think of me as an introvert, but I am. I enjoy being around people, it is why my office is right there, but I also need to balance that with time in prayer, reading, listening to music, and running.

In fact, most pastors I know are introverts. Kevin and I are both introverts.

The other thing to realize is that while we often categorize people as introverts and extroverts, almost everyone is a combination of both. There are very few people who are 100 percent one way or the other. You might be 60-40 or 70-30, or 95-5, but we all have some element of getting energy from being around people and some element of needing to be alone.

But our personality type does reveal our natural disposition. We usually have an inclination one way or another and that particularly reveals itself when stuff happens in our lives. When we face a crisis or stress or trauma our natural inclination comes out. We might be able to fake it on a good day, but add some tension to someone’s life and we see the true colors shining through.

So if you are a person who is naturally an introvert, who finds energy in being alone, what happens when stuff happens? You might tend to retreat even more. Our guard goes up and we isolate ourselves even farther.

Even for the extrovert, who usually gets their energy from being around people, when bad things happen they might not feel as safe or accepted in the community and can withdraw from the very thing that normally gives them life.

social-isolationIsolation is a dangerous thing.

The physical health effects of being socially isolated are as strong as obesity and smoking. Isolating yourself literally hurts your heart. People who are socially isolated are 43 percent more likely to have a heart attack and 39 percent more likely to have a stroke.

Isolation doesn’t only happen to us when we internally withdraw within our own self, but isolation can happen when the culture around us pushes us away.

What happens if you quit drinking when all of your friends are going out to get drunk on a Friday night?

What happens if a teenage girl gets pregnant?

What happens if a young man contracts HIV or AIDS?

The world pushes them away and people become socially isolated.

Our scripture today is the story of two isolated people. Isolated by themselves and isolated by their culture.

The first is a blind man. In the gospel of Luke he is unnamed, but in the gospel of Mark he is given the name Bartimaeus.

From all appearances, Bartimaeus is an extrovert.

I imagine Bartimaeus as someone loud, who  made his presence felt. The kind of person we would tell to be quiet waiting for the Free Store to open.

Bartimaeus can’t see what is going on, but he can hear and feel the commotion of a crowd of people around him. He asks what is happening and he is told that Jesus is passing by. When he hears the news he shouts, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And what do the people around him do? They tell him to be quiet. Shhhh. Hush. All this does is make him shout even louder, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 

As a blind man, he is hushed, he is isolated, he is told to be quiet.

In the year 2019 we are still learning what it means to show hospitality to people with disabilities. We might be getting better, but the world is not a friendly place to people who can’t see or hear or walk.

In the ancient world, a blind person would have been even more isolated. People did not have the scientific understanding of how the human body works that we have today. There was a belief that if a person was blind it was a result of God’s judgment and punishment.

Even the disciples thought this way.

In John, Chapter 9, there is a story of another blind man, a man born blind. Jesus heals this man by making a mud pie out of spit and placing that in his eyes.

But before Jesus performs this somewhat gross miracle, the disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

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The disciples. Not the Sadducees or Pharisees who we often see as the gatekeepers of grace, but the disciples.

Jesus continually pushed against this theology that if bad things happen in your life it is because you did something wrong. People thought that back then and people think it today.

Not only is that kind of thinking contrary to what Jesus taught, it results in isolation.

Jesus hears the cry of the blind man over the noise of the crowd and he stops.

This parade, as Jesus is entering Jericho, comes to a stop. I can imagine the people around Jesus getting quiet and whispering, what is he going to do?

He asks Bartimaeus, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you’ and Bartimaeus can see. Salvation has happened. The crowd goes from the hush of watching Jesus to the joy of a praise dance. I can hear them singing hallelujah and quoting the prophecies of Isaiah, the blind receive their sight.  

The very next thing to happen after Bartimaeus is the story of Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who is up a tree, just trying to get a glimpse of Jesus.

What if Zacchaeus is up in that tree not only because he was a wee little man, as the old song goes, but because he didn’t like crowds. Maybe he was an introvert.Image result for ZacchaeusZacchaeus may not have only been a natural introvert, but he was socially isolated. He was a tax collector.

Today, what do we think of taxes and tax collectors? It is March 24, April 15 is coming. I still have to do my taxes and I am dreading it.

In ancient Israel the situation was worse. Taxes weren’t collected solely for the government and infrastructure of Jerusalem. Taxes were collected to go to the Roman Empire. Heavy taxes were imposed on people as a way of controlling them. And the money taken out of their pockets went to the very people who controlled them.

And Zaccheus had to eat too. A tax collector got paid by taking a little extra.

But Zaccheus took more than a little extra, he is described in the scripture as a rich man. He got rich off the backs of his fellow people on the way to giving money to the oppressor.

For that, he was socially isolated.

In fact, when Jesus goes to Zaccheus house, the crowd that was doing a praise dance when Bartimaeus got his sight stopped worshiping. The scripture says they grumbled.

All people don’t always like all people.

Everyone is glad when they are included in the circle of God’s grace, but don’t you know what he did?

But Jesus is never limited by our judgments. He invites himself to Zacchaeus house and salvation happens again. Zacchaeus gives his wealth to help the poor and promises to repay anyone he has defrauded.

Jesus says, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’

Salvation has come to this house.

How did salvation come there? Surely, Jesus showing up had a big part to do with it. But what if the salvation of Zaccheus is not an isolated story.

When we read the stories of Jesus’ miracles we often treat them as isolated incidents, but what if they are connected.

Many of us in the church are reading a book called “40 Days of Decrease”. We are studying it in our Tuesday afternoon lunch group and our Tuesday evening Bible study; you are invited if you would like to join us. The book has challenged us to fast from things like regret and avoidance. In one of the chapters this last week the book asked an interesting question: what if the lives of Bartimaeus and Zaccheus are interrelated.

What if Bartimaeus receives his sight, follows Jesus, and then one of the first things he sees after that is Zacchaeus up in the tree?

What if Zacchaeus is looking down from the tree and sees the blind beggar walking with freedom with the rest of Jesus’ followers?

What if their lives were even connected before that?

For those of you who went to the Holy Land a couple of years ago, you know that Jericho is a small town. In Jesus day, it would have been even smaller, maybe only a couple thousand people. The chances that Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus knew each other, or at least knew of each other, would have been high.

What if Zacchaeus took taxes from Bartimeus that resulted in his poverty?

What if the healing of Bartimeus opened Zacchaeus heart? The salvation of Bartimeus may have contributed to the salvation of Zacchaeus.

Salvation never happens alone. It is in the community of the church that we find healing and life and strength and hope.

Going all the way back to the creation stories in the book of Genesis, it is not good for man to be alone.

As Dr King taught us “all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

We are all connected to each other, created to live in community with each other, and the well-being of any of us effects the well-being of all of us.

The salvation of one of us brings the salvation of all of us.

And so this week I am going to give you some homework. I want you to spend some time with a brother or a sister from this church. Call someone. Take someone out for lunch or a cup of coffee. Check on a church member who you haven’t seen in awhile. Reach out to someone you have missed. Comfort someone going through a hard time, help someone who needs it.

When you do this you will find that when you reach out to someone you might think that you are checking on them, but that you too are the one who is comforted and helped.

Extroverts and introverts alike, do not isolate yourself. Love one another. And in doing so, we will experience salvation together.


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