Smudged Lenses

MLP board member Danny Morales, a candidate for ministry in the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, preached his first sermon last week at Riviera Presbyterian Church, the congregation where he is Associate Pianist and Pastoral Assistant. We invite you to share in this moment of Danny’s unfolding ministry by reading his sermon below.

Rev. Laurie Ann Kraus, Danny’s pastor, is a director of our sister organization, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and has shared movingly about his journey with Riviera. We invite you to read Laurie’s words here.

Daniel Morales, Ruling Elder, Riviera Presbyterian Church, Miami, Florida

It took me almost a month to follow through with actually getting my glasses. As the fall semester quickly approached, I rushed to resolve the matter once and for all, especially taking into account that I had enrolled in a full course load this semester, and was advised by my professors there would be a lot of reading involved.  (Boy, they weren’t kidding, either!)  So on a Saturday morning in late August I received a call from For Eyes that my glasses were ready, and later that afternoon I drove by to pick them up.  Now the optometrist recommended that I should start wearing my glasses as soon as I got them so that my eyes would get accustomed to it.  And so I did.  Wow!  I never realized how sharp and crisp the world looked!

To my amazement the resolution, the clarity, the sharpness of what I saw all around me was astounding.  It was razor sharp vision!  The sky was not just blue, it was a rich and deep blue, a subtle soothing color that my eyes felt as if they were lounging on a hammock. The greenery that adorned Old Cutler Road was not just green, it was a luscious green,  as rich as dense forest.  I thought to myself, boy was I really missing out on all of this?  Where have I been all this time? All this natural wonder and beauty in front of me, yet my visual impairment, though minor it was, allowed me to see it but partially, not in its rich wholeness. My world was completely transformed!

And then it happened… Out of nowhere, my vision started getting a bit faint, smoky, as if an eerie white fog engulfed me.  I panicked a bit and thought my vision was starting to succumb to my own negligence.  I removed my glasses to test my vision and in doing so discovered the culprit, SMUDGES!  Now, for those of us who wear glasses, you know smudges can be really really annoying.  I now find myself cleaning my lenses constantly, sometimes for no reason at all, just because I think there’s a smudge on it…

The lenses of our churches are also smudged by fingerprints; fingerprints of a desire to cling to status, a confidence of being “insiders,” not realizing that in doing so, just as Bartimaeus was silenced in our story, we are silencing and isolating the voices of the needy, those in despair, souls seeking healing and wholeness; silencing the voices not just of those that sit at the side of the road, but in our own churches… silenced because they are not one of us.

I was reminded of this denominational smudging, if you will, early this summer when I had the opportunity to attend my first GA.  As the floor opened up for conversations on July 5th  — a day after celebrating our country’s Declaration of Independence, a Declaration whose preamble, I might add, ironically states: “… that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That morning, the meaning of equality became questionable, when the topic of the day turned to marriage equality, and whether the body of the PC(USA) would be moved to re-define their view of marriage as a commitment between two people regardless of gender.  I do not recall word for word what everyone said, except for that one woman who did speak and chose to remind the entire assembly how in the book of Leviticus, it clearly stated that homosexuality was an abomination and they should be put to death.  Her words stung more painful than a wasp.  It was the first time I had ever witnessed someone make such harsh and hurtful remarks of my people, of me!  I wondered how she could say such things when she had never met me, she had never SEEN me!!!

I cannot begin to describe how numb I felt after hearing those words; so frozen were my emotions that I do not even remember at what point tears began rolling down my cheek.  But then he sat next to me…  An older gentleman, wearing a rainbow stole just like mine.  A gentleman whose lenses were apparently less smudged, whose vision was less impaired, who saw in me not the “outsider,” not “a voice from the other side,” but rather a brother, a friend, another child of God.  He leaned over and told me, “I’m sorry about the outcome of today, it must have been painful to hear all that; but I am a strong supporter of equal rights for the LGBT community and I will keep fighting for you as I continue doing so for my daughter”…

Mark tells us that when Bartimaeus was told to be silent, he screamed louder.  In preparing for this sermon, I asked my dad to read the text and share with me his own insights and reflections on this story.  After a few weeks of allowing him time to read and digest the text, dad said he was captivated by Bartimaeus’ persistence.  Indeed it was his persistence that proved to be very useful, for this time Jesus heard him, this time Jesus responded to him.  Since wearing glasses for a few months now, I’ve learned we don’t always see the smudges on them.  Instead we get so accustomed to those smudges, that foggy vision, that we create or even become our own impediments to clarity, impediments to the voices that like Bartimaeus are still screaming.  Marcel Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”    Perhaps we need to pay a little more attention to those voices seeking healing and wholeness, for sometimes they scream loudly, sometimes they scream very softly.  And maybe if we heard those voices, we might be prone to remove our lenses and acknowledge the smudge they have and prompt us to see more clearly.  What do you see?

After hearing the loud calls of Bartimaeus, Jesus stopped dead in his tracks and ordered him to come.  Mark tells us that Bartimaeus quickly jumped up and threw off his cloak, his livelihood, his only possession, without hesitation; something the rich man could not find his way to doing.  Bartimaeus, in his act of renunciation, despite his impediment, challenges us in the 21st century.  He challenges us to leave behind our comfort zone, to leave our own cloaks behind, to remove our glasses if you will and hand them over to the optometrist, to have our vision recalibrated, that we might obtain 20/20 vision once again. Bartimaeus challenges us, in spite of his status, in spite of his place at the side of the road, to speak louder even when our voices are silenced because we are not one of them, to rise up to the moment, heed the call and welcome wholeness into our lives.  Jesus, in acknowledging that Bartimaeus was in fact able to see through faith, though his own disciples could not, did not hesitate one bit in granting his request.  Bartimaeus was not seeking status, like James and John.  He wasn’t seeking greatness; he was simply seeking to be, like all of us, like you and me, a child of God restored to wholeness.