October 28, 2012, The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Year B, Proper 25
October 28, 2012
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was

 “Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus on his way.”

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Let’s review the scene here in St. Mark’s Gospel. Jesus and his friends have spent the past five weeks or so traveling from the northern most tip of Galilee, Caesarea Phillipi, all the way down to Jericho, where we meet Bartimeaus this morning.  Jericho is, was basically a suburb of Jerusalem.  So getting to Jericho, they were almost there.  And all along the way, Jesus had been telling his friends bit by bit more about what is in store for him, for all of them, when they get to Jerusalem.  “Are you able to drink the cup that I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism that am baptized with?”  Remember that last week?

It is hard to imagine what must have been going through their minds.  Walking day after day, knowing, or at least having some inkling that something big, something life altering, even life taking kind of big is in store for you at the end of the journey. That was where the disciples were, not having many details, just Jesus’ vague and not so vague references, and yet they kept following, kept walking, one foot in front of the other, each step truly taking them one step closer to that murky inevitable.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

And on that road leading out of Jericho, a blind man, Bartimeaus, sat along the side of the road begging.  The road from Galilee to Jerusalem leads through Jericho, so all of the Galileans on pilgrimage to the Temple would pass through Jericho’s gates.  This was a perfect place for beggars to get alms from open-hearted pilgrims starting the last stretch of their journey.  Well, Bartimeaus hears that it is Jesus passing by and he calls out to him, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  But the crowd, the disciples, shushed him.  So he called out louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped, called him over.  The blind beggar leapt up, leaving his precious cloak behind as he rushed to Jesus.  Jesus asked him the same question he asked the disciples last week, “What do you want from me?” Bartimeaus’ request was pretty simple compared the James and John’s request to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus; Bartimeaus just wanted to see again.  Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.”  Then, “immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

For Bartimeaus, it wasn’t easy, but it was clear.  He was blind.  He heard about Jesus, then asked him to help him to see again, it worked, so he followed him.  For Bartimeaus, he physically followed him, in his case, it meant following him right into the lion’s den of Jerusalem.  For Bartimeaus following Jesus meant a complete and profound change in his entire life.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

How about the disciples?  That might be a better place to learn about what it means to follow Jesus.  Their call was personal, like in person kind of personal, but none of their call stories were as miraculous as Bartimeaus’.  Initially at least, their experience is closer to ours, but they still each had a complete and profound change of life.  Their following was far from perfect.  The disciples never seemed to get it right, did they, particularly in St. Mark’s gospel?  Constantly misunderstanding things.  Shushing the wrong people.  Cutting off ears.  Denying Jesus before He was even dead, but they kept trying.  That’s what is important.  It was not so much what they did, or how they did it or what they believed, it was that they changed everything in their lives, they left their nets where they lay, and they did not turn back.  Jesus said again and again, “Leave the dead to bury their own.”  “Who is my family?  This is my family.”  “One who puts their hand on the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of heaven.”  They were serious.  And for as many mistakes as they made, they kept trying and trying and trying again.  Now granted, they had the distinct benefit of having their Lord and Savior telling what to do for most of this story.  Really telling them what to do, where to go, what to do and how and with whom.  That would make this all much simpler, wouldn’t it, if Jesus Christ were here telling you what to do, and how and with whom?

I am sorry to say, that we do not, actually, have that excuse; the excuse that Jesus Christ is dead, risen and gone.  That is just not true.  Look to the person next to you.  Everyone look left, everyone is less self-conscious than if everyone was looking at each other.  Seriously, though.  Look at that person.  Realizing what that person needs, what that person needs from you, you are hearing the voice of Jesus Christ.     And when you do it, when you deliver the goods, when you give what the other needs from you, you are following Jesus Christ.  You are making real the kingdom of God.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  It means doing what you need to do.  Giving what you have to satisfy the needs of others.  It is that simple and yes, it will take your entire life trying to live up to it.

Following Jesus means satisfying the needs of others to the best of our abilities, and when we fail, to get up and try again.  It means standing up for those who can’t stand on their own, and it means standing aside so that those who have not had a chance to stand up on their own, can.   It means looking into the faces we pass on the street, from the gun carrying police officer on patrol, to the transgendered street kid hanging out in Kesey Square, to the guy we find sleeping on the back porch some mornings, it means looking into their face and knowing that Jesus Christ is speaking to you, directly to you in their countenance in a very particular and mysterious way.  And the more uncomfortable that person makes you, the more likely it is that it really is Jesus staring at us through those yellowed, blood shot eyes attached to a body that has drank too much and bathed too little these past few years.

What does it mean to follow Jesus?  The same as it did for Bartimeaus and the disciples: a complete and profound change of life.  I can’t sugar coat it.  There is nothing easy or pleasant about following Jesus Christ.  Look where he leads us: prisons, brothels, tax offices, torture chambers, court rooms, crosses. As our Sarah Miles, our speaker at Convention this week might say, following Jesus leads us to all the wrong people in all the wrong places.

We don’t, most of us, just drop everything like the sons of Zebedee and take off following Jesus Christ that we find in the Body of Christ, the Ecclesia, the people.  To make our following stick, to built habits of discipleship, we need to start with baby steps to the kingdom.  It is like tithing.  If you jump right to that, unless you are very wealthy, it is going to be hard, unpleasant, and unlikely that you’ll complete your pledge or make one again next year.  You start by maybe looking at the percentages, what does three percent look like, the proportional giving idea, then looking at what you gave last year and maybe closing the gap some.  Then next year, maybe that 3% is looking more doable.  And then four or six percent the year after, and then maybe the rest goes to other important institutions.  Win and I gave 2% last year.  It was a tough year financially, a layoff, one income and not full time at that.  But now things are more settled, so we went up to 4%, $2400.  That is what we can do this year.  Next year, we might have more courage, more faith, and we can probably give more.  Baby steps.

Following Jesus looks and probably feels a lot the same.  It is hard, it feels risky, scary.  But the needs of the world, the needs of the people we share this world with are so blindingly apparent.  Overwhelmingly so. So start with that one thing.  That one thing more…  a stretch.  Sign up to serve breakfast with Christine and the crew at First Christian or come play with the kids during shelter week.  Those are pre-packaged introductions to Jesus, but it is following Jesus just the same.  You might strike up a conversation with someone you wouldn’t usually speak with.  That is a first step in following Jesus.  Listen to or learn something new, something that you had possibly even dismissed at one point.  Open yourself and engage, pre-requisites for following Jesus.  Or follow someone that you see following Jesus. For when you can’t see Jesus enough on your own, you can follow someone you trust that does.  There are people in this church you can follow.  One person came to church a couple of weeks go without socks because she gave them to someone who needed them more than she did. And that was just that Sunday, it is always something, something more than she can ask or imagine giving, but there is always enough to give more. And giving things, money, that is the least of it.  Give of yourself; that is what the other really needs. Following Jesus means complete and profound changes in the way things are.  But look around… we need some complete and profound change to the way things are. Start with yourself.  Start with Jesus.  AMEN.