Year B, Proper 25 October 28, 2018 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“…Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”
We haven’t forgotten our elevator speech project have we? At the beginning of September we talked about coming up with our own 30 second explanation of what Christianity means to you, what being a Christian means to you? Being able to articulate our faith is one way to make sure our faith, the strength, the balm of our faith is available when we need it: be it when tragedy strikes you or your family, or when our political situation devolves into vitriol and violence, or just to keep your head above water on any given Tuesday morning, it is good to be able to explain what you believe if only to yourself. So anyone have one? Well, maybe this will help…
Our selection from St. Mark’s Gospel is the story of Bartimaeus. This is not primarily a miracle story, not simply a story of being healed by faith. Well at least it is not about being healed of blindness by faith, which is good, because that can lead to some very bad theology. Theological notions like “if you had enough faith you will be healed,” by extension mean that if you are not healed you don’t have enough faith. The implication is that God chooses who is healed or stricken, has bad things happen to them or not, who lives or dies. Quite horrible theology, actually. The divine constants of Justice and Love wouldn’t allow for a capricious God like that. So thankfully that is not what this story is about. What this little story is about is faith. Plain and simple human faith in God in Christ with the Holy Spirit, and all the complicated things that that implies. This story paints for us a very helpful picture of what a life of Christian faith can look like; what your life in faith could look like. It is a model of encountering God and responding. So here’s the sermon plan: I am going to draw a schematic of the Bartimaeus story, then overlay it on to our lives as a model of a faithful life, of a life seeking meaning and wholeness in the midst of a broken world. That’s the plan. (That is kind of like a magician telling you how they do the trick before doing it. We’ll see).
So here is the story of Bartimaeus point by point:
- The starting point: Jesus is there, walking down the road.
- Bartimeaus is there, too. He is an outcast, in most ways. He is blind, meaning different and challenged. He is a beggar, another perennially alienated class. He is at least partially gentile, his father’s name is Greek – Timaeus. Few cultures readily accept folks of mixed parentage. (Think mudbloods in the Harry Potter universe). So he is an outcast, he doesn’t fit into the normative.
- The next thing that happens is that Bartimaeus sees Jesus for who He is (God) and he proclaims it in a risky way. “Son of David” was a political declaration. He was probably shushed because if the Romans heard that, they’d react. (That language would have made people nervous in Jesus’ time; it was downright perilous to say in the 60s when St. Mark wrote this).
- Seeing Jesus, Bartimaeus asks for what Jesus can give: Mercy.
- He is shushed by “many.” (This is where it happens in the story). Who was the “many?” Those in the procession with Jesus? The Road to Jericho was a pilgrim way, maybe it was pilgrims, or even other beggars? It is not clear.
- He is called by Jesus.
- Others tell Bartiaeus the good news and call him forward
Then we have the big three:
- He threw off his cloak.
- Sprang up
- He came to Jesus
And it concludes,
- He asked Jesus specifically for what he needed.
- Jesus granted it.
- Bartimaeus “followed Him (Jesus) on the way.”
So that’s the blow by blow of this tight little story. Here’s the color commentary and how it fits into your life. Maybe we’ll call this the Bartimaeus Method of Spiritual Discernment. I have some hand-outs in the back to take home, so don’t worry, just listen.
First off, we start at the same point the story does: Jesus is present. Where? How? Well, that is the question, isn’t it. He’s here in this bread and wine in a special way. If you can’t pull off anything else, that’s a place to start. But He is everywhere. He is in the face of everyone you meet on the road. The harder they have it, the more they are poor, excluded, oppressed, downtrodden the more apparent Jesus is. And that includes, you. Jesus is in you, in your own heart always. As Thomas Merton laments, “But O! How far have I to go to find Him in whom I have already arrived.” This is the first “How to be a Christian” homework question: Where do you see Jesus in your life?
Second point: he is a blind beggar. This is about faith, not faith healing, so we’ll leave physical blindness aside, but we are all blind in so many ways. To suffering, to difference, to how we impact others, to our own ignorance (and wisdom), our own coldness (and compassion). Your question: What are you blind to?
Bartimaeus, this poor, blind beggar, is an outcast, he doesn’t fit in to his society. How about you? Do you fit in everywhere you go? You might try to fit in, to blend, but do you? On the inside? If you go to church, there are ways you don’t fit into a lot of Eugene culture. What is the old self-deprecation “I’d never join a club that would have someone like me as a member?” How many of us never felt at home at home, growing up? (You know what that feels like. Isn’t that being a teenager)? Where do you sit in middle-class, educated, un-addicted, housed, able-bodied, cis-gendered, straight, white male normativity? Where do you not fit in? This is central to Jesus consciousness, because Jesus is always on the side of the other.
Point three is Jesus calling out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” A key point is Bartimaeus’ prophetic insight. He knew who Jesus was. He knew the genuine article when he saw it. So do you. When we turn on our discerning minds, we can tell the genuine from the fake, the true prophets from the false, truth from lies. Our ability to discern quality is innate. Now that discerning sense can be dulled by misuse, by overexposure to junk-junks, that’s our family word for low quality anything – bad food, bad media, all of it, it can be dulled but it is always there, our ability to discern quality, authenticity. What in your life do you know to be junk-junks? What in your life do you know is the genuine article?
Next he asks for mercy. What ails you? Where do you struggle? What help do you need? Jesus came not for the healthy, but for the sick, the broken, the lost, the confused, the adrift, the bored and the listless, the depressed and anxious, the drunks and junkies, the promiscuous, perverse and violent: that is Jesus’ congregation. Those without meaning in their lives. He seeks and finds those who true selves are consumed with anger, greed, or are tied up by our compulsions, those of us not leading with our best foot forward all the time. He came to Bartimaeus like He comes to all of us, because we all need mercy. What mercy do you need in your life?
Just as Bartimaeus cries for mercy, he was shushed by many. Who shushes you? Who tries to keep you from Jesus, from wholeness, from your true and beautiful self? (Co-dependents and addicts, this is one’s especially for you). The human condition leaves us all bound up, it keeps our head down, draws our eyes everywhere but to the prize. Material things, ambition, competition, being conscious more of scarcity than abundance are spiritually deadly. So is embarrassment. Embarrassment over being human is the educated middle class’ Achilles heel. You need mercy, but so few of us truly ask for it. What discourages you from crying out for mercy? From seeking light and life? From committing to the Jesus way? What gets in your way?
Even as everyone else is shushing Bartimaeus, Jesus calls to him. Jesus is calling you, too. Right now. With every breath. Every life giving breath, the unconscious urge to breathe is Jesus’ call to you to live life and live it abundantly. The impulse to live is a basic form of Christ’s call to you. As is the loving urge of desire for your mate, or the impulse to make something beautiful. The need to comfort someone in their suffering, to halt whatever causes the suffering, to make justice roll down like water, a friend’s soothing, encouraging, maybe chastising words; those are Jesus’ words in their mouths. The roar of the ocean, the creak of the old trees, the wind rolling over the grasses, miles and miles of grasses… The sound of a hungry baby, a whiny toddler, an impetuous pre-adolescent (an impetuous adolescent for that matter)… all of those are ways Jesus calls to us. Your point to ponder: How does Jesus call you? In what special way is He calling you?
Jesus calls and the many who discouraged Bartimaeus’ cry switch and encourage him. “Take heart; get up, He is calling you.” Who or what encourages you? Encourages you to follow your heart? To take a leap of faith? To go to church and open yourself to discovering the fruits of the spirit? Who or what encourages you?
And then we have the big three: He threw off his cloak. He sprang up. He came to Jesus.
As a blind beggar, the cloak would have been a prized if not sole possession. But it also probably identified him as what he was: a poor, homeless beggar, it kept him down just as it warmed him up. All those entanglements make up what we call the false self; all the shoulds, the expectations, the judgements from inside and from out that we all face, those all pull us away from being who we truly are when we are at rest, in repose, or as God intended us to be. What is holding you down? What do you need to throw off?
And what would springing up look like for you? Do you do abrupt? I was on my way to law school, but then I had a very odd call to ministry experience and instantly everything changed for me, I turned around 540 degrees and headed off in a completely different (and wholly unexpected direction). Do you spring like that? Or are you a five years to decide what color to paint the kitchen kind of person? A meticulous researcher and considerer of all the facts, options and consequences? If we are going to change, we need to understand how we change, how you change or imagine you might change the direction of your life. What does change look like in your life?
And he came to Jesus. God is, as the collect tells us, more than we can ask or imagine. And yet, our imaginations are one of our most precious human gifts. What do you imagine coming to Jesus to be? Hands in the air, light in your heart, eyes rolling back as you are slayed in the spirit? For a lot of our brothers and sisters that’s the gold standard. Or is it the glow of quiet consolation, a moment of clarity, a sense of intimate connection (love?) for those around you? Use your holy imagination. What might your come to Jesus moment look, feel, taste like?
Finally, Bartimaeus “followed Him on the way.” What form might following Jesus take for you? Is it abandoning a career and pursuing holy orders? Is it abandoning a life and joining a religious order? Or running for office? Or maybe is it starting a family? Starting a movement? Being an Egan site lead, or its close equivalent, giving away everything you own and doing x? Maybe giving everything away is too much, but just making baby steps to a tithe like Windy and I are doing? Or tithe your tithe, increase your pledge 10% over last year? Or pledge for a first time? ‘tis the giving season. Or maybe following Jesus will make you a divinely inspired proto-martyr and regularly volunteer in the nursery? And there are some of us know exactly what it is God wants of us; we know precisely what we are being called to, but we haven’t quite thrown off what we need to throw off to answer. That’s a fraught place to be. So your final “What does it look like being a Christian?” question is: How would I follow Jesus?
(Just a note: like imagining what our come to Jesus moment would look like, to imagine following Jesus can be an exercise in futility as God’s modus operandi is to just as likely call us to the unexpected if not the unlikely or unwanted as it is to the “Of course!” “You’re a natural.” “You were born to x.”)
So that’s a first introduction to the all-new Bartimaeus Method of Spiritual Discernment. Check it out. You don’t need to go from step 1 – 12, or even address all of the questions. What is your entrance into a life of faith, what grabs you? What questions speak to you? What questions do you know that you need to ask? Maybe the one you least want to deal with is not the one to start with, but it is also not the one to skip entirely.
Jesus is always here. Calling to you. How will you answer? AMEN.
The Bartimaeus Method of Spiritual Discernment
- Where do you see Jesus in your life?
- What are you blind to?
- Where do you fit in? Where do you not fit in?
- What in your life do you know to be junk-junks?
What in your life do you know is the genuine article?
- What mercy do you need in your life?
- What gets in your way?
- How does Jesus call you?
- What encourages you?
- What do you need to throw off?
- What does change look like in your life?
- What might your come to Jesus moment look, feel, taste like?
- How could I follow Jesus?