Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pentecost 22: An invitation to draw near

Lectionary: Job 42; 1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22; Hebrews 7:23-29; Mark 10:46-52
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

This is one of those Sundays when the wisdom of our 3-year common lectionary truly shines in this group of readings.

The Old Testament story from Job is about HUMILITY. Even the most faithful, such as Job, fall into the sin of Adam & Eve – deciding we think we know how anything ought to be or go. Such arrogance (hubris) puts us outside a right relationship with God. When we return to humility, as Job did, we return to righteousness.

The Psalm is about FAITH. Praising God, even in the midst of terror Hardship is part of life. Righteousness, that is, a right relationship with God, calls us to pray and praise God even in times of trouble, especially in times of trouble, knowing that God loves us, will keep us safe, and set us free from whatever enslaves us.

The letter to the Hebrews is about HOPE. Our deliverance, our salvation is in the person of Jesus the Christ who “is able for all time to save those who approach God through him.” Jesus saves. When we, who are baptized into the death and resurrection life of Jesus, approach God, our hope is in Jesus who said, “whatever you ask in my name, I will give you.” But it’s what we ask that is important, as we see in our Gospel story.

The story of Bartimaeus (son of honor) -Bartimaeus may or may not have been a real person. This gospel is a story Jesus is telling about CHARITY.

To be blind is to be unable to see. Even we who can (physically) see know the terror of blindness - spiritual blindness. Everyone knows this at some point. Every church, every part of the body of Christ, confronts this at some point. Blindness is the frailty of our humanity. Trouble arises and we feel lost and alone. How do we move safely ahead? The road is unfamiliar and frightening. What is God’s will for us? How do we know our decisions/actions are in keeping with the will of God?

The answer is: we look at our questions. What are we asking God for in the moment of our trouble?

Bartimaeus asked for mercy. He had enough FAITH to know that Jesus COULD provide him freedom from his affliction. He had enough HOPE to believe that Jesus WOULD save him in his time of trouble.

Bartimaeus asked for mercy – which got Jesus’ attention, so he stood still and told his followers to call Bartimaeus to him. The followers went to Bartimaeus and said, “…get up, he is calling you.”

Bartimaeus immediately got up, throwing off his cloak, and came to Jesus. Why this detail? Why does the gospel writer say he threw off his cloak?

Like all the other “calling” stories when Jesus calling the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, or the tax collector Matthew, etc., Bartimaeus left his livelihood to follow Jesus. The cloak was what caught the coins that people threw. So he threw that off – he threw off his job and all the money he had gathered for the day and he followed Jesus. He walked away from everything on earth that gave him security and safety and ran to Jesus for salvation.

Then, when Bartimaeus and Jesus were face to face, and Jesus asked him what he wanted and Bartimaeus said, “…let me see again.” He didn’t asked to be delivered from his poverty or his exile or his shame. Bartimaeus asked to “see again,” to perceive and know the will of God. Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I despise (I unhook from my loyalty to myself) and repent in dust and ashes.” Bartimaeus asked to see.

As we listen to this story, we tend to identify with Bartimaeus. But we aren’t Bartimaeus – we are the followers sent to bring him to Jesus. We have already chosen to follow Jesus. We are already baptized into this body of Christ. Now we are the ones called to bring those others in.

To do that we must examine our questions to God. What are we asking God for? Deliverance from our poverty? Our shame? Or are we asking, as we prayed in our Collect, for an …increase in… the gifts of FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY?

Because if we are asking for those things, we are asking not for ourselves but for those to whom God is sending us. We’re asking so that we might be faithful followers of Jesus who hear the cries of those whom others judge as unworthy, and choose to go TO them and bring them to Jesus. And we do this while the establishment continues to try to silence them and push them to the side.

How do we bring people to Jesus? I can practically feel Deacon Pam cringe from the experiences of her denominational background when I say that. But it’s important – how do we bring people to Jesus? The “establishment” of much of modern Christianity in our time has it wrong. We don’t do this by bashing folks with a Bible, holding up signs in protest, or by judging them as ‘sinners,’ or by ‘fixing’ their behavior.

We don’t bring people to Christ, we invite them. We do this as followers of Jesus the Christ, the kind of follwers described in our Gospel story.

We hear those who cries and instead of shushing them, we go TO them with FAITH that Jesus can free them from their affliction (whether it’s poverty, addiction, fear, self or other hatred, whatever wounded-ness they bear). We go TO them with HOPE that they will choose to answer the invitation to come near to Jesus who will make them whole.

Many people learn over time that they aren’t worthy of anything good, and they come to believe that. But the Good News that we bring is that none of us is worthy, yet as the Psalmist says, “The Lord ransoms (i.e. sets free) the life of his servants and none will be punished who trust in him.”

They may or may not choose to come. That isn’t our concern or our goal. Our role is to GO and invite them to come near to Jesus.

It’s that third grace we prayed for, however, that trips us up as a church: CHARITY. We have prayed to God to increase in us the grace of charity. Charity is the voluntary giving of help. It’s often money, but not always, and we give it to those in need. The key word, of course, is voluntary.

Charity involves kindness and tolerance in judging others. In the Gospel story, Jesus’ followers failed to be charitable at first – sternly ordering Bartimaeus to be quiet. It’s a pattern repeated often – the disciples try to protect Jesus from those they deem unworthy – the children, the beggars, the women, the foreigners… yet Jesus keeps calling them close to him, and showing his followers that it is his desire to draw all people to himself.

It is the role of the followers of Jesus to help with that desire, not interfere with it. Every day we who are followers of Jesus hear the cries of those who need to be made whole. Every day Jesus sends us to them and asks us to invited them to come near to him.

As a church, we do this in our ministry to the poor and hungry in the Shepherd’s Table. We also do it in our worship.

Many of you know that we did a funeral this week. I got a call on Tuesday at 11 am, telling me that it had bee published in the newspaper that I was doing a funeral the next day at 3 pm at the funeral home. This isn’t the first time that’s happened…

That blew open my week because, since it was at the funeral home (which is not what Episcopalians do – we bury out of the church), I had a choice. I could carry 50-75 Prayer Books to the funeral home or I could make a service booklet. So I made a booklet – which took some time. I also had to meet with the family. I had never met this person. They hadn’t been here in a decade, but still counted themselves as Episcopalian, so they assumed that I would come do the funeral. Thank God, I could clear my schedule to do it.

I was miffed, frustrated, by the presumption that they would say you’re going to be here tomorrow to do this funeral for somebody you don’t know. But I surrendered because they needed it. It seemed to matter to them. I would have felt awful saying no to them. I could have but I chose not to.

I met with them an hour later – and I fell in love with them. I connected deeply to their pain and their hope. I counseled them in their grief, and I watched them light back up. They were so distressed because of the details of his life. They were so alone because they felt like God had deserted them and him.

So I shared the Good News that I know and they came away feeling hope, and we came away with a very deep, beautiful, meaningful relationship.

Will they come to Redeemer? Who knows? God only knows. That isn’t my goal or my business. My goal - our goal as followers of Jesus isn’t to fill our pews but to invite anyone to whom God sends us, even those who frustrate us and miff us in the process, but to invite them into the presence of Jesus, which we carry in ourselves. It’s what we do when we do when we come here each Sunday: restore and renew the presence of Christ who lives in us. The rest is up to God.

In the Gospel story, Bartimeus did follow Jesus on the way, he could see, which means he could know the Christ, and so he followed Jesus. But Jesus didn’t have a church he was filling, did he? Really, neither do we. What we have to share is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, & THE LIFE, who is Jesus.

We have Jesus and if we meant it when we prayed it, we will allow God to increase in us FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY that we might be willing to go out and bring the Good News, and invite others to come near to Jesus where they (and we) will be made whole.


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