A NOTE about the sermon series for Lent, of which this is the first:
Lent is a season of self-examination, focused on how we are following Christ in living the life and love of God in the world. It can be personal or communal, and this year we focus on how we as a church are living the life and love of Christ.
In a book called Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Robert Shnase -- a bishop of the United Methodist Church, outlines five practices, and we will look at our own church life through the lens of each:
March 5 -- radical hospitality
March 12 -- passionate worship
March 19 -- intentional faith-development
March 26 -- risk-taking mission and service
April 2 -- extravagant generosity
In the story of Jesus healing Bartimaeus (in Mark 10:46-52) of blindness, all five practices are acted out in some way, and each Sunday we will explore how we act them out in our life as a church and as a body of Christ today. This week we focus on the blind longing of Bartimaeus not to miss Jesus, as a way of exploring our own practice of, and longing for worship.
A blind beggar, sitting by the roadside,
hears that Jesus of Nazareth is nearby –
maybe just this one time and for only a moment,
and he begins to shout out and say,
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
His name is Bartimaeus and he lives in the city of Jericho, and but for those two details is his story not also our story, every time we gather for worship?
Like him we hear that a messiah has come and is near, but we do not see him. It seems others have, and have been touched and made whole by him. Hungry people have been fed. Thirsty souls have been satisfied. Broken and bent-over people have been healed and made well. People at odds have been reconciled and re-united. Empty and wandering people have found new meaning and purpose. Sinful people, ashamed of their own lives, have been forgiven, set free, and welcomed into gracious, loving community with others around them.
We would love to see that. We would love to see the messiah, know the presence of God, feel the healing love of God in our lives, in this church, in the world we inhabit.
Maybe one time we did, but now have just the memory of it. Maybe we glimpse it a little bit, but we’re not really sure. Maybe we don’t know what Jesus really looks like, and we don’t even know where to look.
In some deep corner of our hearts, every time we come here on a Sunday morning as a Christian church to worship God, are we not like blind Bartimaeus shouting out to the heavens and to the darkness that surrounds us, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!”?
In the story there is a happy ending. The blind man – Bartimaeus, finds himself in the presence of Jesus.
Jesus stands still and says, “Call him here.”
And they call the blind man –
the people around him, say to him,
“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
So throwing off his cloak, he springs up
and comes to Jesus.
How many times and in how many settings and in how many stages of our life have other people done that for us? Told us to take heart, that Jesus is not only calling us, but waiting for us? That he was not only waiting for us, but they would help us find our way to him?
I doubt that any of us ever come to God and find the healing love we so long for, alone.
Every Sunday – there are so many who help to make this place and this time a place of worship for us. From the people who clean the sanctuary and keep the yard outside neat and in order, to those who greet and usher and help teach Sunday school and staff the nursery, to the people who plan the worship and the music and prepare the bulletins and show the slides and sing in the choir and show up Sunday after Sunday to fill the pew beside you or in front or behind you, so you know you’re not alone, and not the only one wanting to see and be touched by Jesus.
And that’s only this one hour Sunday morning. What about the rest of our lives and all the people who help us in so many ways to find our way to God, to get to the place where Jesus waits for us, to be able to hear a word and feel a touch of healing in our lives.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” is a prayer that is answered maybe always and only through the help and the ministry of other people in our lives.
So the blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”
Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Our life is changed when we really see and meet Jesus. New meaning emerges. New directions take shape. We begin to follow and live a different way.
And it’s not only us that’s changed. Our being-changed changes others around us as well. Makes them more open to something new in their life as well.
Because Bartimaeus did not write his own story. He did not insert himself into this telling of the story of Jesus. It was somebody else who saw him, saw his healing, saw him then following Jesus, who decided this had to be part of the telling of who Jesus is, and what Jesus does.
I wonder if the people who saw and told and retold the story of Bartimaeus until it just forever became part of the story of Jesus, were also at least some of the people who at the beginning of the story tried to keep Bartimaeus quiet, told him to shush, didn’t think he belonged in the picture and the story at all?
But then they saw something they weren’t expecting. They saw Bartimaeus and Jesus in a new light. The blinders were taken from their eyes. They too were changed. And they could not but tell the tale.
I wonder, when we are healed and have our eyes opened, or when we see someone else’s life changed for good in some way by God and by Jesus, does it change us as well and make our understanding and our telling of the story of God and of Jesus that much bigger, and wider, and more inclusive of the most unlikely characters?
Because aren’t we all blind Bartimaeus sitting by the roadside, shouting out, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”?