Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, October 24, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 22

Pentecost 22, 2021
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, as I’ve mentioned before, every Tuesday afternoon I get together online with a group of clergy to talk through the lessons for Sunday.  This week, one of them pointed out how weird it is in the first lesson that expectant mothers are included with the blind and the lame.  A strange grouping, for sure.  I suggested that it might be because it’s very hard to get life insurance when you’re pregnant, because pregnancy is considered a life-threatening illness.   But of course, Jeremiah knew nothing about actuary tables.

Anyway, as we heard, God is going to bring the people back who have been exiled, “and among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.”  And the more I thought about it, the more I could see what it is those people have in common.  The blind, the lame, those in labor, they would slow us down, right?  If we are racing back to our ancestral land, we’d probably prefer that those folks just kind of meet us there at some point when they can.  I mean, a great multitude can only move as fast as the slowest members.

But what’s more interesting here is that those particular people, the blind, the lame, and those in labor all rely on the community to get them through.  If you can’t see, you need someone to guide you.  If you can’t walk, you need someone to carry you.  If you are in labor, you need someone to hold your hand while you scream obscenities at them.  (Or so I’ve heard.)  All these folks rely on the community, and God is not going to let them be left behind.  Everyone comes home together.  Everyone.  God says, “With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back.”  The vulnerable bring along what makes them vulnerable, because God will protect them, through the community around them.

And our gospel reading today is also about community.  But it’s about the transformation of the community.  As we heard, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, is sitting by the side of the road.  A large crowd is walking with Jesus, and the blind man cries out to him.  And what does the crowd do?  Do they pick him up and carry him with them?  Do they tell Jesus that someone needs his help?  No.  Instead they sternly order him to keep quiet.

And Jesus stood still, and told the crowd to bring the blind man to him.  Interesting that Jesus doesn’t go to the man.  Jesus doesn’t tell the man to come to him.  No, Jesus tells the community to bring the man to him.  The community turns to the man in need and tells him to take heart, because Jesus is calling him.  And throwing off his cloak (which we’ll come back to in a minute), he gets up and goes to Jesus.  And Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  And here we have to stop for a moment.

I don’t know if you've ever had any friends who were blind.  But more than once—because of bible stories like this—I have asked a blind person if they would want to have their sight back.  Those of us who can see assume that blind people really want to be like us.  But that’s not necessarily so.  Even people who could once see—they know what it’s like—those people do not necessarily want to have their sight back.  Point being, we want to be careful not to assume that everyone who is different wants to be like us, right?

And so look what Jesus does here.  He doesn’t assume the man wants to be able to see.  He asks the man himself: What do you want me to do for you?  I find that both interesting and important.  Jesus asks the man what he wants, without assuming he would want what we would want.  And Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.”  Jesus tells him his faith has made him well, and then Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way.  He becomes part of the community.  The same community that previously sternly told him to be quiet, tells him Jesus is calling him, and now walks together with this man.

Okay, great story.  But back to the man’s cloak.  As we heard, the crowd told the man that Jesus was calling, and “throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”  Consider for a moment Bartimaeus’ position in life.  He is blind and begging by the roadside.  He has a cloak, and maybe a bowl to collect the alms he might receive.  It is probably very likely that the one possession this man has, the one thing of any monetary value in his life is this cloak.  And hearing that Jesus is calling, he throws off his cloak, springs to his feet, and comes to Jesus.

If you think back to a couple weeks ago, we heard about a rich man who came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life.  He was told he’d have to leave everything behind, but he couldn’t do it.  What we saw in that case was someone who was trying to save himself.  But the blind man Bartimaeus, and the people from the first reading, the blind, the lame, and those in labor, they all know that they cannot save themselves.  They must rely on God and on the community.  And God and the community are there for them in both cases.  Carrying them when they cannot carry themselves.

So . . . today is the kickoff date for our annual stewardship campaign.  I was asked to preach a sermon about stewardship, and I agreed.  And then I read these lessons and thought, “Uh oh.”  But the more I have thought about it, the more of a connection I see.  Because, in a way, the blind man’s cloak is his offering.  It represents what he is willing to give up in his desire to follow Jesus.  Unlike the rich man two weeks ago, Bartimaeus leaves behind literally everything in order to follow Jesus.  It’s like the most extreme example of sacrificial giving.

Of course, he could have brought his cloak with him to Jesus.  But he leaves the cloak behind and brings his blindness with him.  In his excitement to be healed, his possessions become secondary.  And then, he ends up as part of the community and follows Jesus.

Now I know the connection between Bartimaeus and stewardship is not a perfect through line for us.  But the idea of holding our possessions lightly is there.  There is a broad continuum between the rich man who kept all his possessions and went away sad, and the blind man who leaps up and leaves everything behind.  None of us is at either of those extremes, it’s safe to say.

But especially over these past two years, I think we all have learned to hold our possessions just a little more lightly.  We’ve found ourselves focusing on our health, and our families, and our friends.  Money and things became a little less important when we found ourselves staring death in the face for months and months on end.  Over these past two years, I’ve watched the people of St. Tim’s be so extra generous with your contributions of clothes and food and toys, in seeing how you volunteered countless hours working in the garden, tearing out the carpet, washing every touchable surface and dish.  Keeping up with your pledges as you were able.   In seeing your contributions of time, talent, and treasure, I could see that we all moved a little closer to Bartimaeus and a little farther away from the rich man who went away sad.

As we begin this year’s stewardship campaign, I would encourage all of us to consider what it is we are willing to part with in order to see the ministry of Jesus’ grow in this place.  Maybe it’s just a little.  Maybe it is significant.  And both of those are okay, because we are a community together.  But no matter what we might pledge, Jesus is calling and welcoming each one of us.  To heal us from whatever holds us back from following him on the way.  To join together in this community to share the good news with others.  The news that they too should take heart, because just like Bartimaeus, Jesus is calling for them too.


No comments:

Post a Comment