Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Sermon

St Jude’s Church, El Dorado.
25 October 2009

To introduce myself, I am Robert Whalley, and for the last 7 or 8 years I’ve lived in Melbourne where I was a University Chaplain (which has been most of my ministry as a layman for the last 20 years) and part of the ministry team at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill. I will be ordained as a transitional deacon in Wangaratta on December 4th (and you’re all invited!) and I will be working 3 days a week as the Bishop’s Chaplain and two days a week around Milawa, Ed Dorado, Beechworth Parish. I grew up in Northern California - and in the early 1850s my great great grandparents settled in gold country that looks so much like this that I have a real feeling of homecoming and return in moving here; for the first school I attended in Sacramento was named El Dorado!

For some years I’ve taught classes on Media and Spirituality and one of the reasons I take looking at television and movies seriously is that popular movies carry so many of the vivid morals and messages of our time; whether they’re good or bad messages is another question, but they’re important! The other reason I love good television and movies is that they open our eyes to see life differently, even to see scripture anew. So let’s look at the passage we just heard from Mark.

Look at it. They’re on the road together. I imagine it’s hot and dusty, towards the end of the day, the crowd’s caught up in the excitement, the amazing teaching, the healing presence of this man, Jesus of Nazareth; the question of who might he be? What can he mean? And as we’re heading out of Jericho, one of the people who are always there, on the edge of the town, a blind beggar in an old cloak, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, somebodies son sits there. Maybe he’s a kind of feature of the landscape, asking for sustenance and charity, banking that people will keep him fed, usually blending in like background noise, he starts yelling: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now a lot of us get tense when the less attractive people start making noise (especially in times when illness, deformity, deafness and blindness are often seen as signs of divine punishment), and common etiquette says; look, Jesus is important so, “Many sternly order him to be quiet, but he cries out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and Jesus stands still. It stops the action.

See that (maybe like the moment in John’s Gospel when the crowd wants to stone the woman taken in adultery, when’s he’s silent, writing in the dust), Jesus stops on the road (and if that doesn’t change the mood I don’t know what will) and says, “Call him here.” Notice that he doesn’t call him directly, but gets the community involved. And suddenly the man who was on the edge is in the middle of things. “And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Take heart! Encouragement is coming from everywhere, and maybe the people who had never really seen the blind man at the gate are looking at him in a new light, wishing him well. “So throwing off his cloak, he springs up and comes to Jesus. Then Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” What do you want? There are a lot of stories in the Gospels where Jesus asks that, as if he needs to hear our need, needs to have room to have compassion on our passion. What do you need? The blind man says, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he sees again, maybe better than ever, but he doesn’t go, he joined the crowd, this Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. Perhaps giving us a model for ministry and community as well.

A couple of quotes from others sources kept coming into my mind as I read through, prayed through, worked through this text:

First, from one of my favorite movies. The Philadelphia Story (1940, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart): “you'll never be a first-class human being...until you've learned to have a regard for human frailty.” Jesus joins us in human journey, here in the middle of life and death, to honor the hope of our heart, with a high regard for our frailty, and that’s something we can always practice alongside him, hospitality for those in need; the poor, the meek, oppressed, the lonely; and that really doesn’t leave many of us out.

Second, the priest and writer Thomas Merton writes that we have to know we have a heart before we can give it away. And maybe life was discouraging for this blind beggar before Jesus came along, but Jesus called a community to call him: “take heart, get up, he is calling you!” And maybe that’s when Bartimaeus started to see a new way to be in the world, and so maybe did everyone in that community. So perhaps that means we need to encourage one another, to honor what waits to be called for, born, healed and hoped for, seen clearly. This takes patience, but I am convinced it all can come in God’s time.

Finally, something my mother told me many years ago while I was going through what felt like the most painful adolescence in human history. She said, “Don’t judge anyone else, because you don’t know what their past has been; and don’t judge yourself, because you don’t know what your future will be, where it will take you, how it might work out.” I’d add one more thing; in times when judgment wants to come, let Jesus be there too, take heart, for yourself or others, let them be encouraged, keep yourself encouraged, keep hopeful together during the tough times.

For the sad truth is a lot of us don’t get healed right away, some blindness, disease, pain, remains, so we might limp on the way, we might need friends to guide us, maybe we can’t see the road ahead and there are days when Jerusalem might look to be a dead end. We have to walk that one together, towards a growing faith that helps us see how, by God’s grace, it will turn out. It’s all back there in Jeremiah:

For thus says the Lord: See, I am going to bring them... and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth... the blind and the lame... a great company... with weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them.. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.. and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the Lord.

In the name of Christ.

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