Tuesday, August 14, 2007

“...Son of David, have mercy on me!”
(Mark 10:47)

Year B Proper 25 (Special Healing Service)
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Jan Robitscher

St. Mark’s Church

Berkeley, CA

October 29, 2006

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

O lead my blindness by the hand,
Lead me to thy familiar feast,
Not here or now to understand,
Yet even here and now to taste,
How the eternal Word of heaven
On earth in broken bread is given.
(William Ewart Gladstone, 19th century)[1]

What an irritating soul was Bartimaeus! Sitting by the side of the road, calling out at the top of his voice, “Son of God, have mercy on me!” Little wonder they tried to shush him up. Although he seemed to be yelling at the air, he knew that Jesus was close by, and, though he may not have known much about Jesus, where Jesus was, there was God’s help. So he cried out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

I can relate to Bartimaeus at lots of levels. I, too, have received my sight--but that’s another sermon. I also know something of what it is to cry out for mercy. In second grade, we had to copy long outlines and assignments from the blackboard. Even sitting in the front row, this was a daunting task. One day, I got completely overwhelmed and yelled out a 7 yr. old’s equivalent of “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The teacher, using methods we would now call abusive, silenced me and segregated me to the back of the room. Healing of the memory and forgiveness (renouncing revenge) came later when I understood more about this teacher and her problems. I can remember other times. In Junior High the children made a circle around me and began to taunt... Again, healing and forgiveness came later. But these and other such experiences only made me want to spend the rest of my life speaking and writing and working to improve the treatment of all persons--especially persons with disabilities--both within and without the Church, and cry out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy!” Each time, in some way, I have been told “Oh Jan, sit down. Be quiet.” Still, I persist...

Back to our Gospel reading. What happened next was--really--a miracle. First, Jesus stood still long enough to hear Bartimaeus’ cry. Then, ignoring the crowd trying to hush Bartimaeus, he said “Call him here.” The fickle crowd then changes its attitude toward the blind man, saying, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Then Bartimaeus does something remarkable: he throws off his cloak--his dearest possession--and runs to Jesus, who asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus, no longer shouting to the air for help or harassed by the crowd, asks simply, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Now, Bartimaeus could have asked for anything: fame, fortune, maybe for a less dysfunctional family or a better place in society. But he says, “My teacher, let me see again.” Perhaps he has had sight before. Yet, does he really know what he is asking? Does he really want to see the world that is both beautiful and, at times, brutal? He does not hesitate: “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus, the Son of David had mercy on him, and he was healed.

But it does not end there. For, in Mark’s good style, it says that “Immediately, he followed him on the way.” In early Christianity, “The Way” meant to follow Jesus. So he went on his way, and most likely told anyone who would listen the story of his healing encounter with Jesus.

I could stop right here and tell you (and it’s true) that Jesus cares about each of us and wants to heal us, to give us what we need to be whole and sound. In return, we thank him and follow him on the way. But I believe there is more for us--yes, US. This story is not only about an encounter between Bartimaeus and Jesus. It is about the crowd, too. It is not just a “me and Jesus” story. It is an “US and Jesus” story.

What if we, as a parish, were to live out this story? What if this story is really a story about Healing, Stewardship and Evangelism? How would it look? First, we must admit that we are sometimes like blind Bartimaeus. We can’t see what is going on, but we can admit before God that we need healing and keep crying out until God’s help comes. What if we lifted our parish up to God in this way? Oh, we know some things: that our long and wonderful history includes the collective memory (an actual memory for some who have been here that long) of the tragic death of our former Rector George Tittmann; our present budget problems; all the buildings, programs and personnel we wish we could add to what we have; perhaps a few forgotten “skeletons” in our parish closet? And beyond us, what about the divisions that threaten the Anglican Communion? What if we just lifted it all up to God? What if we took a lesson from our Amish brothers and sisters who have endured such unspeakable violence and made the choice to pray and to forgive? Or we could learn from the courageous and articulate response of Michael J. Fox to the unkind remarks of Rush Limbaugh. Can we lift up our society to God? Or our war-torn, global-warmed-out world? That’s the Healing part.

Sometimes we are like the crowd. One moment we try to hush up those crying out for help, the next we are encouraging them to come. It might be a parishioner, a committee, a clergy or staff person, or maybe a homeless person who come to us for Hot Meals. We are often impatient, unwilling to stand still long enough to hear their cry. Or sometimes no one is patient enough to hear ours. How would it be if, like Jesus, we did stand still long enough to hear our own cry, our collective community cry? What if we then took that cry to Jesus for help and healing?

From Bartimaeus, we have learned that healing is costly. Are we willing, as Bartimaeus was, to let go of our collective cloak--our dearest possession? What if we gave of ourselves--all of us in as many ways as we are able--and ask God’s help to build up this parish? To build up the larger Church? To build up our society and our world? That’s the Stewardship part.

Yet we dare not stop there! For when we receive healing or any kind of help, we must return thanks to God and then, like Bartimaeus, follow Jesus on the way. That’s the Evangelism part. We must tell the story of God’s creation, of Jesus, “God-with-us”, of the Holy Spirit blowing its healing power where it will--gently and lovingly--to anyone who will listen and even to those who don’t seem to hear. We must tell them how God is active in our lives, tell them what it really means to be an inclusive community not just in word but in action, invite them to “come and see”, as I often do to those whom I meet walking across the Cal campus to St. Mark’s each Sunday.

Now let me tell you a positive story: One Sunday over the summer, while visiting my family in Atlanta, I attended the Cathedral of St. Philip, where my brother and sister-in-law and their son are members. At Communion, I approached the Altar, led by my (now retired) guide dog, “Christmas”. An usher showed me the stairs and which way to go to receive Communion, and I did. Then, coming around and through the ambulatory, I encountered another usher who asked earnestly, “May I help you down the stairs?” Everything in me wanted to say, “No, thank you, my dog and I can do this together.” but I resisted the temptation in mid-sentence, put down the harness handle and allowed him to take my arm and help me. He told me, in so many words, that he had always wanted to do this, to help someone with a guide dog, someone who could not see, so that he or she could have a good experience of God, of church, of the Cathedral. For that moment, even though I could see, he was my eyes. For that moment, the healing presence of Jesus was there, in the midst of us. I got safely back to my place and he went away happy, his prayer finally having been answered.

O lead my blindness by the hand,
Lead me to thy familiar feast,
Not here or now to understand,
Yet even here and now to taste,
How the eternal Word of heaven
On earth in broken bread is given.

So come forward for prayer and anointing for healing. Come ready to give over your private hurts and illnesses, but also the hurts and illnesses of the Body of Christ in this parish, in the Church, in our world. Come and ask Jesus our Great High Priest who continually makes intercession for us. Ask for healing or whatever else you want and need. Come to give thanks for healing already given or some other special occasion. Come, loved ones and caregivers and stand with us. [Whether you come forward or remain quietly in prayer, listen to the music the choir has lovingly prepared, for music can be a way that God heals us, too.][2] Then, at the time of Communion, come to this Altar, the Lord’s Table, to the Healing Feast that brings forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. Finally, filled with the very life of Jesus, go into the world, ready to tell the Good News of how healing has come to this place.

[1] A Eucharist Sourcebook, p. 25
[2] Omit at 8 a.m. service.

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