Asking Questions, Opening Eyes – Pastor Christy Clore
Text: Mark 10: 46 – 52
September 13, 2015, Cycle B
16th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19)
Enough comes through our interdependence on one another, full participation in the lives of those around us in community and an acceptance of God’s role in these shifted priorities. It requires that we ask questions of ourselves and of God, and in asking to be prepared to see in newly awakened ways with freshly reopened eyes.
A few acknowledgements, before I head into today’s sermon.
This isn’t the sermon Worth had completed a first draft of on Thursday, the title of which you see printed in today’s order of service. He had decided to add a third installment to what has become a key piece in his current preaching series. I look forward to when he shares it with you, as he had gotten some inspiration for it through one of my favorite theologians, Howard Thurman.
Instead, on short notice, I looked back in my files and discovered a look at one of Jesus’ healing narratives, certainly fitting our life together at this moment, but also touching on the learning that can happen in such a moment. I hope it might have something to offer all of us, as we consider the life of learning and service that Jesus calls us into as a family of faith. What does healing or caregiving look like among us and beyond us? As we begin, let us start in prayer…
Spirit of love,We invite your comfort and peace to surround us, not to dispel our shock or concern, but instead to inspire our work together to lift up and offer care to all among us. May God’s creativity move in our midst. Amen
Jesus is on his way out of Jericho. He is surrounded by people who want to be identified with him, who want to associate among the faithful. They are the insiders. This crowd is headed out toward Jerusalem and somewhere along the roadside sits Bartimaeus. He’s heard them coming, been able to listen to their conversations and understand the opportunity approaching. It’s a skill honed from his blindness and the neediness of a beggar – to listen as a way of coming to know and organize what is happening around him.
He is the outsider, yet he clearly has knowledge of Jesus’ significance, likely from other conversations he has overheard sitting at the roadside.
We have to listen closely, remembering the roughness of this man’s life, what we hear translated in English as “Have mercy” or “Have pity,” probably sounded out to the crowd that day more as, “Jesus, son of David, help me!” More command than plea. He’s not asking Jesus to bless him or be kindly disposed to him – he is making a request of him. And the crowd is shocked, dismayed. The insiders don’t ask Bartimaeus to be quiet – they order it. Many sternly ordered him – even as Jesus has just finished teaching that the first must become last, the last first.
Bartimaeus doesn’t listen, continues his cry of HELP ME! Jesus asks those surrounding him to call Bartimaeus to him – commanding the pack of insiders to become the disciples they were unwilling to be on their own. “Those who simply want to be near Jesus find themselves pushed to be in the company that Jesus’ love demands them to keep.” (Jarvis, Feasting on the Word, pg. 214) And Bartimaeus jumps up, throws off his cloak and finds his way to Jesus. He leaves the scrap of what he had behind – his cloak, the barrier between himself and the elements, a meager source of warmth, the repository of all he possesses – and greets the fulfillment of his request for help. “What do you want?” Jesus asks. “Let me see again,” is Bartimaeus’ request. “Go, your faith has rescued you,” are Jesus parting words. For the first time in Mark’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t command silence about this healing. And for the first time, as the person newly restored to fullness of life, Bartimaeus follows Jesus among the disciples rather than leaving him. The outsider joins the insiders, a reminder of Jesus’ work, a reminder of what the insiders didn’t want included. A resource to challenge the community’s way of being, a resource of unexpected gifts and perspectives.
“Jesus confronts not only the physical blindness,” and social dislocation, “of Bartimaeus but, more significantly, the spiritual blindness of his closest followers who have failed to fully grasp the upside-down kingdom that Christ has brought near to the world.” (McCracken, Feasting on the Word, pg. 214) Bartimaeus was willing to question his place in the world, to ask for help and for Jesus, this was enough. Those already attempting to follow Jesus, on the other hand, remained comfortable with Bartimaeus’ place in the world, unable to ask questions of his life or their own, until Jesus pushed them to begin to see the world with greater clarity, with eyes more open to what could be.
Too often one of the barriers to seeing possibilities, to exploring and asking questions, is a fear that there will not be enough if we begin the journey. Not enough resources, not enough strength, not enough people, not enough money, not enough interest. So let’s stick to what we know so that we don’t get lost wandering in the wilderness… Let’s not take a chance finding new ways forward with unexpected resources that we happen to encounter along the way. The unexpected resource might not even seem like a resource when it comes in the form of illness or challenge, but can provide knowledge and insight found through no other way. Perhaps we even discount resources we already have within ourselves, but haven’t figured out how to utilize them…
But do we lose something by not being open to encountering the wildness of God’s resources?
I have a terrible habit of making lists. I make them because I want to make sure that I won’t forget anything important that needs attention. And so each day there are the lists that drive my living. The leftovers of the list from the day before or held over from the past week, the list in my phone and the one scrawled on the scrap paper pile at the edge of my work table. The one on the dry erase board by the garage door or the post-it note on the fridge, the personal one that never seems to have many things crossed off. The problem is this: the list(s) are never finished. There is always something more that needs a bit of my attention, one more thing (or more typically quite a few) that I haven’t gotten to in any given day. I remember them, I know the person who needs a call, the connection that needs to be made, the task that needs to be completed. I haven’t forgotten anything, but the list is an awful reminder of not enough. Or more specifically how I am not enough… and in the midst of trying to meet the demands – it becomes too easy to forget about what the day is meant to be about, what God’s purposes are in our being. Our lists and expectations can become and remain longer than what the day can hold, longer than what we ourselves can hold – and can always discount the importance of the unexpected that may arise in each day. The phone call or the person who drops in for a visit, the sick child or the warm embrace and good conversation… the time to appreciate what bounty any day could hold if we become aware enough to experience it.
Our self-awareness of how we will greet what comes up before us is the challenge of knowing what is enough. Discovering that we are enough, that we have enough is not a goal to be reached. It is a shift in our orientation toward gratitude, our understanding of thankfulness – it is accepting that what we have, what we are engaged in doing is enough for this day and embracing what is held within that discrete unit as worthy. Just as Jesus stops the crowd and takes a moment to hear the voice of another.
Enough comes through becoming a community of people capable of living daily in care for what has come before us, not merely in achievement of a set of principles or expectations that we think convey a certain way of being. We can be allured by appearances, by what we think we are being, but in the kingdom of God it is the actual lived reality that must be acknowledged and reshaped in authentic actions. To be able to be enough in this way requires a community that can forgive as well as be forgiven, who can see needs and struggles and choose to respond.
Enough comes through our interdependence on one another, full participation in the lives of those around us in community and an acceptance of God’s role in these shifted priorities. It requires that we ask questions of ourselves and of God, and in asking to be prepared to see in newly awakened ways with freshly reopened eyes. Bartimaeus brought a deep awareness of what his greatest need was, was willing to ask and be transformed by the asking. Jesus recognized Bartimaeus and in doing so upset the social expectations, the status quo, that the crowd tries to impose by attempting to silence Bartimaeus.
To be able to recognize our social expectations for what they are and allow ourselves to be transformed requires that we stop seeking to have more than what is enough for the day – whether in what we are trying to accomplish or in what we have received. It asks that we are conscious of granting enough time for God to be a part of what exists within the day— and being thankful for the limits that should impose on our ways of being, forcing us to find gratitude for what is instead of constantly striving for something more or different from the resources at hand.
Engaging the world with fully open eyes paves the way for God’s way of being to erode our usual patterns of living. Our usual ways of living can and do prevent us from acknowledging our own humanity and the humanity of others. It is through finding a balance of what is enough, what can honestly be expected, that we can find and offer patience and forgiveness. Thankfulness and an orientation toward gratitude can only come through an understanding of enough as Jesus names it. And it is this thankfulness for God’s way of enough that opens us to the discovery and use of ALL the resources available to us.
Dietrich “Bonhoeffer suggests that those who would follow Jesus can be characterized by a kind of ‘forgetfulness.’ Following Jesus requires that we lose our overpowering sense of self” (Hauerwas, 74)
As Christians we have to enter into an understanding that what is possible comes through the gifts we have received and the ways we have chosen to contribute our lives in relationship to others. All of us can do only, act only, from what we have been given and continue to give out of relationship – both with God and one another in community – something that is perpetually a mutual endeavor. God challenges us to see the vastness of the abundance all around us, to learn from the natural world what having enough should mean in our own experience. It often means forgetting ourselves long enough to recognize that what we are being given may not be what we love or want to see, but that it is what God, in an extravagance and challenge that goes far beyond us, is granting as a gift. A gift that is enough…
Perhaps the abundance of this gift of God and the challenge it poses for us, is why we shouldn’t ask for more than our daily bread. We can’t take it all in, we can’t imagine that by approaching the world more simply, that we will be sustained. And so we forget the abundance of what God gives us in each other as resources for wholeness, we leave less and less time for allowing God into our days in ways that might change our daily habits or priorities, and then we wonder and grow angry and upset that our needs aren’t being met. But what have we ourselves done to contribute to allowing those very needs to be addressed. As followers of Jesus we have been given all we need in order to learn to depend on one another on a daily basis. But all we need is only available to us if awaken to developing and living into the relationships that can offer it to us.
“Abundance, not scarcity, is the mark of God’s care for creation. But our desire to live without fear cannot help but create a world of fear constituted by the assumption that there is never enough. Abundance, not scarcity, is the mark of God’s kingdom. But that abundance must be made manifest through the lives of a people who have discovered that they can trust God and one another.” (Hauerwas, 82-83)
What does this mean for my lists? It means always keeping the presence of mind to let go of the list when it needs to be derailed. It asks me to grant myself forgiveness for those things that haven’t been taken care of, this is perhaps the most challenging piece of it all. It calls me to always make space for God’s economy to invade my actions.
What does it mean for us in this moment? Something that doesn’t feel at all like a gift has happened, it challenges our expectations and sense of normalcy. But what new or more clear awarenesses does it reveal, how does it call us to care for Worth, for the rest of the staff, for the boards and for everyone who is a part of this community of Christ? We can be enough resources, enough love, enough support, enough sustenance to care for the needs before us, but we must be present to one another – in the way of Jesus and Bartimaeus.
Enough can more authentically be known only through the deep acquaintance of another in a way that engages us to know ourselves as surrounded by unseen treasures. It is these unseen treasures that are the resources most valuable to creating communities of faith and kingdom living. It is in this discovery of our resources, one that requires our slowing down enough to actually form relationship—actually come to know another soul, that we see the world and God’s movement in it.
May the peace of God, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of the Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.
“Without the community that Jesus has called into existence, we are tempted to hoard, to store up resources, in a vain effort to insure safety and security.” (Hauerwas, 78)
If we wait for others to see, to respond as we wish, they may not, but relationship always requires that we choose to reach out as well—to name our needs to others so that the need for care might be known and returned. We have to be equal participants in the activity of community.
God asks us to constantly be co-creators through our recognition of the bounty that has been provided all around us. It becomes far too easy to see what is lacking when we engage our lives with narrowed definitions of what it will take to be sustained.