29th Oct, 2006

Last Sunday of Trinity

Sermon preached by Fr. Mark D. Stuart

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; rise, he is calling you.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

St. Mark’s Gospel, as much as St. John’s, is the Good News of light shining in darkness. Such truth must dazzle gradually, for the disciples could not bear all the light at once, any more than we can. But at last someone sees – not a privileged disciple but a blind beggar. In the society in which he lived he was the lowest of the low – one can only imagine the suffering he endured.

In the person of Jesus he perceived some hope of relief from his despair.
No wonder Bartimaeus shouts at Him. But everyone tells him to shut up, yet he cries out even more. I think about some of the characters Fr. Davies and I run into around our Parish -”Hey Fadda, Fadda! Can you spare a couple of bucks? I used to be an altar boy.” If we remove the pious filter from Gospel stories like this, we might well encounter a Bartimaeus far less cuddly and cute than we might like. He may have actually appeared more like some of the homeless people we encounter on the streets of our city and at our Parish’s Saturday morning breakfast. No doubt then the disciples wanted to shoo him away and shut him up!

But our Lord stopped and stood still. Around Him is the clamoring crowd; above its noise the blind beggar redoubles his cries and no doubt the disciples are loudly offering their opinions on what should be done. None of this touches Jesus’ inner stillness. We on the other hand, are constantly distracted in our overbooked, overstressed lives. We need PDA’s and BlackBerries, calendar books and personal assistants to manage our daily professional and personal obligations. Far too often, the important things that occupy us from day to day become obstacles to our vision; they blind us to what really matters in life. Caught up in endless schedules of meetings, jobs, volunteer work, social activities and organizational life, we easily forget that we live in God’s world. It’s a world that is full of sin and sorrow, grace and goodness. But most of all, it is a world that God cared about enough to come to earth and die for, so that we might learn more fully how to live.

One of the key factors in experiencing life to the fullest, is understanding our needs. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks Bartimaeus- and He asks us too! The spiritual life involves the inner journey of self discovery, discerning our real needs and then turning them over to God. Many are not able to connect with God because they do not understand what they really need. “Son of David, have mercy on me… Master, let me see again.” Jesus heard and Bartimaeus was healed, made well to get up and follow Him on the Way.
As much as we may wish otherwise, our Christian faith does not provide immunity from hard times and struggle. Our churches are filled with people of faith who are suffering through some of life’s most difficult challenges. Those who have lost a significant other, or are battling addiction, those who are loving but anguished caregivers, people who are fighting live-threatening illnesses, or those wracked with worry about the well-being of loved ones, or people trapped in cycles of poverty, homelessness, and oppression. This list seems almost endless. It’s a sad but true fact that many Christians at some point endure painful, soul-wrenching struggles. But while our faith cannot prevent us from experiencing these struggles, God’s promise of goodness and mercy can carry us through even the worst of times.

Admittedly, the difficulty is maintaining our belief in that promise. But knowing that we don’t have to go it alone, that our God has embraced our struggles through Jesus Christ, that in an active life of prayer we can meet Him and give Him our pain so we can find the serenity of soul we so desperately crave. And so very importantly knowing that we indeed are supported in this caring community called St. Thomas, upholding one another and nurtured by our common life together strengthened by God’s presence among us in His Word and Sacraments. Jesus does not speak empty words in His invitation from St. Matthew 11:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

God has given His people throughout salvation history, everything they have and has also intervened repeatedly and consistently on behalf of the vulnerable and weak. Today that same God requires of us that we give as freely as we have received, to the service of the least among us and for the spread of His realm on earth. This is not just a canned by-line of a Parish pledge campaign! Our blessed Lord teaches us over and over that the greatest among us are not the ones who have the most. Rather, the greatest among us are those whose eyes are open to human need and suffering, those who are able to recognize in suffering humanity not a cause for embarrassment but an opportunity to witness to the healing and life-giving power of God. This is indeed the Good News!

Like Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel, we can recognize – even in our blindest and most broken moments – the presence of God in Jesus Christ. We can trust in the power of Jesus to give us new visions and strengthen our weak knees as we get up from our fallen places to continue our journey on the Way. No failure is so great that the Great Sacrifice cannot embrace it. No heartache is so wrenching that it cannot be enfolded into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There is no stain that His most Precious Blood cannot cleanse. Thus, we never need to run from life’s struggles and pain, whether our own or anyone else’s.

Today our Gospel lesson tells us that once healed of his blindness, Bartimaeus leapt from his place among the beggars at the gate, left his despair behind, and followed Jesus on the Way. The assurance of God’s grace and pardon empowers us, too, to turn from what is past and reach out to spread Christ’s message beyond our boundaries of comfort. We must hear the challenge of the Gospel in the call to follow Jesus into ministries of compassion, consolation, and care for one another; so that all can experience the joy of growth and maturity in faith.

Through today’s story we clearly see how Jesus is calling us to re-examine the barriers we create to ensure that only the “right” people come into our fellowship. But most of all the Holy Spirit is calling us to remember that the systems of power do not limit the power of God’s action to heal and transform the world. The Scriptures teach us, time and time again, that Jesus comes into the world not to support the “centers” of power but to touch and heal the people on the “margins” – the powerless, abandoned, excluded, degraded, exploited, and disregarded. These are those with whom “right” people do not associate but “righteous” people recognize as fully God’s own. The challenge of the Gospel is not to “include” them into “the circle” but to allow God to expand that circle until it most fully reflects the richness that God alone has created.

“The blind man said to Him, ‘Master, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’” Jesus came to include. Sin divides, perpetuates alienation… Jesus came to save humanity from sin. He looks at us as individuals and as groups with eyes of love that invites us back into the inner circle, which is a movement rather than a place. This movement is outward, inclusive, and compassionate toward the “them” or “others” who have been sinned against.

There are many forms of social blindness around which need to be healed… we need to be healed and we need to heal… the excluded and marginal, the ostracized and hidden, you and I, await the touch of our compassionate Lord to see again – to see that we are indeed loved so very much! Then one day, as we approach the sacred table wherefrom Jesus Himself becomes our food, becomes our very bodies, the prayer we have been saying for years becomes alive for us:
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
… and in my healing You make me worthy.

Amen

 

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