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Sermon for 22nd Pentecost, October 24, 2021: Community of God (The Reverend Walter Ramsey)

We are quickly approaching the beginning of a new Church Year. It will be year C in our church’s three-year calendar order. We have also reached a point in the evangelist Mark’s telling of Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem and his waiting Passion. The continuation of the Gospel will tell of no more miracles.

In today’s gospel reading, we hear of the healing of a blind man named Bartimaeus on the road from Jericho. The miracle story about blind Bartimaeus summarizes portrayals of Jesus as a miracle-working healer and teacher found throughout the first part of Mark.

The miraculous healing of Bartimaeus parallels stories such as the healings of the leper, Jairus the synagogue leader’s daughter, the woman with the hemorrhage, and the blind man at Bethsaida. Moreover, Bartimaeus’s address to Jesus as “teacher” underscores his numerous teachings scattered throughout the Gospel.

In all these healing miracles, One thing that stands out is that the healings restored those healed to their communities. In first-century Palestine, a person with a disability such as being deaf, blind, lame, with a chronic disease or deformity was marginalized entirely by society, especially the community of the temple or synagogue.

Genesis reminds us that God made human beings in Her image. Therefore, one key aspect of what it means to be human is to live in a community. God is a community of persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and so when we live in relational peace, unity, and self-giving love, we reflect this kind of community to the world around us.(1)

I believe it is for this reason that isolation and the loss of community are so devastating. If you have ever had seasons of intentional friendship and meaningful community, people with whom you genuinely carry out life together, you know it is a gift beyond words. It brings a sense of belonging, purpose, and comfort.(2)

Conversly, if you find yourself alone, lonely, and isolated, you know the fear, pain, and heartache associated with it.

The Wednesday Bible study group is studying the book The Difficult Words of Jesus by Professor Amy-Jill Levine. The subject of Wednesday’s discussion was Hell. It is not found in Scripture but evolved in Christianity as a place of punishment and damnation for sinners during the Middle Ages. A more biblical view of Hell would be eternal separation from God. Just as sin separates us from God, damnation would be being eternally separated from the source of all life, love, and light. Our salvation in Christ returns us, sinners, to the grace of God’s presence.

Jericho, at the time of the Gospel story, is a wealthy suburb of Jerusalem. Indeed, Herod had his winter palace there, and many wealthy Judeans used it as their winter resort. So the road up to Jerusalem became an excellent place to beg.

Jesus passes Bartimaeus as he is seated on the roadside begging. Jesus is surrounded by the usual crowd of people and the twelve, so he probably couldn’t see Bartimaeus or hear his cries at first. Bartimaeus cries out, “Son of David, have on mercy me!” The crowd and the 12 tell him to be quiet because Jesus does not have time for him. Bartimaeus ignores the crowd’s protest of his pleas and shouts out again for Jesus to have mercy on him.

Jesus stands still and asks for Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus does not hesitate, and He throws down the cloak that served him probably as a blanket. Now he springs up like someone ready to run, someone with a purpose, attracted by the powerful presence towards whom the path is open and not blocked; Bartimaeus goes to him.

And as in so many other instances, Jesus wants him to articulate his prayer. Bartimaeus had asked for mercy. But Jesus asks: “What is it that you want me to do for you?” “Rabbouni, Teacher, let me see again.”

Bartimaeus instantly regained his sight, and Jesus tells him his faith has made him whole, has saved him. Jesus tells him to go on his way, but Bartimaeus instead follows him on the way. – – The way that leads Jesus to the Cross.

The people of first-century Palestine did not doubt that disease and healing were both physical and spiritual. Miracles of restoring sight and hearing are meant to teach that through faith; we can be restored to spiritual sight and hearing.

What causes the spiritual blindness that would lead us to cry out to be made whole or saved. The primary cause, I believe, for this state of sin is fear.

It is not the natural fear that causes our flight or fight response necessary for survival; it is the fear that draws us into ourselves and not to God, the fear that causes our spiritual blindness.

  • Fear caused by racism, which tells us to believe that one group is superior to another simply because of skin color or cultural heritage and that the other is a danger to us and will take away our power.

  • The fear of an imaginary foe that believes that citizenship in a state can save us and should be limited to one ethnic, cultural, religious, or identity group. Thus creating, as John McCain said, “spurious nationalism.”

  • The fear of a loss of patriarchal power and privilege.

  • Fear of migrants, immigrants, and refugees destroying our culture.

  • The fear of touching or interacting with a person who may be, on the surface, repulsive to us.

There are many more fears that may cause our spiritual blindness. Those that prevent us from seeing Christ in all people, especially the poor, the hungry, the needy, and refugees.

For fear is the opposite of faith, not doubt. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, calls us to “Be not afraid.” We need to take his words to heart in these tense and often violent times.

How are we healed of our spiritual blindness? – It is by love born from the faith of our Savior.

As St. Paul said, “God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” The fear and pain from which we run fastest can be the most potent instrument for our health and strength if only we will trust the Spirit of God to lead us to where God most needs us. By Recognizing God’s Love poured into our hearts through prayer, confession, and reconciliation, listening to God’s Word, and receiving Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we will be strengthened to throw off our cloak, that is, deny ourselves, be restored and saved so that we may follow with Bartimaeus Jesus’ way even to the Cross. Remember what Jesus told us:

“If any of you want to come the way I’m going,” he said, “you must say no to yourselves, pick up your cross, and follow me.”

Jesus’ way is not a way of fear but of love, and if there is one thing we should shout from the rooftops, it is this – THE CROSS IS NOT A PLACE OF FEAR!

It is a place of awe and wonder of the Amazing Love lavished on us all, undeserving sinners that we are.

This is the reign of God. This is the power of God, which judges every other power. It is the power of life that destroys the power of death, which seems so ubiquitous.(3)

When God reaches down, raises us, and restores us to our community, then we become epiphanies for one another, people through whom and to whom God appears. Amen!

  1. Restored to Community - Wisdom Hunters.

  2. Restored to Community - Wisdom Hunters.

  3. Reaching Down, Raising Up, Restoring to Community ....

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