A sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, October 28, 2018. The scripture readings are Jeremiah 31:7-9, Psalm 126, Hebrews 7:23-28, and Mark 10:46-52.
Listen to the sermon HERE.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (probably known best as the author of The Little Prince) wrote that “being in love does not mean looking at each other, but looking together in the same direction” (Airman’s Odyssey, 1939.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about that quotation as I’ve celebrated a recent wedding and talked with other couples who are planning to be married. But I’ve also been thinking about that quotation from Saint-Exupery as I try to wrap my head around the hatred and violence and nastiness in our world and especially as we feel it in our own country. Love of neighbor is a far-fetched idea when respect of neighbor is no longer a given. But as people of faith, it seems we are always and forever called to be people of vision. So, I’ve been thinking about that idea of at least trying “to look together in the same direction.” Whether in a relationship with another person, with coworker or neighbors, or political and ideological opponents, there seems to be some promise in aiming to at least try to look in the same general direction– not always agreeing on how to get there, where to stop along the way, or how fast or slow we should move.
But which comes first? The vision or the faith that such a vision exists?
Today’s Gospel brings to life one of the central stained-glass windows at Holy Trinity: The Healing of Bartimaeus. And this story suggests a deep and mysterious connection between believing and receiving vision. The story and words of Jesus encourage us to step out, to move forward with belief, and then to trust that our belief will take us to a new place of seeing.
The story about Bartimaeus takes place as Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. It is near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. All this time, Jesus has been telling his disciples that the kingdom of God is in their midst—right in front of them— if they will only see it.
He tells them about God’s love for all people, if they’ll just notice it. Jesus tells them that they (and we) will all see God, one day. But the disciples keep scratching their heads, trying to understand, trying to make it all fit together, trying to make sense out of what Jesus is doing in their midst.
The disciples here are a little like a person who sees a rainbow, but then runs inside to get the camera. By the time they’ve returned, the rainbow is gone. Over and over again the disciples miss the miracle because they’re reasoning, or arguing, or trying to predict Jesus’ next move.
There is some biblical irony when the disciples (who often are blinded by their own arrogance, their own egos, their own hopes, even), encounter this Bartimaeus, who is really blind. And yet, even with his blindness, Bartimaeus sees more than the disciples. He sees Jesus for who he is. Bartimaeus lets his faith take him forward, lead him into the presence of Jesus, and risks by asking Jesus for the thing he wants. He hears Jesus approaching and yells, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Jesus hears the faith in Bartimaeus’s voice. Jesus hears his desperation and his suffering. Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus says, “let me see again.” Jesus says that the man’s faith has made him well, and so sends the man off. Bartimaeus regains his sight, but instead of going off, he begins to follow Jesus, instead.
We know that healing in our world doesn’t always come that quickly or easily, does it? Too many of us, too many we know, have wrestled with sickness or a broken family relationship, grief or addiction for too long. Perhaps we have asked for help with just as faithful prayers as Bartimaeus. And yet, the healing hasn’t happened yet, and we’re forgiven (I think) if we begin to lose faith and become a little cynical.
That happened to God’s people, Israel, throughout scriptures, and it surely continues today. We heard Jeremiah’s words in our first reading, but people must have wondered, What evidence did they have that God was truly going to help them return home? Uprooted, robbed of home and livelihood, a people turned into refugees, how should they hear these happy words of Jeremiah? And today, When will violence against Jews stop? When will violence against any group of people for their faith, or their color, or their sexual expression, or anything else—stop?
This is where faith comes in, has come in, and always will come in.
There is a place—a holy place, in fact—that exists somewhere between seeing and believing, between the reality as we experience it and the vision God promises. That middle place is the place of faith. With faith we wrestle, we listen for God, we cry, we might yell and scream at God. But we also notice, and we begin to hear, little by little, the whisper of God’s voice. We feel the nudge of God’s hand reaching for our own, to pull us into some new place.
The process from faith to healing can be a long one and its not always easy. Though the Psalm promises, “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy,” there can be a long time between the tears and the joy.
On Friday, there were both tears and signs of joy at a service of thanksgiving for the life of Matthew Shepard, as his ashes were interred at the National Cathedral. You will remember Matthew Shepard was the 21-year-old who was brutally beaten for being gay and left to die in the cold. That was twenty years ago, and one reason it took his family so long to lay his ashes to rest was their fear that the resting place might be defaced or desecrated. And so, in a packed cathedral of 4,000 or so, the ashes of Matthew Shepard were laid to rest.
Of course, such times of faith, prayer, and commitment to a way of peace don’t seem to last very long—bomb threats continued and the synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked—we celebrate whenever and wherever seeds of hope are planted.
At that service on Friday, an Episcopal priest who is the cousin to Matthew Shepard read the familiar but forceful words of St. Paul:
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28)
Nothing can separate us from the love of God, even though we can lose sight of the vision, we can lose focus, and we can even stumble in blindness to God’s work. But “seeing is not always believing.” With belief, we can see more deeply, more truly, and more in God’s grace.
And so, we live between seeing and believing, may we draw faith from the persistence and faith of the people of Jews, of Muslims, and of people of all faith, that might gain a new vision, and together follow in the way of peace.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.