Faith to Have Vision

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.

The written version of the sermon is here:

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.

This is where faith comes in, has come in, and always will come in.

The people who heard Jeremiah’s words so long ago, words we heard in our first reading this morning, must have been a little cynical. 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?

The people of Israel must have wondered if these were empty words. Violence continues. Useless warfare keeps on happening. There are more and more refugees, and even as science progresses, we don’t use that science to feed the world.

In Jeremiah’s day, as in ours, many doubt. Others get angry and wrestle with the words of God.  Some become cynical.  

But a few—then, as now.  Laugh.  We sometimes laugh out of nervousness or fear. But also, we sometimes just have to laugh at the audacity and outrageousness of God.  

One of the most famous stories of someone laughing at the promises of God is referred to in our Holy Trinity icon, as we see Abraham and Sarah on each side. In the middle shows the angels who bring the news of God’s promises.

But when Abraham and Sarah hear that they are going to be parents in old age, they laugh.

The writer Frederic Buechner points out the graphic nature of the Hebrew in these verses. He recalls that Abraham “falls on his face and laughs.” And Sarah laughs too. And so, when she gives birth to a son, it’s no wonder that she names the child “Isaac” or, “laughter” in Hebrew.

Buechner reminds us that like it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, that faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” faith is also about laughter at the outrageousness of God’s work in our world. 

When have you trusted what you’ve sensed or heard from God, and people laughed?  Maybe when you joined a church.  Maybe when you joined the Episcopal Church. Maybe when you decided to unite with THIS Episcopal Church. 

People often laugh when they hear hopes born of faith. Back in 1896, they must have laughed at Serena Rhinelander, as she began to outline her plans for a mission house and church, here on East 88th Street.  People laughed at Father Paul in 1950, when he led Holy Trinity from being a mission of St. James’s Church to being our own congregation.  People have laughed at Sue Chandler, as she began Search & Care. They’ve laughed at Gretchen Buchenholtz, as she started a children’s playgroup that became Merricats Castle School, which grew into the Association to Benefit Children. People have laughed as crazy Holy Trinity reopened for worship as soon as we could in July 2020, and they’ve probably laughed as we’ve continued on, trying to be faithful.

When people hear some of my hopes for this parish, they continue to laugh. My hopes of people returning to church, of new Sunday school programs for children, of particular programs for older adults that are not just what a nonprofit can offer but actually suggest a way to age with Christ, to grow older, holier, and happier all at the same time.

Just get me started, and I can talk about a new kitchen in the basement of St. Christopher’s House, and renovations to make an accessible entrance. I’ll tell you about ideas for accessible restrooms, a meeting room for classes where we can actually hear each other, a restored belltower, a new garden patio in the East side of the front garden…. on and on and on.

Just as it wasn’t always easy to stay faithful in the past, there will surely be challenges in the future. New and different parishioners and volunteers with new and different strengths and weaknesses.   New visitors and members and gifts and abilities.

You may laugh, but as Buechner reminds us, “The reason [Abraham and Sarah] laughed was that it suddenly dawned on them that the wildest dreams they’d ever had hadn’t been half wild enough” (Peculiar Treasures, 153).

Abraham and Sarah laughed.  Mary laughed for joy at the wildness of God’s promises. I bet Bartimaeus laughed, and if we were to look closely enough in our window, we might just see it.

And so we are called to live between seeing and believing, in the place of faith, grateful that it is also a place of laughter. May God continue to give us faith, so we can have eyes to see, and keep us filled with laughter. 

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

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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