The line from this week’s scripture “Take heart, get up, for he is calling you” is so profound that I used it for my title. I could go in 20 different directions with this sermon. Each one of those directions would leave me with my heart in my mouth. So let’s try three. And then you can tell me after worship where you would go with that verse.
The first thing that I noticed was last week in this same Gospel we had James and John asking Jesus for the privilege of sitting on either side of him in Jesus’ glory. This week, we have Bartimaeus asking to be healed of his blindness. Don’t you think they should trade places? I am tempted to end my sermon right here. Think about that for a minute. Not about me ending my sermon, but about the juxtaposition of two of Jesus’ friends blind to their own hubris, despite how close they have been to Jesus, and then there is Bartimaeus, who knows how blind he is, asking to be healed. How many of us are really aware of how blind we are? Blind to our own weaknesses, blind to how privileged we are, blind to how our actions in our private lives and in our local and national lives affect other people. Blind to how we use our natural resources. Bartimaeus knew he was blind. He knew what he was missing. He knew his blindness kept him from being a full participant in the life of his community. Can you imagine the power that would be unleashed if we knew how blind we were? We would be so open to so many more things! Really!! So In a way Bartimaeus’ blindness was a blessing because it showed him his need for healing and wholeness. I am in no way saying physical blindness is a blessing.
I have a friend who is blind and her life is hard. But Jill, like Bartimaeus knows she needs help and like Bartimaeus she asks for it. I am simply saying sometimes those things that isolate us and cause us pain push us to a richer and fuller life. We are limited by our blindness, by our brokenness and we want more. We need more. Bartimaeus knew that in a way very few of us do. So there is that. Bartimaeus knew he was blind and knew too there was something more. So he asked for help. That’s the second thing I want us to notice. Bartimaeus didn’t wallow in his helplessness. He didn’t hide. He didn’t accept that darkness was all there was. He pushed God for more. And God, in the form of Jesus, responded. Last week we had James and John asking Jesus for a favor and they ask: Let us be on either side of you. This week, Bartimaeus repeatedly calls out to Jesus, and these same disciples try to quiet Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus just says it louder and louder. Jesus hears him and asks him: what do you want? You can almost hear Jesus thinking: Not another one…. Instead of James and John, Bartimaeus says “I want to see. I want to be whole.” Wow. Just wow. So here’s a question: what do YOU want from God? What is it for you? What would it take for you to be whole? This is a most compelling question. For some of you, it may be peace. For others it may be healing from an old hurt. For others it may be the grace to live with health challenges. And for others still, it may be healing from addiction. What is it for you? Maybe it is all of that and more. I know one of the things I struggle with is foot in mouth disease. Some of you have probably noticed that. I would give anything to be healed from sticking my foot in my mouth. I only half jest. But more seriously, what needs healing in your life? Do you ever take it to God? Please do. The more you do that, the more you call on God, the more open you are to seeing what’s on the other side of that affliction. The more you call on God, the more you are aware of God’s presence. And sometimes, not always but sometimes, just feeling God’s presence makes the situation less oppressive, less of a burden. I have had trying times in my life, deeply trying times, and in the midst of them sometimes I have been aware that I was not alone, and that I would be okay. That was God speaking. In the United Church of Christ we say that God is still speaking. I have heard God speaking in my own life. I hope you hear God speaking in your own life too. So there is that. But let’s go just a little further. When Bartimaeus tells Jesus he wants to be healed what does Jesus do? Jesus does nothing-absolutely nothing in this case. He doesn’t spit into his hands and make mud as he does in other healing stories. He does nothing. But what he says is telling: He tells Bartimaeus: “Go! Your faith has made you free”. Your faith. Not my power, but your faith. That’s huge. That’s really huge. Bartimaeus’ faith is what heals him. Bartimaeus’ faith is what frees him. And what does it free him for? What does Bartimaeus do after he is healed? Scripture tells us he joins the disciples and follows Jesus. He doesn’t first ask: where are we going? He doesn’t say: join these guys? Who tried to keep me from you? No. He follows. There was new life for Bartimaeus after he called out to Jesus, after he trusted Jesus, after he trusted Jesus to set him free. Jesus heard him calling and because Bartimaeus knew he had been heard, he could join this raggedy group of folks who only got it right half the time. Bartimaeus spoke up, reached out and joined a community that was following Jesus, knowing full well, there would be bumps among the people in that community but trusting in the Jesus that they were ultimately following, and trusting there would be enough moments of grace to sustain them all.
Earlier I mentioned my friend Jill. Jill lost her eyes to cancer when she was 2 years old. I met her when we were both in college. We became fast friends when I busted up laughing and pointed out her Seeing Eye dog had just stolen a donut from a food truck. She was both amused and embarrassed. A couple of months later we went to the movies. We went early and sat in the back, settling Brandy the dog in before other patrons came in. During the course of the movie, a door bell rang. And what do dogs do when a boor bell rings? This humungous German Shepherd jumped up and starting barking ferociously in the ear of the folks sitting right in front of us. It scared the stuffing out of them. Between paroxysms of laughter I kept gasping: “We’re sorry! We’re sorry! It’s a Seeing Eye dog. It’s a Seeing Eye dog.” Just as everyone settled down Jill hissed at the dog: “You dummy! We don’t even have a door bell.” The whole movie theater erupted into laughter. There was life in the challenges Jill faced and faces still- but only because Jill reached out for wholeness. She wasn’t willing to sit home isolated and feeling sorry for herself. She wasn’t willing to accept her limitations. She reached out and continues to reach out. Our faith journey is a continual invitation to wholeness.
So Reach out. Pray. Take heart, Get up, for God is calling us, all of us. Calling us into a richer fuller life. Thanks be to God! Thanks BE to God!