A sermon on Mark10:46-52
Grace and Peace to you friends in Christ, from God our Father!
It was a long time in coming. For this impatient one at least.
The cloudless sky was bluebird, the sun brilliant, as I braced myself in the blasting wind. It felt so good to be here again, a place I had unwillingly resigned myself from in the long months preceding this moment. The smile on my face emanated from the tips of my toes as I stood firmly planted on the rocky outcrop – not a wobble in sight. My eyes glistened – from the wind, mind you – as I stood atop the mountain and thanked God for having mercy on me.
You see, a few months ago, I had convinced myself that these cherished mountaintop moments were not the end-all-be-all of my being. Faced with what I thought was a lifestyle-and-joy-ending – never mind painful – running injury that would not heal while still recovering from a major life upheaval on the home front that left me questioning everything about my life – I had written off my 50th year around the sun, became content with discontent, and was endeavoring to make peace with the cards life had dealt me.
My brother says it is in our blood – that my Nordic ancestry has made me strong-willed, stubborn, thoroughly self-assured, and self-possessed when it comes to matters of me. Though my sky had fallen, I was stoically going about dealing with it as I knew best – my way. Well, it turns out all I was really doing was continuing on with the misguided idea that I had some mythic ability to not only heal thyself but control my destiny.
Never mind that my inner compass may have been thrown off whack – by, oh, I don’t know – a year and a half long pandemic? As for much of the world, for me, the last 18 months have been challenging to say the least. The plight of others has weighed heavily on me making my circumstances seem like nothing compared to the pains of the world, a world that has been in crisis for too long. Nonetheless, I had lost my sense of being and purpose. I had lost heart.
The moment had also been a long time in coming. For Bartimaeus.
Bartimaeus had long been kicked to the side of the road, his former life hardly recognizable. After all, blind beggars dwelled near the bottom rung of social privilege in ancient society. He was a sinner through and through – his condition announced that to the world. He was worth only what he could bring in from a day of begging- his value was that of a dropped coin here and there or the amount of pity he might illicit instead of scorn. He had grown used to his miserable circumstances – but then what else could he do? All he had was a cloak that served to keep him warm, protect him from the hard ground and the unforgiving eyes of scorn. Though tattered and dirty, the cloak also gave him a sense of identity. He was one of them. Alienated and outcast to the margins of society.
I imagine his expression was hard to read as he waited for Jesus to make his way through Jericho. The crowd called this Jesus a teacher and Bartimaeus had heard of His healings, but deep down inside he knew he was more than that. Bartimaeus was certain Jesus was his one and only chance for life again. Was there a smile of hope, a grimace of uncertainty, a frown of worry that the blasted crowd would conceal him?
And yet, his position on the side of the road could not have been more perfect.
It is believed that Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. And it is on this long-traveled road out of Jericho that we hear the cry that has been the cry on every human heart across the span of history. Bartimaeus’s cry for mercy.
The same cry that crosses our lips amid the fires of hate, violence, and division. The same cry heard in the anguish wrought by a pandemic and from the hearts of those beaten by oppression. The same cry heard in the aftermath of natural disasters, and in the desperation of broken dreams and broken lives. The same cry from parents of children who made tragic choices with tragic consequences. The same cry that emanates from our own struggles with fear and doubt and guilt and shame. Have mercy, we cry as we lose hope. Have mercy, we cry as we lose heart.
We all face challenging times in life -Jericho road moments you might call them. We are all vulnerable to captivity by circumstances or conditions – be they physical, elemental, or spiritual. Sometimes it seems as though no one sees us, that no one could possibly understand the complexities we are facing or the anxiety we are dealing with; feel the sadness that grips us; comprehend the disappointment that lingers in us; or respect the fears that haunt us. Held captive by them long enough, our challenges can consume us, cloaking us in their heaviness and keeping us from seeing beyond them. Sometimes, this impenetrable darkness becomes unbearable, as our recent tragic spate of suicides across several generations in the Valley can attest. Other times, the darkness just eats away at us, slowly taking life from us.
These struggles are the ones we keep hidden, they go too deep to share. They aren’t the ones we speak of. Certainly, nothing we would want to be displayed before a king. At least that is what the world tells us and we tell ourselves.
How often do we silence others, convinced that their cries for mercy are not worthy of our nor God’s attention? How often do we silence ourselves, convinced of the same?
Bartimaeus once had a sighted life – perhaps even a full life. He so wanted to escape his condition, his circumstances – but instead, he was trapped by them, silenced. What thoughts rested on his heart and in his mind? Can you imagine? What kept him going day after day? Did he still have hope for a future? If I were him I would be in a desperate state of funk!
Perhaps that is why I can identify with Bartimaeus and why he gives me hope.
Because I too was in a desperate state of funk! A state my usual even-keeled countenance hid well. And as such, no one paid heed. The mountains that once called me and the roads I once ran down taunted me; the little place I called home and took pride in felt like an albatross, the faces and places that once made me happy served only to remind me of my failures and what could have been. My whole reason for being felt called into question. Why was I even here?
The shadows that hung over me kept me from being seen and the voices I listened to – namely me, myself, and I – did a good job of silencing me even when I called out to God. Lord, have mercy.
Bartimaeus was expected to keep silent. To keep his voice down, so he wouldn’t cause a disruption in a very controlled and contrived world. I did too. What about you?
Goodness knows what would result from an utterance that would tear apart that which we carefully constructed to keep out the truth – to keep out the what or the who we don’t want to see, hear, or acknowledge?
Thank goodness for Bartimaeus!
Blind Bartimaeus saw things differently. Already living at the margins of everything, he has nothing to lose and despite the crowd trying to silence this stain on their community, Bartimaeus called out again and again to the One he believed would save him from his desolate place. “Jesus! Son of David, have mercy on me!
And then there it was. The one voice that spoke louder than any other voice in the abyss of despair – to both of us.
“Call her here,” Jesus spoke over the voices in my head stopping them – just as he did to Bartimaeus when his voice stopped the crowd.
“Take heart! Get up! He is calling you!” Mk 10:49
Hear those words again, “Take heart! Get up. He is calling you.” Isn’t this what we all want in this life of ours? We want Jesus to stop in front of us; we want Jesus to notice us in this big messed up world of ours; and we want Jesus to say to us, “Take heart. Get up. I am calling you.” Those of us who love God need God to come to us and help us when we are discouraged, when we have lost our way, when we have lost heart. When, like Bartimaeus, we are kicked to the side of the road, at the bottom of our ruts, we want to hear the voice of Jesus directed at us.
There are many times when I have lost my inner desire to get up and go. I just want to give up. I’ve had enough and been tested enough. I dare say, you are the same way. There are times in your life when you are overloaded, over confronted, over your head with life and feel completely unseen. You are short of time, short of energy, short of what is needed to face the challenge at hand.
In that moment, we need Jesus to say, “Take heart.”
Those words must have been an infusion of energy to Bartimaeus as he took that giant leap of faith forward, threw off his cloak and with it all the encumbrances of his life and went – I know they are to me.
Jesus heard his cry for mercy. Jesus took notice, and Jesus called. That is the Gospel for blind Bartimaeus, that is the Gospel for you and it is the Gospel for me.
Take Heart! Get up! Jesus is calling you!
Calling me to see things from His point of view; calling me to question my certainty of the direction of my life and instead place my certainty in Him; calling me to let go of my “my ways or the highway” insistence for once and maybe just maybe let others reflect His way in my life.
The messenger bearing those life-changing words not only opened the door for hope saying take heart – he also said, get up – it was time for Bartimaeus to move into God’s future for him – to do more than just sit by the side of the road. And Bartimaeus did! Without question. In fact, he left everything behind and went boldly to Jesus before he was even given his sight back.
I have to admire Bartimaeus here. It’s a scary thought – letting go of our lives – trusting God. But that is what saved him. That is what the Word of God does. It moves us to get up and not just go but let go! Our ancestor Martin Luther proclaimed that the Word is a living Word, it is full of Christ and bears the living Christ into our midst and equips us to get up and announce God’s love for the whole world.
We can sometimes hear this Gospel story as a miracle healing tied directly to the strength of one’s faith. We shouldn’t. Bartimaeus was moved by God’s Word into an active faith. Bartimaeus was made whole when Jesus called him. His renewed sight was just icing on the cake you might say – the renewed sight of a life seen by Jesus.
So, are all my struggles gone? Is that what faith does for us?
Nope! Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. As Paul writes in his letters to the Corinthians: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Because Jesus is here with us, we are empowered to get up and move into this broken world with our broken messed up, sometimes painfully afflicted lives – to take heart and have hope in God’s future for us.
As theologian Henri Nouwen posits, the deepest pain that you and I suffer is often pain that stays with us all our lives. It cannot simply be fixed or done away with. So, what do we do with “that pain, with that brokenness, that anguish, that agony that continually rises up in our heart?” We are called to embrace it, to befriend it, and say that this is my pain and it is the way God is willing to show me His love.
Here’s the awesome thing about that acceptance: We find that God has ears and hands and hearts right here on earth ready and willing to help us along the way. When we are consumed by our suffering; or, as in my case, suffering stubbornness, these ears, hands, and hearts are easy to overlook. But if we take the chance of seeing as God sees – we find them. Messengers saying take heart, I am here and I can help you. Take heart, I am here – I see you. Take heart, I am here and I am with you.
Messengers like the physical therapist (my personal miracle worker) who didn’t tell me I would never run again – like others had- but instead said that together we would get me running again and running better!
Messengers like the caring listener who helped me take a 30,000 ft view and a heart level view of my lot in life and helped me set a course of action for living life fully rather than despairing of it.
God continues to show me there are others who want to do this journey with me. Me! The one hidden by her own blind certainty instead of shining her truth in His light.
And in recent days, God has shown me how my challenges can become vessels for me to share God’s love.
God uses our worst moments to show us just how much He loves us.
That’s how it is when Jesus joins you on the way. Life doesn’t seem quite so heavy, so uncertain, so lonely, so dark. Sure, there are storms – but with them comes the revealing light of God’s love.
The kind of love you feel when the pain gives way to running with joy again. The love you feel when you know you are not alone and that you matter to someone. The love you feel as you stand on a mountain top overlooking God’s grand creation and marvel at His wonders – knowing that you are one of them. Take heart. Get Up! Jesus is always calling you into His love.