Let’s take a moment to join our hearts and minds in the spirit of prayer:
Gracious God, you call us by name,
gathering us in as your sons and daughters.
We come as the lost and found,
seeking to live in right-relationship,
guided by the light of your love
and enlivened by the sound of your voice within us.
Love us into being we pray,
that in this place and on this journey
we may be guided to walk with Christ
who leads us in your way of love and justice.
(Huron-Perth Presbytery of the United Church of Canada, adapted)
Have any of you seen the movie, Autumn Rush? From my perspective, the best part of the movie is contained in the first five minutes. Picture a young boy standing in a field of tall grass. It’s a windy day and the grass is swirling and dancing around him. You can hear the sound of the wind and see the movement of the grass. But, the most amazing and beautiful part of this scene is the boy, who has his eyes closed and his arms raised, and is swaying with the movement of the wind. He has the most beautiful ecstatic smile on his face. Then, superimposed on this scene you hear the boy’s voice saying
Listen! Can you hear it? The music!
I can hear it – everywhere!
In the wind…
In the air…
In the light…
It’s all around us.
All you have to do is open yourself up.
All you have to do is listen!
That’s the message that Jesus consistently told his followers only he was talking, not about music, but about God’s presence which is everywhere and the commonwealth of God which is here and now if people would only open themselves up and listen to God’s spirit at work within them.
Listening, and opening oneself up to the miracle of God’s spirit at work within, is I believe, the main catalyst for the action in the story that we heard this morning from the Gospel of Mark.
Bartimaeus, was a blind beggar in the town of Jericho. Jesus and his disciples were travelling through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem and a large crowd had gathered around them. Bartimaeus, who couldn’t see what was happening would have been very aware of the sounds of the crowd and the conversations of those who passed by him. When he heard in the excited murmuring of the crowd that Jesus of Nazareth was close at hand he called out to Jesus hoping to catch his ear. At first, it seems, Jesus did not hear Bartimaeus and the crowd around him sternly ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet. But, Bartimaeus would not be silenced. His blindness had cast him onto the margins of society and he’d been forced to beg for a living. He’d heard of Jesus and that Jesus welcomed everyone no matter what their social or religious status. He’d heard that Jesus was a teacher of uncommon wisdom, that he was kind and loving, and that he had a gift for healing. This was Bartimaeus’ opportunity to meet Jesus and he was not going to be silenced by a bossy crowd that did not value him as a person with rights and dignity. He had a strong voice and with great determination he shouted even louder. This time Jesus heard him and said to those around him, “Call him here.” In response the people near Bartimaeus said to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” These powerful words motivated Bartimaeus to quick action. He sprang to his feet, cast his cloak aside and went to Jesus eager to be healed and to begin a new life with purpose. When Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”, the answer was, “My teacher, let me see again.” In response, Jesus simply said, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus did regain his sight and immediately followed Jesus on “the way”.
The story of Bartimaeus is much more than a story about the miracle of the healing of a blind man. The biblical commentary, “Feasting on the Word” says:
“The Bartimaeus story serves as the concluding bookend to a section of Mark’s Gospel in which blindness serves as a unifying theme. The section begins…with a story in which Jesus struggles to restore sight to a blind man at Bethsaida. …Jesus [then] confronts a different kind of blindness – a spiritual blindness among his closest followers, who seem either unwilling or unable to accept the radical, subversive claims of God’s inbreaking kingdom. …Mark portrays Jesus’ disciples debating about who will be the greatest…The Bartimaeus episode serves as the culmination of a section of Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus confronts not only the physical blindness of Bartimaeus but, more significantly, the spiritual blindness of his closest followers who have failed to fully grasp the upside-down kingdom that Christ has brought near to the world.”
(Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, pgs. 212 and 214)
The story of Bartimaeus reveals to us a glimpse of the Commonwealth of God that Jesus proclaimed so often in his life and ministry. Everyone is welcome. There are no classifications of rich or poor; sighted or blind; able bodied or disabled; righteous or unrighteous in God’s realm. Faith and trust in God and the willingness to step forward and follow Jesus is all that is required. Bartimaeus understood this. When he got up to speak to Jesus he cast his cloak, a symbol of his life as a streetperson, aside and he began a new life as a follower of “the way” of Jesus.
Bartimaeus listened to the world around him for signs of God’s presence and he responded by listening to God’s voice within him calling him to wholeness and loving community. Something I read this week affirms for me the nature of this miracle of new life. Listen to these words of wisdom and hope:
“Miracles are those events that bring people from darkness into the light. Miracles turn our attention to what really matters in life and in death. Miracles claim no power, but reveal a Power who wills to be known. Miracles point beyond the one before us to the One who made us for love’s sake. ‘Miracle, as such,’ wrote Rudolf Bultmann, ‘means the activity of God’.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, pg. 214)
There are everyday miracles all around us if we have the eyes of faith to see them. Every day there are people whose lives are transformed by the kindness of others who are then compelled to act with kindness themselves. These are the everyday miracles of a simple smile; a kind gesture; a phone call on a quiet day; an offer of supper or a car ride; the list goes on but you get the point.
The apostle, Paul, in his second letter to the early Christian Church in Corinth says that, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7) Once Bartimaeus made the decision to follow Jesus, it didn’t matter whether he could physically see or not because his vision was guided by faith in God’s presence as manifested in the life and ministry of Jesus. In his rising to new life in Christ he became part of the “body of Christ” that Paul often spoke of.
Theologian and author, Gertrude Lebans, describes the body of Christ in this way,“Jesus’ ‘body’ was the company of friends who had worked and studied with him. It was their work together that Jesus claimed as the body. That work was the sharing of a gospel of hope and promise, a renewed means to restore justice to the earth and to nurture a true appreciation of God’s gift to humanity. …It was also a sign of another choice, a different kind of nation whose boundaries were compassion and whose politics would be justice. This body included Jesus as prophet and divine inspiration, but also reached out to all those gathered, a corporate incarnate manifestation of God’s spirit drawing people to their feet, to walk with purpose and intention. (Out of the Fire, pgs. 109-110)
Keeping in mind this understanding of the body of Christ, we would do well to take personally the words we heard this morning from scripture, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”.
With open eyes and open hearts,
may we follow Jesus’ way of love and justice,
today, tomorrow and always.