Saturday, October 24, 2015

Today's Sermon

22nd Sunday after Pentecost - October 24/25, 2015 - Mark 10:46-52

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Dear friends in Christ, our Gospel text for this morning is the last thing that Mark records for us before Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jericho is the last big town before you hit Jerusalem - it's Jericho, then Bethany (which is basically a suburb), and then Jerusalem. After this, it's on to Holy Week and the cross for Jesus. If you want to think of it this way, this little passage is the apex, the last big hurrah of Jesus' preaching and teaching - what comes next is His passion. And so in a way this is the last thing Mark wants to focus us on before shifting us to passion week - this is what His passion is all about, what it is all for. So let us ponder this text together.

"And as Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside." So there's a great crowd with Jesus - and they are starting to get excited. One of the things to remember is that there was a certain Messianic fervor that was whipped up - people were waiting and hoping that there would be a Messiah who would come, who would march upon Jerusalem and basically take care of those wicked, evil Romans. This is an almost militaristic procession - think about it, even a few of the disciples were armed with swords. You could even almost call this great crowd a mob - that's the mentality. And as they are marching along the road to Jerusalem, thery by pass by a blind man. Bartimaeus. And he is begging, and he's doing what beggars have always done. He's got a good spot picked out where lots of people go walking by. There's a reason panhandlers work the busy intersections in Chicago, not the corner of maple and main in Herscher. And so there Bartimaeus is, and he hears the crowd, hears heavy traffic. And more than that.

And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And there it is. There is the cry of faith. Last week we heard Peter begin to talk all about the great stuff he had done for God. Not so Bartimaeus. The blind man cuts to the chase. He's not worried about measuring his own works or deeds. He's not looking for cash or power on earth. He's not even thinking about the glorious revolution where we drive out the Romans. Simply this - have mercy on me.

We hear that word "mercy" a lot in the Scriptures. We speak it a lot - there isn't a service in this hymnal where we don't echo Bartimaeus' words and cry out to God for mercy. But what is mercy? Mercy is simply this - a gift, freely given, no strings attached, to aid or help someone. It's not mercy if there's some sort of deal - you wash my back then I'll wash yours down the road is not a plea for mercy. And the reason our liturgies, the prayers of the church teach us to call out for mercy is because we have such a hard, hard time thinking in terms of mercy, or even believing in mercy. The world doesn't work on mercy - the world works tit for tat. The world works on bargains and cutthroat deals. Buy low, sell high, and in fact, to the world's understanding, if someone is desperate and you can charge them more, then they are at your mercy. That's mercy to the world - look at someone and then make them jump through hoops before you help them. But that's not what Bartimaeus is calling for. He's got no hoops he can jump through, no tricks he can do. Instead, he in desperation calls out to Christ Jesus, the Son of David - mercy.

And the crowd doesn't like it one bit. "And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent." Keep quiet, beggar boy! You are ruining our celebration. Yeah, the Son of David is coming, the new King is here, and he's not here to deal with the likes of you; he's here to go kill some Romans! Mercy? We want revenge that we'll call justice! We want murder and mayhem and theft and spoils that we'll call glory. And you, you blind beggar, you can't help with that at all. You're just a bump in the road, to be shouted down, to be avoided. Sound callous? Let me pose a scenario. What if, next Labor Day, while we are having our wonderful, celebratory parade, some scrubby, dirty panhandler from Chicago makes his way down here, plants himself at the corner of third and maple, right on the corner of the church property, and during the procession he starts wailing and begging? How many of you would be inclined to shush him? Or drag him away? Call the cops on him? We want to be happy and celebrate, you are bringing us down, man! That's the same thing that folks do to Bartimaeus - just shut up, this isn't your day, it isn't your parade, He's not the Son of David for you, He's our king, not yours.

It doesn't stop old blind Bart. He keeps crying out - "But he cried out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'" The racket continues. And then we hear this. "And Jesus stopped..." There's the hinge - the parade has paused, it's such a ruckus that things stop in their tracks. What will happen? Okay, we're Christians, we get that Jesus is going to heal the fellow, but look at what Jesus does - He never passes up a chance to teach. "And Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.'" Call him. Speak to him. Not shout him down, but you very folks who were dismissing Bartimaeus and looking down on him; you go talk to him and bring him to me. Jesus doesn't just stop in front of Bartimaeus and walk up and heal him, ignoring the crowd. No, Jesus makes the crowd bring Bartimaeus. "And they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take heart. Get up; He is calling you.'" How beautiful. This is the first fix, the first healing that Jesus does today. Jesus pulls those words of anger and disdain off of the crowd's lips, and makes them to speak words of grace and mercy. Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.

This, my dear friends, is something that is near and dear to our hearts as Lutherans, part of what defines us, shapes us. As this weekend is the last Sunday in October, many of our fellow congregations are observing the Reformation today - since Reformation day is next Saturday, we'll have a full service for it - but I'll touch on it now. We see reformation right here in this text. The Reformation is simply this. Christ Jesus takes His Word and shapes and reforms us to where our words and thoughts are no longer aligned to our wants, whims, or desires - because you know what? Our wants and whims and desires are often foolish, bad for us, bad for our neighbor, down-right wicked. And instead of those, by His Word and Spirit, God reforms us to where instead of our own words, we speak His Word. Create in me, a clean heart O God, renew a right Spirit within me! Jesus reforms the crowd by His Word. But, more on that next Saturday night at 7 - and I encourage you all to attend that service as well.

And only after dealing with the crowd does Jesus' attention shifts to Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is brought to Him, and Jesus asks, "What do you want Me to do for you?" Now, we miss the contrast, because we jumped over Mark 10:37 - but John and James have just asked for power, to be seated 2nd and 3rd in Jesus' Kingdom. The mob is marching with Christ, looking for power and might. And then there is blind Bartimaeus, who sees more clearly than any of them. "And the blind man said to Him, 'Rabbi, let me recover my sight.'" Rabbi, that I see again. That I can open my eyes and see you face to face. That is what Bartimaeus asks for - literally. The word he uses means both to see again and to look up at someone. Let me see You, Jesus! "And Jesus said to him, 'Go your way; your faith has made you well.'" This is one of the verses we can mishear in modern English. We hear that phrase "your faith" and think it talks about the quality of belief, how well a person believes. You believed really, really hard, so therefore you are well. Nope. Not the point. The point is the object of that faith, what you believe in. What did Bartimaeus believe? Not that Jesus was going to kill a bunch of Romans, not that Jesus was going give him money out the wazoo. Bartimaeus' faith was this this - I know that my redeemer lives - that I shall see him with my own eyes. Yes, Bartimaeus, your Redeemer does live, and He brings restoration with Him.

"And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him on the way." Go my way, Jesus? My way is to follow you, and I'll still call out for mercy, I'll still need your love freely given, for though my eyes can see, I still am a sinner, I am still mortal. I will need forgiveness and resurrection and eternal life. And with that, Mark moves to the triumphal entry, Palm Sunday, where Jesus goes into Jerusalem, goes to the cross for Bartimaeus, for you.

What then shall we say? What shall we add here? There is Christ, on His way to actually be our Great High Priest, to suffer humiliation and death so that He may give us restoration and life. This is something the world cannot understand. Indeed, the world will revile this, speak out against it, mock it, try to shout it down. Indeed, even our own sinful flesh cannot grasp it - we are by nature sinful and blind to the things of God. But God has given you the gift of faith, even as Bartimaeus was blessed with faith well before his eyes were healed - and thus you see your Savior, you see His sacrifice to win you forgiveness, you see and even call out for mercy. And when you err, His Word brings you forgiveness and mercy again, and we learn to cry out for it together. Thanks be to God for his great mercy unto us. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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