Sunday, October 25, 2015

He is calling you

Scripture: Mark 10: 46-52, NT page 47 Sermon title: He is calling you It’s always worth noticing the details of Scripture. If you think about how valuable paper has been in history you’ll realize that every single word counts, because not every word could fit. Maybe you’ve seen letters written during the Civil War where the words were so bunched together that it’s hard to even read what was written – but that’s how it had to be because paper was rare during that war and most wars, and paper was valuable in ancient Israel when the Gospel of Mark was first written down. There were no computers to store thousands of pages of documents. If you went on for too long you’d have to kill another goat and dry out its hide or go down to the river to beat reeds to make papyrus so you’d have another sheet to write on. Mark Twain is famous for saying, “I’d have written you a shorter letter, only I didn’t have enough time,” and we are used to reading books where you can just read the first sentence of each paragraph and follow the plot well enough because most people use too many words and there’s no shortage of paper so you can just fill those pages up, but not so with the Gospel of Mark. In Mark every single word counts. Notice then who is named. I promise it’s not a frivolous detail – in Mark there wasn’t enough room on the page for frivolous details – notice that no one from the town is named, not the mayor, not the doctors, not the priest, only this blind man on the side of the road. And he’s not just named, his full name is given – Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. I wonder if anyone in that town knew his name. They say that there’s nothing anyone would rather hear than the sound of their own name, but there are plenty of people in this world who rarely hear it. I once read about a group of surgical interns who were being trained by the chief surgeon of a great big hospital. They were gathered in the gallery, the room where the bypasses are done and the replacements replaced, and in walked a man with a mop bucket. He was surprised to see the group there and meekly apologized for interrupting and tried to excuse himself, taking the mop bucket with him but the chief surgeon called him over and introduced him to the group: “This is Tony. He was born in Lithuania, but immigrated here, learned English and has been working at this hospital for 20 years now. He has three children in college, and after every surgery he cleans this place, scrubs it from top to bottom. Without him this place would be full of bacteria that would jeopardize the health of our patients. I want you all to know him.” The interns gave perfunctory nods and followed the chief surgeon for the rest of their tour of the hospital, and at the end of the day the chief surgeon stopped and she asked them, “I only have one question. Which one of you can name the man who you met in the gallery who cleans the room after every surgery?” Not one of them could answer. I imagine that not one of them could answer because humans have been trained by the world to believe that some names are worth remembering and others can be forgotten. That you should remember the names of the people who can help you advance in the world, who can give you a hand up to the next level, so we remember the names of the boss’s husband, the principal, and the rising politician because maybe they can help us get what they have. And maybe Jesus would also train his disciples to remember some names and forget others based on the same principle, but the rich man who goes to Jesus saying, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” goes unnamed while the blind man by the side of the road is known forever as “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus.” The teachings of Jesus based on his life on earth are so unlike the teachings of the world. The world has taught me the names a number of people I’ve never met nor will I ever meet – Kim Kardashian, Doctor Oz, President Obama. But then there are people who I interact with, if not every day at least once a week, but I have no idea what their name is – the man who delivers our mail, the woman who works the cash register at Fred’s, the lady who takes my dry-cleaning through the window. She notices how my children grow, she comments on my hair cut, she knows I like medium starch on my shirts but do I know her name? Is it not shameful – that I know more about the people I see on television but will never meet in person than some of the people I depend on for basic needs? The opposite is true in Mark. The rich man in verse 17 of chapter 10 is nameless but the blind man in verse 46 is known, and if we remember the names of the people who we think can help us while forgetting the names of those who we think can’t, Jesus is telling us something important about getting our foot in the door of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes it is the man on the side of the road who possesses the wisdom that we need. That was true a couple years ago. Our Director of Christian Education, Susie Baxter, was leading her group of children up the stairs and to the front doors of this sanctuary. She was leading her Wednesday evening lesson, and so she told her group that there are things that you do when you’re preparing to enter a lot of places. When you get ready to go into school you make sure you have the right clothes on, your lunch packed, and your backpack ready. At the movies, you make sure you have your drink and your popcorn, and you have to have your ticket out to hand it to the person taking the tickets. “The same is true for church,” Miss Susie said as they stood just outside this sanctuary, “when you get ready to go into church it’s your heart that you have to get ready. You have to prepare your heart to worship God.” After that she took the kids, I guess there were 10 or 11, back down the stairs and past Melvin Taylor who was sitting there like he used to always do, by the side of the road on the corner of 7th and High. Melvin looked at Miss Susie, then at the line of children following behind her, “All those your kids?” he asked. “Yes they are,” Miss Susie responded. Now we can all imagine that this group of kids following around Ms. Susie all have different parents. We can see well enough that they come from different families, but sometimes the man on the side of the road sees with greater clarity than most of us do, sometimes it is from the man on the side of the road that we must listen and learn and finally begin to understand that they really are all Miss Susie’s kids. Likewise, Bartimaeus was blind to the world and the world was blind to him. He couldn’t work, so no one could ask him for help, no one could borrow money from him. He needed help getting from place to place, he had to sit by the roadside begging, never knowing whether someone had put a coin or a piece of broken glass in his bowl. Not only was he blind, he was helpless, and there’s nothing that this world despises more than a helpless man. No parent wanted their kids hanging around him. No one went to him with their questions. He couldn’t see, nothing he could give had any value in the eyes of the world, but Jesus gives us his name holding up the example of Bartimaeus, because those of us who think we are so different from him have everything to learn from his example. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” he yelled out, and the crowd told him to be quiet, if he’s anything like our friends on the side of the road they had probably heard him yelling enough already, but he just yelled even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus, not nearly as offended says, “Call him here.” “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Your faith has made you well. Now what is it about his faith that so impressed Jesus, what is it about this man that so impressed the author of the Gospel of Mark as to remember his name when so many other names have been forgotten? This man knows his need and he knows the one who can help, and we need his example, because our problem is that at the most, we believe we are simply nearsighted and not completely blind. We look to the church and we see an institution that can help us become better people. We can come here and learn good moral lessons of kindness and virtue, decency and respectability. Membership in a church is the central part of any upstanding citizen’s resume, so we come here out of duty and out of a desire to be better, surely we are not blind – we just need a little tune up every now and then. Some say that the church is full of hypocrites. People who pretend to be one way on Sunday and something else for the rest of the week, but I say the great hypocrisy of a church is that when we are afflicted with shame, when we don’t feel so upstanding, so decent and respectable, we are more likely to stay at home thinking that we don’t deserve to be here. We think this is a place where you may as well not show up if you can’t look put together – but I say, Jesus won’t be any good to you unless you’re ready to admit that you’re a mess. We think this is a place where you learn how to do better, be better – a place for nice families to pick up a few pointers on life and then get back to normal – but I say this is the place to call out to the one who can save you from the pit of failure. That we gather around the one who embraces the broken and rejects the self-righteous. Not everyone believes that about the church, so a man named Sam Shoemaker, an Episcopal Priest, wrote a well-known article back in 1955 called, “What the Church can learn from Alcoholics Anonymous.” In this article he said: The first thing I think the Church needs to learn from AA is that nobody gets anywhere till he recognizes a clearly defined need. These people do not come to AA to get made a little better. They do not come because the best people are doing it. They come because they are desperate. They are not ladies and gentlemen looking for a religion, they are utterly desperate men and women in search of redemption. Without what AA gives, death stares them in the face. With what AA gives them, there is life and hope. There are not a dozen ways, there are not two ways, there is one way; and they find it, or perish. They have the need, and they are ready to tell somebody what it is if they see the least chance that it can be met. Is there anything as definite for you or me, who may happen not to be alcoholics? If there is, I am sure that it lies in the realm of our conscious withholding of the truth about ourselves from God and from one another, by pretending that we are already good Christians. Let me here quote a member of AA who has written a most amazing book: his name is Jerome Ellison, and the book is "Report to the Creator." In this (p. 210) he says, "The relief of being accepted can never be known by one who never thought himself unaccepted. I hear of 'good Christian men and women' belonging to 'fine old church families.' There were no good Christians in the first church, only sinners. Peter never let himself or his hearers forget his betrayal in the hour the cock crow. James, stung by the memory of his years of stubborn resistance, warned the church members: 'Confess your faults to one another.' That was before there were fine old church families. Today the last place where one can be candid about one's faults is in church. In a bar, yes, in a church, no. I know; I've tried both places. Now I’ve read this article numerous times, but it has only really struck home for me in light of the example of Bartimaeus. We are slow to remember his name because we don’t recognize how far his recommendation can get us. We think we pretty much are OK. We think we can pretty much see, and sure I’m not perfect but I’m doing alright. Well, the church isn’t for people who are doing alright – the church is for sinners – and redemption doesn’t come to those who think they are doing OK on their own, redemption comes to those who call out for it - so it is the blind man who understands. It is the blind man who knows him truly. It is the blind man who knows his need so clearly and calls out in helplessness and fear, “My teacher, let me see again.” “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” And I say, if only we all had faith enough to confess our blindness we might finally see too. Amen.

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