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Acts 8:26-40 & Mark 10:46-52
Bartimaeus has a problem. Yeah, in part it’s the blindness that keeps him from being able to function well in a society created for seeing people. That’s why he’s a beggar, that’s the only path left for people who are lame, or sick, or wounded or broken or leprous or otherwise untouchable and cast aside in Jesus’ world. But it’s not just the blindness. He’s lonely, he’s scared, he’s tired. He’s anxious about his future, and he is marginalized, with no place to really fit in. Have you ever felt left out? Have you ever felt like no one is listening to you? Have you ever been the only person with whatever label you most identify in a room full of people not like you and felt really alone?
That’s every day for Bartimaeus.
So when Jesus comes around the corner, this man who he’s heard so much about, he is reaching out for more than just being able to see again. Maybe that’s the cornerstone of his desire for healing because if he could see, perhaps all the other stuff would fade away. Or, more likely, he’d still be set aside because once you are out, it’s hard to get in. Once you are marginalized, the majority seems to always find new ways to keep you on the edge…if not you, then someone else. Because the system seems to be – from 1st century Roman empire to 21st century American empire – founded on hierarchies, those who have and those who don’t, those who are in and those who are out. And Bartimaeus is tired of being left out, tired of being marginalized…he’s tired of being tired, to partially quote Ms. Fanny Lou Hamer.
But when he speaks up, when he gathers enough courage to say something to this itinerant healer who he’s never even met, he is immediately shouted down. Quiet, the crowd says! Hush, those gathered around him cry! Shut up, the authorities demand!
He is crying out for acceptance, like the voice of a transgendered person; begging for something as basic as recognition; like the cry of a refugee on a 2,000 mile trek to possible freedom, hoping for healing; like the person with chronic illness relegated to the emergency room; longing for justice; like the man who kneels at the national anthem to draw attention to a very real threat on his existence only to be told to shut up and play ball.
How often are we asked to keep our own voices down, to keep some offense from being uttered? Something that would cause a disruption in the very controlled status quo? How often do we silence cries for mercy, as if only some cries are worthy of God’s attention? The God-response in this little morality play from scripture this morning comes from Jesus, who shushes the shushers to hear the cry of this blind man and to tell him the thing we all want – and don’t want – to hear…your faith has made you well. Sometimes I think that’s the real kicker line that we skip right over in these Jesus healing stories. It’s not my power has made you well, it’s not you had enough faith to make you well, it’s the faith you already have – that in which you have trusted…the reason you have raised your voice in the first place – that has made you well.
I don’t know if the healing that occurs in this story is medical or metaphorical. Can Bartimaeus see – like I can see – or does he see like I often don’t see, his trust in a world that doesn’t exist giving him hope for a world that could exist. After this last week, healing would be nice, but I don’t really hold much stock in that happening. Every time I feel like we have reached the rock bottom, we seem to go lower. And given the way that we talk to one another, the almost always detrimental impact of social media and our propensity towards dehumanization, I can’t see how we climb up at this point. I can’t see it. I am blind to a hopeful future.
So maybe this is the time that I cry out to Jesus – have mercy! For, like Bartimaeus, I’m not sure what else to do. Relying on my strength alone hasn’t done it. My outrage, much to my chagrin, hasn’t changed the world. My attendance at every protest, vigil, rally and meeting that occurs hasn’t brought about the kin-dom. In fact, right now it feels like things are headed the opposite direction.
The title of the sermon is “no more silence,” and it was originally going to be about raising our own voices and making sure that we are heard. But I really don’t think that’s a problem for this congregation. You have all dedicated major parts of your life, lots of energy, towards raising your voice or raising the voices of others. And you might be feeling, I suspect, a little like me right now. Here, tired, heartsick, in need of healing, and hope, and communion. And it makes me wonder if it’s not just raising our voices that needs to happen, not only a dedication to “no more silence,” but actually what we’re raising our voices about. For we cannot claim our identity in our outrage, which is easy to do. There’s certainly enough of it to fuel all kinds of things and while I’m not suggesting that you somehow “turn it off,” as if that were possible, I do believe that, like Bartimaeus, we might recognize the ways that it blinds us and seek something bigger than our outrage, something that might actually be able to bring healing.
Now, in this time of social turmoil and backlash, a time in which battles we thought we had fought are being waged again, ground we had gained being threatened once more, it is so very important that we understand why it is that we make the claims we make. We don’t say that we welcome LGBTQ+ persons into full participation in the church because we are reactionary, or because we’re a bunch of liberals. We don’t seek to do the hard work of racial reconciliation or press on in the struggle for gender, immigration or environmental justice because we’re bleeding-hearts, or even because we are “social justice warriors.” We do so as a matter of faith. We do so because we trust in the Way of Jesus, that teaches us to listen to others, to be merciful and compassionate, to welcome all of God’s creation as if it were all created by God, and to love not only our neighbors, but our enemies, too – thereby announcing an entirely different system of relating and being in the world than the one that so often gets set before us – even more so during an election season which often reduces things to a zero-sum game full of winners and losers. He calls us, as a matter of faith, to not trust in the hierarchies, not to believe in power, at least in the way that we usually construct it, not to take stock in rage or resentment, but instead to trust in God’s incredible love for all people, without exception, and then try as best we can, where we are, with what we have, to live that love in the world, letting it open our eyes to the people and places which we have been unable to see.
Every time that we see Jesus encountering the religious authorities of his time, he stands before them and reminds them that the difference between their religion and his faith is that they use scripture to determine what love means and he uses love to determine what scripture means. Then he reaches out to the downtrodden, he accepts the rejected, he embraces the untouchable as a sign of God’s love amidst a religious practice that divides, distinguishes and seeks to make God a keeper of rules rather than a giver of grace. Paul, decades later, says it this way – if you obey all the rules and have all the talents and possess faith that can move mountains but don’t have love, you are nothing. And the Book of Acts says it this way, even a few more years later. If the eunuch, the first century equivalent of the gender non-conforming, the Jesus-era symbol of the queer person, sees and feels God the way that we do – and they do – then what is to stop them from participation in the same way we participate? And the answer, from our Bible, is nothing. That’s the faith we are called to…that’s what I want to trust in as I call out for mercy.
Today marks the 501st anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, begun as a set of criticisms against the church, it became a church, and carried a virulent strand of anti-semitism and misogyny with it. What started out as change soon became the very thing it sought to change and it is so important that we understand that we must not become what we abhor as we resist what we abhor.
This morning I am here deeply disturbed, very tired and wanting for some hope and light, some vision, some ability to see. And I, like Bartimaeus, find myself crying out, but not in anger – though I have it – not in outrage – though it consumes me – but rather crying out to Christ…have mercy! For the only thing that I can see, the only light that maintains a sliver in my mind’s eye is the hope that there is something beyond me – something bigger than just my methods, my narrow vision of what things “ought to be”…something that will really heal and make whole. That’s why I need the meal this morning…the meal of communion which ushers in the mystery of that which we call God…adrift in the universe and unfolding all things still, even in my despair. I need to trust that there is some Spirit still spiraling around us, present in this strange, small meal that I cannot rationalize nor understand, which is not part of my own strategy, but something to which I surrender, something which comes to me – comes to all of us – feeding our faith. For that faith, I am assured, will make us well.
God, I hope that is so. Let us hope together at the table.