October 24, 2021

22nd Sunday after Pentecost, The Rev. Michael L. Burk

Read today’s scripture lessons: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

About a dozen years ago, with a handful of others, I embarked on an ecumenical journey. It was something of a religious odyssey that included visits to places considered to be the capitals of the Christian movement. London, Geneva, Rome and the Vatican, and the historic Constantinople, Istanbul. It was a whirlwind adventure with a rhythm all its own. Rapid. Sometimes chaotic. In and out of 15 airports in 11 or 12 days, as if we had a purpose of some urgency.

It’s not the same, but when I think back on it, I cannot help but consider the frenetic pace of the story Mark’s gospel tells.

From the opening announcement that this is the “Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ,” to the heavens torn apart over that Jordan river baptism, then, immediately Jesus is in the wilderness. And in the blink of an eye Simon and Andrew leave their nets. Just as quickly Jesus calls James and John. Suddenly he’s in the synagogue on the Sabbath getting things all stirred up.

The way Mark tells the story, everything involving Jesus happens on the move…quickly, surprisingly. Crowds gather, Jesus keeps moving. Moving rapidly from one feeding to another. From one healing to the next.   Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth and forward. Always forward. Always moving as if he has a purpose of some urgency

Here, now, later in the story than you might think, a beggar cries out from the side of the road. That he has a name is likely more important than the fact that he is blind. That he is begging from the side of the road is more important still. You see, he has little or no status, which if you didn’t understand that this is the plight of beggars, it becomes clear when the crowd of people surrounding Jesus tries to silence him.

There is a sense in which that trip I am remembering was all about status. The status of those of us privileged to travel on behalf of our entire church, not to mention the status of the people and places we went to see.

One day we wake up and it’s time for the Archbishop of Canterbury. Soon it’s time for the Pope & the Pope’s “people.”  And before you know it, we are hosted by leaders of the Reformed tradition or of the Lutheran World Federation, until suddenly, we find ourselves in the presence of Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Eastern Orthodoxy. He is a seemingly humble man who, in accordance with the protocol, we address as “Your All High Holiness,” making it clear that like the rest of us involved in that particular journey, Bartholomew is on the opposite end of the status spectrum from Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus, sitting outside the city. Trying to survive outside the economy. Begging. Undeniably considered a “marginal human being” at best, relegated to the side of the road. Which turns out to be the very road that Jesus is traveling. The path where all the back and forth has been unfolding since the heavens were torn apart. The way to a destination that by this point in the telling is just around the corner. You see, soon they will be in Jerusalem. It’s actually the next stop.

But here, now, on the outskirts of Jericho, so quickly after whatever happened before, the beggar who heard that it is Jesus of Nazareth passing by,… the beggar, from beyond the path, cries out. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”In other words, “Jesus, Messiah. Jesus, Savior, have mercy on me.”

Ordered to be quiet, he refuses. He is louder now, and very persistent. And for a moment at least, the all-important movement seems to stop. Jesus stands still. Says to the people around him, “call him here.” Suddenly the naysayers change their tune and encourage the beggar to take heart, “Jesus is calling you.”

He throws off his cloak. He springs to his feet. He comes to Jesus. On that road.

He’s now standing before Jesus. He’s right there with Jesus on the path…on the way. And any perceived barrier that had kept him at a distance is already removed even before Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“My teacher,” he calls Jesus,… making it clear that the beggar can see that there is a relationship now between them. “My teacher, let me see again.”

It is not surprising what the beggar asks. And it’s not surprising that he regains his sight ‘immediately.’

What is surprising, the twist, is that when Jesus says “Go,” the once-blind beggar does what appears to be the opposite. Bartimaeus comes, and follows Jesus on the way. The way to Jerusalem and presumably, to everything that will unfold there.

The purpose of that journey to the various capitals of Christendom was to share the news of who we understand ourselves to be as Lutherans in North America, including, to share what was then still relatively new information of this church decision to remove a barrier related to human sexuality that had too long treated too many people as though they had no status. Kept at a distance. Told to keep silent.

There was an urgency to our purpose of stating in our own voice our understanding of being church, of welcome, of doing justice.

There is something wonderful about the pace of Gloria Dei’s thematic approach these days and weeks. To me, this too reflects the rhythmic urgency of Mark’s gospel. Now is the time.

Now is the time to be the church. And suddenly, now is the time to welcome. Then, immediately, it is the time to grow. Just as quickly, it’s the time to rise, and to do justice & to care.

And here, now, as if the movement stops for just a moment. Now is the time to give.

As the beggar springs to his feet in order to make his way to Jesus, he “throws off his cloak.” Lays aside the only thing he owns. Think about that cloak. He wore it. He slept under it. He probably hid what little money he had in it. It was his everything and he lays it aside to come close to Jesus.

He knows…and if we are paying attention we can see it, we can feel it. That he knows he’s not going back to his old life. He has found something, has discovered someone, to give his life to.

This Jesus, this Christ who will suffer and die at the hands of others. Whose outreach to the outcast, whose unyielding commitment to the poor, whose challenge to any misguided authority, and whose demands sometimes seem impossible to us… Somehow the beggar can see that this Jesus and all that he brings with him, all of his ministry, all of his action, everything he says and does, is the ground of something more.

Something expansive. And for the beggar, when it comes to his own life, now is the time to give.

“Son of David,” Bartimaeus cries out to the Messiah whose urgent purpose and every effort is nothing less than God’s own love for a world in need of healing, now. Whose death on the cross is not about changing something somewhere out there sometime. It is about changing everything right now. That’s what Mark’s telling is trying to convey. That’s what everything involving Jesus comes to embody.

In the journey to Jerusalem, in the frenetic back and forth. In the persistent back and forth, Jesus is intent on stitching together all kinds of people and circumstances, weaving a web of relationships from every imaginable spectrum, knitting together what the Apostle Paul calls “one body.”

And it turns out that the road. The path. The way, is all about recognizing and responding to what Martin Luther referred to as the “happy exchange,” where with arms outstretched, the Christ, the wounded savior, takes on the sin of the world and gives back what we can never deserve. Call it righteousness. Call what the beggar demands…mercy. Or call it amazing grace, for it is nothing other than the freeing forgiveness of our sin and the freedom from anything and everything that stands in the way of our being part of the back and forth and forward.

Today. Here. Now is the time to give. To give something of our own lives,  something of ourselves that reflects an awareness that we have been caught up in this saving web of relationships. That we have been wrapped in an unyielding bond of love. And that, at our best, we are determined that more and more people will experience such love.

And here’s the twist. Immediately. As is true every time we gather, whether in person or from afar, suddenly, predictably, Jesus is here. Christ comes to meet us on this road. To feed us. To heal us. To demonstrate that “Now is the time to give,” by giving himself to us. AMEN