Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Blind Bartimaeus Sermon
June 7, 2009
The healing of blind Bartimaeus
I am thrilled to be back in worship with you this morning. While you were hearing wonderful music in a church filled with red on Pentecost last week, I was making last minute preparations at Bethany Hills for 62 sixth and seventh graders to arrive. I stand before you renewed in spirit but still tired in body!
If you have never been a part of church camp, it is something to behold. The campers and counselors came from all over the state of Tennessee, including five from Livingston. Some had been there many times before and for some it was their first visit to Bethany Hills. God can do some amazing things with just a week at camp. God can transform strangers into friends. God can take a teenager who feels largely ignored at home and give them a chance to shine. God can provide a table where all are welcome and where a community is formed so quickly, bonded over hot sleeping conditions, silly songs and even square dances. God was at work with us last week as we studied our theme for the week, Breakthrough. Over the week we studied four stories of how Jesus broke through into people’s lives. We learned how Jesus broke through barriers set up by the world. Jesus broke through to touch, heal and transform the lives of people in need. One of those stories of transformation is the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus and I would like to share with you just a little of his story, and a few little bits of our story, what Jacye, Sydney, Jacob, Kristen and I learned at camp this week.
When we have a deep need, it is perfectly acceptable to call out to Jesus. Bartimaeus uses his voice to call out to Jesus as he leaves Jericho. Bartimaeus sits on the edge of his city; as a blind man he is not allowed to enter fully into the life of his community. He has not been able to be educated, and he has no career options other than begging, which is his full time job. With no knowledge of how illness affects the body or even of germs, it is assumed that Bartimaeus’ family or even Bartimaeus himself has done something to cause the blindness he suffers from. As a result he is misunderstood and labeled “unclean,” his only option is to beg at the edge of the city. It really isn’t much of a life, and so somehow he senses the presence of Jesus. He knows exactly who Jesus is and calls out to him with in full recognition, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Baritmaeus doesn’t need eyesight to see deeply into the core of who Jesus is. Not only does he know that Jesus can heal (even though Jesus asks most his healing recipients to “tell no one”); but Baritmaeus knows that Jesus comes from the royal line of King David. Bartimaeus has the ability to see Jesus for who he is even though he does not yet have sight. Another reason blind people were not allowed into the community is that they were also feared. When one sense is not present, other senses are often heightened. The special abilities of disabled persons were misunderstood and feared. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus and has the ability to know Jesus fully even though he cannot see him.
We often underestimate the abilities of people around us. You might even underestimate the faith life of 12-14 year olds, but you wouldn’t if you had been with us at camp last week. I heard these young people call out to Jesus when they were willing to pray in front of their small group, or share an experience that was personal to them during a discussion of the day’s theme. We need to call out to Jesus when we are deeply needy, when things in our lives feel out of control, when we’re 12 and when we’re 72. We need to call out to Jesus whenever we want to be heard.
There is an entire prayer practice that comes from this scripture. We had a chance to talk about it in my adult Bible Study this spring. The prayer is called the Jesus prayer. It is a short prayer that can be repeated over and over again whenever you need to call out to God. You simply repeat, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” just as Bartimaeus did. You breathe in as you say, “Jesus, Son of God,” and out as you say, “have mercy on me.” This is a prayer that can be called out when you awaken in the night and can’t fall asleep, when you are in pain, when you are angry because you are stuck in traffic or waiting in an impossible line at the DMV. The Jesus prayer is an any-time, any-where prayer that can help us live into the Biblical mandate to “pray without ceasing.” Whether it is the Jesus prayer, or another simple prayer like, “help me, help me, help me!” we know that is ok to call on God anytime we are in need.
Sometimes we will raise our voices to cry out to God and someone will try to stop us. The crowd around Jesus really thought he didn’t need to be bothered by a homeless, blind beggar the edge of town. They tried to get Baritmaeus to be quiet, but he continued to cry out to Jesus until he was heard.
I haven’t always been as persistent in my own faith walk, have you? Sometimes we are silenced by the crowd around us. Sometimes we are seduced by other things that pull our attention away from Jesus, like the lure of popularity, our desperate need to fit in, to be cool, or spend money and have things. In our rush to be what the world wants us to be, we loose sight of our focus on calling out to Jesus. I think this was so powerfully illustrated on Youth Sunday when our youth performed the “Everything” Skit. The girls starts off in the beginning so happy to be with Jesus but then faces the realities and pressures of the world, a boyfriend, money, alcohol, cutting, eating disorders, and finally thoughts of suicide. The whole time Jesus is calling to her- waiting for her return. Finally, she prays and Jesus holds back all the voices of the world that were trying to silence her. When we call out to Jesus, sometimes others will try to silence us. We need to remember that we belong to God and continue to call out, above the noise of the crowds around us.
When we call out to Jesus, Jesus listens to us and transforms our lives. Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ call to him. He tells the crowd to let Bartimaeus come. This is not the first time that Jesus has healed someone without sight, but this time Jesus doesn’t have to put a hand on the blind man. There is no muddy white compound for the man’s eyes, instead Jesus says that it is persistent faith that has made Bartimaeus well. Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ call and transformed his life because of the boldness of his faith.
At our camp this week there was a young man with a disability. Actually there were several kids with health and behavioral concerns but in particular I want to tell you about Steven. Steven has a severe learning disability and his IQ puts him in that category that referred to as developmentally delayed or mildly retarded. Steven came to camp this week and found his community. Steven’s older brother was his cabin counselor, and Steven’s mom camp to camp as a counselor to provide leadership in his small group. Steven was set up for success. Although I’m sure that mom and brother helped him feel comfortable during the week, Steven didn’t need them- he had a community of friends who loved God and loved him.
At our counselor meeting on Monday morning of camp we asked if anyone had any moments they would like to share from camp so far. Steven’s mom spoke up. She told us that at their church, Steven doesn’t feel comfortable taking communion. She had been so touched when on Sunday night after introductions, dinner and our first small group meeting we had worship and Steven walked forward to take communion with his new friends. Steven’s life had been transformed by the love he felt at church camp and the welcome that was extended to him to come to God’s table. Jesus hears us when we call out. He has mercy on us, and transforms our lives.
After our lives have been transformed by an encounter with Christ, we can’t help but respond by following. Bartimaeus’ life was transformed, he was able to see again and Jesus asked for nothing in return. However, Bartimaeus decided to follow Jesus, even as the next steps he would take to be toward the cross. Jesus invites each one of us into new life with him, and how we respond is up to us.
This week at camp one of the most touching moments for me came during our Thursday evening worship. Our theme that day was “Jesus invites”. We were all invited to participate in communion, and they way the youth invited us to worship was by calling each one of us by name. I watched as Steven was called forward by name. I watched as Jayce, Sydney, Kristen and Jacob were each called by name to receive communion. And then my name was called and I went forward. What a powerful reminder that Jesus knows each one of us, and loves us enough to call us into relationship with him by name.
We are each invited by name into life with Jesus. He is there ready to listen anytime we call out to him. When we are in need, we need to remember to call out to Jesus, knowing that he will hear us even if the world tries to silence us. Jesus listens, Jesus has mercy on us and Jesus can transform our lives. Our only job is to call out to Jesus and to seek a relationship with him. May we continue to call out, knowing that Christ will hear each one of us as he calls us by name to be his friends. Amen!