Friday, October 30, 2015

Blind Bartimeaus and our journey into God


This week I heard in our readings God speaking about a journey.  It is a journey with God that begins with prayer and ends with joy.  In the passage from Jeremiah,  God speaks and says to God’s people “Give praise, and say, "Save, O LORD, your people”.  God tells us to pray with praise, but acknowledges that we will come with weeping.  We will come “blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together”.  We will be “a great company” turning to God.  And God promises that he will lead us all, even those who can’t see, even those who can’t walk.  Even the pregnant ones.  God will call us and lead us on a straight path where we “shall not stumble”, because God knows us as God’s children and this is what a parent provides to her children.

The Psalm for today echoes these images—those who sow with tears will reap with joy.  Those who go out weeping with seeds will come back with sheaves.  Prayer offered in weakness is answered with a calling to return with plenty.

And then in our Gospel reading we have this story of the blind beggar.  He is surely a person who suffers great weakness.  We see Bartemeaus sitting by the side of the road.  When he realizes that Jesus and his disciples are passing by, he begins to shout out—he is praying,  “"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  And when people try and keep him quiet, he gets more insistent and continues to shout out his prayer  “Have mercy on me!” 

Jesus responds, he says call him here.  The response to Bartimeaus’ prayer is a calling from Jesus.  Even though Bartimeaus is the weakest—the beggar, and blind, he is called by Jesus.  And Bartimeaus jumps up, throws off his cloak (maybe the only protection he has).  He is granted his sight and he follows Jesus on his way.
The Gospeler wants us to understand this journey.  He makes it really clear.  Jesus says,  “Your faith has made you well.”  This is a journey of faith. 
We come to God with prayers.  We come with our tears, with our human weaknesses.  We are blind, we are lame, we are pregnant, we are children.  God calls us to follow.  And God heals us so that whatever weakness we might be suffering, can follow with strength, with bounty, with wholeness.  We will be given whatever we need so that we can follow God.

I prayed about these passages this week.  I was praying about our community—I was thinking about our weaknesses individually and our weaknesses as a community.  I asked God to show me what the journey is that we are on.  I was trying to get to the problem or the question  that these passages answer here, right now.

And gradually, the answer came to me—Kirsten, you can’t know what journey all the people of Nativity are on.  You are only a human priest.  The passage from the letter to the Hebrews makes it clear.  I am only a priest appointed by the law.  I come with all my own weaknesses, I have to call out for mercy just like Bartimeaus.  I have to listen for Jesus to call me as Jesus is calling all of us.  I have to rely on God’s mercy to bring me forward, turning my tears into joy,  helping me plant seeds with weeping so that we can harvest God’s bounty here.

So with this answer, I thought about Phil’s questions for us at our all parish retreat last Sunday.  Phil asked us three questions: 1)  What do we want? 2) Things are changing. What do we absolutely want to keep? 3) What are we ready to let go of, leave behind?  
Phil asked us to use our imaginations about our future.  Phil was helping us articulate our prayer.  What is it that we want?  What are we crying out for?  When we pray,  “Lord, have mercy on us”;  when we pray,  “Save your people”,  what exactly are we asking for?  We began to articulate our prayer at the retreat.  We are praying for a vibrant Church, Church with “vivacity”.  We are praying for more people to join us, and for all of us to have energy and joy in our life together. 
We made posters together and one favorite poster shows this Church with open doors, welcoming people in.  We want to be a community that shares an open mind—not judging, not restricted in our theology, not closed to people from different backgrounds or ideas.  We want to come together with open hands—serving the community around us.  We want to be prepared to answer God’s call to us.  We come with open hearts, caring for one another and everyone in God’s Body with compassion and forgiveness.    We imagine ourselves nourished by our worship together, and we imagine that this beautiful place on the hill might become a community center for everyone who needs us here in northern Marin, in Marinwood.  This is our prayer.
God we are weak, we don’t know everything, we can’t do everything, but we want to follow you and reap the bounty of your love for us.
When Phil asked us what we are willing to give up, many of the tables struggled to find things we could do without.  If we are Bartimeus, are we prepared to leave our cloaks, our only protections behind, trusting that we will be healed and strengthened for this journey?
What are the things that are holding us back from following God on this journey?  We named some of our fears, some of our disagreements.
I will be working with Susan Pick and our vestry and Phil to prepare a full report on the retreat, and I am looking forward to hearing more from all of you about your prayers—What do you want?  What do you think we must keep even as we change?  What are you prepared to leave behind?
Today, I hear our Scripture calling us to take this journey together.  In our weaknesses—our individual weaknesses, our weaknesses as a community, we come with weeping.  We know that we don’t have enough human strength to be what God is calling us to be.  We are blind, we are lame, we are children.  We must ask God’s forgiveness for what we have done and for what we have not done to serve God and one another.  We must pray again and again, calling out even when it seems that Jesus might pass us by.
Like Bartimeaus, we must listen for that call.  Jesus is calling us to come forward and be healed.  God is calling us to return to Israel, to be God’s people again. 
Whatever weakness we are feeling when we begin our prayers, God promises that we will be strengthened.  Our sight will be renewed.  Together, even those of us who can’t walk will be carried along.  Even the children will have what they need to follow.  Supporting one another, as we follow, we have everything we need.
And this faith journey, this practical journey together will lead us to know God’s bounty.  We will reap the sheaves of wheat.  We will return to the land of plenty.  Our path will run along a brook.  It will be straight and we won’t stumble. 

I can’t know exactly what our journey with God looks like, but today I hear the Word promising us that if we pray loudly for what we need, we give thanks for what we have, we listen to hear how we are called to do God’s work, how we are called to follow as disciples, then God our parent, our protector, our high priest will lead us into joy.

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