Rev. Rebecca Heilman-Campbell
(Mark 1:1-3; 10:46-52)
You can ask my husband or my family, I like to be prepared. And it’s become a running joke in the family. At our wedding, over a year ago, instead of my father giving a loving toast, he gave a loving roast. He pulls out of his back pocket, a large stack of folded papers. It almost looked like a book. He then continues to hold the first sheet and let the rest of it fall. The pages are attached together and at least 12 feet long. Dad says to the full tent, “Here is a list of things that had to be done this week alone for this wedding to be successful in Becca’s eyes! I kid you not, there is even a grocery list on here!” Yes, my father printed all my google docs, all my check lists, all my emails and references. It’s all true. What can I say, I like to be prepared and between you and me, hopefully, my dad won’t listen to this, I get it all from my him. Recently, we went on a big family trip to Zimbabwe. My dad and I were practically packed weeks in advanced bugging our family left and right with check lists, reminders, and long conversations about what type of water bottle we should bring. I’m ruthless to the point that about four years ago while flying back and forth from New York City to see Douglas, I would get flagged nearly every time in the TSA line (no joke) because of all the snacks I brought with me “just in case” I needed them. I like to be prepared for any situation. In fact, on Sunday mornings, I usually have most, if not all the words I would like to say to you on a sheet of paper because let’s be honest, you don’t want me to talk off script. It’s not pretty up here. And so it should come as no surprise to you why Steve and I, especially me, are pleased to introduce our Fall theme to you this year, “Prepare the Way.” But what do we mean by that? No, we’re not celebrating Advent early. No, we’re not asking you to become preppers for the world ending. Really, we want to think about where the church, not just Trinity, but the big “C” church is going? Additionally, where is your faith, your personal faith now and how do you want to embody it? How are we handling the rabid changes of the world we live in? And how are we deeply affected by those changes? Where are we experiencing loss? Where do we need to heal? And let us celebrate and be glad with what we have been given and let us evolve and learn to embrace where the church is going.
Our passage today takes place at the end of Mark’s gospel. It’s the last healing story in Mark. And even more so, it’s the last chapter of the section often referred to as “The Way.” Throughout chapter 8, 9 and 10, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. And on his way, a word mentioned many times in these three chapters, Jesus intimately shares with his disciples what it means to truly follow him in the world. He assures them of the coming kingdom of God, as well as preparing them for the inevitable challenges that come with it – namely in the cross that is just ahead. This fall, we at Trinity are going to do some preparing ourselves – preparing for what it is that Jesus is leading us to as we discern what it truly means to grow together and welcome all. Together we will prepare the way. And so today is just the jumping off point. We are starting our program year and as we prepare the way, I also hope you feel a call to be active, engaged, challenged, inspired, love and be loved. And so here we go…together on the way.
Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, towards his death. And along the way, Jesus teaches, preaches, invites the children into his midst and every time the disciples just don’t get it. A notorious theme with the disciples. They push the children away and they have impossible and high maintenance askes of Jesus. They are rather annoying in the Gospel of Mark. And as they inch forward towards their fears around Jerusalem and Jesus’s death, they stop just outside of the imperial city, in a town called Jericho, where they meet Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar sitting on the roadside and as Jesus gets closer, we’re curious how this blind man knows Jesus is near. We can only assume the crowd is murmuring Jesus’s presence and Bartimaeus catches on. With great courage and a loud voice, the beggar cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” He’s shushed by the crowd, by “the many” as the scripture describes them. And their orders are stern and harsh at best. They do not think Bartimaeus is worthy of Jesus’ time, much like the children mere verses before this. Bartimaeus belongs on the side of the road. Sidelined, a spectator, not worthy to be heard. Sounds familiar?
There have been times in my life where I’ve felt shushed, sidelined, chosen last or not chosen at all. And the more I think about this the more I realize that we Americans are a nation of spectators. We’d much rather watch a game on TV than sit in the hot sun at the Bank of America stadium. We’d much rather watch sports than be the person on the field being hit by a 300 pound man or risk being hit in the face by a soccer ball. We’d much rather have that person, the person who is not afraid to speak up, bring the controversy into the meeting than it be us who brings it into the meeting. And there is something truly inspiring and absolutely ridiculous in watching, spectating the masses of people that walk by you at brunch while you judge their dress, their hairstyle, the way they walk and talk. I’m guilty of all of this as well. Worse still, while streaming worship online during the pandemic kept us connected on a small scale, three years later, we still would rather be a spectator of worship at home, than sit among each other in a vulnerability setting, where we have to sing together, pray together, greet each other and heaven forbid share the peace with each other. And even when we are here to worship with each other, we’d much rather sit towards the back and watch others worship. Afraid to get too close to those who are into the 11 o clock hour. That’s why we loved worshipping in the Fellowship Hall this summer. We had no choice but to sit close to each other, which I hope you felt it, brought a joy and connectedness the community. And if we’re going to be real with each other, church as a whole has shifted where we would much rather pay others to do the ministry, the mission, the education than embracing it as our own call as followers of Jesus Christ. We are sideline people. Spectators, afraid of what might happen to us or those around us if we agree to participate too much. Even more, at least for me, afraid of what others might think. As a young millennial pastor among a society of non-religious or nonchurch going young folk, there have been many of moments where I hold back on revealing what I truly do as a living in fear of judgement, in fear of having to over explain that I’m not that type of Christian. Goodness knows, we’ve all been in this situation where we decide to take the risk and be active, involved and then we are shushed, silenced because we’re being too loud, too controversial, too outside of the comfort zone, the norm, too radical. And when we’re shushed, it’s hard to come back from that. It takes a certain type of confidence and a high moral compass to speak over the stern silenced orders. So what is keeping us on the sideline? What is robbing us of the quality of life and of faith and potential community and authentic relationships?
Bartimaeus has something to teach us. All of us. Nothing can keep Bartimaeus silent. He cries out for the second time. The Greek says he cries out all the more, against the crowd, yelling, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” He emphasizes son of David this second time, a messianic title and besides the disciples, Bartimaeus is the only other character in Mark who recognizes Jesus as more than human, but as Christ as well. He sees who Jesus really, truly is. And he would not let others keep him from getting what he needs from Jesus. Bartimaeus stops Jesus in his tracks, a man of God focused on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus says to the people around him, “call him here.” And so they call to the blind man, saying “take courage; rise up, he is calling you.” And all of a sudden this story is no longer a healing story, but a call story as well. Bartimaeus, as a beggar was probably sitting on his cloak, an item that kept him warm in the nights and off the dirt during the day while he begs on the roadside. He now takes that precious item that is a security for him and throws it aside, as if knowing we will never need it again. With eagerness and strength, he springs to his feet and goes directly to Jesus. Jesus mirrors a question he asked to the disciples just days earlier, “what do you want me to do for you?” And unlike the disciples, Bartimaeus has the correct response. He says, “Rabbouni, teacher, I want to see.” Again, just like Jesus’s response to the hemorrhaging woman, he says to the blind man, “Go, your faith has saved you.” And immediately, Bartimaeus can see and without hesitation follows Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus is a character we all can learn from.
He carries an authenticity, even a desperation, an eagerness in his step and words of trusting who God is and where God is going. As the theologian, Lamar Williamson Jr. writes, “[Bartimaeus] crying out to Jesus, even with a less than perfect perception of who Jesus is, his persistent refusal to be silenced, his bold and eager response to Jesus’ call…and his clear focus on the one thing he wanted most in all the world, together with his keen anticipation that Jesus could and would grant it, are the attitudes and actions which Jesus calls ‘faith.’ His genuineness is demonstrated by the fact that Bartimaeus, having received his sight, followed Jesus on his way.”1 Though his story could be interpreted as a miracle story, it’s more of a call story for us today. A sort of call to action of Jesus inviting Bartimaeus to follow him. And Bartimaeus without any sort of hesitation, concern, fear, taking the chance by now trusting that God will lead him where he needs to go, much like the church has been called to do for over 2000 years.
This story is a reminder, a challenge to not be content with just being spectators. Those people who simply sit watching life go by them. Of watching a world that is changing rapidly and a church that has no choice but to change with it and trusting that God is walk on the way with us. Let us not be content on the sidelines watching the community develop and let us not leave anyone behind, but encourage each other with confidence that we are ALL called to be prepared and to prepare the way of the church. That we all have a voice that deserves to be heard. And we all have something to contribute to the community. And we absolutely want you here with us. May we go on the way trusting that Christ is at our side, not as spectators, but active in preparing, engaging, motivating our faith to be pushed and challenged so that we are not just saying words to please people, but activity embodying the words of Christ. Let us take the leap of faith this program year and be together on the way, both loved and called by Christ.
Pray with me.
Loving God, we believe, help our unbelief. Amen.
1 Williamson Jr., Lamar. Mark (Interpreta6on: A Bible Commentary) (p. 198). Presbyterian Publishing Corpora6on. Kindle