This sermon, offered by The Rev. Andy Jones on October 28, 2018 at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison, Wisconsin, is built around the readings for Proper 25B in the Revised Common Lectionary.
You can find those readings here.
Here is a recording of the sermon:
And a transcript of the recording:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Please be seated.
Bartimaeus the name literally means out of Timaeus, Timaeus’s son. Bartimaeus was there by the side of the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, positioned in an ideal and strategic location, hoping to capitalize on the pious feelings and attitudes of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, so that he could get them to give him alms, to support him. That was important because as a blind man he was unable to work, and to support himself, to care for himself. I think it would be appropriate to imagine him in rags there by the side of the road. We don’t know if the he was cast out by his family or if they had abandoned him, but it’s likely. And we do know that the crowd responded to him very negatively. When he started to shout for Jesus’s attention they urged him strongly to be quiet, perceiving him as a nuisance and not as a member of their own community. So Timaeus’s affliction’s, his inability to see, has cost him quite a bit. He is alienated from his people, from his community, from his family. They probably all believed that some sin of his own, or some sin of his parent’s, or his parent’s parents, were the cause of his blindness. And so he may well have been alienated, in some ways, from himself; having received this message and this judgment from others, day after day, there in the dust, at the side of the road.
Given all of that I think it would be easy to hear Bartimaeus’ is plea to Jesus, “Teacher, let me see again,” as “Teacher, reconcile me once again to my own, to my people, to my family, to myself, and to my God.” We also might hear it as, “Remove from me this affliction that has cost me so much.” Bartimaeus says let me see “again” so I think we can assume that he had been able to see. Something had happened and now he could see no more, and he was asking to be restored to that original condition.
Yesterday afternoon, as I pondered this reading, it was my plan is to come in here this morning and to ask us all what it is that keeps us from seeing; what it is, what is it, that afflicts us so that we are alienated from each other, from ourselves and from God? What affliction do we need to have removed in order that we might see again? But at about 7:30 last night, when I got home from the funeral that we hosted here yesterday evening, and I turned on the news… my thoughts went in a different direction. And I have to confess that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to see at all.
This will date me somewhat, but there’s this song running through my head a Jackson Browne song, where he sings
“Dr. my eyes,
Tell me what is wrong.
Was I unwise,
to leave them open for so long?”
The news this last week has been a hard: packages in the mail, the news out of a synagogue in Pittsburgh, I think could make us want to close our eyes and to see no more, because, Lord we have had enough! We have had enough!
But I think that Bartimaeus and Jesus are here this morning, asking us, begging us, not to close our eyes; but to continue to see. And in fact maybe to see anew, to see again.
Friday night I was at the Orpheum theater with Suzanne to see Anne Lamott speak about her newest book, and in her, in her presentation she offered us a quote. I could swear she said it was T.S. Eliot but I have looked, and looked, and looked. I can’t find the original source… but what she told us was, I think it was T.S. Eliot, said that putting on a new pair of glasses can change the way we see the whole world. Taking off our glasses and cleaning the gunk that has accumulated on the lenses can allow us to see the world in a whole new way, to have our site restored.
Bartimaeus had been able to see at one point and something had happened to him. He lost his sight. I believe that each and every one of us are here today because at some point we were able to see. We got some glimpse of God’s dream, of God’s vision for this creation, and for our own lives, and we were set on fire. And we made some commitment to ourselves, and to God, and to this community, to show up and to search for those glimpses; to see more of what it is that God has to offer. But a steady diet of bad news, a steady diet of depressing and disheartening stories from around the world, can act like gunk on our glasses.
I read this quote while I was looking for T.S. Eliot’s quote that says, “I was walking down the street with my glasses on the other day when the prescription ran out!” So maybe the prescription on the glasses we were given on that day has worn out, and we can’t see the world as God intends us to see it. So here this morning, as we stand beside Bart Emmaus in the dust, at the side of the road, I think we can ask, Teacher let me see again. Help me to turn my attention and my focus to the good things that are happening in the world. When I hear bad news, let my eyes and my ears at rest on the people who are running towards instead of away from the calamity. Help me to recognize your presence, and your, your action, your activity, in the midst of this pain and suffering. Help me to balance my diet so that I can be more well-rounded and healthy.
That doesn’t mean that we ignore the bad things. That doesn’t mean that we walk away from them. But what it offers us the opportunity to do, is to approach those things that we want to stand up against, and stand up to, stronger, healthier, more whole; with the ability to act and not react, to be effective, and above all to not participate in the disruptive and divisive dialogue that seems to be tearing us apart.
It’s so hard, when it we’re depleted and exhausted, to encounter a moment of injustice or cruelty and respond in a way that’s healing and reconciling. We need to be whole. We need to take care of ourselves. We need to be able to see more than just the darkness.
So how do we do that? How do we find what we need to be well fed? In the forum just a few minutes ago, we talked about spending time in silence and in prayer. We talked about daily readings, devotional readings. We even talked about shifting our Facebook behavior. Now that may, for some of us, mean turning it off completely, but there’s another way to approach that I think that offers us a great metaphor here.
When I open Facebook in the morning I don’t click on any of the bad news. I don’t click on the news stories. I only click on the things that make me laugh, or fill me with hope. So Suzanne is out there in the kitchen, and I’m sitting in the other room drinking my coffee and laughing hysterically, and she says, “Are you on Facebook again?” But you know, Facebook has these algorithms. And they recognize what you click on and what you skip over. And so the algorithm that Facebook has for me says send Andy funny stuff in the morning. I think there’s a metaphor in that. If all we look at is bad news then that’s all that our eyes will see. But if we start to pay attention to the beauty in the world, to the things that are life-giving, to God active in our lives and in the lives of others, we’ll get better at seeing those things. And they will begin to occupy more and more of our consciousness, so that we can walk through this world without those millstones dragging us down.
In the midst of all of that, as it were caring for ourselves, and making sure that we are able to act, we do need to be looking for ways to come together and raise our voices, to work to bring God’s vision for creation and for God’s children to fruition. There will be an ecumenical vigil this evening at the Unitarian church over next to the hospitals. It’s at 7 o’clock. I hope that many of you will come and join us there as we stand in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters, with the people who are walking from Central America trying to escape poverty and extreme violence, with people all over this country who are without health care and without adequate shelter and food. We will gather to proclaim the good news of God in Christ that we need so desperately to hear, and to see, and to experience… We are all one, siblings, beloved children of God, and we can see, at least we need to, the dignity and holiness that resides within each and every one of us. We need to begin to recover that sense of who God created us to be, and calls us to be, and longs patiently for us to become. It is ours for the taking. What we need to do is to stand here in the dust with Bartimaeus say, “Teacher let me see again.”