A sermon for the 23rd Sunday after the Pentecost, Mark 10:46-52
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
He cried out, even more loudly, staking his claim, owning his faith, proclaiming that faith to all who could hear. And he was admonished. He was told to be quiet. How dare he, a blind beggar, call out to the Messiah? Who did he think he was? What right did he have?
He had every right. He was a man of faith. He knew that Christ could, would, heal him, if he owned that faith in his presence. He knew that Christ would hear his cry and respond with grace.
Bartimaeus is one of the many unexpected evangelists we have in the gospels. His is not the only story where someone is healed for having faith and claiming that faith. His story is unique in that he cries out, is admonished for crying out, and in response to being admonished only cries out louder for mercy, for Christ. It is this example of Bartimaeus, crying out even in the face of the pressure around him to remain silent, that I want to expand upon today, that I want us to consider today in how it relates to our own crying out, our own ownership of our faith, even as those around us would try to silence us.
Have you ever felt pressured to be quiet about your faith?
Perhaps you’re uneasy about labeling yourself as a Christian for fear of being grouped with others who would call themselves Christian. Perhaps you feel that it isn’t the time and place to speak up, to speak out, to cry out, as if there ever was a perfect time and place.
Have you felt this before: the internal uneasiness that causes us to stay quiet when we could be shouting out our faith, when we could be crying out to Christ in the midst of the crowd, illustrating our faith for all around us?
Bartimaeus has no position, no standing, no place really in society, except that of blind beggar, an important part of a societal ecosystem where everyone is expected to play their part, even if that part is cast down, cast out. This makes his cry to Christ radical because he has no “right” to claim access to this teacher and prophet. This makes his continued cry understandable, because what does he have to lose?
We have something to lose when we cry out in our faith, when we self-identify for all to hear our faith in Christ. At least, we perceive that we have something to lose. We have this pressure, this societal understanding that religion is not to be shared in mixed company. We strive so hard as Episcopalians, as followers of a radically welcoming Christ, to create such radical welcome that we become uneasy sharing our own story of faith because we don’t want to pressure or offend. Bartimaeus had no sense of offending, Bartimaeus could not offend anymore than he already did, and yet, this is where we too need to speak out in our faith, to know that our sharing of faith is not offensive when we share our personal story, when we own our faith before others, before Christ, just as Bartimaeus knows that his supposed offense is nothing compared to receiving the gift of healing, the radical gift of a personal audience with Christ, for owning one’s faith.
Over the last few weeks a dedicated group has been gathering each Sunday before Church at the Fall Forum series. We have spent this time sharing stories. Sharing our personal stories of faith. Sharing the stories of St. Stephen’s and the role it plays in the sharing of our faith in our lives and in this community. Today, we discussed Episco-vangelism, that is Evangelism for Episcopalians, something that for too long was seen as a taboo subject, because we forgot that owning our faith, crying out to Christ amongst the crowd, is the gospel way. Too long has the understanding of evangelism centered around this idea that talking about our faith is about converting souls to Christ, about increasing our numbers on Sunday, about raising more funds for the church. That is not what evangelism is about. For us, evangelism is very much about the experience of Bartimaeus, about seeing those times in our story where we have been Bartimaeus and we stood up and cried even louder against the pressure of the crowd around us.
I shared the following quote this morning by a seminary professor of mine, The Rev. Dr. David Gortner, defining evangelism this way: “Evangelism is naming your own journey to love with the living God, wherever it takes you, and naming the presence of the Holy in the journeys of other people you encounter. From our first breath to our last, and beyond, God has set before each of us a pilgrimage.”
I feel like this quote sums up how Episcopalians have always done evangelism. I feel like this quote helps illustrate that Episcopalians are in fact quite good at evangelism, we just don’t know it.
And, I could continue to preach at you about how we’re all good at this, and use personal examples of my story, but I have a feeling that you’re likely to say “well good for the priest that he’s so good at evangelizing!”, so instead we’re going to dare greatly together and try something a little out of left field, we’re going to participate in an activity together that I hope helps illustrate what I mean.
In a moment, I want you to take a sheet of paper and a pen (they’ve been set out amongst the pews) and on one side I want you to write in a just a couple words or so, a time in your life when you were at your lowest, a time in your life when you were Bartimaeus, a blind beggar sitting in the dirt and mud.
Then, when you have that, I want you to turn the sheet over and as you turn it over, think of where you are today, what God did to transform you, how your crying out in faith was answered and you were healed. This is a personal question and if you aren’t quite ready to share yet, that is ok, but do please know that we see you, hold you, and hear your story even if it’s only on our hearts.
I’ll give you an example.
For my sheet this looks like on one side I have written self-centered, my lowest point, but through the transformative power of God, I am now God-centered (the other side of my sheet).
Now I invite you to take a few minutes and write your own experience. In a couple minutes I will ask for a few people to share their story so we can share in the power that is the sharing of our stories from the crowd.
Thank you all for showing where our cry to God has been answered with radical healing, radical love.
If you are stuck, if you only identify with Bartimaeus the blind beggar and not Bartimaeus the miraculously healed man, know that we all here love you, that we all here are with you as you walk this path, as you seek to find that transformative moment with Christ, with God.
We all have the ability to speak the truth of our faith, the transformative experience of God that we have had, to name our own journey to love with the living God, wherever it takes us, and name the presence of the Holy in the journeys of other people we encounter. We all have the ability to speak out and own our faith as Bartimaeus, to speak out against the pressure of the crowd and be rewarded with healing, with love and grace, with eternal life. Go now and spread the Good News that is life in Christ, and know that we all stand with you as you go against the crowd.