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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Following Bartimaeus Bartimaeus - October 25, 2015

Understandably and justifiably we Lutherans are quite defined by what we call the Reformation. The event that we use to mark the reformation of the church happened 499 years ago as Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the giant wooden doors of the church in Wittenburg, Germany. His call for reform, repentance and reflection in the Roman Catholic Church hit on a lot of the same issues that challenge us today – sin, repentance, abuse of power by human beings, economics and the distribution problems humans have created in God's great and everlasting abundance.

Beginning in his own neighborhood and the people with whom his own life intersected, Luther's work resounded of truth and justice to many. People who, for instance, were being terrorized and extorted into using all they had to buy forgiveness from the Pope for the souls of their dearly departed, who they believed were trapped in purgatory.

With All Saints day fast approaching next week – the time of the church year we set apart to remember our loved ones, our heroes, mentors and role models  – one reform is plainly evident to us. The people Luther was living with were frantic under the weight of figuring out how to afford the indulgences their deceased loved ones needed, according to the teaching of the church. Without these indulgences, these poor departed souls could be stuck in purgatory forever and never reach the Kingdom of God.

That is not the the church teaching for us. Next week we will sing and give thanks for the lives of the saints. We will smile at some of our memories and we will likely cry. But we'll also remember where we come from and why we courageously strive to live on and live into the belief that they are lovingly and graciously received into the the Kingdom of God – that they live in the midst of God's warm and healing balm for their wounded souls.

The money handed over to Rome for indulgences in Luther's time was being used by the Pope to pay off expensive and ambitious building projects in Rome – building projects on which the Vatican budget had been severely overextended. “They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory,” Luther charged in thesis No. 27..

From that event at those church doors sprung out what we now call the Reformation which resulted in a breaking away from Rome and certain human-borne doctrines that had shown themselves to be hurtful, punitive and damning for many, many people, while being quite lucrative and powerful for a small segment of God's very good creation.

And so I'll say it again, understandably and justifiably we Lutherans are quite defined by what we call the Reformation.  The Reformation is worthy of our desire to commemorate it as we do this weekend. But I think we have to be mindful to resist a way of understanding the Reformation as something that is complete, a stagnant occurrence that lives only through people, places and dates recorded in history texts. It is more fruitfully understood as an ongoing attitude of the church, of our lives together as the Eden faith community situated in the city of Munising, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, in the United States of America, on this continent of this planet in this galaxy of the universe.

If Luther were here today, I'm pretty sure he’d continually challenge the church, challenge us, to remain reflective, repentant and reforming. He'd be emboldening us to look beyond our own comforts and traditions and ask ourselves – are we being the church, the faith community, our world needs us to be? Beginning with our own neighborhood and the people with whom our lives intersect, how are we doing as part of the wider movement that began when Luther nailed 95 statements to that church door?

Saints and sinners, we remain, as does the need for a reflective, repentant and reforming church. 

That being said, we know that we will not go about the work of this movement –  this activity in the world –  perfectly. But we have a good and sound Scriptural heritage to draw on, Luther would also remind us, and we are richly blessed with stories to guide us, like our text today about the healing and the calling of Blind Bartimaeus. There's a lot of movement and activity in this story in which Jesus and the disciples came into and went out from Jericho.

They apparently picked up momentum as they passed through the town. They were continuing on their way to Jerusalem, in fact they are almost there. While going through Jericho  the energy of those following Jesus increased, the level of activity increased –  they went into Jericho as Jesus and the twelve. They came out “he and his disciples and a large crowd.”

Bartimaeus was not active though. He was sitting by the side of the road wrapped up in a cloak. The dust from the road likely clung to his cloak as he sat there – and also his hair, it would have gathered under his fingernails, added grime and shadow to the creases in his face … dust that compounded itself on the beggar day after day – making him more and more like dust himself and less like a person – he was becoming invisible.

But the dust got shaken – up and off – when Jesus and the twelve and the large crowd walked by on their Way out of Jericho and up toward Jerusalem.

The nearly invisible, blind, grimy beggar man named Bartimaeus sprang into action. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” the man cried out from underneath that cloak. The request is firm. It courageously connects Jesus to an anointed king, David. The people believed the Messiah would come from that lineage. Unlike the disciples who did not or could not fully see what will happen in Jerusalem, the blind beggar man is able to see exactly who Jesus is.

Jesus' followers try to quiet Bartimaeus, but it only prompts him to cry out more loudly. And then the movement changes. Jesus himself, the one who has his face set on Jerusalem and what he's told us will happen there, stops the movement of the crowd. “Jesus stood still,” and he responds to Bartimaeus right where he is sitting on that Way to Jerusalem.

Bartimaeus' name, by the way, means, literally, son of Timaeus. “Bar” in Hebrew means “son” ….  So, when people first heard what we hear or read as “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus,” they heard “ Son of Timaeus,  son of Timaeus.” It's like a little bread crumb trail to lead us more deeply into the text. Does Timaeus mean something else, you might wonder … as I did? Well, yes. It does.

It comes from a verb – the movement part of human language. The verb is τιμας  (tim as), which means either to set a price or value on something, or to show high regard for something. Perhaps the gospel writer is showing us the movement between those two definitions. The people of Jericho and those traveling along the Way with Jesus, had certainly set a price or value for Bartimaeus. He was of no value. But then Jesus comes along and changes that perception and shows high regard for Bartimaeus … he makes a space for his voice, raises him up out of the invisibility of the dust that is consuming his identity.

 He doesn't stop there. He makes his followers – the very ones who were trying to quiet the blind beggar – take part in that activity. He could have easily walked over to the man. But instead says, “Call him here,”

When Jesus calls him, the blind man throws off his cloak as if he's shedding a skin or a way of existing that no longer fits with the way he is perceived by those who pass him by on the road, the Way. It probably no longer fits the way Bartimaeus perceives himself or the world either.

And then Jesus asks him the same question he asked James and John last week. “What do you want me to do for you?”

But instead of expressing a desire to sit with Jesus in his glory and enjoy worldly power, Bartimaeus simply asks to be able to see again. Notice here another little bread crumb. Bartimaeus asks to see “again,”  implying that at one time he could see. But leaving us wondering what it was that happened to him … what took his sight.

Maybe because he could recognize, he breaks his silence … sure that God is at work in the world, even for the benefit of some dirty and nearly invisible beggar man in Jericho – a town one only passes through on the way to Jerusalem. “Go,” Jesus tells him. “Your faith has made you well.”

But Bartimaeus cannot “go.” Rather he leaves his dusty cloak of invisibility, blindness and inactivity on the side of the road and follows Jesus – to Jerusalem, to the cross and to the reality of that third day when Jesus will rise from death in a tomb and the extent of God's reforming activity in the world is revealed.

And so in our quest to continue in our roots of being a reforming church set in motion 499 years ago, we are inspired by Bartimaeus to push for a church that is truly embodied in Christ, that recognizes and stops for the invisible, dust-covered forgotten ones along the way. That sees the face of Jesus in all those we meet. That reflects on where we have become blinded and asks for healing. That challenges us to throw off our own  dusty cloaks of invisibility, blindness and inactivity to follow Jesus to death on the cross and the promise of new life in the wide open Kingdom of God that has been revealed.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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