“Insight” 03/08/2020 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Psalm 51 and Mark 10: 46-52


          What a difference a week can make.  I don’t know if it true for you, but this week brought the coronavirus center stage for me.  As such, this week has been about cleanliness.  I have a container of wipes on my desk.  I have hand sanitizer in my purse.  I wipe down the handle of  my grocery cart, pull down my sleeve to cover my hand before reaching to open a door, and I am full on training myself to keep hands away from my face.  

         This week, I found myself also among those who literally spun on our heals in the prepared foods section of Whole Foods when we heard someone sneeze. 

         So seriously am I taking this call for cleanliness that I even sent myself home on Wednesday when I started feeling a bit off and unwell.  (No worries, it did not turn into anything and I am completely 100% today.)

         So, with this emphasis on cleanliness this week, I have to say it did not surprise me in the least when I turned to our scripture only to find that cleanliness is also the cry of the psalmist today.  The psalmist cries out for a good scrub, a wash, a purge with a bit of hyssop thrown in.  The psalmist cries out and while I recognize that his wail is not about finding yet another grocery store shelf devoid of Purell, his cry for cleanliness is nonetheless, as equally urgent as our own.   His cry, like ours, comes from a very deep place, and in a very real way is a matter of life and death.    

         But before we go any further, Let us pray. Holy One, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – Be within my words and within the meditations of all of our hearts, that we may find ourselves in your presence this day.  For it is in you that we live and move and have our being.  Amen

         We are told and I fully believe that if we are going to find our way through this pandemic we are facing, we will need to keep front and center not only that which is going to promote and safeguard our own health and thriving, but also that which is going to promote and safe guard the thriving of others. This pandemic is making abundantly clear that our personal health is tied to the health of all.  Our personal thriving is tied to the thriving of all.  This pandemic is not from God at all, let me be clear about that, but I am seeing something of God in how this pandemic may be reminding us about how we are to be with each other if we are going to find our way through the challenge that this pandemic presents as well as other global challenges.  

         Finding our way through the challenges we face, is after all, what I believe the life of Jesus was all about.

         You have heard me say that the early followers of Jesus called themselves not Christians, that would come later, but instead the followers of Jesus  called themselves “The Way.”  Very early on, it was well understood that Jesus came to show us how to make our way through life in a way that would share in the life giving power  and presence of God. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is always pointing, not to himself, but to the power and presence of God that flows through him. He showed us the way to being who we are created to be requires that we also be fully present to each other and to our God.      

         This need for Jesus to come into the world to show us the Way, implies of course we had lost track of what this Way looked like.  God may have laid down a Way of wholeness and thriving in the very fabric of creation, but it did not take us long to lose sight of it.  It did not take us long to become blind to what living in wholeness looks like. 

         In Jesus’ day, perhaps in ours as well, people were locked into a “winner take all” mentality — that dominance was the name of the game and that if there were to be winners than that necessitated that there also be losers.  In order for some to thrive, others had to lose.  If Rome was on top then the Hebrew people were on bottom and the only way out of that was to turn the tables and get on top.

         Freeing people from this way of seeing each other and the world, this zero sum game of winners and loser is the liberating work that Jesus engaged.  Over and over again in the Gospels we see Jesus with word and action trying to open the eyes of his disciples and to help them see a new way (which is the oldest of ways) of being.  Just before our passage for today, Jesus disciples James and John, the sons of Zebeddee,  are angling for positions of power in Jesus cabinet.  They ask him, can they please sit at his right and left hand when he comes into his power?  Their brazenness stirs up the hackles of the other disciples, but Jesus just shakes his head at how they are projecting the way of the world onto Jesus instead of internalizing the Way of Jesus  and letting his way of service and love others transform how they are to see their way in the world.  

         If the way of Jesus is the Way of life and thriving for all creation and if this way is to be ours as well as the Church gathered in Jesus name then it may be helpful to spend some time this morning considering what are the characteristics that Jesus embodied, characteristics that are the hallmarks of the Way of Jesus. Today we see quite clearly one of those characteristics of the Way of Jesus.  Today we see mercy.   

         The Greek and Hebrew words that are translated as mercy also can be translated as forgiveness, compassion, kindness, steadfast love.  Mercy speaks to the reconciliation and fortification of relationship. Mercy speaks to the bond that holds us one to another.  Mercy, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, the steadfast love of God is the understood Biblically to be the connective tissue of the universe. 

         It is by sharing in this mercy, by partaking in this forgiveness, compassion kindness and steadfast love that we will find our way not only to healing and wholeness, but also the meaning and purpose of our lives.  For it is a life lived for the well-being of others that is a life well lived.

         Bartimaeus did not have much of a life when we first meet him.  Bartimaeus had been kicked to the curb.  Blind, and poor he was tolerated to the degree that he was willing to be overlooked. 

         Bartimaeus I am sure was well schooled in the space that he was allotted, but when Jesus walked by all of that changed. Suddenly, though blind, he saw a way to wholeness and fullness of life that had been lost to him.  He saw a way that was possible and so he found the courage to cry!  Blind Bartimaeus had nothing to lose and perhaps that is why he was able to be so bold in overturning convention.  Suddenly he is crying out, refusing to be shushed and then, he leaps up letting his cloak fall way and runs in his nakedness to the one who was ready to midwife him into newness of life.  He may be blind but he sees something those that are following Jesus are not able or willing to see.

         And what is that?  What are we to learn from Bartimaeus and from the psalmist this morning? 

         I think Bartimaeus and the psalmist model humility for us.  They model being in touch with our own needs and crying out for mercy.  They model what it is to be in touch which our own vulnerability and not being ashamed of it.  Of recognizing our own need for forgiveness and for the willingness to not just see but to learn from those among us who know what it is to have been kicked to the curb but who have refused to stay there.

         The cry of Bartimaeus and the cry of the psalmist, this cry of a contrite heart that refuses invisibility is the threshold from which the mercy of Jesus and the steadfast love of the God unfolds. 

         Pastor and teacher, Mary Luti writes on this passage saying:  a contrite heart is “Not a heart always wallowing in guilt, mind you. Not a perpetually self-abasing or gloomily self-loathing heart. No wailing, breast-beating, or sackcloth and ashes. Just a heart that isn’t shocked by its own mistakes, but assumes them as a baseline human fact. A heart that, in a mysterious way of speaking, welcomes frailty as a God-magnet. A heart that knows failure is one of the best friends the soul could have.”  A heart that knows it needs others in order to know what it is to be fully itself.

         Let me end by sharing a story.

         This Wednesday, as I was wrestling with my own vulnerability and whether I ought to go home or not, the buzzer of the church door rang.  I got up out of my chair and heading down the stairs to open the front door and found one who I will call Joe on our threshold. 

         I have known Joe for a number of years now.  He stops by every few months to share with me how he is doing.  I had not seen Joe for a a while and was a bit shocked by how thin and grissled he appeared.  We are the same age but he appeared to have been aged beyond his years since the last time I had seen him. He was bent and weary.

          I have heard much of his story and have learned that he has not had an easy life.  He has found himself sidelined and struggling over and over again. But I have seen such goodness in him and have delighted in his visits.  So it was not without joy that I greeted Joe and welcomed him into my study. 

         He settled into his chair and began to share with me about what was going on with him, but within in a couple of minutes he stopped.  He stopped. Leaned forward and really looking at me with an intensity that made me look away, he said “What wrong?  Something is not right with you.  I can see it in your eyes. What is wrong?” 

         I confessed to him that I was not feeling really well, that I was feeling off, but before I could go on he stood up and said “Go home.  You go home and get some rest.  .You are not yourself and I need you to be yourself so go home and rest.”  And with that he turned and left. 

         We need each other. We need to see and be seen by each other.  We need to realize that our thriving depends on the thriving of all.

So let cry out in our need and let our cry be heard by each other. Let us see each other and let us be seen by each other.  Let our vulnerability be the doorway to mercy so that through compassion, kindness and steadfast love of God we may too may learn to walk in the Way and find in it the fullness and thriving of life that is not only our hearts cry but the cry of all God’s people.  Thanks be to God. Amen.