Preacher’s Note: This past Sunday, I preached a disjointed, and somewhat emotional sermon (even more emotional than usual). This is not the sermon I had intended to preach, and was preached extemporaneously and “raw.” To ignore the violence wrought upon Jews in Pennsylvania as they had worshipped just a few hours earlier, seemed unconscionable to me. Several people have asked for the text of the sermon, and since one did not exist, I transcribed the audio (thanks Dragon software!). I have edited what I preached to make it read a bit better, but I have not attempted to smooth out the very rough transitions. My guess is the power of the sermon had more to do with the grief and anger I was feeling than with any profundity in the words I said, but in any event, here are the words. May God continue to have mercy on a nation reaping the fruit of its addiction to violence.
Gospel Reading: Mark 10:46-52
On the best of occasions a sermon represents a confluence of at least three different streams: what’s going on in the Scriptures appointed for the day (because hopefully the preacher has looked at those scriptures ahead of Sunday!); what’s going on in the world around us, and what’s going on in our local community. And hopefully, the preacher can weave from those three streams a unified, somewhat coherent homily, that makes it from beginning to end in the prescribed 12 minutes. That’s not going to be what happens this morning.
I have found this sermon difficult, even though I have been rejoicing all week for having “happy readings” from the Hebrew Scriptures, including a hopeful reading from the Psalms. I’ve been happy about this because so many Episcopalians think the Hebrew Scriptures are too dour to bother with. Today, though, I was going to preach on these hopeful and happy texts — where God’s people are gathered from Exile; where those who’ve gone out weeping now come home rejoicing! They have the songs of Zion on their lips. They are filled with joy because of the redeeming power of their God!
Today’s texts, my friends, seem to stand in stark contrast to the events in Pittsburgh yesterday. Once again a house of worship has been violated by hate and violence. And we are all too familiar with that. It feels like a never-ending litany from the AME church in Charleston, to the Baptist Church in Texas, and some of us may be old enough to remember the children who lost their lives in a church bombing in the early 1960s. Here in our own community, at the Sikh temple, we saw it happen.
I like what the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh said in his letter to his people yesterday. He said he was offended that the news media continued to call events like these tragedies. They are not tragedies. A tragedy is something that moves to an irrevocable end. These are not tragedies; these are moments of hate. They are inspired by hate. They are carried out in hate, and there is no justification for them.
Lost in the violence of yesterday, was the violence of earlier this week, when two people were shot and killed in Kentucky because they made the mistake of shopping while black. The person who did it made racist comments, and according to the news had tried earlier to gain entrance into a black Baptist church. Hate.
Before that, our news feeds were filled with reports of thwarted violence as would-be explosive devices were sent in the mail to people across the country. And I don’t care where you are on the political perspective, this is not the time for politicizing any of these actions. We are a nation reaping the fruit of hatred, sectarianism prejudice, and violence. And we cannot just pin it on “a few crazy individuals.”
We share as the people of God in a mission, and that mission is a mission of peace, a mission of grace, a mission of mercy, and a mission of truth-telling. We are called, people of God, not simply to shake our heads, and bow them in some sort of sad, pitiful display. As our opening hymn challenges us, at times like these, we must ask God to grant us wisdom and grant us courage. Let’s face the hour, and not run from it. And not hide from it either.
Seemingly unrelated to this week’s events is our Gospel reading:
Jesus is on the move to Jerusalem, for what will be his final trip. A trip that will end in his death. He and his disciples go through the town of Jericho, and a blind beggar gets wind of it. The beggar begins to shout, “Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me!” The crowd tries to hush him up, and the more they try to hush him up, the more he cries, “Jesus, Son of David! Have mercy on me!”
And the Gospel writer says Jesus stood still. There’s only one other time in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus stands still, and that’s when the woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years touched his garment and received healing. Jesus stands still, and says, “Bring him to me.” I love this next part — the crowd goes from hushing the blind man, and instead becomes his cheerleader! “Take heart! Get up! He is calling for you!”
“What do you want?” Jesus asks. “That I will see again,” the man replies. And Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.” Then Mark uses his favorite word — IMMEDIATELY the man sees!
Jesus heals a number of blind people across the various Gospel accounts, and I’m one of those folks who believe those stories literally. You don’t have to, but I do. Jesus speaks the word of healing, and the people are healed. But beyond an individual miracle for a blind beggar named Bartimeaus, there’s a larger story going on. You see, when Jesus heals the blind, he is witnessing to the coming kingdom of God where people see clearly. The blind man sees, but the religious leadership fails to see who is in their midst. The blind man receives his sight, but people with closed minds remain blind to the power of God in their presence.
I believe this morning, in light of what is happening around us, the word of the crowd to Bartimeaus is a word to us: “Take heart! Have courage! Get up! Jesus is calling!”
Jesus is not calling for a church to remain behind the walls; to remain timid; to remain afraid; to remain locked down in our own worry about how some people would react if we actually took a stand. God is calling. Get up!
How will we get up? How will we follow the call of Jesus to be witnesses to God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s peace? How will we do that?
For some of us it might be activism;
For some of us might be having conversations with neighbors and friends;
For some of us it might be contributing to a cause that seeks to bring us together instead of tearing us apart;
For some of us it may be praying, and I do not believe praying to be an empty activity!
I believe that prayer does have an effect! Prayer has an effect on us, and as prayer has an effect on us, we can have an effect on others. For God’s sake, people of God, don’t remain on the sideline. Get up. Have courage. Jesus is calling.
As many of you know, today is the day that the Stewardship Committee has named Commitment Sunday. (Like I said, this sermon wouldn’t be together!)
Those of you who have brought pledges are going to be invited in a moment to bring them forward. Honestly, I believe in light of all that we’re living through, this is a profound moment. This is not about keeping the clubhouse going! This is not about paying bills! This is about this place along with other houses of worship — other churches, other synagogues, other temples and mosques — being points of light in a world of darkness. Being places that say by our very presence, “We stand against hate! We stand against violence! We stand against destruction!”
We are about being witnesses in God’s world to God’s truth. I hope that, as you bring your pledges forward, it won’t be just about fulfilling another obligation. I hope it will be with prayer and commitment that we will not rest until God’s kingdom comes. That we will not rest until peace triumphs over hate. We have been called. We have been empowered through the waters of baptism, and the Spirit which will never leave us. God is calling. Let’s get up.
PS: If you are interested in listening to the audio version of this sermon, you will find it by copying and pasting this link in your browser: https://trinitywauwatosa.org/worship/audio-recordings/october-2018/