Sermon: Ordinary 30
Text: Mark 10 46-52
Go, your faith has saved you”
In the name of the +Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Once upon a time (and doesn’t it fill you with dread when a sermon begins with ‘once upon a time’) but still, Once upon a time, Bartimeaus, the blind beggar who features in this morning’s story, could see. He was full of life, and I suppose we can assume, full of hope.
Then something happened to him, and he lost his sight: disease, accident, we don’t know; but bereft of sight his options in life collapsed and he ended up begging by the roadside.
These days, blindness is not nearly so catastrophic, and those with diminished sight certainly do lead full, enriched, happy and productive lives; but then, it was very different: no sight, no work, no work, no food – a very direct relationship. So Bartimeaus sat by the roadside hoping that someone would pity him and would fill his bowl with food, or give him a few coins to purchase what everyone needs.
As anyone on the streets of Leeds, Manchester or London will tell you, Bartimeaus had a hard life. There was little sympathy for those who were blinded. Some thought that it was the fault of the blind person: that they had been struck blind because of some sin or wickedness; others simply felt you were a drain on society, a social parasite – best ignored, best left begging by the roadside.
Because Bartimeaus was blind, he was in many people’s eyes, less than human. He had become an object: an object to be pitied, or cursed, or ignored. Bartimeaus was therefore stuck at the side of the road outside Jericho, with the world passing him by.
How many of us, I wonder feel as Bartimeaus must have felt? How many of us feel that the world is passing us by? Prevented by one reason or another from fully participating in the life that goes on around us.
I am sure that many of us feel trapped in the life we have, in our jobs, in our relationships, trapped in the body we have; unable to break free, unable to change things…
And how many of us, finding ourselves in that position, do anything about it? How many of us reach out for help?
How many of us find out our friends and our neighbours and confide in them our feelings, our needs? How many of us actually ask our families for help when we need it? How many of us even think to reach out to God and ask that he help?
Sometimes we suffer, not because the situation cannot be overcome, but because we are afraid to ask for help, we don’t want to be a burden on others, or perhaps we do not want to seem weak in the eyes of other people.
You will be able to think of your own examples, but:
I know of someone who will not tell his wife how troubled he is, because he thinks she will not be interested in his plight, as she has so many troubles of her own to bear.
I know of several people who will not seek help for their addiction to alcohol, or drugs, because they cannot admit to themselves that their problems have become bigger than they are.
I know of young people who have a hard time coping with life because they will not approach their parents or their teachers because they are afraid that they will get into trouble or even worse, be ignored if they do.
I can think very readily of someone who will not pray for God to come to her help because she thinks he has more important things to do than listen to her.
However, if we have the courage and most importantly the faith to reach out to God and ask Him to help us, he shows us that he does have the time to deal with us, and to comfort us in our times of need.
This is a hard thing to do, for it takes courage, it takes faith and it takes, much as Bartimeaus has shown us, perseverance: the path through to God and through to His salvation is beset by those wanting to detract us, those trying to quieten us down and keep us in our place: keep us begging by the roadside.
We have to realise that there are times when we all need help, times when we must turn to other people and turn to God. The Good News, is that there is no situation in life which is so bad that someone cannot help us with it in some small way, that someone cannot help us to overcome it, or to help us bear it.
“This is something I have to face on my own” is a supremely selfish position to take.
We really do never have to face things on our own; for even if we cannot find someone else amongst our partners, our family, our friends or society in general, then we have the assurance that if we turn to God, he will be there. Even at the greatest hour of crisis, in the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord knelt and prayed.
The devout priest was caught in a flood one day, and he climbed onto the roof of his Vicarage and as the water started lapping up over the roof he prayed “Lord, deliver me from this flood”.
The water continued to rise and a policeman in a rowing boat passed: “Can I help you Vicar?” “No thanks, the Lord will deliver me!”
A little while later, the water is even higher, and the Vicar is up to his waist, even standing on his roof. A lifeboat cruises past, and the coxwain shouts out “Can I help you, Vicar?” “No Thanks” was his reply “The Lord will deliver me – I’ve prayed for it”
After another few minutes, the water has risen so much that only the Vicar’s head is peeping out from above the water and a helicopter flies over. The pilot leans out and calls “Can I help you Vicar?” “No thanks, the Lord will deliver me!”
At which point, the water rises over the Vicar’s head and he drowns.
When the Vicar arrives at the gates of heaven and faces St Peter he is furious: “I’ve been a most serious and devout priest all my life, devoted to prayer and good works – why didn’t God answer my prayers. “Oh,” says Peter “That ‘s strange: we sent two boats and a helicopter after you…”
God does not always answer our prayers in the way we want them to, for as the prophet Isaiah recorded:
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, my ways, says the LORD.”
We may find this difficult to accept, but sometimes the answer to our prayers is not always what we expect. There is a strand of thought that suggests that if God doesn’t give you what you want it is because you havn’t prayed hard enough, or have been sinful and so your prayers are diminished in some way, but this is wholly wrong: this is the sort of blame culture that said that Bartimaeus was responsible for his blindness.
No, God will always answer prayer in a way that is appropriate for us. He will always give us what we need, and will always give us the strength to bear what we must bear, and more than that, bear it so well that our world and those around us changes because of it.
This is the lesson of the Garden of Gethsemane and the lesson of every dark night of the soul. It is the lesson of the Cross and of the tomb and all the suffering we may have to bear. It is what lies behind the transfiguration, what lies behind the resurrection on Easter morning and what lies behind the life that Jesus Christ promises us: “I came that you may have life, life to the full”
Did he not also promise us this:
“Come all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Seek and you will find, Knock and the door will be opened to you. Ask, and you will receive.”
These are the promises of Christ that he kept for people like Bartimeaus when he was on this earth and that he still keeps in heaven as he intercedes for us before the Throne of Grace.
Although it was Bartimeaus who was supposedly blind, he was able to see with stunning clarity what many others around him were unable to see: that Jesus Christ was amongst them: “Son of David” he called him, which was not merely an indication that Bartimeaus knew what clan Jesus was a member of, but that he was of the Royal line, and by implication the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Bartimeaus turned to Christ in his hour of need, as we must also turn to him in prayer at our hour of need.
Do you notice that Christ asks Bartimaeus what he wants, and Bartimaeus has to ask for his sight to be restored. Christ will not assume he knows what you want. You need to ask, and ask for what you really want. Bartimaeus could have asked for a million pounds or a sports car, or even his next meal, but he asked for his sight.
Bartimeaus was healed because he had the faith to ask of God that which he freely wishes to give us, but just like that celebrated Holman Hunt illustration, the Christ that stands outside the door and waits, requires us to reach out to him, to open the door to the Light of the World, to call out to Jesus Christ, and like Bartimeaus, it will then be “our faith that has saved us”.