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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Pentecost 20 – Year B

Oh Lord, uphold Thou me that I may uplift Thee. Amen

If you were here last Sunday then you heard the passage from Mark’s gospel where James and John the Sons of Zebedee approach Jesus and ask him a question. Jesus says to these two disciples – “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they reply – “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Give us power they say to Jesus. We want authority, prestige, influence; we want to know that when all of this is over, when you are victorious as the Messiah that we will have our reward. It is an amazing request and it stands in sharp contrast to our gospel reading for today.

Today we find Jesus and the disciples on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And like many of the pilgrims who made their way on this yearly Passover journey, they had to travel through the town of Jericho. There they find Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, waiting for them outside the gates of the city. Remember, in Jesus day there were no social service agencies. There was no disability or Social Security. There were no homeless shelters or organizations created to help the blind. No, if you were a disabled man like Bartimaeus then you were on your own. And since a blind man could not work he was forced to plead for alms. Bartimaeus was a beggar and he specifically placed himself outside of the city in order to have access to the many pilgrims passing that way. It would be much like someone panhandling in Grand Central Station – there is a lot of traffic and the prospects for making a little money are always good.

Somehow, Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is coming down the road. He knows about Jesus and his miraculous healings. Bartimaeus calls out to him but he is hushed by the crowd. Jesus is surrounded by people, he is always surrounded by people and everyone assumes that Jesus is much too busy to deal with a blind beggar. But Bartimaeus ignores the crowd and he continues to call to Jesus – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus hears him. He stops and calls Bartimaeus over. And here is something I find really fascinating, the part that binds our gospel from this Sunday to our gospel from last Sunday – Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?” Last week Jesus said – What do you want me to do for you Sons of Zebedee? This week he says – What do you want me to do for you Bartimaeus? The first two wanted influence and power. They wanted to know that one day they would get their due for following Jesus. But Bartimaeus – this man begging in the street who knows his blindness is the cause for all his life’s misery asks only to see again. “My teacher, let me see again,” Bartimaeus says. With a wave of his hand Jesus cures him and says, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

It seems to me the devil is winning these days. It seems to me that many within the Episcopal Church are acting more like James and John then they are like blind Bartimaeus. Parties within our Church and the Anglican Communion have staked out their positions, drawn their lines in the sand and dared anyone to cross them. Folks who hold polar opposite views each proclaim that they have Jesus on their side and they are willing to do whatever is necessary to have their way. Voices on the right are screaming – if Gene Robinson is consecrated bishop then we will leave the church. We will split the denomination and take as many people with us as possible because we are right, we have Jesus on our side, and we want our due. Voices on the left are declaring – Gene Robinson must be consecrated bishop it is the only right thing to do. We have Jesus on our side and though this action might pull apart our church and our relationships with the Anglican Communion it doesn’t matter. We are right, he should be bishop and we want our way. Like James and John too many people in this fight are saying – We want our due, we want what is coming to us, we want the place of honor. And the Devil did grin, for his darling sin is pride (that apes humility).

I despise this fight and the way it is pulling apart the very fabric of our church. I honor the issue and its importance but I hate the fight. There is too much pride involved. Too many people are sure they know exactly what Jesus wants. Gene Robinson is sure God is calling him to go forward with his consecration as bishop. Other bishops are sure God is calling them to separate themselves from what they call the sinful, biblically unorthodox Episcopal Church. All of it seems a little arrogant to me. Such certainty looks more like good old human hubris than it does divine inspiration. Sure we can have our positions and we can be passionate about them. But to be so sure about something that you are willing to break the church? That doesn’t seem like justice to me – it seems more like recklessness. What we need is less James and John and more Bartimaeus. “What is it you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. “My teacher, let me see again” Bartimaeus responded.

Bartimaeus knew he was blind. His affliction humbled him and he knew he needed nothing so much as to be able to see. James and John should have more rightly asked Jesus for the same thing. They were just as blind as Bartimaeus – blinded by their own desires to have their own way, blinded by their need to secure and cling to power. They didn’t need to sit on the right and left hand of Christ in his kingdom; they needed to see, to see the truth, to see their own sins like logs in their eye, but they were blind, blind as bats, blind in ways far worse than Bartimaeus.

I think there are too many in and around this argument that are just as blind, blind to anything other than their own sense of what is right and what is wrong. I realize I make no friends on either side of this issue by saying this today – but I am tired of the hubris, the blind pride that seems to underlie so many of the comments that I read about. Why aren’t we all standing together in the midst of this and saying – Lord, we are all so blind – just help us to see. Certainly we can and should have our opinions but where is the humility that ought to go along with our certainty? We ought to be praying for vision, Christ’s vision, when instead many seem so intent on having their way, intent on sitting at Jesus right hand.

Now I have my own dog in this fight, my own personal opinions that I am happy to share with anyone. But I realize that in order for me to truly honor those with whom I disagree I must be humble enough to admit that maybe, just maybe, they may be right and I may be wrong. We have nothing if we cannot hold our views with humility. Humility has to undergird Christians who square off on any issue – because not one of us has a lock on Jesus Christ.

And the Devil did grin, for his darling sin is pride. In a few weeks, Gene Robinson is scheduled to be consecrated as Bishop of New Hampshire. In spite of many requests for him to back down, the bishop-elect feels called to move forward. Many have said that if he is consecrated our denomination may split and a fisher may open between the provinces of the Anglican Communion. The lines are drawn and it is a difficult time in the life of our church. In the long run, I know it will all be alright. Jesus is Lord and this is God’s church, God is in control and God will make of the Episcopal Church what God wants. But in the meantime, we need to pray – pray like Bartimaeus – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” For we are more blind than we know and more in need of healing than we can ever admit. Amen.

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