October 25, 2015

Bartimaeus & Our Call as Christians

Proper 25B, RCL

A group of us have been exploring the Gospel of Mark, both on Sunday mornings at 10am and on Wednesdays at 11am. We have often marveled at all of the amazing ways Jesus heals people. Sometimes he lays hands on them; sometimes he wipes spit in their eyes or he touches their ears. Many times, the person who is sick isn’t even present, but it’s the faith of the one who asks for healing that moves Jesus to act. Sometimes he utters a word or two about their healing, sometimes he simply tells them they are well. He sometimes takes the person by the hand, and as in today’s Gospel lesson, he simply says the word, and they are restored to health.
I love the story of Bartimaeus because it’s the same people who are hushing him suddenly tell him to get up and go because Jesus is calling him. He makes a simple request to Jesus, to see again, and Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.” Then Bartimaeus does something that only happens in a couple of other places in Scripture: He follows Jesus. There are a several places where the healed person wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus says no. In my reading of this story, Bartimaeus doesn’t even give Jesus a chance to tell him to stay in Jericho. Bartimaeus is already on his way!
Have you ever had that level of gratitude? To God? To someone else? The level of gratitude that causes you to change your whole perspective and even leave the place you are, physically or emotionally and spiritually? For a blind person such as Bartimaeus, there wasn’t much in the way of employment or trade, so he was left to beg for his daily bread. Even though he can now see, that doesn’t mean the place he is isn’t familiar to him, that he wouldn’t have a chance at redemption and a new start in Jericho. But instead, he opts to leave what is familiar and follow Jesus.
I see in the story of Bartimaeus two of the most important aspects of our call as Christians: To do our part in acting with the same compassion Jesus acted, and to live a life of gratitude for what God has given to us.
We have been talking about Stewardship the past several weeks, both in our sermons as well other publications. Today is the day that we hope you have brought your pledge card so we can begin making plans for 2016. It certainly takes money to turn the lights on, maintain an old building, pay for staff, music, Sunday School curriculum, and a myriad of other “costs of doing business.” So from a practical standpoint, by giving the Vestry an idea of what you intend to contribute to Christ Church in the year to come, it helps them to make a budget.
From a spiritual standpoint, you are helping us, the Vestry and staff, be good stewards of those resources which you give. We are constantly looking at how we are practicing good stewardship of finances, and also of the time and talent that is in our midst as well. Part of my plan in calling the fourth Sunday of each month “Stewardship Sunday” is to be transparent in promoting all the ways we make a good faith effort, and I would say very often experience success, at being good stewards of our finances, our building, our people, and our creation. During our annual meeting on November 8th, I will say a little more about each of those areas.
Stewardship is, as I’ve said on several occasions, everything we do after we say “We believe.”  Stewardship is how we respond with gratitude, even the gratitude of Bartimaeus, to what God has given us in our lives. We give back to God out of thanks, not because God gives us a bill. I think it’s fair to say that God loves it when we recognize in both word and action what the Almighty has done for us, through us, and with us. I find my own walk with Christ more difficult when I do not acknowledge the presence and the action of God in my life.
Our Gospel story comes at the end of a whole section, about three chapters, where Jesus is dealing with people who are blind, both physically and spiritually. In showing compassion, Jesus opened Bartimaeus’ eyes to see a world he had not known. What would happen if we allowed Jesus to open our eyes to see his hand at work in the world around us? What if Jesus could open our eyes to see those around us who were in need, spiritually as well as physically? It happens, you know. In big ways and small ways. It happened here a number of years ago when several people say the need for ministry to children who have a parent in prison. Camp Hope was born out of seeing that need, and parishioners at Christ Church (and some beyond Christ Church) have responded to that need to the tune of over $20,000 per year over and above what their contribution to Christ Church may be to pay for these young people to experience the love of God in Christian Community. As Camp Hope has grown, so has the recognition that many of the young people served by Camp Hope need our attention and care during the other 51 weeks of the year than when they are at camp.
This past Monday, the Vestry endorsed proceeding with a plan, written and presented by Terry Brubaker, to launch an after-school program next Fall. This is not just a dream of Terry’s, but something that God has put in her heart and given her the wherewithal to work towards it’s reality. This program is a natural expansion of Camp Hope. The budgeting for Terry’s plan calls again for funding beyond our budget, meaning contributions in the same manner as people support Camp Hope. I would challenge us to fund this initiative from our budget. As Camp Hope’s presence and impact have expanded, our embrace of this ministry should expand as well so that we fund, as a form of outreach, a portion of the after-school program. It would be a faithful response to our call to act with the same compassion as Jesus by responding with gratitude for what God has given us. And don’t worry. There will be plenty of opportunity to give of time and talent to this program as well. J
            So many of you have given back to this place for so many years, and for so many reasons, not the least of which is the recognition that God is at work in your life and in the life of Christ Church. You’ve enabled Christ Church to act with compassion to those in need, and to help live out the Good News of Jesus Christ. And for that, I thank you.
            We are not finished with 21015 yet, but I am already looking forward to all the ways we will continue to live out that faithfulness in 2016 and beyond.

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