“Your Faith Has Made You Well” – Sermon for October 25, 2015

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“Lord, that I might see!”, sculpture at Matyas-templom (Matthias Church), Budapest, Hungary, 1970

“Lord, that I might see!”, sculpture at Matyas-templom (Matthias Church), Budapest, Hungary, 1970

“Your Faith Has Made You Well”

A Sermon on Mark 10:46-52 for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (Reformation Sunday & Heritage Sunday); preached October 25, 2015, by the Rev. Matthew Emery, Senior Minister

Wir sind Bettler; das ist wahr.” As the story goes, these were the last words from the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther before he died. “Wir sind Bettler; das ist wahr.”—“We are beggars. That is true.” Like most stories told of famous people, there are some variations out there. Some say it was on a scrap of paper found in Luther’s pocket after he died; others place the note on Luther’s desk, the words coming at the end of perhaps a longer thought sketched down the day before he died. All the tellings agree on the words, though. “We are beggars; that is true.”—Luther’s last testimony.

Admittedly a rather humble observation to come as the last word from someone as confident and significant as was Martin Luther. It had been merely 28 and a half years since that fateful day at the end of October, 1517, when he posted his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg… but in those 28 years, the whole of the Western world had changed.

Now, 28 years sounds like a good amount of time to us these days; a lot can change in 28 years nowadays. Go back 28 years ago from today, and you’d still be 8 years before the World Wide Web even came into existence. The Berlin Wall still stood, and the Soviet Union was still our enemy. A gallon of gasoline cost 95¢[1] and a year’s tuition and fees here at UConn was about twenty-one hundred dollars ($2,100).[2] A lot changes these days in 28 years. But we have to remember, change didn’t happen so quickly back in the 1500s. Twenty-eight years isn’t such a long time when it takes weeks or even months just to get a letter from one end of the kingdom to the other. And then add into that the fact that the work that Martin Luther engaged in had to do with change in the church…? My, my, my, 28 years isn’t very long, my friends. After all, they say that the church measures time in millennia.

In these short 28 years, the unity of the Christian church across Europe—something that had been a given for nearly a thousand years—it was torn apart. In Luther’s Germany, each prince and nobleman was choosing for their lands whether the church would s Roman or Protestant. John Calvin and the magistrates in Geneva were reforming the churches of French-speaking Switzerland, their thoughts would soon sweep through the churches of the Netherlands and Scotland as well, and Henry the Eighth, had already commandeered control of the church in England. Political leaders and religious leaders danced a complicated tango, each seeing the other as a tool for advancing their agenda. Bibles were suddenly available in languages the people could actually read. Rituals were reshaped. Music was messed-with. Sanctuaries were stripped bare. Moreover, the political and intellectual ferment that was made possible, at least in part, because of the Protestant Reformation, it would forever change the course of history in Western Europe and around the world. A lot had changed in 28-and-a-half short years.

And yet, after all that Martin Luther had seen and said in those years—and let it be known that he was rather good friends with bombast and boldness, and perhaps more than his fair share of crankiness and vitriol—when death approached his 62-year-old body, his parting thought was still rooted in the profound humility before God that had gotten everything started in the first place.

“We are beggars. This is true.”

Which could sound like a dour and depressing truth.

Until, that is, you meet Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus, the blind beggar beside the road as Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd left Jericho on the very final leg of the journey that would take them to Jerusalem, to the palms, to Pilate, to the Passion. Bartimaeus, the one who, when bystanders ordered him to be quiet, cried out all the more loudly. Bartimaeus, the one who had nothing to give but a simple plea for mercy, and an excited rush to come when he was called, and a bare faith-filled hope for healing: “my teacher, let me see again.”

“We are beggars. This us true.”

But you see, my friends, it is none other than beggar to whom Jesus comes. It is none other than the beggar whom Jesus heals. It is none other than the beggar who ends up following Jesus on the way.

Now, I don’t want to romanticize either poverty or disability; both can be very hard roads in life to navigate. But at least in the case of this particular blind beggar, in the case of Bartimaeus, you can’t help but notice how free he is. “Free to defy his neighbors. Free to call for help. Free to make his needs known to Jesus. Free.” As one preacher observes, “Perhaps he’s suffered enough, or feels like there’s nothing left to lose, or just doesn’t care anymore. Or perhaps he just senses—or, really, sees—that in the presence of Jesus all the rules change and he is no longer ‘Blind Bartimaeus’ but instead ‘Bartimaeus, Child of God.’ Whatever the reason, he knows he is free and seizes his faith and his courage to live into that freedom[,] and Jesus says that’s what made him well.”[3]

It can be tempting on a day like today—this day we here in this church are observing as our “Heritage Sunday”, this day that many of our fellow Protestant sisters and brothers are observing as “Reformation Sunday”—it can be tempting to simply tout our triumphs and revel in all our grand achievements as a congregation or as a historical tradition. But our heritage encompasses more than that. We have wandered through the desert, too, and stood at the edge of the valley of despair. Here in this congregation, we now wrestle with how much of our resources to give onward to the wider mission and ministry of the church, in light of the whole of our budget realities, but those who know the story can remind us that we actually spent a significant portion of our history as a congregation that received the support of the wider church rather than gave to it. We now worry about the number of people in the pews and kids in the Sunday School, or we get nervous about where we’re going to find the resources to do all we hope to do and be all we hope to be as a congregation, or we get anxious that we’re either changing too much too quickly or not changing enough to stay relevant to the world around us… but ours is not the first generation in this place to face such anxieties. After all, ours is a congregation that at one point in its history decided they needed to tear down and build a new church because the old one was too big.

These stories are a part of our heritage, too, and I think they’re important to remember. Not because I want to depress you this morning—I think the gloomy weather outside is probably enough for that today. But you see, the trouble when we focus solely on our achievements and accomplishments, our times of triumph and our possessions of which we’re proud and our moments when we’ve been marvelousness, is that we can be tricked into thinking that those things define us. Sure, they describe us, they are a part of our story. So too are our faults and foibles and outright failures, our illnesses and diseases, our disappointments and hurts and broken relationships. All these things—the good and the bad—they may describe us. But they do not define us.

You are not simply the sum of your plusses and minuses, your good and bad times. We as a church are not our collection of buildings and pastors, celebrations and conflicts, or even our missions and ministries. All of these things describe us. None of these things define us. “Nothing we have done or [that] has been done to us captures who we are completely. Only one thing can do that: God, the creator and sustainer of all. And God has chosen to call us beloved children, holy and precious in God’s sight. That’s what defines us.”[4]

“We are beggars. That is true.” Martin Luther was right, of course. But let us never forget that it was, in fact, the beggar to whom Jesus came on the road that day. It was us beggars—all of us in our broken humanity—to whom God came in Jesus, the one in whom our blindness to who God truly is and who we truly are is healed. It was as One accounted not much more than a beggar that Jesus stood in solidarity with us on the cross, opening his arms wide to embrace us all.

“Your faith has made you well,” Jesus tells Bartimaeus. Really, when it comes right down to it, his faith was all that Bartimaeus had to offer. And it was enough, because of who God is and because of who God has decided we all are. That, my friends, is our true heritage. No matter whether the moment is good or bad, whether the treasure seems abundant or scarce, whether the struggle seems easy or hard… our heritage, our history, our home is in God, the one who calls us from the sidelines, the one who heals us where we’re broken, the one who gives us the power to follow Jesus on the way.

And for any of us who ever join in the beggar’s plea, “my teacher, let me see again”… that is quite the sight to behold.

 

Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto God, now and forever. Amen.

 


 

[1] http://www.1980sflashback.com/1987/economy.asp

[2] University of Connecticut Office of Institutional Research, Fact Book: 1987-88 (Storrs, CT: University of Connecticut, 1987), 2; accessed 24 October 2015 at http://digitalcommons.uconn.edu/upub_factbks/12

[3] David Lose, “Reformation Sunday/Pentecost 22 B: Freedom!”, …in the Meantime (blog), 17 October 2015; accessed 24 October 2015 at http://www.davidlose.net/2015/10/reformationpen-22-freedom/. Emphasis added.

[4] Ibid.

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