Sermon from 10.25.15

Gospel Text: Mark 10:46-52

"Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way."

Sermon: "Even More Loudly"

There’s a poetic set of verses in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes about a time and place for everything...a time for every purpose under heaven. In chapter 3, verse 8, the writer states, “there’s a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

Today’s Gospel text from Mark is about speaking up, it’s also about listening. It’s a text about how both are important. Jesus frees us to do both. To speak up and to be quiet.

Both can be challenging. Both can take courage. Sometimes the bravest thing is to speak. Sometimes the bravest thing is to stop and listen.

In our Gospel text, Bartimaeus is the one who speaks up. He’s on the roadside - a blind beggar - the lowest of the low in this time period. Neglected. Abandoned. He calls out to Jesus. Then, verse 48 states, “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet.” It’s not a compassionate crowd. They’re annoyed by Bartimaeus. They likely thought of him as an annoyance - an eye sore - someone who Jesus shouldn’t be bothered with.

But Bartimaeus refuses to be quiet. He “cried out even more loudly”: “SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!”

In the course of a lifetime, there are opportunities to which God calls us, too, to speak up! This is true in our personal lives - our congregations - our schools - our businesses - our country - and our world.

There are times when we can’t keep quiet anymore. When the risks of speaking up are required.

Friday (October 23) was the anniversary of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act in our country. Through this law, oppressive child labor was banned, a 25-cent minimum wage was enacted, and a 44-hour work week was signed into law. President Roosevelt said that this made him "happier than any other one thing...since I have come to Washington, for the code abolished child labor in the textile industry.” (background on child labor in textile industry: http://www.gpb.org/georgiastories/stories/child_labor_and_the_textile_mills)

It took work to get to the implementation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Not everyone was onboard. In fact, many weren’t. It was a complicated issue and many people had strong opinions. 

In 1936, two years before the bill passed, President Franklin Roosevelt was in Bedford, Mass., campaigning for reelection. A young girl tried to pass him an envelope. It is said that at that moment, a policeman threw her back into the crowd.

Roosevelt told an aide, "Get the note from the girl."

Her note read,

I wish you could do something to help us girls....We have been working in a sewing factory,... and up to a few months ago we were getting our minimum pay of $11 a week... Today the 200 of us girls have been cut down to $4 and $5 and $6 a week.

Later that day, the President replied to a reporter’s question, "Something has to be done about the elimination of child labor and long hours and starvation wages.”

It took time to get from that day to the actual passage, but it seems clear that the woman’s note played a role in shaping history. She refused to be quiet. Even when the crowed - even when an authority in the crowd - attempted to keep her quiet.

There are amazing parallels with today’s Gospel. Bartimaeus refused to be quiet, too.

They both refused to be squashed. They are encouragements to us - reminders to speak up.

There are other fascinating details about Bartimaeus. He was blind - but he’s one of the few in the Gospel of Mark to "get it"...to "see." He was one of the few who seems to understand the gravity of Jesus’ identity. He’s the first person in the Gospel of Mark to identify Jesus as the Son of David. He recognized him to be more than a healer. More than a random street magician. Bartimaeus saw a different aspect of reality even before Jesus healed him…but he was blind. He had insight.

And as human beings - we are offered deeper insights and glimpses, too. Into relationships. Into justice. Into advocacy. We, too, are invited to be more than passive observers in this life - getting pushed and shoved aside. When we feel compelled, we’re called to speak up. To express those deeper insights.

I imagine in your lifetime, you’ve had those nudges to “do something” or “say something.” To write that letter. Make that call. Speak up in the work meeting. Take a new leadership role. To ask for help. To advocate.

And what a crappy feeling it is to feel the nudge and ignore it, right? To know something should be done or said - and not do or say it. Or to allow others to squash us into submission.

Bartimaeus and the woman Roosevelt’s rally - they are powerful models for us all.

I invite you to ponder what this Gospel means in your context here - as the people of Trinity Fellowship & First Presbyterian. Where is God calling you to speak up? To refuse to pipe down?

How about in your own life? In your own workplace? And family? Are there others you can accompany as they take the risk to speak-up?

The other people in the text all have something to teach us.

The crowd plays an interesting role in the Gospel. First, they tell Bart to hush up. Sternly. Then moments later, they’re telling him to get up and “take heart.” The crowd - ever wishy-washy - is a reminder of all our tendencies to jump on the most convenient bandwagon.

Jesus takes some bold "inaction" in verse 49. Sometimes doing nothing in a particular moment is the most faithful choice. Jesus stands still. He hears the voice of Bartimaeus. Then he stops and he listens. Above the noise of the crowd and the bossy behavior of those around him - he “stood still” and called Bartimaeus toward him. It’s a pivotal moment. The choice to stand still and listen to those taking the courage to speak up.

As a congregation, where are you individually and communally being invited to stop and to listen? Perhaps here in Rushford? In the broader community? In this time of transition? Whose are the voices that need to be heard?

As a synod, we recently went through a strategic planning process and a feasibility study. It was a time to stand still. To pause. To listen. Deeply. To pastors. To church members. To community members. It was a process of active listening and led to meaningful feedback and conversations about priorities, the call process, and a vision for the future.

Now - it’s a time to speak up. Now it’s time for Bishop Delzer, our team at the Office of the Bishop, and the synod council to take the feedback and respond boldly with newly articulated priorities: we exist to support congregations, develop leaders, and accompany global partners.

We are all called to speak up.

We are all called to listen up.

Jesus frees us to speak and listen boldly and without fear.

May we take courage. And may we, like Bartimaeus, move out from our experiences with a deepened willingness to take the next important step.

That final detail of the Gospel reading is perhaps the most important of all.

Bartimaeus is healed. And what does he do next?

He follows Jesus.

May we do the same...with voices ready to speak and ears ready to hear...wherever the Spirit might lead.

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