This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 24, 2021. It can be viewed on YouTube on our channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Jeremiah 31: 7-9
Mark 10: 46-52
How many of you have your phone on you right now? To be honest, sometimes I do during worship and sometimes I don’t. I almost never leave the house without my phone and on the rare occasion that I do forget it, it’s very uncomfortable. I feel as if I’ve left a part of my body behind. And ironically, when my phone does ring, and it’s a number I don’t know, I rarely answer it. Or I get a lot of texts and DM’s and I might see them but if I don’t stop what I am doing and respond right away, I’ll forget. We can get overwhelmed with all the constant access from people that these alleged smartphones offer us. This connection can be helpful, necessary and healthy, and it can be a source of consternation, maybe even at the same time. Phones can cause us focus on distractions or distract us from what we should be focusing on for a quick peek at social media or YouTube video. And phones can remind us that stopping matters. A few years ago, at a conference for ELCA rostered leaders, we were encouraged to use our phones to set an alarm for every hour to stop and pray. I did it for a day and it was difficult as stopping whatever I was in the middle of to pray seemed in itself distracting. Except I was opened to how little I stop in a day for much of anything.
I’m not great at stopping, it’s not my comfort zone and I have to be intentional about stopping. Whether it’s stopping when a muscle or tendon hurts on a run, taking a zoom break, eating chips and salsa, or more seriously, stopping the relentless hamster wheel of tasks and meetings, filling my calendar with what one can argue are important activities, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind these things. But perhaps that’s the real challenge. I can justify not stopping because it is my job, my direction, MY priorities. Stopping for me feels like failure, inadequacy, or worse yet, laziness. If there’s any thing our society dislikes, it’s someone who is perceived to be lazy, not doing enough, not focused enough, not producing enough. I fall into the trap of justifying my nonstop, life at the speed of light as holy and righteous.
When we stop, what might happen? We might connect with another person or people, or even connect with ourselves, we will experience our surroundings, our lives differently. Stopping is reorienting ourselves where and who we really are. Stopping feels vulnerable because if we stop, people can catch up to us. In our gospel story this morning, Jesus, his entourage of disciples and the ubiquitous crowds, are heading to Jerusalem. Jesus is focused, he knows that he is on a collision course with the Roman Empire and the religious authorities. They go to Jericho, a city steeped in Israelite significance, and then, to quote Willy Nelson, they are “on the road again.” I imagine that Jesus isn’t in a hurry but is determined as he knows that a confrontation is coming and he just wants it over. He’s not even teaching at this point, they’re all just walking on the way to what is next.
But then someone calls Jesus’ name, and more than that, calls him by a royal title, Son of David, the one who came to redeem Israel. Jesus could have kept going, or even just walked over to the person calling him. But Jesus stops. He “stood still” the text says. I wondered why this man’s words, of all the words, stopped Jesus in his tracks. I can only speculate, and I know that I’m grateful for this detail and this stopping of Jesus for the man only known by his father’s name “Bartimaeus,” son of Timaeus.” B-a-r in Aramaic means son, much like b-i-n in Arabic or b-e-n in Hebrew means son. This son of Timaeus calls on the son of David, which isn’t quite right as Jesus was yes, in the lineage of David, but the Son of God. One son to another son asking for mercy. One son to another son who won’t be silenced by the crowds. Jesus stops and stops the crowds from silencing this son of Timaeus and turns the crowds into his accomplices and tells them to “call him here.” When the crowd is stopped from their silencing behavior, they have a change of heart, they see this man differently and tell this man, the one is on the edge of the road, on the edge of society, on the edge of life, to take heart for Jesus is calling you.
I can see in my mind’s eye, son of Timaeus shedding his cloak, his only worldly possession, jumping up to get to the Son of David as quickly as he can. And the two sons standing face to face. Now it might be obvious to you and me that the son of Timaeus would want his vision returned, but Jesus the Son of God, doesn’t assume that’s what this other son desires. Jesus knows that there are worse things than having physical blindness or any disability, as disabilities or abilities, don’t define people. God’s love does. What we can or can’t do isn’t who we are because that inevitably changes throughout life but our beloved-ness never changes. If this was truly only about physical sight, Jesus could have returned his sight from afar and kept moving. He’d done it before. But he remained stopped in that place and asked, “what do you want me to do for you?” When the disciples were asked this question, they wanted prestige and power, but the son of Timaeus? It turns out that regaining his sight IS what Bartimaeus wants; he wanted to stop being known as the “blind beggar,” and to stop being seen as lesser than other people. He didn’t want greatness only for oppression to stop for equality with other people to begin.
Jesus tells him that his faith, his running to Jesus without knowing what would happen next only that his old life could stop so that a new life could begin, is what made him well. “Well” in the Greek meaning whole. He was whole without or without his sight, his wholeness came in being willing to stop what he knew and to call out to Jesus. We then read that while Jesus told him to go, Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, on the road to the Temple where Jesus would flip over the tables to stop the economic, social and religious oppression; Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the road to the cross.
There is so much in my life that I need to stop to truly follow Jesus. I need to stop frenetic activity that makes me feel important, I need to stop giving into distractions, I need to stop and see the people around me and what ask what they need stopped for abundant life. There is so much that must be stopped for our neighbors to have wellness and justice. As Church, we must stop acting like the crowds in Mark putting obstacles between people and Jesus, silencing voices that we deem uncomfortable or unworthy. We stop. We stand still and hear the cries from the edges and see who is unseen. We stop thinking that it’s too hard to redistribute wealth so that there are no longer economic divides. We stop worrying what the future holds for us. We stop holding on to old identities and ideologies. We stop pretending that our bodies will be able forever. We stop. We stop to hear Jesus calling to us. We stop and see Jesus in the people with whom we are face to face. We stop to boldly tell Jesus what we want: to be seen, to be loved, to be whole. We are stopped in our tracks by Jesus’ love and mercy. Jesus stops to hear you, to see you, to love you. We stop and follow. Amen.