Helping Others Turn Around to Find God Chasing Them

The Rev. Robert P. Travis Pentecost 22nd Sunday Sermon  – 10:00am Church of the Ascension, Wakefield RI Revised Common Lectionary Proper 25 Year B 10/23-24/2021 – Fr. Rob’s Final Weekend at Ascension

Scripture Text: Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22), Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52

Sermon Text:

9 years ago, when we were still living in Knoxville Tennessee, and the kids had a full week of fall break in October.

I got to take my kids

down to my parents’ house in Florida,

while Jackie stayed home to work at her new job.

At the time Evan was almost 8, Simon 6 and Jack 2 years old.

Looking at them today, it seems like a long time ago.

On the beach one afternoon I had an interesting experience.

 

I was standing there, talking to my dad,

while watching my three kids in their various places.

Jack was playing in the sand just a few steps away.

Simon was playing in the waves nearby.

Evan, my oldest,

was playing in the waves where they had pushed him,

a little further down the shore.

The sun was bright, the waves fun, but not too high.

There was a soft breeze.

It seemed things couldn’t get much better.

 

As I listened to my dad talking to me,

I kept my eye on Evan as he came out of the water,

and started walking away from us down the beach.

I kind of wondered what he was doing,

but was not really concerned,

thinking “maybe he’s looking for shells,”

as he got further and further away.

When I realized he was too far to hear me call him back,

I excused myself, asked my dad to watch the other two,

while I went down the beach to get him.

At first, I just walked casually,

but then he started to run,

and I started walking faster.

I realized that he was pretty far away from me,

further than I had thought,

and as he passed other people

the only way I really still knew it was him was

the red boogie board dangling behind him,

still attached to his wrist.

I started to run to catch up to him,

and he started to run faster.

That made me angry.

I thought, “oh he’s in trouble now,

why is he running down the beach

away from us?

He knows he’s not supposed

to go out of our sight.”

I ran faster, and gradually caught up to him,

though at nearly 8 years old,

as he would tell you, he was the fastest in his class,

a pretty fast runner.

As I got closer, the thought suddenly dawned on me,

“what if he’s lost? What if he doesn’t know where we are?”

My anger immediately dissipated and was replaced with

parental concern, with sadness for him.

And I started to run faster.

I was yelling to him, calling his name.

As I got close enough and he heard me stopped,

And turned around,

I could see the tears streaming down his face.

I wrapped my arms around him,

hugged him close and asked him why

he was running away from me?

He told me that he came up out of the water

and didn’t see us;

he thought we had left him alone on the beach,

and he went down in the direction

he thought we had been.

As we walked back to the blanket,

I reassured Evan that I had been watching them

the whole time,

that I would never leave him alone somewhere,

and that if he did get lost,

if he would just stay where he was,

I would find him.

 

He couldn’t believe that,

“How would you find me?” he said.

I said just trust me, if you’re lost,

stay where you are and I will find you.

 

Bartimaeus, the blind man sitting beside the road

in Jericho, probably thought he was lost.

He probably thought there was really no hope for him,

and that his lot in life was to sit alone,

and beg for mercy because he was blind,

and could not function in society.

He might have even thought that God the father

had abandoned him.

 

In spite of being lost to the society around him,

Bartimaeus was hopeful

when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was approaching.

He must have heard of Jesus before,

to shout out “Jesus, Son of David,

have mercy on me!”

The crowd tried to quiet him.

Surely such a great man

shouldn’t be bothered by someone so insignificant.

But when his one hope came within reach,

Bartimaeus would not be silenced,

“he cried out even more loudly,

‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

 

By acknowledging Jesus as the Son of David,

here recorded for the first time in the Gospel of Mark,

Bartimaeus was making a statement not just about

Jesus’ power to help him,

but declaring that Jesus was the messiah,

the one who would save all of the people of Israel.

Bartimaeus knew who Jesus really was,

and he cried out for mercy because of it.

 

Jesus stood still,

a compassionate gesture in itself,

something that would allow the blind man,

to find him by his voice,

and said “Call him here.”

 

Bartimaeus saw his chance, and he threw off his cloak and jumped up to come to Jesus.

 

Jesus knew this man knew who he really was,

and was asking him for mercy.

Jesus, in his mercy, asks what Bartimaeus wants.

What seems obvious to us,

was not obvious enough for Jesus to disregard.

That’s what people who really want

to be in relationship with us do after all.

They don’t disregard our concerns,

or assume they know what we’re needing without asking.

Even after he was famous all around,

And on his way to Jerusalem,

for the great purpose he knew he would accomplish there,

Jesus paused in his path,

He wanted to be in relationship with this man,

and for him to share his deepest desire

before Jesus would do anything.

 

Bartimaeus’ response to being healed

is very interesting to me,

maybe more interesting than the healing itself,

because it indicates the nature of that relationship,

and how Bartimaeus understood his place in it.

 

The passage says that Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way.

He did not go away and take care of things,

or reorganize his life now that he could see.

He did not figure out what this new sight could do for him.

His response to receiving his sight was to follow Jesus.

His response was to engage further

in that relationship with Jesus,

that started with him recognizing who Jesus was,

that relationship he was offered when Jesus asked him

what he wanted.

He knew who Jesus really was,

and when he actually saw him,

the best response,

the only response,

was one of service.

Leaving everything he knew

and following him.

 

In our Old Testament passage,

as we heard the ending of the tragic story of Job,

Job’s response to God speaking to him

from out of the whirlwind is similar.

Job says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Another translation I read of this verse,

by a scholar named Mitchell reads like this:

“I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I will be quiet, comforted that I am dust.”[1]

 

In other words, now that I know you as a person,

for who you really are,

I don’t think so highly of my own interests,

and I don’t even want to pursue them,

or be distant from you,

but I turn around fully into this relationship with you.

 

So often we find ourselves going our own way,

sometimes we have walked away from God inadvertently,

sometimes intentionally,

seeking our own path,

or running the other direction

in search of something that will save us,

when we feel abandoned and alone.

 

All the while God has us in his sight,

and is even pursuing us.

If we would just stop,

and turn to him,

we would see him asking what we need,

what we want from our relationship with Him.

 

He will never abandon us,

or leave us alone.

 

And when he catches us,

or we know that we have been found by him,

even while we were running in the other direction,

All he asks is for us to follow him all the way home.

 

As I am leaving here, some of you may remember times when you have been running down the beach,

looking for your father in the opposite direction.

But if you’re here this morning,

You know you’ve already been found by him.

 

You might have felt like Bartimaeus,

Blind on the side of the road,

Wondering what help will come.

In truth, none of us can see very far ahead,

If we can see anything at all.

But all of us can have our eyes opened,

Jesus can let all of us see what’s around us,

And when we do see,

we have to follow him,

To know our place in his mission.

 

This town has many people in it

who are still running the other direction,

some who don’t even believe God is looking for them,

much less that God has them in his sight

and is pursuing them.

 

There were plenty of people on the beach that day,

who Evan ran past.

If any of them had just seen Evan’s tears,

and looked a bit,

they could have stopped Evan and helped him turn around, and he would have seen me coming.

 

As if a bystander on the beach,

You in the Church of the Ascension, have the power,

To help your neighbors, who are running away from God, who can’t see God for who he really is,

to turn around,

and see him following.

 

My final charge to you,

as I move from here to another church,

is to look out for your neighbors,

for those who are lost in this community,

and invite them here,

where they can find the loving God

who has been running after them.

You can do this,

you’ve seen God and know his love for everyone.

 

So many messages in the world around us

are like the crowd telling Bartimaus to be quiet

when he was calling out to Jesus.

They say, “if you have faith keep it to yourself.”

They say, “don’t proselytize because faith is a private matter.”

Bartimaus didn’t listen to the crowd,

but cried out to Jesus even louder.

You shouldn’t listen to the crowd either,

but boldly reach out to help your neighbors

and even newcomers to this community find Jesus.

 

If you do this, no matter when the next clergy person

comes to work with you,

this Church will thrive,

and with your help,

everyone in this community

Will turn back into the arms of our Savior.

 

Amen.

[1] Mitchell quoted in Thomas Long, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith. Eerdmans 2011. Pg. 109.

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SCRIPTURE:

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob has finished his ministry as Head Pastor of the Partnership between the Chapel of St. John the Divine and Church of the Ascension on the Eve of All Saint's Day, October 31, 2021. He thanks everyone involved in More details