Text: Mark 10:46-52
It’s all about freedom! The story about Bartimaeus, I mean. He won’t shut up. Even though people tell him to he keeps shouting out, some say crying out, “Mercy, Jesus, have mercy on me.” People scolded him, tried to hush him up. But defiant or determined, Bartimaeus keeps shouting: “Mercy, Jesus, have mercy on me.” And that’s hard. It’s hard to hear. It’s uncomfortable. It’s disruptive. It’s uncivilized, rude, bad-mannered. And it’s freeing.
Have you ever been in one of these situations? You’re somewhere enjoying a meal or at an event or in a crowd and someone starts yelling something that makes everyone else uncomfortable? It happened once here in this sanctuary in the middle of worship. A man who was troubled stood up in the middle of Mahan’s sermon and started shouting. I can’t remember his words, but he was obviously distressed. Probably much like Bartimaeus. Nobody rebuked him or scolded him, but you could feel everyone in this room holding their breath, hoping desperately that he would just stop and be quiet. Mahan tried to gently talk him down, but it didn’t work. Eventually, the man walked out, and we picked up where we had left off in our worship, a little rattled, but determined to carry on.
Have you ever thought about how quick we are to fall into silence in general, worried about offending or hurting feelings or being rejected or whatever? And so when folks tell us to shut up, we’re all too quick to oblige. But not Bartimaeus. He keeps shouting for what he needs and wants.
“He is free. Free to defy his neighbors. Free to call for help. Free to make his needs known to Jesus. Free. 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.” (David Lose)
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. After Jesus recognizes the cries of Bartimaeus, he calls for Bartimaeus to come to him. The story tells us that immediately Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. “Teacher,” Bartimaeus said, “I want to see again.”
“I want to see again.” Here we have two choices. We can assume that Bartimaeus, through some illness or accident, had become blind, literally blind. For the text says that the blind man said, “I want to see again.” So we can read this text literally and believe that Bartimaeus was physically blind and that Jesus physically heals him from his blindness. Or we can read this text metaphorically and think about our own spiritual blindness and reflect on what we need in order to see again. Either way, what happens in this story is what Clarence Jordan calls, “a gospel act.” Jordan says that the gospel is about giving people what they need. And so, whether Bartimaeus was physically, literally blind and seeking physical healing or was struggling with spiritual blindness the question Jesus asks is the same: What do you want me to do for you?
Before I move on, I want to come back to the part of the story where it says that when Jesus called out to Bartimaeus, that this blind man immediately threw off his cloak, jumped up and came to Jesus. As I can sometimes do, I got fixated on a couple of points in this part of the story. First, I got focused on how a blind man all of the sudden jumps up and as the text implies, walks to Jesus on his own. But I became more fixated on the meaning behind “throwing off his cloak” and wondered what that was about. Why did the storyteller include that detail in the telling? What did it mean? Surely it was important, or else it would have just said, “the blind man jumped up and came to Jesus.” Right? Well, probably not. It’s probably there simply to extend the story. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have meaning. As I chased this rabbit in lectionary this week, someone (Jane Hutchby) had a great response. She said, maybe it is there to invite us to think about what things/stuff we need to throw off in order to actually come to Jesus for the healing we need. Wow, I thought, what a profound thought. What do I/we need to shed, throw off, let go, un-attach from in order to come to Jesus for what I/we really need?
What do you want me to do for you?, though, is the question. Asked another way, “What are you needing to shout out for, cry out for even if it makes the people around you uncomfortable? Even if people scold you, try and hush you, tell you to be quiet? What gospel act do you need your faith to do for you? And second, what do you need to throw off in order to jump up and run to Jesus?
We think of these questions as somewhat personal and individual. And they are. But they are also communal and need to be asked within the collective whole. What do we, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, need to shout out for even when and if it makes people/us uncomfortable? And what do we need to throw off and let go of in order to lean on our faith so that we might find the wholeness and healing we need? In what ways do we need to be set free? Free to defy old ways for new paths? Free to call out to each other for help instead of staying locked up in our silence? Free to make our needs known so that we don’t feel so alone? Free to be in the presence of Jesus where all the rules are changed, and we are no longer blind followers of Jesus but seeing followers of Jesus—children of the living God? The kind of freedom that seizes our faith and courage to live into Jesus’ making us well and whole?
As I think about the cycle of our communal life, we are faced in these days and months with incredible opportunities. The opportunity to extend the footprint of our ministry with the property next door that we have recently voted to buy. The opportunity of living in community with homeless lives who have graciously entangled themselves with ours, and in so doing, reshaping how we respond to homelessness more broadly. The opportunity of inviting new faces and voices into our fellowship, and evolving from the Pullen we have all known to the Pullen we are becoming. This congregation is visionary and active, and at this moment in our history, we are blessed with both the vision to see opportunities and the willingness/compulsion to act on them.
And, we are faced in these days and months with fulfilling financial commitments we have made to our life together and these ministries and with decisions about how we will financially support the vision we have approved through our proposed 2016 budget. It seems that this time of year, every year, the Finance Committee is like the blind beggar sitting on the side of the road shouting out, “Mercy, dear Pullenites, have mercy on us.” And for the most part, the rest of us just want them to stop shouting, to be quiet, to hush up and not make us feel uncomfortable about money while we are at church. We are in need of some healing when it comes to our history of talking, or better said, not talking about money and its relationship to our spiritual lives. Yes, we have gotten better but we are not totally well.
And so I ask, what do we need to throw off, to let go of before we can come to Jesus and answer the question he asks: Pullen, what do you want me to do for you? What old ways do we need to free ourselves from in order to find a new path, a new way to thinking and talking about money and our relationship to it as a church who has a vision that the world needs—that we need!
I will end this morning by throwing off my own cloak of reticence about asking for money. Good Pullen people, we need you to pledge. Pullen needs for each of you to make a financial commitment to this church. We need to throw off our own fears about not having enough. We need to acknowledge that this is the place where the cries of the world meet our own cries, and trust that by feeding this community, we feed ourselves in ways that we cannot do alone. I cry out to you, my fellow Pullenites, believe in what we can do together; believe in what the Spirit can do through us; believe that your pledge matters—and when you make a financial commitment to this church you are investing in what matters. Hillsborough Street, downtown Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina, the South, the Unites States, the people who come to this sanctuary Sunday after Sunday, the entire world needs our witness. Will we take the freedom offered us to ask for what we need in order that it may be granted.
It’s all about freedom!