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Sermon October 24, 2021

The Rev. Curtis Almquist, SSJE 

Mark 10:46-52 

[Jesus and his disciples] came to Jericho. As [Jesus] 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.” 

This blind beggar we’ve just heard about is not someone lost in a crowd of nameless, suffering people who thronged to Jesus. This is Bartimaeus. Everyone knows this is Bartimaeus, and they know his family. He is the son of a local named Timaeus of Jericho. So Bartimaeus belongs there. He belongs to the people there. Why is he so dirt poor, literally, sitting along the roadside among the people to whom he belongs? Why is he crying out for mercy? His name, Bartimaeus, means “honorable son,” but what happened to his honor? Bartimaeus is blind; but why is the family and community to which he belongs so blind to his need? Which must be a longstanding need. They are familiar with his begging and his pleas, and the crowd tells Bartimaeus to be quiet. 

Jesus has a different voice. He does not tell Bartimaeus to hush up. To the contrary. Jesus invites Bartimaeus to speak up, and Jesus asks Bartimaeus this most curious question. “What do you want me to do for you?” Now Bartimaeus is a blind beggar. He did not need to have a sign plastered to his chest saying, “I am a BLIND BEGGAR.” His blindness is obvious, and so is his pathetic poverty. Nevertheless, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Why does Jesus ask this curious question? Two reasons. One reason is about trust. 

I’ll tell you a story. Not so long ago a young mother was telling me about an experience with her 2-year old son. As she spoke, the mother’s eyes were full of tears, tears of joy and gratitude as she shared with me what had just happened that week. Her two-year-old son had told her that he was hungry. And that tiny statement had taken the mother’s breath away. Because it was the first time that her little son had trusted her with his needs. Of course, the mother knew her son very well. The way he was fidgeting and squirming and sucking his fingers, she knew very well that he was hungry, and she was already preparing to feed him. It’s not that her son had given her some information that she did not already know. Not at all. She knew quite clearly that he was hungry. It was not the information; it was the trust. It was the first time that the mother had experienced her child’s choosing to trust her with his needs… and that trust is what brought her tears of joy. 

Why do we pray, in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread”? It is not because God needs to be reminded that we need food. It’s not the information; it’s the trust. In that brief and trusting request – “Give us this day our daily bread” – we are acknowledging that that we are hungry, and that God is the ultimate source of all provision. And we are trusting God for what we need. It seems God wants and waits to be asked. And I suspect that it moves the heart of God as much as it moves our own hearts when someone entrusts their needs to us. It is such a deeply moving experience to be trusted. I’m sure you know about this. That is the first thing that comes to mind with this story about Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and Jesus: it’s about trust. Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus – “What do you want me to do for you” – is not about information but about trust. Jesus is saying, “trust me.” 

The second reason why Jesus asks Bartimaeus the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” is about dignity. Jesus’ question gives dignity to Bartimaeus, dignity which may have been robbed from him because of his blindness, because of his appalling poverty, because of – who knows – whatever else? Jesus speaks to Bartimaeus by name and asks his need. 

In a few moments, Bishop Fisher will invite us to renew our baptismal promises. One of the questions he will ask us is particularly demanding. The bishop will ask: “Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” To many people, we have to give them dignity before they have dignity in and of themselves for us to respect. Because otherwise they have no dignity. They have either lost their dignity, or their dignity was stolen from them, or their dignity was not bequeathed to them as a birthright… which it should be. Bartimaeus has no dignity. Before Jesus gives Bartimaeus his sight, Jesus gives Bartimaeus his dignity. Jesus really sees Bartimaeus; Bartimaeus is not an invisible pauper. Jesus speaks to Bartimaeus by name, and then listens to him – “What do you want me to do for you,” Jesus asks. Then there is this miraculous healing in both Bartimaeus and, I imagine, also in the crowd. Now everyone sees differently. 

Fast forward to Great Barrington. This is a really adventurous and opportune time for Grace Church. Your combined heritage as St. James’ in Great Barrington and St. George’s in Lee absolutely teems with missionary zeal. Your decision in 2012 to sell your properties has clarified your mission and liberated your love to claim town and countryside as your Berkshire County mission field. And you’re on a mission of love, to teem with God’s light, and life, and love in your outreach with the Lee Food Pantry and Gideon’s Garden, in your advocacy for those trapped by substance abuse, in your assisting in the need for housing and shelter for the homeless and for the elderly, and in your advocacy for immigrants who otherwise have neither home and nor hope. And you’re doing so much more than this, which is beautiful. 

Now, I’ll tell you that I have known your new rector, Tina, for many, many years in Boston. She is amazing; I’ve always thought that. I have seen Tina’s missionary zeal in the city of Boston where her congregation was also not contained by four walls. And things grew. People were listened to. They were asked, “What do you need?” and people were given dignity, and provisions, and hope for the future. They had a sense of belonging (they still do) which, for many of those in her Boston congregation, was the first time in their entire life they experienced belonging and being known by name. Tina really knows how to help people belong, and how to help a diverse congregation grow. But – to tell you the truth – I don’t think Tina knows so much about gardening and raising food… But you do, and you and Tina and the new friends who will join you can do this and so much more together. 

It just so happens that at the very same time the original Saint James’ Church was founded here in Great Barrington in 1762 by Church of England missionaries, a Church of England missionary back home in England – John Wesley – proclaimed a vision for what we as Christians are to be. John Wesley and your own founders – they were contemporaries – were on the same wavelength. Wesley said: 

“Do all the good you can, 

by all the means you can, 

in all the ways you can, 

in all the places you can, 

at all the times you can, 

to all the people you can, 

as long as ever you can.”i 

You here at Grace Church know all about this. You have lived this. 

The last word for today is the prayer we will share at the close of our liturgy. In that prayer we will give thanks for our belonging to Jesus.ii We will give thanks for the sustenance of Holy Communion. And then, in that closing prayer, we have one last request of God, what we want God to do for us, please. We ask to be sent out “with strength and courage” to be missionaries of God’s life, and light, and love to one another and to the countryside that surrounds us. We will pray for “strength and courage” to co-operate – how you as the Grace congregation will have strength and courage to co-operate with God’s provision to keep bearing the beams of Christ’s light and life and love to your town and countryside: the people whom God has given you to love, and to serve, and to bequeath dignity who surround us here in beautiful Berkshire County and beyond. You already know about this. You are amazing. And you are the missionaries for whom God will provide. 

i John Wesley (1703-1791), English clergyman, theologian, evangelist, and leader of the revival movement within the Church of England, “Methodism.” 

ii “Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 365.