Since there are a number of us that work together to bring together a worship service that has the best opportunity to guide us together into glorifying God, I have to decide on which scripture I will use for the following Sunday . . . just when I’ve finished preaching the previous one. But as the week progresses and I encounter people and God speaks in those spaces in between, sometimes the passage I did not choose speaks God’s message more clearly than the first.
Adding to the mystery of God’s speech and the tradition of the church, there are two general streams of lectionary tradition, and the scripture in the other tradition attracts my attention. So, Howie and I have, for quite some time, listened to a podcast produced by a group in England of the Ignatius spirituality, Pray-As-You-Go.org. Please check it out – you can find it on-line, but there is also an app (or course there’s an app!) And, of course, God’s word never returns void, so whether I preach on the passages read in the service, or on others – God speaks. So, I begin with the first and end with the second.
In the protestant lectionary tradition, the readings for this week include Mark 10 – the narrative of Bartimaeus, the blind man who, as Jesus passes by calls out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” and Jesus replies, “what do you want me to do for you?”
It may seem a funny question – duh, I’m blind, I’d kinda like to see.
There is a great deal in the narrative that is worth noticing, but for our purposes here, this particular point is important.
How many times do we ask for, or wish for something that we find – if received – we did not really want? Or wasn’t what we thought it would be?
Or, how often do we not really know what it is we want?
Perhaps, we are blind to what we need because, on the face of it, on the surface, everything looks fine. Except that . . . we are slowly dying of thirst.
I am no horticulturist. I think I’ve communicated that fact once or twice already. But my daughters and I thought it might be really good to have some actual, living plants in our house – they are natural air purifiers, after all. So, not long after we moved in, Sam and I went to Home Depot and bought a few plants that are known survivors. And I would never know that these plants were in need of water except that I have this one that has a way of communicating to me when it is really thirsty.
I have to actually see the leaves drooping (and this happens rather quickly – sometimes alarmingly so!) before I think to give it water. It’s bad, I know.
But really, haven’t you experienced that thing that happens mid- to late-afternoon when you start to get irritated and snap at anyone for just being in the room with you? Anyone? It’s not just me? Why does that happen? Oh, yeah, it’s been a while since lunch. Maybe I need a bit of a pick-me-up. But, I’m not thinking that I’m getting hungry, necessarily. There are too many things that need to get done. And why is the computer taking so long to load, and why does it seem nothing is working, and please stop bothering me – I can’t think! Calgon take me away!
I think I’m showing my age – does anyone remember Clagon? But it isn’t really a bubble bath that I need (ok, maybe I could use a little spa-time). But really I just need to sit down and have a good, healthy snack and some tea or water. It is amazing how quickly I perk up after taking a snack break! Just like my Mr. Obvious plant.
What do you want?
Bartimaeus couldn’t see the world around him, but he could see that Jesus was a remarkable person, the one who had been prophesized about forever – the son of David. He saw who Jesus really was when others completely overlooked this blind man, and Jesus’ true nature.
What is blinding you from seeing who Jesus really is, what Jesus can do for you, through you?
Thomas Kelly, an early 20th century Quaker mystic, writes: ‘There is a lusty, adolescent way of thought among us which oversimplifies the question of suffering. It merely says, “Let us remove it.”’ [Kelly, 40]
Instead of allowing Jesus to be with you in the pain, do you try to do anything just to get rid of it? [chocolate? Soy ice cream? A drink . . . or two? Binge watch Netflix? Read a good love story? Pornography? A toxic relationship?] Jesus wants to be present with you in the pain. It is only in Jesus you can be in Eternity, present to the Kingdom on earth. Not only that:
Kelly goes on to say: “The heart is stretched through suffering, and enlarged. [I’m reminded of the Grinch whose heart grew 3 sizes that day…] But O the agony of this enlarging of the heart, that one may be prepared to enter into the anguish of another! Yet the way of holy obedience leads out from the heart of God and extends through the Valley of the Shadow.” In this world, you will have much suffering, pain: but, Jesus says, “I have overcome.” Jesus beckons us. To what end?
The prophet Amos in chapter 5 says “let justice roll down like a river, righteousness an ever flowing stream.” Throughout the Hebrew bible, the words justice and righteousness rarely occur without the other. The sense that God seems to want to communicate to us is complex – it is never a justice that is punitive, nor is it righteousness as in holier-than-thou attitude, as if it were something to be achieved, a solitary undertaking, a competition. It is always in the recognition that something has gone very wrong – the relationship between us and God, or us with each other, or us and creation – and one affects the other, doesn’t it?
And God’s action in the world – Jesus’ entering our world, descending (into hell and back) and ascending (into the heavenly realm) so that everything will be filled by God – this unfathomable, eternal action – past, present, future – is to Make. All. Things. New – Right.
It is an act – action, a process of making things right that are not.
And it is because we remain blinded to the need – our own needs, and the needs of others.
So first, we need to be nourished. Right? The whole put on the oxygen mask first before you help your child put hers on.
You need to #nourishyoself
and this nourishing ourselves is making right our relationship with God – making things right between God and me, you.
It is then that we might turn our attention to each other.
Ephesians 4 (the Catholic lectionary tradition)– Paul says, I beg you, live like your worthy self is made to be: humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another (love!) – make every effort to maintain unity – the bond of peace.
We can’t do that on an empty stomach! or limited sleep. We cannot maintain unity and peace without spending time nurturing the relationship with the Source of that peace.
Let me read this whole section – it’s worth memorizing:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. [interesting to note: one scripture is not mentioned here. How much does translation and the parsing of miniscule syllables divide us?!]
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.’
9(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended* into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up [all of this precedes – joined, knit, equipped, works properly, promote, build up] – in love.!
TS Elliot wrote:
“What life have you if you have not life together? There is no life that is not in community, and no community not lived in praise of God.”
And, so, in that community, we have to make things right with each other.
Be in right relationships with each other. Continuously making things right . . . with each other. It is a process. It is never a once-and-done event. We are always changing, growing. The world is changing, moving. Our circumstances and relationships shifting.
Still, what life have you if you have not life together?
And when we are strengthened, emboldened by being in this love-built community, we can turn our attention still further out:
right relationships with creation, the world. You may have noticed that a number of us are – as Parker Palmer frames in his On the Brink of Everything –not over the hill, rather, “just standing farther down the curvature of the earth.”
You can still join us reading and discussing this book either Thursday evening or Friday morning – it’s never too late! Just, fyi.
It’s packed with really beautiful meditations on aging and multi- cross-generational relationships, and the richness there is in developing them. But, I love what he says, and seems so timely. He admits:
“More than fearing the cost of taking risks for the things I care about, I fear aging into subservience to the worst impulses in and around me.” [Palmer, 25] He goes on to say, playing it safe is a cop-out. “Those of us who are able should be raising hell on behalf of whatever we care about: freedom’s just another word for not needing to count the cost.”
Justice and righteousness means that we are collaborating with the making things right – if it doesn’t change us, move us to action, what matter that we talk about it, rant, complain, shake our collective fist? God communicates to us in so many ways throughout history, and says it with a variety of phrases and actions, but essentially the same thing: Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly – all action words – do, love, walk.
– not just through the narratives collected over many centuries in the text of the testaments we currently possess. The millennia since Jesus’ action surrounding the events of the cross are filled with the same messages (Romero, the Theresa’s, MLK, etc)
What is blinding me, threatening to leave me dying of thirst? Must I wait until my leaves are drooping dangerously before I realize something is wrong? Must I wait until young people are no longer surrounding me as I worship before I recognize that something is not right? – please know I do not have a definitive answer for this – this is precisely why we are meeting together to discuss Palmer’s book. With God, it really is never too late, but how long do we wait?
Let me finish by reading a poem from this book. I know there are some for whom poetry absolutely does not make sense. But, for those who are moved by poetry, and on the off-chance my reading of it sparks something in the others, here we go!
They say the layered earth rose up
ancient rock leviathan
trailing ages in its wake
lifting earth-mass toward the sun
and coursing water cut the rock away
to leave these many-storied walls
expose of exes gone
around this breathless emptiness more wondrous far
than earth had ever known
My life has risen layered too
each day each year in turn has left
its fossil life and sediments
evidence of lived and unlived hours
the tedium the anguish yes the joy
that some heart-deep vitality
keeps pressing upward toward
toward the day i die
And Spirit cuts lie water though it all
carving out this emptiness
so inner eye can see
the souring height of canyon walls within
walls whose very color, texture form
redeem in beauty all my life has been
the darkness and the light, the false, the ttrue
while deep below the living waters run
cutting deeper through my parts
to resurrect my grave-bound heart
making, always making all things new.