Message—The Episcopal Church of the Cross
Sunday, October 28, 2018
Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Mark 10:46-52
For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.’ See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
They came to Jericho. As he 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.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Good morning, friends. Peace be with you.
On Friday morning, a service of interment took place for Matthew Shepard in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Twenty years ago, Matthew was a twenty year-old student at the University of Wyoming. His death was a hate crime. He was killed because he was gay.
The first memorial service for him back in 1998 was marred by protests and ugliness. Over time, his parents contacted a Bishop named Gene Robinson, who was the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Robinson then contacted the Bishop of Washington and the Dean of the Cathedral about Shepard’s final resting place being in the National Cathedral. They both said “yes.”
“The Shepards realized they had not come to full closure,” Robinson told an interviewer. But now they were ready, so the Cathedral welcomed them and their son.
“Gently rest in this place; you are safe now, Matthew; welcome home,” Robinson said in his homily.
I love the Church. The Church is my spiritual mother. I was formed in the Church. But it’s an understatement to say that we have not been particularly generous towards people who are gay; or people of another color or class; or people who believe differently than we do. Church people can be as tribal and divisive as anyone else. Too often we have viewed people of other faiths to be things to be conquered rather than people to be loved. As recently as fifty years ago, in our own church we were telling women they could not be clergy because they were women.
I think it was Brian McLaren who said that he’s tired of the Church being known more for what we’re against than we are for what we’re for. I agree with him.
But if there is any place where all people should have a home…if there is any place where we should have a chance at being made whole, and healed, and restored, and gathered, and be who we are…it should be the Church. I am hopeful that what happened at the National Cathedral this Friday morning…in the midst of another torturous week in our nation…is another step in the right direction.
I was at the Diocesan Clergy Conference this week, and had the opportunity to spend time listening to an excellent Bible teacher named Jane Patterson. She’s Professor of New Testament at Seminary of the Southwest, the Episcopal seminary here in town. One of her favorite images, which she shares regularly in her teaching, is that God is always working to mend things back together; to stitch things back up. The mission of God and the story of the Bible is God’s constant stitching and mending…within us, among us, between us and God.
In the Episcopal Church, we say that the mission of the Church is to restore all things to unity with God, through Jesus Christ. Those are great words. We believe that is the Church’s mission because we believe it is God’s mission, and we take our orders from God. What God wants, we want.
Here, at the ECC, we say that we seek for our households, neighborhoods, and the world to know the restorative, reconciling, and healing love and mercy of God. Those are great words, too. It’s not a throwaway vision statement. We mean it.
In his powerful book A Nazareth Manifesto, Samuel Wells makes the comment that the purpose of the Church isn’t to do good things, or have great worship services, or be filled with Bible experts. The purpose of the Church, and the reason we do all those things, is reconciliation—the making right of things; the mending of things. That’s what God does. That’s why Jesus came…to bring reconciliation; and healing; and wholeness; and shalom. Therefore, that is the purpose of the people of God. It is what we work towards.
In today’s gospel reading a broken man is made whole. His name is Bartimaeus. He’s blind. But he hears well; and when he hears that it’s Jesus walking by he cries out. He is resilient. His shouting bothers the crowd, but thank goodness they told him to shush, or else maybe he’d never shout loud enough to catch Jesus’ attention.
He runs to Jesus, and the Lord asks him what he wants him to do for him…which is on odd question; you’d think it would be obvious, and I guess it was. But Jesus knows better than we do that sometimes we prefer to sit in the darkness and sickness we know than walk into the new, strange light of wholeness. So Bartimaeus has to name it. That’s one part of his role in his own healing.
And so Jesus gives him his sight; he is given his ability to see; and he is made whole. Not too sit back down by the gates and beg, but to follow Jesus. Most of the healing stories…like this one…aren’t just about healing. They’re also about calling. He’s given his sight for a purpose. Jesus heals Bartimaeus, and Bartimaeus follows.
And in today’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah the prophet gives a word of healing to all of Israel. Israel has been defeated…first by the Assyrians, and then the Babylonians; they are destroyed and scattered and captive. It’s horrible; utterly horrible…beyond our imagination horrible. Jeremiah tried to warn them; he tried to warn the leaders and people of Israel. But they wouldn’t listen. And now, they wonder if God is still with them; they wonder if God has gone silent forever.
So the old and godly curmudgeon who speaks for the Lord tells another truth, and gives a new vision: The Lord will gather you back. The Lord will bring you home. From all directions, you will be gathered. The blind; the lame; the vulnerable; the forgotten; the scattered; the deprived…I will lead them home, the Lord proclaims, I will bring them back alive.
In Mark with an individual; in Jeremiah with a people; we hear God’s eternal purpose of restoration, and healing, and wholeness, and gathering, and mending…two good “lift up your eyes” kind of words from the scriptures today.
In a few minutes, after worship, we’re going to talk a little bit about our common life. We’re going to share a first draft spending plan for next year. A spending plan is a way of envisioning our future through numbers. That’s all it is. We’ll have a chance to see what it looks like at the moment, and ask questions and share your feedback; and then we’ll ask one other to be praying intentionally about how God is asking you to support this work.
I’ll talk a little bit about where we are on the land. Through the generosity of the Diocese of Texas, God has been kind enough to create the possibility of a home for us; which we understand is not just a home for us, but a home for anybody and everybody in this community…a gathering place not just for us, but for our neighbors.
Over time, when that space is created, we will not guard it jealously. It will be a public space, because we are the eternally grateful, and the eternally grateful always share. We will share it every step of the way. We want the neighborhood kids playing on that ballfield; and commuters on their way home stopping there for a few minutes of prayer; and sports teams having their end of season banquets there; and AA and Al-Anon and NA and OA groups meeting there every day of the week.
We’ll talk about these things, and a few others…do a little church business.
But as we do this business, I’ll remind us now why we do it: to be God’s beloved community of reconciliation, restoration, and healing in this place, where we are…because we love Jesus, and serve others. In a nation more polarized than its been in fifty years…riven again by inhuman and violent disruption this week…we are called to be a witness to how God desires mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness, and wholeness; that the Lord gathers, and that God’s burning desire is for all to know the joy and beauty of being home in the Lord, and in the Lord’s people; to experience and share how God just keeps mending and stitching…which, in the end, was a truth to which Matthew Shepard, and his family, and the Church at its best, gave witness to this Friday. I hope that’s how the world saw it.
We gather in a cafeteria and live out of a trailer and celebrate communion on a borrowed table. We’re just a bunch of people seeking faithfulness…giving our heart to it…convicted that we advance more on this walk together than on our own.
And we’re a small community. We aren’t always supposed to be small…y’all know that, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is too good for us to not share it…but we are right now.
But do not ever confuse our size with our purpose. We’re about the big things God does, and for which the world hungers. “Dream Big” is what Serene Hills tells us every Sunday we walk into this space. Let’s listen to the good word our hosts have to share with us. Somebody’s life depends on it.
God is good, and giving us a beautiful future…of restoration, and healing, and wholeness, and reconciliation…not just for ourselves, but for our neighborhoods and our world. And we’re part of the plan.
I hope you’ll stay a few minutes for the meeting. God bless you, and peace be with you.