The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25, Year B) October 28, 2018
The Rev. Anna Shine
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strong rock and our redeemer.
I’m tired. I’m tired, upset, angry, sad, and heartbroken. I’m feeling the fatigue of the bombardment of seemingly never-ending bad news. It permeates the very air we breathe and has steeped us in such a space of fear and scarcity that it is hard to recognize the joys and good news that also surround us. But, Anna, you might say, we finally got to the end of the book of Job today! Didn’t you read it? Everything gets restored! And while I appreciate the sentiment of this fairy tale ending, it is not true to life experience. The restoration, in fact, is not the point of the book at all. Many have interpreted the book of Job to be a story about theodicy – that is, is God just? Why do bad things happen to good people? However, when you delve deeper into the story itself, the more pertinent question that arises is: is selfless love possible? Unconditional, non-transactional love. It is easy to love God when everything is going well, but when things go wrong, when bad things happen, when we suffer, will we still be as faithfully loving towards God?
We all experience suffering. Every single one of us experiences suffering. It is a fact of life. We do not all experience it in the same way, or even to the same degree, but it is not possible to exist without suffering at some point in our lives. One might think that this shared experience would make us more loving, more compassionate towards others. And yet, our fear often keeps us from the open vulnerability of that kind of love.
Because suffering is a ubiquitous experience, we have a choice of how to respond to it. We can either transform it or transmit it. Due to the fear that accompanies it, we often fall into the trap of the latter, transmitting the pain and suffering rather than sitting with it until we have come through it. Hear me clearly, I am not suggesting that you remain in situations that cause you harm or subject you to abuse, and I am not saying you should suffer silently or alone. I am saying that if we do not find a way to deal with the trauma of the suffering, however, we will continue to spread that suffering throughout the system and the world.
Eleven of our Jewish brothers and sisters are dead! Murdered. We must denounce acts of violence like this. It is a slap on the very face of Jesus, who was a Palestinian Jew. We cannot remain blind to this hypocrisy, to this paradoxical mindset that has led to the extermination and oppression of Jews and others in the name of our God and country. It begins with small things, making jokes at the expense of others, name calling, stereotyping, and builds to bigger things, taking away rights, discriminating, and redefining terms in order to erase the “other” that is currently being oppressed, until their very humanity is questioned and stripped of them. In the process, we strip ourselves of our own humanity as well. And it all comes from our fears.
In today’s Gospel story, we encounter Jesus going into and out of Jericho. As he leaves, a blind beggar, a man by the name of Bartimaeus, cries out, shouting Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!The crowd tries to silence him, after all, he is a blind man, a beggar, an outcast, someone not worthy. Though he is physically blind, he shows his spiritual insight in calling Jesus by the Messianic title, Son of David. His relegation to the margins has given him a perspective that others have not yet realized, that Jesus has been trying to explain to his disciples for many weeks now. Not allowing the crowd to stifle his voice or ignore his existence, Bartimaeus shouts all the louder, Son of David, have mercy on me!Jesus stands still in the midst of this chaos, and hearing him, tells the crowd to have Bartimaeus come before him. In a swift reversal of their attitude, the crowd beckons him to go to Jesus, at which point, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and springs himself up. Jesus asks: What do you want me to do for you?He responds: Rabbouni, my teacher, let me see again. You see, this is not a person blind from birth, and, like Job, the assumption is that he has done something to deserve the blindness. Jesus responds: Go; your faith has made you well. With his sight restored, Bartimaeus chooses to stay with Jesus and follow him along the way.
Jesus brings Bartimaeus out of literal darkness, out of his suffering, and it is telling that this story is immediately followed by the beginning of the passion narrative. Because the answer to the question of Job – is selfless, unconditional love possible? – is yes! God shows it to us. Jesus opened up his arms on the cross in an infinite embrace, exposing his heart to the world and inviting us to never be alone in our suffering. His own suffering and death assures us that God will always love us. Our God is a God who has experienced the depths of human pain and frailty, and wept with us in the midst of loss and suffering. That unimaginable kind of love is exactly what he calls us to in our own lives!
But we need help to have the perseverance and stamina to continue to express that kind of love. That comes through the gifts and the promise that our Collect reminds us of. A promise obtained through the obedience of that command to love, especially the ones who are most vulnerable – the blind beggar, the one persecuted for his or her faith, the refugee, the imprisoned, the orphan, and the transperson whose very existence is being threatened. And as our Collect states, the gifts we receive are charity, faith, and hope. We have concrete examples of all these gifts in our lives already. Charity. This past weekend we witnessed, participated in, and pulled off an incredible event of charity that touched the lives of many on the day itself, and will continue to touch the lives of many as we spread that love with our grant offerings today. Faith. We come together every Sunday to worship as a community, to give thanks to God for the gift of life, love, grace, and mercy. We celebrate especially today the installation of seven women into the order of the Daughters of the King, committing to vows of prayer and service to more formally continue in their discipleship journey. And hope. I’ll end with a story that I turn to when I am feeling tired, sad, and in need of support.
Horatio Spafford, a modern-day Job, was a lawyer in Chicago and a devout Christian. His son died at a young age of scarlet fever. Then he lost all his property in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In 1873, his wife and four daughters were sailing to Europe when they struck another boat. The ship sank in twelve minutes. All four daughters drowned, but Horatio’s wife, Anna, was saved. He got on the next boat to meet his wife in Europe to be with her in their mourning. In the middle of the journey, the captain of the ship summoned him to let him know that according to their calculations they were crossing the spot where his daughters had drowned. It is said that he wrote the hymn, “It is Well,” during that crossing. He and Anna had three more children, two daughters and a son, but the son died at the age of four from scarlet fever. People in their church speculated that they must have done something wrong to have so much tragedy follow them. They broke away from their church and traveled to Jerusalem, where they established the American colony and provided charity to all, regardless of faith background. I leave you with the lyrics from his hymn, which are a testament to the fortitude, faith and hope that come with a deep love of God and a deep sense of being beloved by God.
1 When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”
2 Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control: that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed his own blood for my soul.
3 My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more; praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
4 O Lord, haste the day when my faith shale be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend; even so, it is well with my soul.
Refrain: It is well (it is well), with my soul (with my soul). It is well, it is well with my soul!