Sunday, October 25, 2015

Role Models

A Sermon preached on October 25th (Proper 25) at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden
Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52

I’m going to start this morning with Douglas’ last question from his sermon last week: “Will we leave this building with a new heart and new hope to transform a world in which otherwise darkness seems to extinguish light?” This was a quote from Archbishop Justin Welby and not only that – it was from the sermon he had just preached at the consecration of the new Immanuel Chapel at my Seminary – VTS in Alexandria, VA. VTS needed a new chapel as the old one had burned down – never heard of a church burning down before, have you! 

But looking at the world today, we do need these new hearts and new hope if we are to overcome the darkness that seems to be trying very hard to extinguish light and whose effects we are experiencing here in Germany with the huge influx of refugees fleeing the darkness of war and persecution and destruction. But even here too darkness is trying to prevail. You might have heard the German President Joachim Gauck compare and contrast a dark with a light or bright Germany: "Es gibt ein helles Deutschland, das sich leuchtend darstellt gegenüber dem Dunkeldeutschland." He said that back in August comparing the positive reaction of so many volunteers – welcoming and helping the refugees – with those who attack and burn down asylum homes or who demonstrate with extremist slogans, and more recently even a mock-up of gallows for those politicians they consider to be traitors. 

There are legitimate fears and concerns about the influx of refugees, about our ability to feed and accommodate them, about how well and how quickly we can integrate them into German society. And some towns and cities may have reached their limit – but not all by any means. Wiesbaden hasn’t. Nor can there ever be limits to compassion or to basic human rights, which are based on the core Christian values of love of God and of God in all our neighbours. Far too often however politicians from the established parties – and not just PEGIDA organisers – take these fears and concerns and instead of dealing with them and solving them, use them to their own gain by exacerbating and exaggerating them and by demonising the “stranger.”  But it is not just politicians who are to blame for the very dangerous increase in right wing rhetoric and inflammatory speeches, but also all those normal citizens who join the anti-refugee demonstrations and who even have the audacity to carry crosses, the symbol of Christianity, with them! They are followers of hate and darkness – unlike Bartimaeus of this morning’s Gospel reading, who is a follower of the way, the way of Jesus, the way of light and love.

And it’s both Bartimaeus; and also Job; who I want to commend to you as role models this morning, because that is what they are being held up as, as righteous examples. Not in everything of course – you don’t all have to go and live on a dung heap like Job, or sit begging on a street corner like Bartimaeus – but certainly in their attitude and in what they do and say.

We’ve reached the happy end of Job’s story. His suffering – let me remind you he lost his family, his wealth, the respect of his peers and his health – is over. But all that time he never lost his faith or his hope – despite the counsels of his so-called friends who were trying to convince him to despair and to give up. He has been rewarded with a personal encounter with God – an overwhelming, awe-inspiring encounter with his creator. No longer, he says, is God just someone he has “heard of by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” (42:5) God is beyond his understanding and he feels infinitely small in comparison, yet he was not too small or too unimportant for God. God let himself be found by his servant Job. All the new possession Job  receives – the fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys, exactly double what he had before his sufferings started – are God’s sign to the world that this is a righteous man and one whose example it is worth following. An example that stands for faith in adversity, hope rather than despair, for endurance and for trust that God will not let us down.

As for Bartimaeus, well we only get to hear the end of his story. We don’t know how he became blind nor do we know for how long he had been a beggar and had to sit by the roadside in Jericho day in and day out hoping for alms from all those rich and important people. You might remember that in last week’s Gospel the brothers James and John made a bid for power – not acting as the best of role models despite being founding disciples!  Well clearly Mark is setting up Bartimaeus as a better model to imitate – we are supposed to contrast his faith with the disciples’ infighting. 

Bartimaeus is blind, and yet he knows who Jesus is. Apart from Peter – and some demons – he is the first person in Mark’s Gospel to use the messianic title “Jesus Son of David” in public. When Jesus asked James and John “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36) they ask for power and glory. When Jesus asks Bartimaeus exactly the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” (10:51) he asks for healing, for a new life and – as it turns out – the chance to follow Jesus. Because unlike so many other people healed by Jesus, who just say thank you (or not) and run off home, Bartimaeus “followed him on the way.” (10:52)

He is a model to imitate – just like Job – in his faith and trust: he knows who Jesus is and what he can do. In his courage: shouting out and not allowing others to quiet him. In his discipleship: taking his new life, his fresh start, his freedom and giving it to Jesus. God has become not just someone he has heard of, but now someone he sees. And Jesus does not make him feel small or unimportant. Jesus, God has this blind beggar called forward and brought right into his presence to be healed. If Bartimaeus had known the words to our Communion hymn, Amazing Grace, I’m sure he would have sung them:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

We could also argue that it was not only Bartimaeus who was blind – the crowd, including Jesus’ followers, were too. The beggar was all but invisible to them and when he first starts shouting out, he is considered a disturbance. So the first miracle of healing was the crowd being given their sight, really seeing Bartimaeus, and bringing him forward for healing by Jesus – they were made aware of those in their midst who need help and salvation, both physical and spiritual.

So in these difficult and dangerous times when darkness seems to extinguish light, I commend the examples of Job – standing for faith, hope, and trust – and of Bartimaeus – standing for faith, hope, courage, and discipleship – and of the crowd – standing for openness to need and for compassion to you. And most of all I commend the example of the one we follow, the Light of the World, “the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Go and follow him on the way. It will save you and save the world.

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