[Sermon preached on October 28, 2012]
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.
Mark 10:46-52 NRSV
The theme this month has been a Harvest of Gratitude. Each week at church we have been looking at different parts of our congregational life that we are grateful for. It has been fun week by week to hear each person’s perspective on this. The particular theme today is mission and the ways we are grateful for the mission opportunities we have. So Megan and Dave spoke to us about the summer mission trip to Henderson Settlement in Kentucky. We are grateful for their willingness to share their experiences with us. This mission trip is one slice of the many ways our congregation is involved in mission, both by our direct participation and by our giving. Truly we are grateful for all these opportunities.
For the sermon today, though, I’d like to look at mission in a different way. I want to turn it around and look at it from the other side. I have a question: what is God’s mission? I know what mission means to us, but what does mission mean to God? It seems to me from reading the Gospels that in Jesus God went on a mission trip. Mission Earth! By looking at the different scenes from that mission trip, we can see what God’s mission priorities are. I am thinking about mission from God’s perspective.
Jesus is in Jericho today, east of Jerusalem. Jericho is 9000 years old — it’s the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. You can visit Jericho today and look at the deep archeological digs there; you can look down into a pit at the top of a tower that goes deeper still. Life is old in Jericho. In his visit, Jesus is a celebrity. He is the famous prophet, sage, and healer. There are lots of crowds and noise around him. Maybe the officials are giving Jesus a tour of the city. “Look, there is the new aqueduct that the Romans built. And on that side is Herod’s grand palace.” But in the middle of this tour there is this loud, shrieking voice, calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” (Son of David was a messianic title.) The voice belongs to Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who heard that Jesus was going by. Jericho was a wealthy city, and a beggar could make a decent living there. But the officials are not happy with the interruption, and they go over to try to shush Bartimaeus up. He calls out all the more loudly. “Jesus, have mercy on me.”
Jesus calls out to him, and then he stands still so that Bartimaeus can find him by the sound of his voice. Finally the two men stand face to face. Then Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” This is such a surprising question. Why does he need to ask? Isn’t it obvious what Bartimaeus needs? He’s a blind beggar! Can’t you do something about that, Jesus? That he asks the question tells me Jesus is looking for something beneath the surface of things. He is probing. Socrates went around the streets of Athens asking questions to expose ignorance. Jesus asked questions, though, so that he could expose faith. He is interested in a person’s spiritual condition. He is looking for faith. And he finds faith in Bartimaeus, “Your faith has made you well.”
The best definition I’ve ever come across for faith is from Jana Childers, in a sermon she preached 25 years ago. She said, “Faith is a loyalty to unseen realities.” I love that! Faith is a loyalty to unseen realities. Most of what is, we cannot see. And I don’t just mean that 98% of the matter in the universe is invisible. That’s true. But there is also, equally invisible, a spiritual world. There is a realm of the spirit. It is no less real because we cannot perceive it with our senses.
Let’s say you want to visit a friend at the University of Michigan Hospital, the fourth floor. You decide to take the stairs for exercise. You find that there are 113 steps to the fourth floor. A lot of steps! (There are only 54 steps to the fourth floor at Bixby Hospital.) Why so many steps at UoM? Because there are floors between the floors. Floor 1.5, 2.5, 3.5 and so on. I have no idea what happens on these hidden floors. Storage perhaps, or mechanical access. You’d never even know they are there if you only took the public elevators. Only by going into the stairwell do you see these doors to the floors between the floors. They are ordinarily hidden from our sight.
Reality itself is just like this. There are floors between the floors that we cannot see. There are dimensions of reality that we cannot perceive with our senses, but they are no less real. At Alice Pollard’s funeral a couple of weeks ago, the minister said, “Heaven is a new dimension with new possibilities.” I like that. Where is heaven? Heaven is everywhere; heaven is on the floors between the floors, in the reality we cannot perceive. Faith is our awareness of this; faith is our currency with this alternate world, our connection with it. Faith allows us to be influenced and changed by this realm of the spirit, and to know that in the end this is our true home. Faith knows that we are not physical beings having a spiritual experience, but we are spiritual beings having a physical experience. This is why faith is so important.
Jesus had deep compassion on physical suffering, and he sought in his limited way to alleviate suffering. (He expects us to do the same.) But he also knew that however he helped someone physically, it was only going to be a temporary fix. Anyone he healed — and it was a limited number — would become sick again and one day die. The 5000 he fed all got hungry again after a couple of days. That’s why he tended to look beneath the surface to the spiritual condition of a person, as he does with Bartimaeus. He is looking for faith. Because faith is how we make contact with God. Hebrews 11.6: “Whoever comes to God must believe (have faith) that he exists, and that he rewards those who diligently seek him.” If Jesus is God’s mission trip, then it is clear that one of God’s chief mission priorities is to awaken faith in us, to bring faith to light so that it can been seen. God wants to say to us, “Your faith has made you well.”
What is the takeaway for this sermon? Here, I’ll put it on a little plate. Whatever happens to you. Whatever happens to your house or your property, whatever happens to your retirement accounts, whatever happens to your body, which is changing daily, whatever happens to your brain and your cognitive ability — whatever happens to any of these things that you worry about, remember remember remember that your most important asset is faith. If you have faith, you have everything you need in the long run. If you don’t have faith, all you need to do is ask for it. Just like Bartimaeus, “Lord, I want to see again.”