Holy Trinity Episcopal Church


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    Oct 28, 2018

    23rd Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Mark 10:46-52

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year B: 2017-2018

    Category: Pentecost


    Healing stories, both biblical and modern are always powerful, even when they happen in fairly mundane circumstances. When my grandmother had cataract surgery decades ago, I remember her first visit back to our house after the procedure. She had my mother shuffle us grandchildren out to her so she could look at us again for the first time. Apparently she had been putting off the surgery until her vision had become really quite poor. So, when it was finished and her eyes had recovered a bit, she delighted in looking at our little faces. I remember looking up and into her pale, and now clear, blue eyes that were looking right back into mine. I remember how kind their expression was. I am glad to have this memory since grandma has now been gone for many years. Millions of people have cataract surgery each year and it’s a pretty simple procedure—pretty non-dramatic; except for my family. Grandma’s eye surgery was a big deal. For one thing, there was my mother with her stern warnings that we better not do anything to get in the way of grandma’s healing—and we listened. I don’t think the three of us had ever been better behaved than after grandma’s surgery. The house was actually somewhat quiet. Even though I’m not sure how kids running around would hurt anyone’s eyes, I know that at the time we didn’t want to take any chances and we didn’t want to make our mother angry who was showing grandma great deference and taking care of lots of little tasks for her. Really, everyone was on their best behavior when it came to grandma’s eyes, because for a little while it was all about grandma’s eyes. However, the one thing that didn’t change was everyone thought it was still ok to smoke around her. Go figure.

                But in Mark’s story of blind Bartimaeus, it is not all about his eyes. We know that Bartimaeus lost his vision at some point in his life, and we can guess that he is a beggar now because of his blindness.  And it is no surprise to us that of course his sight is what he now wants. His sight, like grandma’s is important, even essential. But what is more important in Mark’s story, is Bartimeaus’ faith which is not blind but also not dependent on whether or not his eyes can see. Bartimeaus seems able to see Jesus in ways others haven’t. Commentators point out that Mark’s gospel contrasts Bartimeaus here with people like James and John who we met earlier and who were seeking glory, and with the rich young man who wanted eternal life. Instead of these things, Bartimeaus only seeks mercy, he seeks only healing from Jesus because he believes that Jesus can provide this mercy.[1] Because of his faith, Bartimeaus believes it is worth making a spectacle of himself and reaching out to the one he needs in this moment. And when he receives his sight back, Bartimeaus doesn’t go back to the life he had before, he gets up and follows Jesus on the way as a new disciple.

                Now, while this is a story of healing, it is also a story about wholeness, which involves healing in a much deeper sense. And this deep healing is about more than things simply functioning correctly, such as eyes that can see and ears that can hear. Wholeness is knowing ourselves to be, in body, mind and spirit, utterly beloved, even in the midst of loss and suffering, even in the midst of blindness. And that’s wonderful news because so often the life we have planned for ourselves is not the life we actually experience. Sometimes our plans for ourselves and others fall to the way-side, our expectations aren’t met, our physical health, like Bartimaeus’ is compromised and it changes everything. But wholeness is not contingent upon our bodies working perfectly, or our lives going to plan—we are no more or less beloved if we are blind than if we can see. Besides, most of us will experience our physical selves failing us at some point or another. Most, if not all of us will find ourselves at some point failing one another, we will be hurt by others, and we will hurt them. This is simply the world we live in. That doesn’t mean we cannot find wholeness, and when things go wrong it doesn’t mean we aren’t being faithful enough, it just means that we are mortal and broken human beings in need of healing. That is simply who and what we are.

                The late Henri Nouwen, in his book Life of the Beloved, writes at length about belovedness and suffering. He encourages us not to run from our brokenness, but to stand in the suffering that comes from it for it is only in this way that healing can come to the wounds we bear. He writes: “The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing.” We are to “pull our brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing.”[2] We must take our suffering and instead of letting it tell us that we are being punished and allowing it to separate us from the God who loves us, we are to pull it out into the light while claiming the truth that we are God’s beloved children now and for ever and let that truth heal all. Bartimeaus, though being discouraged by the crowd, didn’t hesitate to reach out to Jesus and didn’t let anything get in his way.

                Yesterday, Matthew Shepherd’s ashes were interred in the National Cathedral in Washington DC. 20 years ago, in Laramie, Wyoming, Matthew was pistol-whipped into a coma and tied to a fence in the freezing cold night. In the morning, a bicyclist happened to spot him hanging there, but it was too late. Matthew died in the hospital a few days later. Matthew was attacked and killed because he was gay and his attackers, two men now serving life sentences, felt that he was not worthy of dignity, of kindness, of even his life. And so they took those things away. They were not necessarily alone, even at Matthew’s funeral, people stood outside of the church with signs condemning him for who he was. And so for two decades Matthew’s parents kept his ashes with them because they feared that wherever they buried Matthew, he would not be safe even then from those who would deface his final resting place. Until, that is, the Cathedral offered them a niche, a safe place for Matthew to rest where no one could do him anymore harm. The service yesterday saw a community gathered to welcome Matthew and his family, to celebrate his life and mourn his death. But what those who gathered also did was speak love into a tragedy. They created a space of peace and safety that pushed the darkness back; in Nouwen’s words, they stood together in the midst of unspeakable suffering and claimed God’s blessings in the brokenness and in the loss. Over and over again they claimed God’s unstoppable love for themselves and for Matthew. In his sermon, Bishop Gene Robinson said the three things he would say to Matthew are: Gently rest in this place, you are now safe, and welcome home.[3]

                Wholeness is not about the end of suffering but the transformation of it and ourselves. Wholeness is not in the fixing of things, but in the deep healing of God’s love in those wounds that are too deep for even time to heal. Wholeness is claiming that love. As one contemplative teacher writes, “We can learn to sink the taproot of our heart into that invincible love and draw out from it resources of courage, patience, and tenderness to touch the hurting places with love, so they might dissolve in love until only love is left. This is Christ’s presence in the world.”[4]

                Today, in our annual meeting we are going to talk about vision, budget, buildings and elections…all of which can seem incredible unspiritual. And they might be just that, unspiritual, profane things with no connection to real faith. But they are tools in holy work, that work of seeking wholeness for all, of reaching out to the those hurting places with love so that we can stand in the darkness and claim the light for ourselves and for all who share this beautiful, broken humanity, and as Nouwen writes, truly believe we are beloved. Amen.




    [1] New Interpreter’s series

    [2] Nouwen, Life of the Beloved.

    [3] New York Times

    [4] James Finley, Center for Action and Contemplation