Besides Amy and myself, can I see how many other ministers we have here? Just raise your hand. Ok, a few. Hands down. Now, how many people here have been baptized, in any Christian denomination? Please keep your hands up. Now, how many ministers. Yes, look around. Hands down.
Our vows of Baptism are promises of ministry. We promised, with God’s help, to:
Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,
Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves,
And strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
Being a Christian is not a spectator sport. You don’t just buy a ticket and sit on the sidelines. We are called to get in the game. As followers of the Christ, we are all called to ministry!
Today’s passage from Mark takes place as Jesus and his followers leave Jericho and head toward Jerusalem, where Jesus will be arrested and abandoned, beaten and killed. He is near the end of his ministry of healing and teaching. But there is time for one more lesson in ministry. In this brief passage, Jesus shows us exactly what ministry is, how it works and what it looks like.
Foreshadowing the crowd that will greet him in Jerusalem, Jesus is surrounded by people who wish to follow him, to hear his words, to want to be part of the excitement around this celebrity Jesus. Everyone wants a piece of this action.
Off to the side sits Bartimaeus, whose name means “Son of Honor”; an interesting name for a blind man living in a time when blindness was often seen as a curse or punishment from God for the misdeeds of the person or their ancestors.
This Son of Honor, sitting off to the side, wrapped in a cloak or blanket and ignored by the crowd, calls out to Jesus using the title “Jesus, Son of David”. Now, Bartimaeus knows the name Jesus. He’s heard the stories of power and healing. So, fueled by great hope and great faith, he calls out again, “Jesus, Son of David”, using a title no one else, including Jesus, ever used. It’s a reference to royalty recalling the prophetic revelation of the Messiah.
Somehow, this blind man has the insight to recognize Jesus as part of the royal line of David, to recognize Jesus as the Messiah!
The ignored Bartimaeus, the son of honor, seeks to have restored to him that honor and dignity we all deserve as children of God. He seeks to be restored, reinstated as part of his community. Blind Bartimaeus sees the healing and restorative power of the Son of David.
At first, he doesn’t even ask to be healed. He asks only for mercy. He has strong faith and he has a strong hope and he puts both on the line. He boldly calls out to Jesus, even while the crowd is trying to silence him, telling him to shut up, to stay at the edge, on the margin where he belongs, where they don’t have to see him.
Bartimaeus wants to see but can’t, while these followers of Jesus can see, but chose not to.
But Jesus hears him and acknowledges him. He instructs the crowd to ask him in. Jesus asks and wants the people to directly interact with this man, to see and to accept Bartimaeus as a fellow human being. This acceptance of Jesus, and his encouragement of the crowd is so powerful that they are transformed, they become eager to help Bartimaeus. “Take heart, he is calling you.”
Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and runs to Jesus. Jesus assures him, “…your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus is again part of the community, and goes off to follow Jesus.
And this is how our ministry works. We decide we want to follow Jesus, even when that walk takes us into Jerusalem. We are called to do our ministry in a world which often sees us as fools, wasting our time, trying to help “those people” who are too lazy or too stupid or too something, to help themselves. We’re told it’s better to stay home, watch TV, go shopping, play games, or follow friends on Facebook if we want to interact with someone. After a while, we won’t even see “those people” anymore. We’re told it’s best to just ignore them. Someone else will handle it. This is the Jerusalem we walk into when we step out the doors of this church.
But we can claim Jesus as our leader and as our inspiration. We can rely on the example of his life and the wisdom of his teachings for our inspiration. We can empower and encourage each other with stories and knowledge of God’s power, compassion and faithful love for us. We need that for our journey to Jerusalem.
It is on that journey where Jesus calls us to look for,”Bartimaeus-es”, to see and accept them as our brothers and sisters, to bring them with us to meet Jesus. We are also called to honor and respect what the people we seek to serve are going through.
That cloak or blanket they have so tightly wrapped around themselves may be all they have in the world. For them, it is warmth and protection. The cloak may be made of violence, or heroin, or alcohol, or anything else that keeps us from feeling the painful emptiness when our lives are separated from each other and from God. It may be harmful and shameful, but it feels like the only thing you can hold onto. It’s not an easy thing to let go.
We should also be aware of how tightly our own cloaks are wrapped around us. How comfortable they have become, but how and what they are preventing us from experiencing or accomplishing in our lives. How our cloaks are separating us from each other, and how they get in the way of our relationship with God.
Like Bartimaeus, we, too, look to reclaim and renew our hope by understanding God’s love for us, and by sharing that love with each other, and by allowing others to share love with us. We need to grab hold of that love with both hands, and we can’t do that if we’re holding a cloak around our neck.
So, if we follow this story of Mark, if we proclaim, by word and example, the Good News of God in Christ; If we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; then we can, and we will, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
When we do that, we will be living into our vows of Baptism. When we do that, we will be living into our call to ministry. When we do that, we can leave this place, go out into the world together, and together we can help each other build God’s Kingdom. Amen.