Sermon by Dave Shervington 24.10.2021

Sermon by Dave Shervington

Sunday 24.10.2021

 

You know this is my first time in this building since cub scouts when I was 8 or 9, which was about 28 years ago or something, but anyway, my name’s David and I’m a licensed lay minister at St Peter’s and it is such a lovely treat to be with you all this morning.

PRAY

 

Over the years, for Bartimaues, his world has begun to shrink.

Where once he perhaps knew colour and mountains and sky and green and birds and the faces of his family and friends, now he knows their voices, their sound, but he no longer knows them by sight.

Where once he was perhaps in the in-crowd, at the centre of things, acceptable, now he’s the last to be thought of, the last to be invited, the last name on the list.

Where once he had work and income, the means to provide for his family, pride, a purpose, now here he is, on the side of a road, begging, humiliated.

In a country in which benefits are at least a possibility, where help is available, where medical expertise can step in and help those who need it to adjust to new ways of living, where the social structures, inadequate though they may be , go some way towards redressing the balance, it is perhaps tricky for us to get our heads around how absolutely isolated Bartimaues is as we meet him at the start of the episode that we read about in today’s Gospel reading.

The theologian John Hull, whose life is captured by the film Notes on Blindness, and who was himself blind, commented “Perhaps all severe disabilities lead to a decrease in space and an increase in time”. Even today that is true, but how much more must that have been true for Bartimaus, on that roadside, with nothing to do but rattle his collection tin. Of course I am allowing myself some imaginative license here – we don’t know why he was blind, or whether he had always been blind. But what I want to us to wrap our heads around this morning is the absolute desperation of Bartimaues. He isn’t sitting on the side of that road casually hoping for something better to come along in due course. He isn’t asking to be able to see because blindness is a bit inconvenient. Bartiumaues’s story is not a generic sob story. This man is begging for his life. And I mean that in both senses of the expression. He is begging because he needs money to eat. This is his only source of income. The number of coins he comes away with at the end of the day will determine how much longer he can go on. But there is more going on.

He sees a man passing by, a trail of people following in his wake, and he asks someone near him who it is. “Jesus of Nazereth” comes the reply. And he knows instantly what that means. He has heard the rumours. Jesus of Nazereth who has fed thousands with just a few fish and loaves. Who has challenged the authorities by claiming to have an even greater authority. Who has healed a man, and raised a dead girl to life – a dead girl given her life back, for goodness sake! But the rumours have gone further. They say he is more than a prophet. Some say he is the one who is going to restore Israel’s fortunes. That he is Israel’s hope. The world’s hope, maybe, even. But in a way none of that matters because right now Bartimaus is begging for his life. And he is wondering whether this man Jesus might actually be his hope too. So he shouts out ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’. Now let’s get one thing straight here, Bartimaues isn’t just using Jesus’s family name. He is doing that partly. Jesus surname really is Davidson – we see from the genealogies in the Gospel that he is literally descended from David. But more than that the fact that he is Son of David tells us something about him, that he is royalty, the king of kings, the promised leader of Israel, the messiah. It is a big claim. It’s also a pretty horrendously dangerous thing to be shouting across a busy street – it’s no wonder, perhaps that the disciples would rather he kept quiet. The label Son of David implies that Jesus is somehow the true King, which in turn implies that the actual political authorities, the ones with power, and things like spears and the ability to end your life, they weren’t the true powers. So Bartimauses’s shout is a profoundly dangerous statement.

But Bartimaus knows on some level at least, that Jesus is his only hope. So he shouts out all the louder – Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Let’s be clear, theologically, this isn’t a particularly refined thing to shout. It leaves off great bits of who Jesus is. If Jesus walked into a room with a bunch of theologians today, I suspect not many of them would refer to him as‘Son of David’. It’s not wrong, it’s just not the full picture. It’s an unrefined, half-formed picture of Jesus, seen through a glass darkly.

I want to pause here and ask you if the thing that prevents you from shouting out to Jesus is ever a sense of inadequacy, a sense that you don’t have the full picture, a sense that you don’t quite understand who this Jesus is. Because I’ve certainly been there. I studied theology for three years before I became a lay minister and there were points there were I think I would genuinely say I understood Jesus less than I had when I started. There’s so much to get your head around. Every time you think you understand Jesus there’s something that makes him see harder to understand. Contrast that with my children. I have a 3 year old son and a 5 year old daughter and if I asked my daughter who Jesus was she would probably have some disarmingly straightforward answer for me. She wouldn’t spend ages trying to get the wording right. She wouldn’t feel the need to cover off every aspect of who Jesus was. She wouldn’t present me with a 5000 word essay on who Jesus is. She wouldn’t be constantly worrying she had said something slightly theologically dubious. She would just say whatever she thought.

Bartimaues hasn’t studied theology for years before calling out to Jesus and asking for mercy. This is the knee-jerk, immediate response of a desparate man, at his wit’s end.

Where, then is faith? Is faith in the carefully constructed, weighed up, theologically robust, careful polite conversation with Jesus by a man who has booked an appointment with Jesus some way ahead, and sent his concern ahead of time so Jesus had enough time to consider his response.

Is faith in the astute, informed incisive statement about Jesus spoken after four years of careful study and perhaps a PhD?

Not according to Jesus in this story. No, in this story ‘faith’ is what the desparate guy begging for his life on the side of the road has.

Faith is the knee jerk reaction of a man at the end of his tether who has no-where else to turn who calls out in a place of absolute desperation.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Sometimes, maybe all we have left is just to shout. I don’t know about you but in a global pandemic, in a climate crisis, at a time of polarity, all I can do is shout out to Jesus from the roadside in an inadequate, knee-jerk way. Begging for my life.

I don’t know about you but when I’m struggling with two kids who at the moment seem to be getting ill all the time, and I’ve had no sleep, and I’ve got a day of work ahead, all I can do is shout out to jesus from the roadside. “Have mercy on me!”

I don’t know about you but when I look at my life and the ways I get it wrong again and again and again, the little lie slips out, or the ungenerous thought, or the decision to walk away from God, all I can do, all I have left is to sit at the side of the road and call out for Jesus at the top of my lungs like Bartimaeus.

And Jesus says, your faith is enough. Your mere calling out is enough for me to come and address your needs. Just the fact that you’re there, on the edge of the road, yelling your little heart out, begging for your life, that is enough. I don’t need you to do anything to prove your faith, to prove how holy you are, how deserving you are because this isn’t about deserving it is about grace. It is about the unearned gift of God. The unearned gift of an eternal relationship with Jesus.

“Take heart, he is calling you” says the crowd to Bartimaues. Take heart.

 And Jesus is asking “What can I do for you?”

And what is the effect of this moment of faith? He can see. He can see the trees, and the flowers, and colours and his world has expanded again, an increase in space, where once as John Hull puts it, his world had shrunk. And who is it that he sees, first and foremost, standing before him? Jesus. And Bartimaeus follows him along the way. What starts as a desperate cry from the side of a road becomes a life’s journey. It’s an experience I think Job would have recognised, actually. “My ears have heard of you, and now my eyes have seen”.

What a difference seeing Jesus makes. I don’t know if you’ve seen the new documentary advertised about the band the beetles. It is coming in a few weeks time, to an internet streaming service Disney+ which we happen to have because my kids love to watch Frozen again and again - and it will give exclusive footage of the Beetles in colour. Now if you’re my age that is mind blowing, I’m not sure I even knew they had colour then. And watching this advert for this documentary the other day, I could see John Lennon and Paul McCartney in colour. No longer were they just bits of history, they were real people.

When we call out to Jesus and Jesus meets us on the side of our road, and helps us to see, we see the world in glorious, stunning technicolour. Everything looks different in the light of God’s mercy. Everything takes on the shade, the colour, the hue of hope in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ

Where once the world and the pandemic and the climate crisis and the desparate fight to get breakfast into the kids and the fact that I’ve stuffed up again, and where once all these things left me begging for my life, now because of the healing touch of Jesus there is the hope of a world as it was meant to be, and us as we were meant to be.

Our ears had heard of him. But, at our wits end, from the edge of the road we called out, in our own inadequate, way, but desperately in need of God’s mercy. We called out, and now our eyes have seen.

Amen