What if we were to listen …?

A sermon at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, on Sunday, October 24th, 2021: Year B Proper 25. Readings include the healing of Bartimaeus and Jeremiah’s oracle of hope.

Jeremiah has spent years of his life, his health, his freedom, his being warning and lamenting and prophesying the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of all but the poorest people to Babylon, but it was never because he had lost faith in God’s mercy, trust in God’s faithfulness, confidence in God’s loving-kindness toward the people whom God had called together.

In the midst of it all, Jeremiah erupts with this oracle of hope, this affirmation of the endurance of God’s commitment to, God’s covenant with, the people who have put their trust in their Creator.

It is not the stuff of unrealistic optimism. The remnant that Jeremiah prophesies returns not in triumph – they are slow and prone to stumbling – but they are together. They return weeping, but God, their God, accompanies them with consolation. All of their troubles are not yet behind them – they return to a city razed to the ground and robbed of its Temple – but like the shepherd of the Psalms, the Lord will lead them beside calm, cool waters, even as they traverse the valley.

Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, whose name means “honour”, called upon Jesus, the Son of David, for healing and restoration. The people at first tried to quiet him; they did not understand yet God’s capacity for renewal, even resurrection. As soon as Jesus called to him, though, they became his cheerleader, changed their tune as though they had been rooting for him all along. Jesus not only healed Bartimaeus, but he opened the eyes of the crowd to the indiscrimination of God’s outpouring of grace and mercy. But it was Bartimaeus who followed him up toward Jerusalem.

Bartimaeus persisted and was heard and healed. The people of the exile remembered their God and they were led home. The people who stood on the sidelines, who did not believe that hope was at hand, were flustered by the unexpected answer of Jesus to the call for a blessing, a miracle. Somehow, even as they lined the streets he was to walk through, they failed to expect very much of him.

Do you ever wonder what happened afterwards, to Bartimaeus? Now that he was following Jesus with his eyes wide open, did the people listen to him any more kindly, or were they still telling him to be quiet, not to disturb their peace?

A few days ago, in an elevator, I found myself a little cornered by a gentleman who wanted nothing more than to share his faith that in God, all things are possible; that in Christ, forgiveness is abundant; that in the Spirit, we can find our salvation.

He was the sort of person that might make a stranger nervous with his intensity and his forthrightness. He was in a way like Bartimaeus, with his socially awkward outburst of belief in the power of Jesus Christ. “People say that he is dead,” he said, “but look, he lives in me! Look into my eyes, the windows of my soul!”

What could I say to him, Bartimaeus with his eyes wide open and his heart set on Jesus?

This time yesterday morning, believe it or not, I was standing outside the birth home of Martin Luther King, Jr, in Atlanta, Georgia. The buildings in the historical district surrounding his home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he and his father each once preached remain closed because of the pandemic, so I stood out on the sidewalk.

I stood out on the sidewalk like those people surrounding Bartimaeus. I stood outside like the people who told Dr King [who followed Jesus with his eyes wide open] to be quiet, to rein it in some, not to disturb my peace, with the people who would not listen to the urgency of his message until it was, to the eyes of the world, too late.

If only we could have spared the grief of wife and child, parent and sibling. If only more of us had listened instead of telling him to “be quiet”.

The stories of Bartimaeus, of Jeremiah, of blessed Martin, of Jesus, are a rebuke to those of us who would rather not be disturbed by the inbreaking of God’s justice, the kingdom of heaven.

We may well ask why, when Bartimaeus cries out from the roadside, we had not already found him medicine, sustained him in safety, instead of telling him to be quiet. Wherever injustice is administered and healing is hard to find, the gospel challenges us to do better at living and loving and listening. I live under the rebuke of Bartimaeus, of Jeremiah, of Martin.

But God will do good despite us. God will bring the remnant home, will walk beside the weeping with consolation. Jesus will bring hope and healing to the hurting, and he will confound those who say, “Be quiet! Don’t bother the Lord with your troubles. Don’t bother us either.”

But God will do good. Sometimes the call to us is simply to recognize the unexpected goodness of God and to follow it. To be patient, knowing that even in our weeping God is with us to console us. To walk in consolation beside others who are weeping. To sustain the hope of those looking for Jesus rather than to quash or to quiet it.

As much as I wonder what happened to Bartimaeus, I wonder, too, what happened to the crowd. Did anyone else have their eyes opened that day to grace? Did anyone else turn to follow Jesus up to Jerusalem, to the Cross and its confounding, the day of Resurrection?

Jeremiah spent his life, his freedom, his political capital, his health, and his strength on prophesies of warning and oracles of lament. Yet he knew that God is faithful, that God is good, that no matter the trials and temptations, the troubles and the turmoil, God cannot help but to do good to God’s people. In the midst of it all, he could not help but prophesy hope.

Because God will do good, with or without us. And blessed is the one who has their eyes open to see it.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 2020). She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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