Following Jesus: Transforming the World 10-25-15

For the last month we have been thinking about how the church and culture interact. Four weeks ago, we started, as you all remember by now, about the early church and how it had high walls and a goal of changing the oppressive Roman empire. The next week, we talked about the weakness of the church when it became part of the empire and could not really be a critical voice outside of that. Last week, Brian and I talked confessionally about how hard it is for us in the modern church to have a separate, critical voice, and how grace and trust in God can move us and transform us with humility to be transformed.

Today, the task I gave myself to conclude this series is to think about how, as part of a transformed church, to work toward the transformation of the world, as we claim in the United Methodist slogan – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Listen for the word of God as I read it one more time for you this day.

Mark 10:46-52  They came to Jericho,  As Jesus was leaving Jericho  with the disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus ben-Timaeus, was sitting at the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, “Heir of David, Jesus, have pity on me!” Many people scolded him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the louder, “Heir of David, Jesus, have pity on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.”  So they called the blind man.  “Don’t be afraid,” they said,  Get up; Jesus is calling you. So throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus jumped up and went to Jesus. Then Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Rabbuni,” the blind man said, “I want to see.” Jesus replied, “Go, your faith has saved you.” And immediately Bartimaeus received the gift of sight and began to follow Jesus along the road.

October 25, 2015  

Following Jesus: Transforming the World.  Reformation Sunday

I’ve been a Protestant all my life. I know some of you grew up Catholic and I want you to know that I love you, even if I don’t totally understand you, or everything about the church in which you grew up. When my family moved to a new neighborhood when I was a kid, I didn’t know much about racism or anti-Semitism because there were no black kids or Jewish kids in the neighborhood.

But there were Catholics. So Catholics were the ones we thought were strange. I was blind to the fact that there was anti-Catholic sentiment in our neighborhood, let alone in me. Catholics were just the ones we differentiated ourselves from, because they were different. They were the ones we fought with. We fought with walnuts in fact, which we were really lucky didn’t kill somebody, because walnuts are harder than baseballs. The other thing I couldn’t see about this situation was who threw the walnuts first. I thought those Catholics were really mean, throwing those walnuts. They were really mean, those evil Catholic boys. It was only later in my minds eye that I realized the walnut tree was in our back yard.

I’m just saying that when I talk today about Reformation Sunday and the good things about the Protestant movement, I do so with a real sense of humility, because, like Bartimaeus in our reading today, I have been blind. There were times in my life when I did not see or recognize my Catholic friends as brothers and sisters in a way that today is much easier to see.

Last week Brian and I talked about humility in relation to transforming the church. We recognized our own limitations (at least in each other) and our own need for grace in relation to being a faithful part of the church. Remember in last week’s scripture how Jesus asked the disciples, “What do you want me to do for you?” The disciples said, “Allow us to sit at your right and left hand.” How’s that for humility? Jesus asks the very same question today of Bartimaeus and Bartimaeus, the poor beggar at the side of the road gives an answer Jesus seems to appreciate a lot more. He could have asked for quarter after all. That’s what he was used to asking for. But he says, “Teacher, let me receive my sight.”

What if we asked to receive our sight as God’s church? What if we asked to have our blindness as a church healed, to be God’s church again? I posted on Facebook this week, we are called not to come to church, but to be the church. If we want to make the church a more faithful witness of God’s love, we need to be a missional church rather than a consumer church. A consumer church is one where people come to church to be fed, to be nurtured in their faith, to have their needs met through quality programs, and to have professionals teach their children about God.

A missional church on the other hand is one where the people don’t just come to church, but see themselves as being on a mission to be the Good News of the Living God, to be the hands and feet of the Living Christ, to spread the love of the Holy Spirit. Worship is the place where we celebrate what we are doing in the world. where we encourage each other in our community of faith and where we teach each other about the Word of God in addition to the self-feeding that we are doing throughout the week.

That’s a really different model of church.

Today we are celebrating the Protestant movement in the church, the 498th anniversary of the Reformation. It is something to celebrate. We celebrate the movement to read the Bible for ourselves in our own languages, to understand our need for grace and our inability to buy our way into the good graces of God. We celebrate the Protestant understanding that we have our own relationship with God, that doesn’t need to be mediated by priests or saints or anybody else. (Just a note here, the Catholic Church had it’s own reformation as well, and learned these same things – so we don’t have any call to feel superior.)

Unfortunately, we also can be critical about how the Protestant church has come to act in the world. For about 30 years Protestants of all stripes have turned public witness into battles over morality, seeing ourselves as judges over society and standard-bearers of morality. This presumption not only contradicts the great Protestant truth that “no one is righteous” but God (Rom. 3:9), it also contradicts Jesus, who did not present himself as a model of moral righteousness but belonged wholly to the world by taking the form of a sinner in public life. [The Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness by Jennifer McBride]

Even in this passage, Jesus doesn’t present himself as the great healer to Bartimaeus. It is Bartimaeus who recognizes Jesus and Jesus credits the beggar as working together with him for his own healing. He says, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

Together, the healer and the beggar recognize in one another more than the distracting, misguided crowd (or the imperial forces, or the temple establishment) understands: that healing sometimes comes out of desperation combined with persistence, and from recognizing and strengthening one another.

Bartimaeus is our model here for working toward transformation in the world. We are like a blind beggar who at least recognizes his blindness and works with Jesus to be able to see. We are blind – we don’t want to see what is going on around us – that Catholics are our brothers and sisters – and so our people of all faiths, and even people of no faith. We are blind – we have to be reminded that Black lives matter, because we don’t even see the ways in which we act as though Black lives don’t matter. We are blind – and we are not even sure that we want to see.

Bartimaeus is our model today for working for transformation in the world. We are like a blind beggar who works together with Jesus for healing, who throws aside his cloak to come to Jesus. That cloak was his most prized possession. It kept him warm at night. It was what held the change he was collecting from people at the gate. What do we need to let go of to get close to the Living God, what privilege, what prized possession do we have to let go of to be able to work with Jesus toward healing in the world?

Bartimaeus is our model – one who knows his flaws, but moves forward anyway, and decides to walk on the Way with other flawed but faithful folks. We walk with each other, knowing that we are part of a culture that influences us in strange ways – through persistent media messages to consume and buy our way to happiness. Jesus in and through our faith and our church supports us to challenge our cultural assumptions and blindness, to walk together on a path that leads on a path that inevitably causes us to have some real tension and conflict with the culture around us.

We neither separate ourselves totally from the culture, nor do we take our cues from that culture. We live in, but not of the world. We live as people of faith in a world which needs the gift of community that we beggars know is available to us when we give up our blindness, when we let go of our cloak, when we walk with the Living God on the Way, when we realize that we can stop the war, we can stop the conflict, we can stop the fight, because – so often – the walnut tree is in our own back yard.

Responsive hymn  2214     Lead Me, Guide Me