The Rev. Canon Leonard L. Hamlin, Sr.
Won’t you pray with me?
Almighty God, as we come on this beautiful day that you have set before us, it is once again that we ask that you would cover us, keep us. That you would unite us, but fill us for all of the places that you are preparing for us. So now we ask that you would hold us. This we ask in the wonderful name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Certainly, in listening to the gospel that was read this morning, I must confess that I am always and will forever be captivated by this book we know as the Bible. All of the scriptures that are contained and recorded within grab my attention. But in particular, I am moved by those narratives that recall Jesus’ encounters throughout his earthly ministry, with numerous individuals, the groups and crowds who occupied the center of society, and those who have been relegated to the margins. While the biblical passages placed before us numerous truths, revelations, answers, and recorded questions, the spirit is always raising questions beyond what is written on the page. And when read deeply, they prompt a shifting, a turning, and a wrestling in our own spirit. And if we hold on and wrestle enough, it results in a transformation within our spirit, and in many cases also transforms the circumstances of our human existence in positive ways. It transforms. And there are many who can witness to the truth that it transforms homes, families, communities, relationships between the known neighbor and the stranger, between friend and enemy, rich or poor, black or white. All are touched and take a dramatic turn that allows us to glimpse and experience the decency and dignity that is available to us, but mostly resides within us. It was just a week ago that Canon Cope reminded us of one of the questions that is written on the page and part of the gospel scripture that was read today. Hopefully you were paying attention, that you heard and we’re listening as Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
I remind you for a moment that the Bible places before us questions to wrestle with and to answer as we walk this spiritual journey and road. When you open the Bible from book to book, chapter to chapter, verse after verse, the Bible and the scriptures are filled with great questions. Consider for just a moment with me, a few. From the very beginning, when God was calling to Adam, after the heartbreaking decision to eat from the forbidden tree, we hear God asking, “Where are you?” The question is not limited to seeing Adam’s physical location, but his spiritual disposition. Soon after, as Cain has taken the life of his brother, he makes a weak argument to cover his actions by asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Moving forward quickly, we come into Isaiah as he stands before the altar in the throne, and here’s the question set before him in a moment of future uncertainty. And we hear a voice raising and coming to him that says, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” We are left to make our own decision about being a spectator or a participator in the divine agenda. Even as many of you may be familiar, we just turn the page a few pages more, and we meet Ezekiel as he’s standing in the valley of dry bones, wondering about the future, and a powerful and profound question comes to him and to us today that says, “Son of man, can these bones live?” What possibilities do we see when we are looking at circumstances versus when we are listening to our creator? Coming over into a different setting, as Nicodemus engages in a nighttime and covert encounter with Jesus, we hear him ask, “How can a man be born when he is old?” This relationship and connection between our physical circumstances and our spiritual reality is right before us in this moment.
Just a few scenes or a few pages later, and when we look at the gospels, depending upon your positions in reading, Jesus is pressing his disciples as to their opinion about his nature and his identity. And two more questions, jump off the page, and I know I’m throwing a lot at you, but he says here, ‘Who do men say that the son of man is?” and followed by the question where he says, “Who do you say that I am?” And further conversation as Jesus expounds upon what’s really valuable and what’s not. We hear for what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul. Question after question, moment after moment, the Bible is full of questions that we are called to wrestle with an answer. While we’re here in this crowd, we can choose not to hear them or make decisions not to wrestle with these questions and walk around blind to what is around us. Or perhaps blind to that which we have allowed to dwell within us.
This gospel reading that calls to us today, calls us to pay attention to the crowd that is following Jesus. Blind Bartimaeus who is calling to Jesus. But most of all, at dead center, or as I have often been reminded by the older preachers in my life, at life’s center, we meet Jesus. Jesus passes through this place noted as Jericho, which was known in that day as an oasis city. A location where the haves would gather, and the have-nots would position themselves at the gates or the locations within the city in hopes that someone would have compassion on them. Bartimaeus the blind beggar was sitting by the roadside. I would have you to see that he is not only marginalized by his position, but he’s marginalized by his condition. He is not part of the crowd, but he is separated from the crowd. He is not in the road, but he’s on the side of the road. He is not standing with the crowd, but he’s sitting at the feet of the crowd. Bartimaeus heard the noise and the commotion of the crowd and began to make his appeal by calling out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” Bartimaeus had perhaps become accustomed to being passed by, to being marginalized, to being ostracized. Perhaps he had become accustomed to being identified as one of the disowned and disinherited. As part of this crowd, he had become used to another crowd seeking to protect the status quo and encouraging his being invisible. Listen to the crowd as the gospel writer records, that as Bartimaeus is calling out, the crowd sternly ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet. But his heart, his mind, his strength had been lifted by his faith in Jesus.
Blind Bartimaeus’ faith was not in some inspirational speaker, not in some current day philosopher, made famous by his popularity or the number of followers he may have. He was not placed in a fortune teller that would be able to guarantee that tomorrow would look better, brighter, he would have everything that come. He was not following someone who would tell him, name it and claim it, and you would receive whatever you ask. This was Jesus, Mary’s baby. Jesus, lily of the valley, bright and morning star. This was the one who had transformed hearts and minds. One who had healed the sick, fed the hungry, and healed the brokenhearted. Bartimaeus realizing this may have allowed any frustration with the crowd to fuel his faith. And there are sometimes when folk will tell you “no,” you ought to hear God tell you “yes.” There are times when folk will push you down, you ought to hear his voice saying, “Get up from where you are.” And in this moment, we find ourselves, individually and collectively, as community and even nation, there ought to be a voice that we hear that tells us that if we trust in Him, everything is going to be all right. So, when they told him to be quiet, Bartimaeus called even louder. And if you have never been or considered yourself part of the Bartimaeus crowd, you may be slow to relate to the fact that there’s power in calling that name.
There is something about that name. I’ve heard it said and sung, “Jesus is the sweetest name I know.” The scene takes a sudden turn as Bartimaeus is calling, and the crowd is working on pressing Bartimaeus to be quiet. Jesus hears the call of Bartimaeus and halts and stops the crowd. Jesus halts the crowd that was following him, and Jesus said, “Call him here.” Jesus stops this interaction, lest it be said that Jesus did not care about those who are on the side of the road. That Jesus did not care about those who are needy and those who were overlooked and put out. Let it be said that Jesus cares. The crowd did not want to recognize Bartimaeus. The crowd did not want to deal with Bartimaeus’ circumstances or even his condition. What kind of followers were these that overlooked the poor? What kind of followers were these that were content to be connected with Jesus, but overlook the cries of the suffering, the hurting those living at or below the margin? What kind of followers are we when we can claim Jesus as our savior, but don’t show up when those who are suffering are in need?
Perhaps they desired to possess a faith that made them comfortable with conditions. Or have a faith that blinded them to certain realities. Well, this text reminds me that my faith helps me not to be blind, but it helps me to see what I don’t want to see sometimes. To deal with what I run away from sometimes. To stand up to what is trying to push me down sometimes. The crowd looked at Bartimaeus and saw differences. They looked at his blindness, his economic condition, his national position, and treated him differently. This is the current problem in this nation, and even in our world. We have become, and many have adopted and accepted positions, that they see differences as the problem. Our current condition and conflicts are not the differences, but the fact that we are blind to the forces that are common to all of us. They are forces common to all human nature. They are passion and anger, deceit and falsehood, jealousy, and envy, laziness and gluttony, greed and covetousness, pride and selfishness, ignorance and complacency, and the desire for power and authority, that pushes some down and fails to lift everyone up. These are the traits that are common to all. It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, secure or insecure, privileged or underprivileged, red, black, yellow, green, white. It does not matter where you sit, these are common to everyone. It’s not our differences, but we all have the same problem.
Many years ago, an author and psychologist, Henry Link, who was a famous psychologist who had alienated himself from Christian beliefs for many years, but gradually went back again during his practice of being a psychologist. He wrote that the primary forces which helped to restrain or condition these antisocial and divisive tendencies are moral, rather than intellectual. Religious, rather than economic. Spiritual, rather than physical. Those who claim to have the most or highest dignity often see dignity represented in those who hide behind a certain standard of living and economic security and position. They are blind to the fact that Jesus was never more dignified when he stooped to wash his disciples’ feet. In this sudden turning of the gospel, Jesus told the crowd, “Call him here,” speaking about Bartimaeus. And the crowd called to the blind man and said to him, “Take heart, get up. Jesus is calling you.” Quickly, the crowd put on airs and portrayed an empathy and a compassion in front of Jesus that they did not possess when they thought they were out of sight of Jesus. It’s an awful thing when you can smile in someone’s face but talk behind their back. It’s an awful thing to live in a world and have relationships where you can send emails, maybe I digress, that say one thing, but act another way. The crowd says, “Take heart, get up.” And when we look at this text, Bartimaeus was blind physically, but the crowd was blind spiritually.
It’s an awful thing to have a physical condition that you deal with on a daily base, but we’re here to deal with our spiritual conditions. So, Bartimaeus throwing off his coat, and there’s some times in order to move, you got to take some stuff off. Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus. And this is where Bartimaeus faces and wrestles with this great question asked by Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus said to him, “My teacher!” Y’all excuse me, I’m about to turn Baptist in a minute. “My teacher!” I have to pause because that means something to me, “My teacher! Let me see again.” The witnesses enduring, as much as it is empowering, but mostly it is revealing. “My teacher!” He heard enough about Jesus and the words of Jesus that he was not just fascinated or inspired by Jesus, the truth is that Bartimaeus was on the verge of being transformed totally by Jesus. Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” And immediately he regained his sight and followed him along the way.
I don’t know what you’ve come for today, but truth is I came that I might see better, that I might see clearer in a world where the newspapers are full of bad news, I came to get some good news. In a world where people are suffering and hurting, I came to see possibilities. I came not just to look you in the eye, I came to meet the spirit and Jesus face to face. I came not just so I can say I’ve been here, but I can leave here different than the way I walked in the door. I’m praying that in this crowd, in this place, online who are meeting us today, that all of us together, that we will be so transformed in the Spirit that we’re able to say, “My teacher!” And when it gets good to you, you can say, “My Lord, my savior, my deliverer, my healer, my comforter, my way maker, my everything.” It has become so personal that not just physically, but first spiritually, we might again have our sight and follow him all the way.
I hear my mother once again, my father once again, my aunt, who I grew up sitting next to in church so often, singing that wonderful hymn that says, “Pass me not, O gentle Savior / Hear my humble cry / While on others Thou art calling / Do not pass me by / Let me at that throne of mercy / Find a sweet relief / Kneeling there in deep contrition / Help my unbelief.” And when it got good, I still see their faces saying, “Savior, Savior / Hear my humble cry / While on others Thou art calling / Do not pass me by.” So, don’t pass us by this morning. That after we have gone through the motions, we too might be able to say with reality, because of God’s amazing grace, “I was blind, but now,” this Sunday morning. Now, when on my way out. Now, when I get home. Now, when I get into the highways and byways. “Now, I see.”