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Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – October 24, 2021

Mark 10:46-52

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, sat on the roadside, listening to the people pass. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem was busier than usual. It was what we here on Whidbey Island might call tourist season. There was a great influx of travelers making their way from Jericho to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling this very road. Jesus was just hours away from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. He was just hours away from people shouting, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” Jesus was just hours away from the events that would lead to his betrayal, his suffering, his death on the cross, and his resurrection on the third day – which he had predicted to his disciples several times now. All of this was now just hours away from happening.

Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was one of those traveling the road. We don’t know if he heard Jesus’ voice and recognized it somehow, or if he heard chatter in the crowd that Jesus was making his way down the road.  I had a member in my first church in Montana who was blind. His name was Terry. I remember seeing him at the grocery store shortly after Amy and I arrived in Montana. I said hi to him, and he replied right back, “Oh, hi Pastor Jeff!” I was surprised he knew it was me, as we had only met once or twice before at that point. As if sensing my surprise, he quickly added, “When you are blind you get very good at recognizing voices.” So perhaps it was with this extra keen sense of hearing that Bartimaeus knew that Jesus was near.

Not only that, but Bartimaeus also knew who Jesus was. He called him Son of David, showing that he knew Jesus was the promised Messiah. He knew Jesus was the long-awaited ancestor of David who had come to save. And so just hours before anyone began shouting their hosannas, Bartimaeus shouted out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When people sternly told him to be quiet, he cried out even more, saying again even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

These are hard words to say. It is hard to ask for help. It is hard to ask for mercy. To ask for help is to admit weakness. To ask for mercy is to confess that your own strength or standing isn’t enough.

I remember going to a gathering hosted by the chaplain’s office at NAS Whidbey where they briefed local clergy on all the resources available to Navy personnel and their families. There is help for struggling marriages, and help for alcohol and drug problems, and help for financial management, and help for mental health struggles. The problem the chaplain’s office saw was that a lot of the people who need this help couldn’t or wouldn’t bring themselves to ask for it. All the pastors nodded their heads, because we see the same problem in the church all the time! People don’t like to admit that they need help. I think maybe it might help a little bit to be part of a liturgical church, where we begin our worship with the Kyrie Eleison. Most Sundays we sing very the same words we hear Bartimaeus cry out today: “Lord, have mercy.” I sing it, because I need it! You sing it, because you need it too! We need help, and the Kyrie helps us ask for it week after week. But even with this refrain Sunday after Sunday, we still struggle to ask for help.

Well, not Bartimaeus. He cried out his Kyrie Eleison and it stopped Jesus in his tracks. Jesus stood still when he heard him. He sent his disciples to bring Bartimaeus to him. The disciples said to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you!” What a beautiful thing to say to this blind beggar! What wonderful words to hear! They were so wonderful that Bartimaeus threw of his cloak and sprang up!

We might think of Bartimaeus throwing aside his cloak as just a minor detail in the story, but I think it is more than that. That cloak was likely this blind beggar’s only possession. Beggars in that time used their cloaks as a way to catch the coins that passersby would fling their direction, kind of like how a street performer might use a guitar case. When Bartimaeus wasn’t using it as his offering basket, that cloak was the only thing that kept him warm at night. This cloak was important to him! But these words from Jesus’ disciples were enough for him to cast that cloak aside. He trusted their words and he had faith in Christ, faith enough to let go of the only thing he possessed.

I am a huge Peanuts fan (the cartoon by Charles Schultz, not the ones in the shell that you eat at baseball games – though I am fond of those too). Many of you know the character of Linus in Peanuts. As someone who has struggled with low-grade anxiety all my life, I have always loved Linus. Linus clearly has anxiety issues too, which are evident in his ever-present security blanket. Linus’ attachment to that blanket is an ongoing plot point in many of the cartoon strips as Lucy and Snoopy try to separate him from it. Linus clings to that blanket in every cell, every scene – every scene, except for one. In the TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” as Linus takes center stage and recites the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke, he at last lets go of the blanket. In fact, it is right as he says, “Fear not,” that he drops it. This is Linus’, and maybe Charles Schultz’s, way of telling us that the coming of Jesus means we can let go of all we cling to for security in this life. We can let go of our fears, our anxieties, in order to take hold of the peace and wholeness and new life that Christ brings.

I believe this is exactly what is happening with Bartimaeus. He set aside his cloak, his sole possession, his security blanket, because he had been called by Jesus, and he trusted that Jesus would give him what he needed. He trusted that Jesus would help, that he would have mercy on him. And Jesus did just that. Jesus restored Bartimaeus’ sight.

But there is more happening here too. Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.” The Greek root word for “well” here is sozo, which is about more than sight. It is about more than physical health. It is the same word that is translated elsewhere as “salvation.” Bartimaeus could not only see again, he had experienced salvation!

Jesus continued down the road to Jerusalem, now with Bartimaeus following him on the way. And it was in Jerusalem that Jesus would make us well too – in the biggest, grandest, truest sense possible. It was in Jerusalem, where Jesus was betrayed and suffered and died and rose, so that we too could be saved, so that we could be healed, restored, so that we too could experience salvation.

Bartimaeus not only had his sight restored, he helps us to see something important about Jesus. He helps us to see that we don’t need to be afraid to ask Jesus for help, for mercy. Bartimaeus helps us to see that we can take heart, for Jesus has called us too. Bartimaeus helps us to see that we can let go of those things we’re clinging to, we can let go of our fears, and instead boldly cling to Christ. Bartimaeus helps us to see that faith in Jesus, simply letting go and trusting in him, makes us well too.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church