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Monthly Archives: October 2018

Feast Day: Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Mark 10:46-52

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus is with his disciples and a large crowd and they are leaving the city of Jericho. There sitting at the edge of the road is a blind man named Bartimaeus and as Jesus was passing by he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to have his sight restored. Jesus wants you to know that he is passing by this morning so that we might shout out to him and have the eyes of our hearts enlightened.

Bartimaeus is an interesting figure. In Matthew and Luke’s telling of the story the blind man is anonymous but here in Mark he has a name. This is not just some anonymous blind man or beggar but someone—Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Right away this tells us something important. There are no numbers in the kingdom of God. There are people with names and faces. There are individuals, each unique and bestowed with dignity from God himself. Each one worthy of respect and love. Each one with inherent value and beauty to God. Each one with a story that Jesus Christ knows in-and-out.

And Bartimaeus, we are told, is blind. Though Saint John Chrysostom, that great fourth century bishop, asks does not Bartimaeus see better than many? Indeed, Jesus Christ the light of the world has come to restore our spiritual sight, to illumine the eyes of our hearts with the divine light that we might see and know him truly as he is and love and obey him now and always. That is what all of the healings of blind people in the gospel are ultimately signs of.

So there sits blind Bartimaeus begging by the side of the road and when he heard that Jesus was passing by he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” It is unlikely that Bartimaeus knew the full weight of his confession of faith. Yet he had at least a rudimentary understanding of who Jesus is and the ability of Jesus to meet a basic and fundamental need that he had. In this already his spiritual sight was being restored.

Maybe you can identify with Bartimaeus. Maybe you don’t know all the ins-and-outs of theology or of the Scriptures, maybe you can’t articulate your faith winsomely, and yet you sense some deep need or lack within yourself and are drawn towards Jesus Christ in the hope that maybe he can address that. Well this morning Jesus Christ is passing by in the proclamation of the Word and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion and I believe that even now the Holy Spirit is beginning to open the eyes of your heart.

The cry of Bartimaeus is a cry of desperation is it not? Given his position as a beggar we might reasonably assume that Bartimaeus had exhausted all of his resources and was relegated to casting himself entirely on the mercy of others. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by he cried out in total desperation. He was not concerned how he appeared to others. He was simply desperate to be near Christ. When the crowd “sternly ordered” him to quiet down and relax he did not apologize and settle down rather he cried out even louder. Do you long for Jesus Christ with the same desperation as Bartimaeus? Are you so desperate for his mercy that you are willing to even maybe lose some respectability in the sight of others? Jesus is looking for people who are not ashamed to look a little foolish in the eyes of some.

Bartimaeus was so willing but that was because he knew he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” was his cry. Understanding his own need he threw himself entirely on the mercy of Christ. If you’re anything like me then maybe sometimes you have trouble recognizing and owning your own need or sinfulness. After all we are pretty nice. Surely that gets us somewhere with God. Bartimaeus invites us to get off that treadmill of trusting in our own righteousness and entrust ourselves entirely to the mercy of Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The cry of Bartimaeus reminds me of the Jesus Prayer. It’s very simple and maybe you know it: Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. It’s an important prayer for Eastern Orthodox Christians who are encouraged to pray it daily. In fact, you can say it quietly in such a way that it matches the rhythm of your breath: [inhale] Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, [exhale] have mercy on me a sinner. The idea is that as you pray this simple prayer throughout the day it reorients your inner disposition towards God and we begin to hunger for his mercy. It is precisely this sort of humility, says Saint Ambrose, by which God lifts us up. Indeed, Jesus is about to lift Bartimaeus up.

I love what happens next in the story. Mark emphasizes the fact that Jesus stopped and stood still. Despite the noise and festivity of the crowd the simple cry of Bartimaeus was not lost to Jesus. He heard it and he stopped. Because Jesus is the good shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go after the 1 that is in need. And Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who sits enthroned in the heavens, who holds the universe in his hands, hears your cry. Hears every cry.

“Call him here,” says Jesus. So the disciples go to Bartimaeus and say, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” This is what disciples do. This is what we are called to do. Simply this: to bring men and women and children into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. There are people in our community right now that Jesus Christ is calling to himself but they might not ever know it unless somebody that is already following Jesus goes and tells them. Jesus is looking for people who are paying attention to what is going on around them and are not afraid to go to their neighbour or their family member or their colleague and say, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

So Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus. Because when you get up to follow Jesus you’re going to have to leave something behind. Maybe you think you can have everything and Jesus. But Jesus is saying if you’re going to come after me then you’re going to have to throw that old cloak aside. I don’t know what that old cloak is for you but you probably know yourself and if you don’t ask the Holy Spirit to show you and when he does throw it off. Do not be afraid to leave it behind. It could be a habit, or it could be a relationship, or it could be a mindset or a way of thinking. Throw it off.

Now Bartimaeus is standing there and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Wow. Imagine that. And here’s the thing. I really believe that Jesus is asking you that same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” What would you say to him this morning? He has stopped, he has stood still, he has called you to himself, and he is listening. “What do you want me to do for you?”

“My teacher, let me see again.” Bartimaeus longs for light. To be made whole. To be restored. To be healed. And Mark tells us that his sight was restored and that he, “followed [Jesus] on the way.” One theologian commenting on this sees here evidence that Bartimaeus’ longing for light was ultimately a longing for something more basic: a longing for the path that leads to God, a path whose direction one must see if they are to embark upon it.[1] Bartimaeus longs for light, for divine light, and when his eyes are opened the first thing he sees is Jesus Christ, the way—and he followed him.

This is my whole prayer for us. That we would know that Jesus Christ has come near, and that knowing this we would cry out for his mercy, and that crying out for his mercy we would see, and that seeing we would love and follow.

 

Endnotes
[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Light of the World, 247.

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Feast Day: The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

In our readings this morning we are granted insight into a way of understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ. Namely, through the figure of the high priest. And we learn that Jesus is the high priest par excellence. He is the high priest of which the priesthood of ancient Israel was but a shadow and a type. This image of Jesus as high priest helps us to understand a critical aspect of his ongoing life and ministry that continues even now, specifically, that he has entered into the very throne-room of the Father in heaven and he lives there to intercede for us, to pray for us, to represent us.

The high priest had a particular role within ancient Israel especially pertaining to their cultic or religious life in the Temple. The author of Hebrews tells us that, “Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” So, the high priest was a sort of bridge, if you will, between the people and God. Chosen from among the people to offer “gifts and sacrifices” to God on their behalf, especially sacrifices for their sins.

In ancient Israel when the Temple was still intact and the sacrificial system in effect all of this would culminate with a certain magnitude on the holiest day of the year, the Day of Atonement. By the way, this remains the holiest day for contemporary Jews as well, you may have heard it referred to as Yom Kippur.

The Day of Atonement was the one day of the year when the high priest would enter the innermost and most sacred place in the Temple where the arc of the covenant was kept, known as the “holy of holies.” According to Rabbinic tradition it was such a holy place that before entering the high priest would have a rope tied around his ankle so that, should he drop dead in the presence of the living God due to his own sin, then the other priests could pull him out. And here on this one day the high priest would ritually sprinkle the arc with the blood of a sacrificial animal in order to atone for the sins of Israel.

Furthermore, we read in Hebrews that the high priest, “is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness.” The high priest cares for the people, has compassion on them, because he himself knows their weakness, he shares in it with them, he comes alongside of the people and suffers with them and the sacrifice the he offers to God on their behalf is taken up along with his own sacrifice. And so, as I said, the high priest was a sort of bridge—chosen by God from among the people, able to sympathize with their weakness, representing them to God and God to them.

Hopefully now we are beginning to comprehend the importance of the high priest for Israel because it is here that the author of Hebrews points us to make the key part of his argument: that whole system at the centre of which stands the high priest is but a shadow of Jesus Christ who is the high priest. And as high priest Jesus is both like and unlike the priests of old.

He is like them in that he embodies the two qualities of every high priest. First, he is chosen by God. Not just chosen by God but is himself very God. He is the light of the world but he is, as the Creed instructs, “light from light.” In faith we proclaim that he was sent by the Father out of love and as such did not take upon himself the dignity of the role but rather received it from his Father who forever has begotten him. And he seeks never to glorify himself but only to glorify the one who sent him.

Second, he is able to sympathize with our weakness. The witness of the Church tells us that he was truly human, that he truly lived, that he truly was tempted as we are (though without sin), that he truly suffered as we do. He knows what it is to be clothed with weakness so when he represents us before the Father as he is doing at this very moment he isn’t looking down on us patronizingly from some great height. He can truly sympathize. He has been here. He knows exactly what it is like.

Hear me, whatever it is you are going through, whatever challenge you are currently facing, whatever suffering you may be presently enduring, Jesus Christ knows exactly what that is like and he sees you right now and he is standing before the Father in heaven offering up prayers for you and making atonement for your sin.

But Jesus is also unlike the old high priests. He is our high priest but in a totally unique way for as the author of Hebrews says he is, “a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” We meet Melchizedek in Genesis 14. He was the King of Salem, which means “peace.” Moreover, the name Melchizedek means, literally, “King of Righteousness.” This obscure figure, the King of Peace, the King of Righteousness, appears in the Old Testament and greets Abraham—with bread and wine, interestingly—as he is returning from war. And Abraham gave him one tenth of everything he had.

But what is notable for the author of Hebrews is that there is no record of Melchizedek’s birth or death. As we read later on in Hebrews the author describes Melchizedek as, “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever,” (Hebrew 7:3). So, when the author of Hebrews says that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek what he means is that Jesus’ priesthood has no beginning and no end.

Earlier priests lived and died but Jesus Christ lives eternally and therefore he is able to be that eternal bridge, coming alongside of us and representing us before the Father in heaven forever, without ceasing. He is that great high priest who does perfectly and eternally what those earthly high priests could do only in part and imperfectly. Therefore, you can rely on Jesus totally and forever. Do we dare put all of our faith and all of our hope on Jesus?

Just where is this eternal high priest now? Immediately before the passage we read the author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, our great high priest, “has passed through the heavens,” (4:14). Ancient Jewish writings sometimes speak of different levels of “the heavens.” For example, when Solomon built the Temple he declared that, “heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain God,” (1 Kings 8:27). So one is left with the impression that within heaven—that is, God’s space— there are layers, with God’s own dwelling place being the innermost one.[1] Which is precisely what the holy of holies in the temple was fashioned after. And what the author of Hebrews is saying is, listen, having died and been raised from the dead Jesus then ascended through all the different layers of “the heavens” right to the very heart of it all, to the very throne of the Father himself. And in his human flesh he has, in a very real sense, taken us there with him.

Friends, Jesus Christ lives to intercede for us. He delights in doing this. The former priests would enter the holy of holies in the Temple one day a year. But Jesus Christ has gone into the Father’s inner room not with the blood of animals but with his own blood and he lives there, representing us, continuing the work that he accomplished here in his suffering and death on the cross, a work that was for us. His entire life was a prayer of love poured out for you and now that prayer continues forever before the Father in heaven.

This morning Jesus wants you to know that this is how he has come to serve you. He has gone into that most holy place and he is holding all of your suffering with his own suffering, all of your fear with his own fear, all of your weakness with his own weakness, all of your sin with his own loving obedience, and he is offering it up to the Father who is full of grace and mercy. O come, let us adore him.

Endnotes:
[1] N.T. Wright, Hebrews for Everyone, 45.

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell.” (Mark 9:43)

In the gospel reading last week we learned from Jesus about what it takes to be great in God’s kingdom—become a servant of all. And we learned that so many of the disputes and conflicts that rise up among us come from our own selfishness and envy that resists taking the lowly road of self-giving love.

This morning Mark has us in the very same discourse and Jesus gives us insight into the value of life in God’s kingdom. What is it worth? It is worth everything and anything at all that you might have to give up. Whatever the cost might be to you personally—a hand or a foot!—it is overshadowed to an infinite degree by what you stand to inherit. It’s a no brainer. You want to talk about a smart investment? Cut out of your life whatever stands in the way of your obedience to Jesus Christ, cut it off entirely and kill it, for that loss is nothing compared to the joy and freedom of life with God.

Maybe you’ve heard the story of Aron Ralston. Aron was hiking in a canyon in southeastern Utah in 2003 when a boulder became dislodged pinning his right hand between it and the canyon wall. He had been out hiking by himself and didn’t tell anyone where he was going. With no way to contact anyone he finally ended up freeing himself after six days by using his pocket knife to amputate his right forearm. I’ll spare you the details. When he spoke publicly about the ordeal after the fact he recalled how he did not lose his hand, but gained his life.

It. Is. Better. Somebody say, “It is better.” “It is better,” says Jesus, for who? For you. “It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.” The risen and living Jesus Christ is in our midst this morning and he stands among us as a good friend who tells the truth. His word to us this morning is a word that warns us of danger and guides us into life. Jesus is saying to us this morning that whatever you have to give up in order to resist sin and obey him is not to your loss but to your gain, and eternally so. It. Is. Better.

What hinders your own obedience to Jesus Christ? What causes your faith to shrink rather than to flourish and grow? What gets in the way of you knowing the joy of the gospel? Hear the compassionate and merciful caution of Jesus Christ: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell.” Whatever it is, cut it off.

Maybe you’re not sure what it is that’s getting in the way. Moments ago we heard the words of the Psalmist: “But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults,” (Psalm 19:11-12). Often we do not even know the ways that we err and so we need the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and clear out all of those faults that are hidden even to us.

I want you to know that this is no less true for me as your priest. Indeed, the last year or so since I have been here the Lord has been renewing my own heart and my own love for him, bringing to light the sin that I would rather minimize or ignore and gently rooting it out. “It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell.”

To “enter life” is to submit oneself to God, to receive the kingdom that Jesus has come to bring, and to enjoy life with God both now and forever. That it is possible for you and I to enjoy God and live in his love is entirely God’s agenda and entirely God’s doing. As it is written elsewhere: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him,” (John 3:17). God’s agenda is life for the world. You were made for life with God.

Sin is anything that hinders this life by drawing our love away from Jesus Christ and fixing it on lesser goods. Sin mustn’t be something obviously evil or wicked. In fact, often it is as subtle as an inordinate love of good things. And so as you know elsewhere in the gospels Jesus himself does not hesitate to call for the renunciation of possessions, family, and of life itself if these good things ever stand in the way of following him. Cut it off, says Jesus. It is better.

Our tendency might be to focus on what we would lose. What it would cost us to cut off whatever it is Jesus is asking us to cut off. Instead, let us consider what we stand to gain by being with Jesus. As the Psalmist proclaims, the law, or the word, of the Lord is perfect. God’s word to us revives the soul and brings wisdom. It enlightens the eyes and rejoices the heart. It is our very life and our sustenance. “In keeping [it] there is great reward,” (Psalm 19:11). To hear it and to obey it is to “enter life” as Jesus says. It’s really important to let that sink in: obedience to Jesus, challenging as it may be, is not intended to burden but to liberate.

I love how the Prayer Book puts it in the Collect for Peace towards the end of Morning Prayer: “O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom.” To know God in Jesus Christ is eternal life. To serve him is perfect freedom.

No temporal pleasure that sin promises is worth forfeiting the eternal pleasure of knowing God. And the stakes are high because the opposite of life with God is life apart from God. To refuse to enter into the joy of his love is to chose instead the insanity and the isolation of sin—to go to hell. Hell is not what you were made for. You were made for God, to know him and to enjoy him forever. Therefore, whatever is causing you to sin, cut it off. “It is better for you to enter life.” It is better.

The opposite of sin is not moral perfection but love. Love covers a multitude of sins writes Saint Peter and Christ’s love has covered our sin. So if you want motivation to cut off whatever it is that is causing you to sin learn to love Jesus. Allow the Holy Spirit to work in you and bring about in you the perfection of Christ’s love.

There is no magical way to learn to love Jesus. But there is a practical way and it comes to us in the form of a Rule of Life handed on to us from the Apostles and the earliest Christians (Acts 2:42). What does it consist of? Basically this: go to church, regularly; read and meditate upon the words of Holy Scripture, the Bible; pray, what a resource we have for this in the Daily Office and in the psalter; and generously serve one another in the church. In all these ways we learn to love Jesus by learning of his love for us and the more we come to know of his love for us the less appealing sin becomes.

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell.” Let us therefore cast off the sin that ensnares for the sake of life with God. Whatever the cost, it is worth it for the joy and freedom of knowing Jesus Christ.