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Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas LangNicholas
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost — October 25, 2015

Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

In the Name of the God of abundance and radical generosity: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

The blind beggar named Bartimaeus is one of the few recipients of healing in the Gospels who are given names. As Jesus is leaving Jericho with his followers, Bartimaeus calls out: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ and persists even though the crowd tries to silence him. Jesus has them bring the man to him and asks what he wants; he asks to be able to see again.

The beggar, on being called to Jesus, discards his cloak. Why is this significant? Because that cloak would have served as his only protection from the weather. It would also have been his “sleeping bag.” And once he cast it aside, there was no guarantee that someone would not take it or that in his blindness he would not be able to retrieve it again. Bartimaeus made himself totally vulnerable to Jesus and to the crowd.

What is it like to be that vulnerable? I can only try to imagine it. You almost have to be blind to understand what Bartimaeus’ life was like. Yet to some degree we are all vulnerable, all exposed to the elements of life and what it brings our way. I suspect that is one of the reasons we are here. I suspect we also feel sometimes like crying out to God in Jesus, “Have mercy on me!” And I suspect that all of us have in some way known God’s mercy and compassion, God’s healing power and abundant grace.

Thank God we have our sight. It is a precious gift. Today I want to help us to see a little better. I hope we all see what a truly amazing faith community this is and that we have read the personal letters we received some weeks ago, heard the powerful witness of members of the congregation on the last three Sundays, and that our preaching this month has resonated with you.

I also hope we can see the many ways in which we exercise our individual priesthood, as Father Peter so well-articulated last week. It’s so evident in the way you visit those who are homebound or in health care facilities, help those who have difficulty maneuvering steps and the walk to the Communion Table, care for our youngest members in Godly Play and Children’s Worship, labor for the community’s benefit in Vestry and Ministry Council meetings, pull together wonderful fundraisers, ensure our signature hospitality at the doors and our coffee hours.

It’s also very apparent beyond our walls by your cooking dinner for homeless women at Inspirica, sharing your faith journey with friends, tutoring young, recent immigrants at local schools. As Peter acknowledged last week, “You already are a royal priesthood, a holy people. You already know what it’s like to follow Jesus’ commands, to be servants to one another and the world.” I hope we all see that.

I want us to see that, while we cherish our commitment to “Radical Welcome,” guaranteeing that everyone without exception is invited to enter our doors, worship with us, be fed by Word and Sacrament, and share in the life of this community, we also cherish our responsibility to ensure the comfort and safety of everyone who calls this their spiritual home.

I want us to see that God has much more in store for this community; much more for us to do as partners with God in the work of healing, reconciliation and restoration for those not yet here. I want us to see, for example, that this city will boast 5,000 new residential units in the next few years and the potential this implies for our continuing to have a passion for growth and to “Go and make disciples,” as Jesus has told us to do.

I want us to see the many vulnerable people still out there and hoping to discover a place where they will be loved and told that they are not alone; to see the tremendous opportunity for inclusion in the young adult population who have not found church but are looking for a way to give meaning to their lives.

I want us to see—and here’s where it gets real—that God’s work does not come cheap nor can we do what God calls us to do as a royal priesthood on a shoe string budget.  I want us to see that the budget funds everything you see and a lot that you don’t see) on Sunday morning and six other days of the week; that worship and the important part  sacred music plays in it is a major piece of the budget and is consistently rated in the top 3 things that both brings people to St. Paul’s and keeps them here; that it’s expensive to operate a church that keeps the doors open and the heat on 7 days a week for all people no matter what walk of life brings them through those doors.

This week we will all get the opportunity to make an investment in God’s work. A mailing will arrive that includes a way for you to respond by ensuring that together we fuel our mission and ministry with the financial resources required. We call it a pledge and it is simply our buy-in, our decision to give a specific amount of money from what God has made available to us and to give it consistently on a weekly or monthly basis. It’s a very different kind of giving from “I give when I come to church,” because it allows our money to work—and God’s work to be done—whether we are here or not. No pledge is too small; none is too large. Please receive the mailing not as an obligation but rather as an invitation to be part of something hugely important, marvelously sacred, and poised for doing even greater things ahead.

In her book, The Spiritual Child, Columbia University Professor Lisa Miller, tells a story about a day when she entered a  subway car that was crowded and the other half empty—except for a homeless man with some fast food on his lap, screaming at anyone who came close.

A grandmother and young granddaughter entered—both dressed to the nines and with fancy gloves. The homeless guy screamed, “Hey, do you want to sit with me?” They looked at each other, nodded, and replied, “Thank you”—and unlike everyone else sat down near him.

He offered them some chicken from his bag. They looked at each other, nodded, and said, “No, thank you.” The homeless man offered a few more times and each time they nodded to each other and gave the same polite response. Finally, he was calmed and they all sat contently in their seats.

Miller has this to say about how the story unfolded: “The grandmother was teaching her granddaughter the wisdom that we were once all strangers in a strange land and that we’re all judged by how we treat those who have the least.”

Yes, in some ways we are all vulnerable. In some ways we may have been made to feel lesser than others. Maybe we’ve even had the least. Before you found St. Paul’s, you may have felt spiritually homeless. But, thank God, we have our sight—not just our physical sight but the ability in our heart and soul to see what God is calling us to.

That homeless guy on the subway experienced a new way of seeing the world because of how those two people welcomed him. That’s the gift we can bring to others for we were once all strangers in a strange land. I see God at work here. I see God at work in you and all you do and I am profoundly grateful for it.

Categories: Sermons