Sunday, October 28, 2018

“Son of David! Have mercy on us!”

A sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Mark 10:46-52
October 28, 2018

It has certainly been a harrowing week, hasn’t it?

First comes the news of an angry, ideologically driven man who mailed bombs to people all over the country with whom he disagreed.

Then a white man in Kentucky walked into a grocery store and killed two African-American customers before being apprehended by another customer.

Yesterday, another angry, ideologically driven man entered the Tree of Life synagogue during their weekly worship services in Pittsburgh and killed at least eight people and wounding many others, both worshippers and police.

In between, over two thousand people (and many more on-line) gathered at the National Cathedral to inter the earthly remains of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was beat up by two men and left to die twenty years ago in Laramie, Wyoming, precisely for being gay.

And yet... Our highest civic leaders can’t quite bring themselves to condemn the violence—even when that violence is done while parroting election slogans.

And top it all off, yesterday I heard about a young man, an African-American who was raised in the parish, who went to a Halloween party at a bar in Easton, and was called a "snowflake" and asked to leave—they even threatened to call the police on him!—after he objected to the management that other patrons, white patrons, were wearing black-face, and parroting racist language. In my own neighborhood, there is a home whose annual Halloween display includes the representation of a lynching. Hatred, fear, division, are in the air, and it is not “all in good fun!” Not even at Halloween.

As I said, it’s been a harrowing week. I truly feel the desperation and helplessness behind today’s Gospel, where the blind Bar Timaius cries out to Jesus “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Today’s Gospel lession is very the fulcrum of Mark’s Gospel--smack dab in the middle of the Gospel. All the wonders and miracles of Jesus lead up to this, and his journey to Calvary flows from it. Mark is telling us that this incident, in fact the whole Gospel of Mark, is a story of spiritual sight. Through Christ, Mark is showing us, we move from blindness to sight.'
Even in his blindness, it turns out that Bar Timaius saw more than everyone around him. He had the sight of faith. Just as in Mark’s day, we suffer from spiritual blindness and are in desperate need of Jesus’ healing touch. But first we have do as Bar Timaus did… name it, own it, go to Jesus and act on it.

Our blindness is fear. Fear is as old as human sin, is as real as ever today. In our fear, we are willing to listen to people who stoke that fear with hatred and give us easy slogans and simplistic solutions.

After the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue yesterday, Episcopal Bishop Dorsey McConnell of Pittsburgh wrote,

The newscasts, sickeningly, are referring … to this horror as a “tragedy.” It is no such thing. A tragedy is inevitable. This was not. It was murder, murder of a particularly vile and poisonous kind. Human beings have moral agency. Someone chose to hate, and [someone] chose to kill. And now we are faced with a choice as well— to do nothing, or to reject this hatred in the strongest possible words and actions, and to refute in every way, in every forum, the philosophical foundations of anti-Semitism wherever they have gained a foothold in our churches and our society….
…This terror is added to the great heap of such crimes we have witnessed in the past. Yet our hope is not dimmed, and our obligation is clear: “Behold, I set before you this day, life and death, blessing and curse: therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Choosing life is no small thing. It is not just positive thinking or being “nice.” To choose life means that we do not choose death; that we consciously turn away from the things that deal death. Choosing life means renouncing fear, renouncing hatred, renouncing the use of division to gain and keep power.

Jim Wallis, the evangelical preacher and founder of the Sojourner’s Community, wrote this:

Jesus says, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The opposite of what Jesus said is also true: Without the truth we are easily enslaved by false ideologies that demand belief. Jesus clearly connects truth with freedom, and that is key here both in our personal lives and in any test of the health of the body politic. Truth sets us free, but lies enslave us. If you care about freedom, you must care about the truth….
…Timothy’s second epistle warns about people who “having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” Those myths and lies can lead to justifications for practices and policies against “the other.” 

Wallis asks if we have “itching ears” who will be drawn into the siren song of tribalism, division, and hate, or will we follow Jesus’ mercy and so receive our sight.
Friday, Bishop Gene Robinson asked the same question of us at Matthew Shepard’s memorial. Confronting fear and hatred is not easy and is never over, but it is always what Jesus invites us to do.

Our parish community does important, but largely unsung, interfaith work. It is not just being “nice.” Yesterday’s mass shooting in Pittsburgh shows how vitally important it is.
Last night, our parish hosted an interfaith dialogue between Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and B’hai members of our community. We talked about the role of heritage and tradition in forming our sense of identity in the community.

This afternoon, at 12:30, Temple Covenant of Peace in Easton will hold a service of mourning and reconciliation to which we are all invited. If you are at all available, please go and share with our Jewish sisters and brothers at this painful moment.

And next Sunday, at least eight different faith communities will gather at Temple Covenant of Peace for Easton’s annual Interfaith Choral Festival. 

Now more than ever, this kind of public interfaith and ecumenical work is essential to our community’s spiritual and civic health.

In these violent, dangerous times, people of faith must daily choose to overcome hatred with love, to choose companionship over division, and peace over violence.  And that is just in our community.

Our Ark Community Meal, and two of our local social service agencies, ProJeCt and Safe Harbor, were all founded when the several faith communities joined together to address the unmet needs of the poor, the homeless, and the dispossessed.

Each of these remind that service in Jesus’ name required us to stop, confront our blindness and fear so that we may be agents of healing and blessing.

If we are going to allow Jesus to heal us, we must first acknowledge the blindness of hatred, violence, and fear that infects our culture. Having acknowledged it we must stop and seek both forgiveness and healing. This is why Friday’s internment of Matthew Shepard in the National Cathedral is so important because that space, the same space where Dr. Martin Luther King preached his last sermon, brings symbolic and real safety to everyone who has been cast out, and stands as a beacon against a culture that uses division and falsehood for the sake of power.

When we talk about Trinity being “a church for all people,” we are not just talking about a place that does great coffee hours. We are responding to Jesus’ healing ministry and choosing to call out and condemn racist, homophobic, and sexist hatred whenever it appears. We must, as people of faith, hold accountable leaders, celebrities, and politicians who choose the language of division over unity and love. As followers of Jesus, we offer a spiritually hurting world another way… the way of love, the way of Jesus.

Bar Timaius’ cry is our cry: “Son of David! Have mercy on us!” And we are not silenced. His healing is also our healing. As we go with Jesus to confront evil, we also bring healing and blessing to all God’s people.

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

No comments: