A Touch And A Word

A Touch And A Word

Sunday Sermon by Pastor Sue Hutchins


This passage of scripture that Kathy read for us this morning is the ending of the middle chapters of the Gospel of Mark. You know, Mark’s gospel isn’t very long, it’s only about 13, 14 chapters long, and these middle chapters are something that I’ve been looking at for the last several weeks as we’ve gathered either here or other places, and it’s in the middle of Mark’s gospel is Jesus and his disciples are making their way to Jerusalem for what will be the last time for Jesus, that the time when he will be arrested and ultimately crucified and die on the cross but then be raised from the dead.

So there’s a sense in Mark’s gospel of kind of immediacy that you know it’s something that needs to be done, it’s something and they’re making their way. And in at this point in the story Jesus and the disciples have reached Jericho and we know about Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down and that that city Jericho was about 15 miles outside of Jerusalem and that’s important because the time of the year that it is for the Jews in this story is that the Passover is coming and if you remember the Passover that’s the serve at that time that they remembered that in Egypt when the death angel came to kill the firstborn of all the animals and people in Egypt except for the Jews who put blood on their doorposts and the angel of death passed over those homes.

And so that was a very important and key story in the life of the Jewish people and so they celebrate the Passover which usually takes place around the same time that we celebrate our Holy Week. It’s not always exactly the same but it’s during that time, and the Jewish law stated at that point that any Jewish male over the age of 15, excuse me, of 12 had to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover because they understood age 12 to be that age of accountability, that age in which they now took on the role of an adult in the Jewish faith. And so there would be thousands of people making their way, there would be these pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem and they would be passing through Jericho. Jericho as I said was about 15 miles away so anybody within that 15 mile radius had to go, any male that had to go, but there were some that couldn’t afford to.

Some that maybe couldn’t leave, maybe there were family members that were sick or for whatever reason, but they would be lining the streets and cheering on and encouraging the pilgrims who were making their way. For me, the closest example I can give to that is the most recent visit of the Pope in Philadelphia and the other cities, but we kind of identify in this case more closely with Philadelphia. And so if you saw all the TV reports, there were thousands of people who were lining those streets waiting to catch a glimpse, if you will, of the Pope. And so there were people that were in that crowd who were there to cheer on the pilgrims.

you know, it wasn’t like go pilgrims, but to encourage them as they went along their way. And there would be people that would be looking to see who was coming in those group of pilgrims, and there would be some who would know about Jesus. And some would know that he was on his way, maybe the message had gotten out, and so they had come to hear what this young rabbi had to say, that maybe this young teacher would say something as he passed that way. But also in the crowd would would be some of the Pharisees, excuse me, some of the Levites and the priests who normally served at the temple in Jerusalem.

And you may remember from church history that the priests served on a rotating basis. It was kind of like the partnership where one of us is here for two weeks. Actually, this is my third week with you. Did anybody catch that? You’re like, why is Sue here again? Well, that’s because Jim got to preach last week.

So I’ll be gone after today, so you don’t have to worry. But, you know, so there were the priest and the Levites served on a rotating basis. And so some of them would have made their homes in Jericho, be a little cheaper, maybe a little easier for them to live there than in, in Jerusalem. And so there’d be some in the crowd who would be anxiously waiting to see this man, Jesus.

And there would be others who would be somewhat hostile towards him because they didn’t like what he was teaching. They didn’t like when he would criticize the establishment, the Jewish establishment. So it’s in that kind of chaotic and crazy conversation. You know, there are some of the folks from Hilltop who are a little nervous about November 22nd.

And they said, You know Sue, we won’t know how many people are coming, and we won’t know if we have seats for everybody, and we don’t know if we have enough. And I said, Isn’t that great? And they’re like, No. You know, Jim and I were talking this morning about being planners. And I, you know, I tend to be an advanced planner, but I also try to be open to the Holy Spirit.

And I said, you know, it’s gonna work. And you know, and we may have some people sitting on the floor. What a terrible thing to have to do at worship, you know, but we’re flexible. We’ve got enough younger people that can either sit on the floor or help the rest of us up when it’s time to, but there should be seats.

Don’t come because you’re afraid there won’t be enough seats. But so in the midst of this chaos and all that is taking place, there’s Bartimaeus. And Bartimaeus was a man who was blind. And the story indicates that he had been able to see before because he tells Jesus, Make me see again, meaning that he had been able to see.

So we don’t know why he became blind, but he’s listening to the crowd. And as the crowd’s in any place, any gathering, you are gonna have your kind of beggars along the street. You know, if you go to a Steeler game or a Pirate game or Penguin game, when you come out, when the crowd comes out, especially when we’ve won, then, you know, people come out in a good mood and there are people on the street who are holding out cans and maybe some of them are playing music Some of them may be either playing an instrument themselves, or they may have some music playing on a cassette player or something, or there’s some way to get your attention. There was, I went to a baseball game this summer, and as we were making our way back to the subway station, there were some people that were begging, and there was a man dressed as a pirate, whose sign said Got Rum? [laughter] Yeah, and there were people that stopped and laughed at that, and gave him some money.

I don’t know if it was for rum or not, but you know, so there would be people in the crowd on Jesus Day, then Bartimaeus was one of them, who were begging for people to give them some money, and it was considered a blessing to offer, to give tithes or to give alms to someone else. And we have to remember that people in Jesus Day that were disabled by sight or whatever the ailment was, had no way to earn a living. They didn’t have any social security disability, They didn’t have any medical insurance or workers’ compensation or any of those kinds of ways in which to earn their living. And so they were dependent on strangers or on the generosity of other people.

And so they would be there in that crowd that day asking for money. And Bartimaeus was one of the ones who was there. And he could hear, even though he couldn’t see, he could hear a change in the crowd as Jesus was making his way because people had been looking for him. And I don’t know if you’ve all been to a parade, whether it be a homecoming parade or a high school parade or a big sports victory, whatever kind of parade it might be, you know, it was like, are they coming yet? Are they coming? You know, who’s coming? And there’d be conversation throughout the crowd, especially when your band was coming or the float that you had people that you knew that were on that.

And so Bartimaeus would hear the crowd talking about Jesus coming. He would hear his footsteps and he would know that someone special was coming. And he shouted out, Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. Jesus, son of David, meaning the son of God, have mercy on me.

Asking for mercy, asking for assistance. Well, the crowd told him to be quiet. The crowd told him to shut up, basically, in nice language. Told him to be quiet.

This was somebody important and you don’t call out and shout his name, but Bartimaeus said, This may be my only chance. And he said, Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me, as loud as he could in order to get Jesus’ attention. And we saw that again when the Pope went through the cities and places where he was, people would call out his name, holding up their children to be blessed and hoping that the Pope might recognize them in a particular way. Well, Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ calling, And so he said, Bring him to me.

And they separated the crowd, and the scripture tells us he threw off his coat and ran to Jesus. And you know, when I read that, I thought, Well, he must have had some eyesight because he was able to run and not trip over people getting through. But he got through the crowd, and Jesus said to him, What do you want? What do you want? And Bartimaeus said, Heal me, make me see again. make me see again and Jesus said go for your faith has made you well your faith has made you well and in that Bartimaeus site was restored and instead of going somewhere else he began to follow Jesus.

He followed after him, went with him on his way to Jerusalem. Now we never hear about Bartimaeus again we don’t know what happened to him but Mark tells us in his gospel that he began to follow Jesus. The healing of Bartimaeus is in contrast to the healing of the blind man in the eighth chapter which begins this central portion and in that story when Jesus goes to heal the blind man his friends bring him to Jesus and you may remember that Jesus uses spittle, saliva, and makes a solution and places that on the eyes of the man and he is able to see by a touch, by Jesus touching him, he is healed. In this story, Jesus simply uses the word and says, Go, your faith has made you well.

In both of those stories, we have people who were blind coming to Jesus and being restored to their sight. And Mark uses them in stark contrast to the disciples, who in those middle chapters have three times heard Jesus say that he is going to have to suffer and die, and three times the disciples are blind to his teaching. They refuse to believe that that’s going to happen. And so there’s Peter telling Jesus it’s not going to happen and there’s the others that they talk about who’s going to be the greatest in God’s kingdom.

They misunderstand over and over again what Jesus is telling them. But here the example Mark uses two examples of those who were blind but now see. And And that story calls us to accountability, because Bartimaeus understood what his need was. And Bartimaeus serves, I think, as an example for us of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Jim talked last week about how we are ordinary people serving an extraordinary, an extraordinary God, and that we’re called to follow in God’s footsteps. And Bartimaeus, I think, gives us sort of a pattern to our own life of faith. He begins by understanding his own need. He knew what he wanted.

He said to Jesus, Let me see again, restore my sight. He brought his need to Jesus and recognized that Jesus was the only one who could do that. And Bartimaeus serves an example for us that we need to stop and examine our own lives and see that which blinds us to the will of God, to the love of God. And for each of us, that could be very different.

We talk about blindness not in the physical sense in this moment, but in that non-literal sense of what is it that keeps us from seeing? You know, there’s none so blind as those who will not see. And in this case, what is it that’s keeping us from fully following Jesus? And it might be a sin of greed. It might be selfishness. It might be the love of wealth and power and possessions.

It might be the hatred that we harbor in our lives. It might be those places and people that we need to forgive, but we’re not willing to do that. And we hold those grudges. You know, we love to hold grudges and we think they’re wonderful and we let them dominate our lives.

And I’ve told you before that when we hold a grudge, the only person that hurts is ourselves. ‘Cause you know what? If you have a grudge against me, especially if I don’t know it, it doesn’t hurt me at all. I don’t want you to have a grudge against me. and if you do, I wish we could talk about that, but there are people that maybe, I think I’ve told the story before, there was a young man who I knew in high school who I had a grudge against him for some slight that I thought was so important, and he died in his early 30s from stomach cancer.

He had no warning. Stomach cancer often has no symptoms until it’s too late, and I remember when Craig died, I thought, you know, here I have harbored this resentment for 15, 20 years, and I never have a chance to be reconciled to him. That grudge was holding me back from being who God had called me to be. So what is there in your life? What is there in your living that you need to let go of, that you need to confess, that you need to ask God to heal you of whatever that may be? Bartimaeus shows as an example for us that if we truly want to be God’s disciples, we have to confess our sin and allow God to heal us from that sin.

Bartimaeus also is one who followed after Jesus. Jesus tells him to go, but Bartimaeus continues to follow after him. And he follows, we can follow after Jesus. And when we have that opportunity and when we have been forgiven of our sin to respond with gratitude.

You know, in November, we talk a lot about giving thanks and being grateful for things. But Bartimaeus responded with gratitude that Jesus had healed him. He responded in that gratitude by following the Christ. And we can follow and show our gratitude for the ways in which God has transformed our lives by following the Christ, by living out what Christ has called us to do and be, by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and participating in experiences that help to share in the lives of someone else, provide for those basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing, when we can be living out the life of Christ and bringing others to a relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

And we do that out of our gratitude. And it’s important to notice here that Barnabas doesn’t try to bargain with Jesus and say, If you will heal me, then I’ll follow you. Or to say, I’ve done all of this. I deserve to be healed.

Bartimaeus simply acknowledged that he had a need in his life, and when he acknowledged that God met that need, and then out of his gratitude, out of his love for God and for what God had done for him in Jesus Christ, he began to follow him. So Bartimaeus knew his need, he acted out of gratitude, and he was also loyal, or maybe a better word is faithful. I talk a lot about God calling us into a life of faith and we’re called to be faithful to that life. We’re not always successful and there’s a big difference between faithfulness and success.

When we are faithful, we continue to live out to the best of our abilities by the power of the Holy Spirit, that which God has called us to do and be. And sometimes we get results from that. there are people who hear our testimony or see and witness our life of faith and they want to come and be a part of that as well. But there are other times in which that doesn’t happen.

There are other times in which we aren’t successful, we don’t see the results of our faithfulness, but we’re still called to be faithful. And that’s a hard thing for us to understand. We’re used to doing something and then seeing our success, but that doesn’t always happen. And many of you can think about people who maybe in your lives sowed some seed of faith.

One of the things that we talk about with pastors is that oftentimes we plant some of those seeds of faith, but we don’t see the fruitfulness of that. That may not show up to a pastor three or four down the road. And sometimes we hear what it is. Sometimes, a rare time, people contact us and say, I want to thank you for something that you said or something that you did.

might talk about it in another setting. I was with a family yesterday, a man from the Spencer congregation who was under hospice care, and about an hour after I had been there, John died. And it was a blessing for him, his pain and suffering had ended, but in my conversations with the family just an hour before that, they talked about previous pastors and how much those pastors have meant to John in their life. Now they started by saying would you do the service and I said yes and then they went on to talk about these other pastors.

Sometimes it’s we remember pastor so-and-so and that pastor was such a great influence we’re gonna ask that person you know even though you’ve been the one here doing pastoral care and it’s like well okay you know it’s not the time to talk about that but they remembered other pastors who had been important in John’s life and they asked me to contact them and let them know. One of those was Irwin Kerr who used to work with the partnership. Many of you know Irwin, it was a church when he served down in Trinity McMurray. We are called to be faithful, whether it be in our own ministry or in the ministry of the church and in the opportunities that we have to serve God faithfully.

Serve God in the ways in which God has shown us. And Bartimaeus is the one who has shows us in his life that we have that opportunity to follow the Christ, that when we identify our need and ask God to meet that need, God is faithful and just and meets that need and then out of response to that, out of love and out of gratitude, then we serve God in serving our neighbors. We have here in our bulletin that Fairhaven United Methodist Church strives to serve and glorify God and be God’s presence in this community. I know your ministry extends beyond the Overbrook community here in Pittsburgh.

Our community lines are very blurred so we have that opportunity to serve in the ministry that you do with First Food and Friends. Did I get it? The Saturday morning program or collecting things for the blessing bags or the food bank or I don’t remember what I’m forgetting, you know, even the Washington City Mission, you know, all of those opportunities that you have to serve are out of gratitude for what God has done for you. And we may never meet those people, we may never see the people that it helps, the children that will be helped by this money from UNICEF, we’ll never see. But they will know the presence of God because we have been faithful in what God has called us to do.

Sometimes God heals us with a touch. We like to sing the hymn, He touched me, oh he touched me, that God’s touching our hearts and lives. Sometimes God heals us with a word, but it all comes from our God who came to show us what it means to live a life of faith as we follow in the steps of Jesus the Christ. Amen.