Your Faith Has Made You Well

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25B)
First Lesson: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Second Lesson: Hebrews 7:23-28
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

father and childAs a young child, I loved asking questions. Then again, I suppose all young children, to some degree, share that same kind of natural, inquisitive curiosity, the kind of curiosity that inspires them to seek answers to questions they might have about why things are the way they are or why their parents tell them to do certain things.

I’m absolutely certain that my parents loved answering all of my questions, especially when I felt the need to ask, “But why?” every time they told me to do something that I didn’t want to do.

“But, why, Mom and Dad?” “What legitimate reason could you have for telling me to stop running near the edge of the swimming pool? It’s so much fun!” Or, “Why do I always have to look both ways before crossing the road? That takes too much time!” Or, “Why do I have to go to bed early on a school night? I want to stay up late!”

Well, if you’re like me, then you might’ve been given a similar response to these types of questions, a response that can be summed up in four simple words: “Because I said so!”

Apparently, nothing more was needed in those moments when reasonable answers seemed to escape my parents. “Because I said so” was reason enough, and that was all there was to it.

It’s funny how the tables have turned since becoming a parent myself.

Somehow, having children of my own has given me the authority to use the same line when either Sophie or Jude ask me, “Why?” and I don’t have a better answer than, “Because I said so.”

Thankfully, as Sophie and Jude have grown older, I’ve gained some insight as to why parents say some of the crazy things that they say to their children.

As parents, I think we say things like, “because I said so,”not because we want to exert supreme authority over our children but because we want them to have faith in us to care for them and to trust that the things we ask them to do are actually in their best interest. We want them to be safe and to make wise decisions. We want them to know that our greatest desire is for them to have the fullest lives possible. We want them to become the best versions of themselves that they can be and to know that we’ll always be there to love and support them as they grow older.

I wonder if this might be the same kind of relationship that God desires to have with each of us, a relationship not built on fear and control but one built on love and trust.

God calls us, not to rule over us or control our lives, but to be in a close, intimate relationship with us. God calls us, not because God expects us to be perfect, but because God loves us more than we can possibly imagine and wants us to know that the only way to truly live is to love and serve others.

God knows our struggles and our faults and that we’re continually faced with obstacles in our lives that cause us to stumble and fall, obstacles that sometimes prevent us from seeing the truth of God’s Kingdom, the dream that God has for us and for all of Creation.

Frederick Buechner once wrote, “If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for.”

My friends, the Kingdom of God is right in front of us. If we only had the eyes to see it and the courage and strength to pursue it, the world would be a much better place.

In today’s Gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus and his disciples are passing through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus hears that it’s Jesus who is passing through, and he calls to him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus’ reputation precedes him. Bartimaeus knows that Jesus can heal him, but many try to prevent him from disturbing Jesus by telling him to be quiet. After all, why would Jesus care about a blind beggar? Certainly, it isn’t worth his time to stop and care for the man.

Despite the peoples’ best efforts to silence him, Bartimaeus calls out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus hears Bartimaeus and immediately stops to care for him.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.

 “My teacher, let me see again,” Bartimaeus pleads.

Jesus responds, “Go; your faith has made you well,” and immediately, his sight is restored.

“Go; your faith has made you well.” I’ve always been perplexed by this statement. What does Jesus really mean when he says to Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well”? Does he mean that God only heals those who are strong in their faith? That can’t be right. As we all know, miracles happen every day, often to those who don’t even believe in God.

Does Jesus mean that Bartimaeus has the power to heal himself because of his faith? That can’t be right, either. We know that God is our only source of healing.

So, what does Jesus mean, then, when he says, “Go; your faith has made you well”?

We hear a similar story earlier in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus encounters a woman in a crowd of people who believes with all her heart that if she simply touches the cloak that Jesus is wearing, she’ll be healed of her disease. So, she walks up to Jesus as he’s passing by, touches his cloak, and is healed instantly. Sensing that someone had touched him, Jesus looks around to see who it is, and the woman comes forward to explain what happened. Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Two stories of healing with the same conclusion. “Your faith has made you well,” Jesus says.

In both of these stories, I think Jesus is really trying to emphasize the importance of faith and the impact that it has on our relationship with God. Yes, the physical healing of blind Bartimaeus and the woman in the crowd is miraculous, but the true healing only comes after both of them demonstrate remarkable acts of faith. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus and asks for his sight to be restored. The woman in the crowd risks coming up to Jesus and touching his cloak in order to be healed. Yes, they believe that Jesus can heal them, but even more importantly, they depend on Jesus to heal them. They put their lives in his hands, trusting in his grace and mercy.

True healing, the kind of healing that makes us whole, only comes when we’re willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel and trust that God’s way is the only path that leads to the abundant life that God desires for us.

It’s kind of like young children trusting their parents when they’re told to do something even though they might not understand why. It’s an act of faith.

Do we put our faith in Jesus and in the lessons that he has to teach us?

Do we trust that God’s greatest desire is for us to live full and joyful lives and that the Way of Jesus, the way of sacrificial love and service to others, is our only source of true healing and wholeness?

As we ponder these questions, I pray that the Holy Spirit might grant us the wisdom and strength to respond to God’s call in faith, and I pray that we may always “know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of this sermon.

Turn Toward Jesus

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23B)
First Lesson: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Second Lesson: Hebrews 4:12-16
Gospel: Mark 10:17-31

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

7d0c57ecfa43c9e8ffca4a238ecba2e921e428f7A couple of years ago, a new video emerged online featuring our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. By the way, this was before the world knew him as the charismatic, superstar bishop who preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

In the video, Bishop Curry talks about the Jesus Movement. Now, this should come as no surprise to any of you who have heard our Presiding Bishop speak or deliver a sermon. He loves to talk about the Jesus Movement! Everyone in the Episcopal Church is talking about it. In fact, the phrase has become so popular among Episcopalians over the last three years that it’s even shown up in our merchandise. You, too, can buy a bumper sticker that says, “We are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.”

But what, exactly, is the Jesus Movement? In the video, Bishop Curry paints us a picture of it by reflecting on a pivotal moment that occurs every week in our celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Slowly walking in the midst of the noise and commotion of New York City, the Bishop describes that moment in our liturgy when we stand for the proclamation of the Gospel, that moment when we stand and sing praises to God as we prepare our hearts and minds to receive God’s Word through the reading of the Gospel. We stand, and we sing. The Gospel book is held high as the procession moves from the Altar to the center of the Nave where the Gospel will be read by a deacon or a priest. And, as all of this is happening, everyone in the congregation re-orients themselves in order to see the place where the Gospel will be proclaimed. “That Gospel moment,” according to Bishop Curry, “the Church has become the Jesus Movement, with life re-oriented around the teachings of Jesus and around his very spirit- teachings and a spirit that embody the love of God in our lives and in this world.”

I love Bishop Curry’s message in this video. It’s still available, by the way, in case you want to watch it on your own. All you have to do is go to YouTube and type in “The Jesus Movement… Michael Curry,” and you shouldn’t have any problem finding it. It’s certainly worth watching.

Normally, when we hear about a “movement” taking place in our society, we think about an event of some kind, such as a rally or a march, or a series of events taking place at a specific time in history. One that comes to my mind most recently is the #MeToo movement. But, what I love about Bishop Curry in this video is that he invites us to think about the Jesus Movement not as a single event or series of events occurring at a specific time or place but as something that’s been going on for thousands of years, something that we, as members of the Body of Christ, are called to participate in with those who have gone before us and those who will come after us. The Jesus Movement is what happens when the people of God stand up and re-orient themselves toward the Gospel of Jesus. That is the Jesus Movement.

There’s so much beauty in the way that we worship, not only in the words that we speak but also in the way that we use our whole bodies to express our love of God and our commitment to Christ. And, what’s even more amazing about the way that we worship is that our worship of God is actually preparing us for the work that God has given us to do when we leave this place. So, there’s a reason why we stand and turn our bodies to face the place of the Gospel. Not only is it a sign of reverence for the words of Jesus, but it’s also preparing us to stand and turn toward Jesus in our everyday lives, to turn toward those whom the world has turned away- the poor, the hungry, and the neglected.

In our lesson today from the Gospel of Mark, we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who comes to Jesus and asks him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus looks at the man and basically tells him, “You already know what you need to do. Follow God’s Law.” The man tells Jesus that he’s lived a good life and followed all of God’s commandments, but Jesus tells him that there’s one more thing that he has to do in order to inherit the abundant life that he seeks. He says to the man, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” I can’t imagine the look of shock and disappointment that must’ve been on the man’s face when he heard Jesus’ instruction. In the end, it’s too much of a burden for the rich man to bear. He isn’t willing to let go of his wealth and possessions in order to follow Jesus. He turns and walks away.

Contrary to what some people may believe about this lesson from Mark’s Gospel, it isn’t intended to cast judgment on the rich or to tell us that wealthy people can’t inherit the abundant life that God desires for us. It isn’t about what we own or how much we have. It’s about what we do with what we’ve been given and realizing that everything that we have has been given to us by God. The rich man in our Gospel lesson is so attached to his wealth and worldly possessions that he’s unable to see the grace that’s right in front of his eyes when Jesus offers it. It was easier for him to walk away from Jesus than to sacrifice that which he cared about the most.

The story of Jesus and his encounter with the rich man teaches us that, in order to inherit the abundant life that we seek, we must be aware and willing to let go of those worldly attachments in our lives that cause us to lose sight of our need to follow Jesus. We must keep our eyes open and continue to re-orient ourselves back toward Jesus, the one who calls us to let go of those things that are weighing us down and to move beyond the walls of the church to love and serve the least among us.

This is why I have such love and admiration for our Presiding Bishop and why his message about being part of the Jesus Movement resonates so deeply among Episcopalians. Being a part of the Jesus Movement and participating in the reconciling work of Christ is noisy and messy and often sacrificial. Like the rich man in our Gospel lesson, it calls us to move beyond our selves and pushes us to do things that may be difficult or uncomfortable. I think that it probably looks a lot like Bishop Curry in his video- moving from beyond the comfort and safety of the headquarters of the Episcopal Church into the chaos and uncertainty of the streets of Manhattan.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

I think there’s a lot of truth to this- not that we can’t be happy as Christians but that true joy and true peace can only be found when we’re willing to give up our lives in order to follow Jesus.

If you were the “rich man” in today’s Gospel lesson, what would Jesus be calling you to give up in order to follow him more closely?

My friends, I invite you to reflect on this question in the days ahead, and once you’ve come with in an answer, I invite you to consider a follow-up question. What’s holding you back?