I’m blessed, Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 25 (B) – October 29, 2006

(RCL) Jeremiah 31:7-9 or Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 126 or 34:1-8 (19-22); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52 

Gospel singer and evangelist Clay Evans sings a song entitled “I’m Blessed.” It’s a great piece about God’s goodness and mercy, always present, always here, through all things. In one verse, Evans soulfully sings:

“If you want to see a miracle,
All you gotta do is just look at me.
I’ve been blessed, I’ve been kept, by goodness and mercy,
Right now, I’ve got the victory.
I’m blessed.”

It’s of note that Evans is African American, born in Tennessee in 1925, who became a leader of the Civil Rights movement. Certainly no small or easy journey.

In today’s gospel reading, we hear another story about a difficult journey. We hear the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar.

In the pre-industrial society in which Bartimaeus lived, a beggar was the lowest of the low in the social hierarchy. One can well imagine the pain and suffering he endured. But through it all he somehow managed to maintain his hope, opening him to be in a place where he could call out to Jesus as he passed by. Sitting by the side of the road, Bartimaeus called out, “Jesus, have mercy on me.” But he was sternly ordered by the people in the crowd to be quiet. Yet in hopefulness he persisted, crying out more loudly still, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” And Jesus heard. Bartimaeus was healed, made well, to get up and follow Jesus on the way.

As much as we might wish otherwise, our Christian faith does not provide immunity from hard times and struggle. Our churches are filled with people of faith who are suffering through some of life’s most difficult challenges. People who have lost a child or a spouse, people who are battling addictions, people who are loving yet anguished caregivers, people who are fighting life-threatening illnesses, people wracked with worry about their loved ones fighting overseas, people who are trapped in cycles of extreme poverty and oppression. The list is almost endless. It is a sad but true fact that many Christians at some point endure painful, soul-wrenching struggles.

But while our faith cannot prevent us from experiencing these struggles, God’s promise of goodness and mercy can carry us through even the worst of times. The difficulty is maintaining our belief in that promise. The question this morning is therefore, “How can we, as Christians, maintain our belief in God’s goodness and mercy through life’s most painful challenges?”

First and foremost, we can turn to the promises of Holy Scripture. We can find hope in the story of Jesus’ own suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus knows our suffering. He experienced first-hand what it is to suffer, and He knows our pain and suffering. Through God’s continued spiritual union with creation, we can be assured that when we suffer, we are not alone. God suffers with us. Every tear, every heartache, is one also felt by our creator. And we can be assured that God stands in solidarity with us through even the worst of times, whether or not we sense God’s presence. And God gives us hope. Just as Jesus’ crucifixion was not the end of the story, our suffering is not the end of the story either.

Another way we can maintain our belief in God’s goodness and mercy is through prayer. A young seminarian who lost both her parents at an early age shared a way of praying that helped her through the worst of times. She shared that in those most painful of days, she used to sit with her grandmother. Together, they would read the Bible, focusing on two particular passages.

First was the one that follows directly after the Bartimaeus story we heard this morning – the story of Jesus approaching Jerusalem, when he asks two of his disciples to go ahead and find a colt for him, on which they place their cloaks.

The second is Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The woman used these two images together to prayerfully imagine Jesus inviting her to take his yoke of love, in exchange for the heavy load of grief, loss, and doubt that she carried. She pictured releasing the pain she carried, which was placed by Jesus on the back of the young colt in exchange for the yoke of spreading the message of Christ’s love in word and action.

We close this morning with the story Captain Porter. The captain served in the Vietnam War. After an exemplary tour of duty, he was called home. On his last night overseas, he wrote excitedly in a journal about a young nurse from Kansas that he was to see that evening. But then tragedy struck. On his way home, the Captain’s vehicle was attacked, resulting in injuries that left him paralyzed from the neck down. It was twenty years later when a newly ordained priest came across him in an assisted-living facility in New Mexico. He had been living in the facility for nearly two decades, confined to his bed or a wheelchair. The new priest was nervous about meeting the captain. She knew his story, and fully expected to find him bitter and downcast. She wondered how she could be of comfort and offer hope to someone whose promising life had been cut short and severely compromised. It was with some trepidation that she knocked on the door of his room.

Imagine her surprise when he greeted her with eyes that sparkled, expressed his joy at seeing her, and invited her to sit down. The two spoke, and she finally asked how he was able to maintain his faith and optimism. He shared that each night, a caring attendant came in, and together they read a few passages of scripture. Next, she would prop a flashlight up on his nightstand to illuminate the icon of Jesus on the crucifix hanging on his wall. The captain explained that as they gazed at Christ’s image, he and the attendant would recite the Lord’s Prayer together. As he finished his story he looked at the young priest, smiled, and said, “You know, I’ve lived a blessed life.”

One can almost imagine The Rev. Clay Evans singing in the background:

“If you want to see a miracle,
All you gotta do is just look at me.
I’ve been blessed, I’ve been kept, by goodness and mercy,
Right now, I’ve got the victory.
I’m blessed.”

 

— The Rev. Suzanne E. Watson has served as a priest in the Episcopal Dioceses of El Camino Real, San Diego, and Connecticut, and in the Anglican Diocese of the Waikato in New Zealand. She currently serves as a Staff Officer for Congregational Development working with small-membership churches (those with an average Sunday attendance of 70 or less) at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.

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