October 28, 2018: Sermon Preached by The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund
Year B; Proper 25; 10.28.2018
The editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said last night in an interview that he lives in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh where eleven people were shot down in the Tree of Life synagogue. He said that people of all faiths live there in peace and neighborliness. Calling it a “close-knit” community he shared that the only time he sees police in his neighborhood is to direct traffic when the 12 synagogues located there fill up on the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Eleven worshipers were killed in the Tree of Life synagogue yesterday while they were celebrating the occasion of a baby-naming ceremony. It was another mass shooting in the United States of America – a hate crime committed by a man obsessed with hate who entered the synagogue shooting his automatic rifle with hand guns at the ready.
Christians have a moral duty to stand with the Jewish community. Not only do they have much to teach us in the way of radical mercy and loving-kindness to the stranger and the oppressed, their story is essential to our story. We learn of salvation history from the very beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures. And Jesus teaches his followers from the basis of his Jewish faith and heritage. The Jewish community is our kin.
Christians must mark our sorrow and anguish and stand with the Jewish communities of faith in this country and of this world. From Psalm 130:
“Out of the depths I cry to you,
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
To the voice of my supplications!”
And let me add my own verse: The automatic weapon of the hater and his hate-crime is an abomination to the LORD. This is a lament for our time, and it would be easy for us to throw our arms up in despair for all the hate swirling around us, growing in intensity, even being acted out this week.
We are given encouraging words by the crowds as they called to Bar Timaeus in the gospel story today, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you,” we must also take heart because Jesus calls US o’er all the worldly tumult to follow him.
May we tune our ears and our hearts to all who suffer in this world, the Bar Timaeus’s of the world who call out from their suffering to the God of healing and peace. O LORD, Lord, hear my voice! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy!
The story of the blind beggar, Bar Timaeus is an energetic story of healing. Bar Timaeus finds himself in proximity of an impressive healer and rabbi. He begs for mercy. He persists in his begging for mercy. He leaps up and approaches Jesus, shouting after him. Initially, the crowd shoos him away – and then…Jesus “stood still and said, ‘Call him to me.’” The crowd quickly changed their mood and began to encourage Bar Timaeus, saying, “Take heart, he is calling you.”
And Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bar Timaeus said, “Rabouni, Rabbi, let me see again.’ His sight is restored.” He follows Jesus.
We know the man’s name who has been suffering from blindness and terrible poverty. “Bar” in Aramaic means “Son.” “Timaeus,” is Greek for Honor. Son of honor.
This man calls to us, too. The writer of Mark’s gospel intends for us all to reflect on our attitude toward the equivalent to a blind beggar at the side of the road. How do we respond? Do we recoil and look the other way? Do we “shoo” him away? Or do we respond when he asks us for help? As a Church, was does this story say to us?
Yesterday, at the diocesan convention, Bishop Lane in his opening address talked about Episcopal Church statistics. He shared with us that attendance has been down each year by 2% or so. He speaks often about young people who are “spiritual but not religious.” They don’t go to church because they tend to be cynical about church.
But the good news is that when people are in trouble, they do call on the church for assistance. There is still an expectation that a church can be expected to offer mercy, charity, hospitality and hope. Every now and then someone in trouble seeks the help of our church. And we are called upon to respond swiftly with compassion and relief.
Take last Sunday when we heard a persistent call from “Tim.” No coincidence, I think that “Tim” and “Bar TIMaeus share a name. At about 1:00 pm long after worship concluded, the parish phone rang. I had just finished a pre-marital counseling session. Betsey Bailey and Kevin Miller were finishing counting the Sunday Collection. Peggy was in her office getting ready to go home. No one picked up the phone because we knew voicemail would kick in.
But the phone rang again. Again, we let it ring. Then it rang again. Peggy answered it because it was persistent as in an emergency. “Tim” was the caller. He asked for food or a food card. He told the story that he was from Ohio and came to Maine with his friends for a Halloween concert and they left him on the side of the road, took his cash and his tent.
Peggy sensed his urgency and need. Betsey got on the phone to tell him where we were located. We promised him a food card. Another 10 minutes went by. He called again. This time I answered the phone. He said he was at the church, but it was locked. Well, I knew he wasn’t at our church. Soon I learned by the description of the church that it was First Parish. So I gave him directions to come down the hill, turn left on Pleasant Street and come to the Parish Office door across from the Post Office. He said he was wearing a red parka.
All four of us waited for him. We could have locked up and gone home. But we waited for him. All four of us. Soon enough, a man wearing a red parka, appeared at our door, laden with a huge backpack, a frying pan hanging from it, a sleeping bag tied to him and another satchel in his hand.
Tim came right in to warm himself. He told his story again and that he needed shelter for the night. We shared with him that there was no shelter on a Sunday – all closed. We shared with him that the police station serves as a warming center during the night and gave him contacts at Tedford Shelter and The Gathering Place for the next morning. I told him to give them my name. We gave him a food card for Hannaford’s. Peggy gave him warm socks and a bag of toiletries. He repacked some of his things, used the restroom and was on his way.
Betsey said something that stayed with me. She said that a common response from people of faith to Tim’s situation would be to do nothing. To say, “Oh, we don’t have the means to give him shelter or support him. We just don’t have time or resources to drop everything and help this man.”
But we did. We surrounded him and asked him, “What do you want us to do for you?” It wasn’t much. It wasn’t everything he needed. But it was something. And most of all, we were there for him – a church that answered the phone. A church that stayed with him. I loved it when he said, “I called the churches because aren’t churches supposed to help people? You are a church that helps people.”
Yes we are. And we are learning more and more to be a church that helps people. It is our calling. As the culture becomes more hateful, brutal and divisive, the way WE follow Jesus is to help people.
“We believe how we treat the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Jesus himself…How we treat people who are oppressed, strangers, outsiders, or considered marginal is a test of our relationship to God, who made us all equal in divine dignity and love. If our gospel is not ‘good news to the poor,’ it is not the gospel of Jesus.” (Reclaiming Jesus, affirmation number 4)
Jesus calls us to help people. PERIOD. May we always be “good news to the poor.”