Getting It

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2006 at 12:10 pm

Good morning. Ever since I was a small child, I have been interested in the mystery of how the world works. I remember watching the first space flights in the early 1960’s, and being amazed that people could leave the earth. When I was six years old I insisted that my parents take me to church, because I wanted to know what this God thing was all about. And to this day I read as much as I can about evolution, quantum physics, and the human brain. Life is a great mystery, and as much as possible, I want to get “it”, whatever that “it” is.

Now, as much as I desire to know how the world works, I have an almost equally great fear of not getting “it.” And it has become very apparent to me that whatever “it” is, some people just don’t get “it” at all. I want to tell you about two people who missed it completely. I pray that I will never miss it this badly.

My church history professor at Seminary, Doctor Bruce Shelley, traveled to New York City twenty years ago. He went into a small shop, and the walls and ceiling were covered with crucifixes. Dr. Shelley was a lifelong Baptist, and he was mesmerized by the beauty and craftsmanship of these beautiful crucifixes that were not a part of his religious tradition. He went up to the twenty-something young man at the counter, and said, “you know what, I really want to buy one of these crucifixes. The young man said, “cool, do you want one with or without the little man?” With or without the little man? He didn’t even know that “little man” on the crucifix was Jesus! He didn’t get it at all. He missed it completely. Scary.

My second example happened about fifteen years ago back east. A man was walking along a hill near a river, and he saw a pastor in the water baptizing a dozen or so men and women. The man was curious, so he went down to the river bank. When the pastor had baptized everyone, he warmly motioned for the man to come into the river. The pastor gently took the man’s hands, and then put him into the water and baptized him. When he brought him up, the pastor asked, “brother, did you find Jesus?” The man said, no. So the pastor put him into the water again, and when he brought him up he said “brother, did you find Jesus?” Again the man said, no. So the pastor plunged him into the water a third time, and held him down for about a minute. When he brought him up he said “brother, did you find Jesus!!?” Gasping for air, the man said, “are you sure this is where he fell in?” He didn’t get it at all. He totally missed it.

Now, as funny and alarming as these stories are, our readings this morning tell us the story of two men who, according to the people around them, missed it just as badly, if not worse, than the people I just mentioned. But we will see that though everyone said they just didn’t get it, Bartimaeus and Job actually got “it” more deeply than anyone could ever have imagined.

In the gospel of Mark Jesus is coming to Jericho, and whenever Jesus came to town, that was a big deal. Picture the crowd that followed Jesus. First there were the twelve apostles. Then came the disciples of Jesus, probably numbering forty or more. Several Pharisees always walked with Jesus to keep an eye on him. Then, in no way comparing Jesus to Jerry Garcia, dozens of groupies, or Jesus heads, followed Jesus wherever he went, to learn from his teachings and be part of the excitement. Then the crowds that simply appeared whenever Jesus approached often numbered in the thousands. So when a young child ran into town and yelled Jesus is coming!, that was a big deal.

So certainly as Jesus approached Jericho the city leaders polished all the doorknobs, swept the sidewalks, and did everything they could to make the city look good for Jesus and the crowds. And according to Mark everything seemed to go quite well until the very end. That is when Bartimaeus decided to make a fool of himself.

Bartimaeus was an embarrassment to Jericho. A blind beggar, certainly from a sinful family, Bartimaeus was just the kind of person who could make Jericho look bad. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was just down the street, he started to shout and make a scene. Great. Just what the respectable people of Jericho feared the most. So the good people of Jericho strongly encouraged Bartimaeus to keep quiet. I imagine they said something like this:

“Bartimaeus, you just don’t get it, do you? Why don’t you just shut up. Don’t you know a holy man is coming? Jesus is a prophet, a teacher, and some say he may even be the Messiah. You, on the other hand, are a blind and sinful beggar. Just go away. Don’t embarrass us. Crawl back into the hole you came out of. Bartimaeus, what we are saying is this: shut your miserable trap.”

And of course shameless Bartimaeus did just the opposite. He started spazing out and screaming all the more. Jesus walked by, and said to bring Bartimaeus over to him. I’m sure all the good people looked at the ground in embarrassment as “big man” Bartimaeus got his wish, shaming the city of Jericho.

Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do?” Bartimaeus said, Rabbi, I’d like to see.” Jesus said, Go, your faith has healed you.” Wow. What a wonderful story.

Bartimaeus was in bad shape. He was an outcast, his spirit was surely deeply wounded, he was blind, and he had no hope. But he had faith in Jesus. He took a big risk asking Jesus to give him sight. But most important of all, Bartimaeus risked ridicule and embarrassment to get to Jesus. He would present his wounds to Jesus, no matter how embarrassing everyone else thought he was. That is true faith. Bartimaeus got it. He really got it.

The story of Bartimaeus is the story of every one of us. We are all blind. We are all outcasts. We are all wounded. Somehow, we have got to get past the good people of Jericho, and present our brokenness to Jesus. This is not an easy thing to do. Do you know why? Because we first encounter the good people of Jericho in our own hearts and minds.

Let me tell you what the good people of Jericho say to me. When I think about bringing my woundedness to Jesus, they often tell me something like this: “Jimbo, you just don’t get it, do you? Why don’t you keep your problems quiet. You’ve been to seminary. You teach Adult Education. You preach. Do you realize how embarrassed you would be if you brought your woundedness to Jesus? Just put your weaknesses back into the hole they crawled out of. Don’t make a fool out of yourself. Jim, what we are saying is this: just shut up.”

The good people of Jericho are powerful voices in my head, and in unique ways each of us have those same powerful voices in our heads, ridiculing us, and telling us to keep our problems hidden, and keep them away from Jesus. What we have to do, just like Bartimaeus did, is to push past the voices of embarrassment and ridicule in our minds, and honestly bring our woundedness to Jesus. Just like Bartimaeus, we have to be crazy, and foolish, and obnoxious, in order to get past the good people of Jericho and get to Jesus so we can be healed.

If we can get past the good people of Jericho in our minds, then we must be prepared for our second battle: getting past the good people of Jericho in those around us. That’s a tough one. To be honest, our Christianity often presents itself to the world more like the good people of Jericho than like the healing face of Jesus. Far too often throughout history Christians have ridiculed the weak and the broken, and told them to go back where they belong, instead of leading them to Jesus. So, unfortunately, if we are going to get to Jesus, we have to get past the good people of Jericho both in our minds, and in the church.

Many of us know the pain of having our weaknesses exposed, and then being rejected by our brothers and sisters. This is probably the deepest pain that a Christian can experience. If this has happened to us, I don’t know what else to do other than forgive, and then press on to be healed by Jesus. But there are several things we can do to make sure Christ The King continues to be a place where that kind of rejection never happens, and where the Bartimaeus in all of us can be held in love.

First, we all must do the hard soul work of identifying our weaknesses, and then allowing them to be healed by Jesus. We must all understand the process of how the Holy Spirit brings the embarrassing junk of our lives to our awareness, and then how Jesus heals us. When we understand this dynamic firsthand, then when it happens to one of our brothers and sisters, we won’t be uptight. We can hold them, and laugh with them as God deals with their sin, because God has done the exact same thing for us, in exactly the same way.

Second, we should expect embarrassing Bartemaeus behavior to regularly appear in our church. If we are all moving closer to the light of Christ, then more and more dirt is going to show up. Acting like Bartimaeus is the result of being close to Christ, not being distant from Him. When someone does something dumb, or gets into trouble, or confesses that they are struggling with a dark area of life, we should never hold our breath and wonder what we are going to do with them. We should instantly say, that is where God is moving in our midst, and it is with that person that we want to walk.

Third, when someone is wounded and struggling, we must go the extra mile in letting them know that we love them and will never abandon them. When someone is struggling they are acutely sensitive to the possibility that they will be rejected. We must go the extra mile in letting them know that this will never happen. We must assure them, above and beyond normal assurance, that we will not let them go.

The good people of Jericho thought that Bartimaeus just didn’t get it. But he got it more deeply than any of them could ever know. And we will get it too if we follow his example both in our own lives, and in the life of our church.

The second person in our readings today who seemingly just didn’t get it was Job. Job was almost the exact opposite of Bartimaeus. Job was rich, successful, healthy, he had a large family, and he lived a life where everything always seemed to go right. Job was a happy man.

But one day God was praising Job, and Satan said, “yeah, yeah, Job’s a good guy and all, but I bet if you took away all his happiness, he wouldn’t follow You anymore.” God said, go ahead, take his happiness away, see what happens. So Satan stripped Job of his wealth, success, health, family, and his happiness. Job was absolutely miserable. But in his misery, Job refused to believe that he had done anything wrong, or that God was evil.

Job’s “friends” confronted Job. They said, “Job, you just don’t get it, do you? Surely you committed some sin that got you into this mess. Just admit it. Admit that all human suffering is caused by our sins. Don’t be stubborn, Job. Either admit that misfortune is caused by our sin, or curse God, say he is an evil God, and die. What we are saying is this Job: admit you are wrong.”

The whole book of Job continues just like this. Job’s “friends” continue to tell him he just doesn’t get it, but Job in his integrity refuses to believe either that something he did made God punish him, or that God is an evil God. Job waits and waits for God to explain Himself, and finally, at the end of the book, God says okay, here is my answer to why you are suffering. And God’s answer goes something like this:

“Job, you just don’t get it, do you? Were you there when I created the universe? Were you there when I filled the oceans, or put the stars in their place? Were you there when I created all the animals?” And after two chapters of these ‘were you theres’, God’s point is, Job, are you God? Do you really think you can figure me out? Do you really think you can understand the meaning of life? Do you really think you can get it?

And Job, repenting in sackcloth and ashes, says “No, I don’t get it, and I can’t get it. I know that you can do all things, and that no plan of yours can be thwarted. I had heard of you for a long time. But now that I have seen you, I realize that I will never see.” And because Job realized he didn’t get it, his health, wealth and success were restored. Again, wow. What an amazing story. When Job realized he would never get it, then, he got it.

Just like we are all Bartimaeus, we are all also Job. We are all trying to figure out the mystery of life. And none of us get it. On one hand we are all trying to figure out the mystery of evil and suffering. It is tempting to think that when something bad happens to us, then God must be punishing us for some sin. I know sometimes when something bad happens to me, from some deep and ancient part of my soul comes the thought, is God mad at me? Did I do something wrong? But we know from our theology this isn’t true.

Evil and suffering can visit us for seemingly no reason at all. Sometimes tsunamis kill over a hundred thousand people for absolutely no reason that we can see. And even though some Christians are quick to point the finger, and tell us that we are suffering because of some sin, we have to wait with Job and admit that when it comes to evil and suffering, we just don’t get it.

On the other hand, like Job we are trying to figure out what kind of God we worship. If God is good, then why do his children suffer? If God is good, then why do good and innocent people die for no reason? If God is good, then why doesn’t He reveal Himself and make this world a better place? These are honest, authentic questions that we all must ask.

C.S. Lewis was devastated when his wife died of cancer. In his great suffering he said the problem for him was not that he would stop believing in God. The problem was that he would begin to believe such awful things about God. That was exactly what Job was wrestling with, and it is exactly what we wrestle with. In spite of everything, will we continue to believe that God is good? In spite of everything, will we continue to believe in God at all? Can we hold onto our faith when the whole world screams that we are all alone?

And will we, like Job, get to the place where we accept that we will never get it? Can we get to the place where we are left with nothing but mystery, and then say to ourselves, this mystery is holy, and I can rest in that. We know there is a God, we know He is good, and if that is all we know, then that is enough. Even not-knowing is to be in the holy presence of God. That was Job’s journey. And that is our journey.

One of the great mysteries of the Christian life is that all of us are walking the totally opposite journeys of Bartimaeus and Job at the same time. In one sense, like Bartimaeus, we all start out blind. We start with nothing, and when we come to Jesus we gain everything. We get to know Jesus more and more, and by giving our weaknesses and woundedness to Jesus we get to know ourselves more and more. And, as we all get closer to Jesus we get to know each other more and more. The Bible hints that this journey of knowing ourselves, each other, and Jesus, more and more and more, will go on throughout eternity.

But at the very same time, we are also following the journey of Job. We start with everything, and come to realize that we understand nothing. The closer we get to God, the less we know Him. The more mature we become, the more we realize how distant from God we really are. Just when we think we might be getting it, God reminds us that we don’t get it at all. This journey into greater and greater mystery is a holy journey, characterized by paradox, and what the Christian mystics call holy darkness, where God is closest when He seems most distant. The Bible hints that this journey into increasing darkness and mystery is a journey that will continue for all eternity. When it finally dawns on us that our Christian life is the life of both Bartimaeus and Job, then we will get it. Until God reminds us again that we really don’t get it at all.

This morning Grace Elizabeth Landvik and Joel Aiden Lewis are being baptized. I would like to conclude this sermon with a special prayer for them. Please join me in prayer: Dear Lord, As Grace and Joel become part of your body, the church, this morning, through the holy sacrament of baptism, I pray that as they walk through all the years you will give them, that they will deeply understand, and walk in, the journeys of Bartimaeus and Job. Lord, may they always know that the only place to go with their weaknesses and woundedness is to you, and I pray that throughout their earthly journeys you would surround them with Christian communities who will welcome all their embarrassments, and hold their woundedness in the sacred container of your love.

And Lord, I pray that as life confuses, frustrates, and threatens to defeat Grace and Joel, that they would remember and walk in the journey of Job, understanding that God is often found in darkness and mystery, and that when they seemingly find themselves far from You, that it will be then that You are really closest of all.

Finally Lord, I pray that through all their journeys, Grace and Joel would find You, the source of all life and love. May they search for You always, and when they have found You, may they never, ever, let you go.

In Jesus’ precious name we pray.



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