Tuesday, October 30, 2012

God Will Not Abandon You

The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Pentecost 22nd Sunday Sermon – 8:00am and 10:30am Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN
RCL Proper 25 Year B 10/28/2012
Scripture Text: Job: 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34:1-8, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52

 Sermon Text:
Last week many of us with children were having fall break
because of the Knox County School schedule.
I was blessed to be able to take my kids
down to my parents’ house in Florida,
while Jackie stayed home to work at her new job.
On the beach one afternoon I had an interesting experience.

I was standing there, talking to my dad,
while watching my three kids in their various places.
Jack was playing in the sand just a few steps away.
Annalise was playing in the waves nearby.
Eva Jane, my oldest,
was playing in the waves where they had pushed her,
a little further down the shore.
The sun was bright, the waves fun, but not too high.
There was a soft breeze.
It seemed things couldn't get much better.
As I listened to my dad talking to me,
I kept my eye on Eva Jane as she came out of the water,
and started walking away from us down the beach.
I kind of wondered what she was doing,
but was not really concerned,
thinking “maybe she's looking for shells,”
as she got further and further away.
When I realized she was too far to hear me call her back,
I excused myself, asked my dad to watch the other two,
while I went down the beach to get her.
At first I just walked casually,
but then she started to run,
and I started walking faster.
I realized that she was pretty far away from me,
further than I had thought,
and as she passed other people
the only way I really still knew it was her was
her red body board dangling behind her,
still attached to her wrist.
I started to run to catch up to her,
and she started to run faster.
That made me angry.
I thought, “oh she's in trouble now,
why is she running down the beach
away from us?
She knows she's not supposed
to go out of our sight.”
I ran faster, and gradually caught up to her,
though at nearly 8 years old,
as she will tell you, she's the fastest girl in her class,
a pretty fast runner.
As I got closer, the thought suddenly dawned on me,
“what if she's lost? What if she doesn't know where we are?”
My anger immediately dissipated and was replaced with
parental concern, with sadness for her.
And I started to run faster.
I started yelling to her, calling her name.
As I got close enough and she heard me and stopped,
I could see the tears streaming down her face.
I hugged her and asked her why
she was running away from me?
She told me that she came up out of the water
and didn't see us;
she thought we had left her alone on the beach,
and she went down in the direction
she thought we had been.
As we walked back,
I reassured her that I had been watching her the whole time,
that I would never leave her alone somewhere,
and that if she did get lost,
if she would just stay where she was,
I would find her.
She couldn't believe that,
“How would you find me?” she said.
I said just trust me, if you're lost,
stay where you are and I will find you.

Bartimaeus, the blind man sitting beside the road
in Jericho, probably thought he was lost.
He probably thought there was really no hope for him,
and that his lot in life was to sit alone,
and beg for mercy because he was blind,
and could not function in society.
He might have even thought that God the father
had abandoned him.

In spite of being lost to the society around him,
Bartimaeus was hopeful
when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was approaching.
He must have heard of Jesus before,
to shout out “Jesus, Son of David,
have mercy on me!”
The crowd tried to quiet him.
Surely such a great man
shouldn't be bothered by someone so insignificant.
But when his one hope came within reach,
Bartimaeus would not be silenced,
“he cried out even more loudly,
'Son of David, have mercy on me!'”

By acknowledging Jesus as the Son of David,
here recorded for the first time in the Gospel of Mark,
Bartimaeus was making a statement not just about
Jesus' power to help him,
but declaring that Jesus was the messiah,
the one who would save all of the people of Israel.
Bartimaeus knew who Jesus really ways,
and he cried out for mercy because of it.

Jesus stood still,
a compassionate gesture in itself,
something that would allow the blind man,
to find him by his voice,
and said “Call him here.”

When blind Bartimaeus approached Jesus,
Jesus did not assume that he knew what the man wanted,
even if he knew what was obvious,
Jesus respected the man as a person,
and asked Bartimaeus what he wanted Jesus to do for him?
I think Jesus could have been relatively sure,
that he was not inviting a self-aggrandizing request
like James and John had given him
when they said “we want you to do for us
what we ask of you”,
which turned out to be a request for glory with Jesus.

He knew this man knew who Jesus really was,
and was asking him for mercy.
Jesus, in his mercy, asks what Bartimaeus wants.
What seems obvious to us,
was not obvious enough for Jesus to disregard.
That’s what people who really want
to be in relationship with us do after all.
They don’t disregard our concerns,
or assume they know what we’re needing without asking.

Even on his way to Jerusalem,
for the great purpose he knew he would accomplish there,
Jesus wanted to be in relationship with this man,
and for him to share his deepest desire
before Jesus would do anything.
Bartimaeus' request for Jesus to let him see
showed that he had faith that Jesus could heal him,
and so Jesus responded that faith
made Jesus' restoring his sight possible.

Bartimaeus' response to being healed
is very interesting to me,
maybe more interesting than the healing itself,
because it indicates the nature of that relationship,
and how Bartimaeus understood his place in it.

The passage says that Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way.
He did not run off and tell people,
he did not go away and take care of things,
or reorganize his life now that he could see.
He did not figure out what this new sight could do for him.
His response to receiving sight was to follow Jesus.
His response was to engage further
in that relationship with Jesus,
that he was offered when Jesus asked him what he wanted.
He knew who Jesus really was,
and when he actually saw him,
the best response, the only response,
was one of humility.
Leaving everything he knew
and following him.

In our Old Testament passage,
as we heard the ending of the tragic story of Job,
Job's response to God speaking to him
from out of the whirlwind is similar.
Job says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Another translation I read of this verse,
by a scholar named Mitchell reads like this:
“I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I will be quiet, comforted that I am dust.”1

In other words, now that I know you as a person,
for who you really are.
I don't think so highly of my own interests,
and I don’t even want to pursue them,
or be distant from you,
but I turn around fully into this relationship with you.

So often we find ourselves going our own way,
sometimes we have walked away from God inadvertently,
sometimes intentionally,
seeking our own path,
or running the other direction
in search of something that will save us,
when we feel abandoned and alone.

All the while God has us in his sight,
and is even pursuing us.
If we would just stop,
and turn to him,
we would see him asking what we need,
what we want from our relationship with Him.

He will never abandon us,
or leave us alone.

Do you want to see God for who he really is,
what will your response be?

1 Mitchell quoted in Thomas Long, What Shall We Say? Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith. Eerdmans 2011. Pg. 109. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

19th Sunday After Pentecost: Oct. 7, 2012 The Episcopal Church of the Ascension
The Presence of the Sacred in the Sanctuary The Reverend Dr. Howard J. Hess
I. Introduction. The Celebration of Sanctuary: This morning, as a result of the outstanding efforts of our Stewardship Committee, we are celebrating the gift of sanctuary at The Episcopal Church of the Ascension. It goes without saying that God has blessed us with the incredible gift of this most beautiful space in which to worship, to enter into the Sacraments, and to fellowship together. Many have told me that in their opinion, God has gifted us with one of the most original and exquisite worship spaces in our city. I agree and hope that God will excuse my pridefulness. I look forward to hearing Bob Parrot’s tour of this sanctuary, following our 10:30 service. All are invited to participate.
II. Sacred Space. Although it may appear that we might, in celebrating sanctuary, concentrate only on our physical space this morning, I want to share two assertions with you about the meaning of sanctuary at The Church of the Ascension. First, this space is sacred because it is set aside, dedicated to the Glory of God. Therefore, the smallest, the very smallest, of details in this space are designed to communicate sacred purpose and presence. Second, our sanctuary is here not just to admire as a work of architectural excellence. But rather, it is a place designed to deepen our worship and to send us out motivated to do the work that God has given us to do in this world. This beautiful church is not meant ever to be an end in itself, but rather a means to communicate the presence and love of God – to all who enter this place.
Let’s briefly consider the origin of the word sanctuary. The original root word of sanctuary is SAK, meaning to sanctify or to make sacred. As the word first came into common usage, it implied ongoing, active intention. In time, the meaning of sanctuary expanded from sacred space to also mean safe haven, or a place of sacred refuge. From the 4th to the 17th centuries, churches served as safe houses for fugitives and by English law no arrests could occur in a church. Churches were also sanctuaries for the physically ill, the dying, the poor, and the homeless. In other words, sanctuaries were both safe and sacred places.
III. Myriad symbols in this church attest to the sacredness and safety of this space. Let me point to just a few. For example, the number eight symbolizes the eighth day, the day after baptism and after worship when we go out as renewed disciples into the world. Thus, the eight columns of the baptismal font and the octagonal shape of the pulpit convey this meaning. The sacred symbols on our kneelers bear witness to the sacramental encounter we have in the Holy Eucharist. For example, the Celtic cross, often seen in Ascension publications, is meant to remind us of eternity – the completeness and perfection found in the combination of the circle and the cross. Each symbol on our pillars also refers to some important aspect of our faith – for example, the descending dove, representing the Holy Spirit entering into this space as we worship. Look at our rafters above and there you will see many symbols including a starburst, which is meant to inspire us by the glory of creation in the heavens above. Each symbol used throughout this church has a deep-seated spiritual meaning.
Our stained glass windows have been selected with the same purpose – to inspire us in worship and provide models for our lives. In the Clerestory Windows – those nearest the rafters -- is Therese of Lisieux – the Little Flower. She lived a brief, but holy, life of only 24 years and is sometimes called the “mystic of the ordinary.” The next window back is Columba of Iona, who gave up the safety of his home in Ireland to establish a monastery on the barren island of Iona. To your right (closest window) is Julian of Norwich, who devoted her life to experiencing multiple revelations from God. She was the first woman to write a substantive book in the English language. In this sanctuary, we are literally surrounded by symbols of our faith and stories of the saints who have gone before us.
IV. Sanctuary in the Broadest Sense. But there is another aspect of sanctuary that we have not yet explored – the provision of refuge and respect to those who are vulnerable. The second large nave window on your left depicts Jesus’ blessing of the children. Part of our Gospel lesson from Mark this morning depicts this same blessing. There was no concept of childhood in the ancient world. Children were viewed as property and could be disposed of whenever and however their fathers saw fit. When Jesus, who knew already that he was on the way to the cross in Jerusalem, took time to bless these children, he was making a radical gesture and was breaking with the cultural norms of his time. Further, when he says, that to enter into heaven we should receive the Kingdom like a little child, he profoundly offended the power structure. In a very important sense, Jesus was providing sacred space and sanctuary to these children.
Perhaps more striking is the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching today about divorce. Jesus lived in a patriarchal society where men could deliver an edict of divorce to their wives with no justification whatsoever and no opportunity for challenge. Here is what William Barclay writes in his commentary on Mark. Only men could bring about a divorce. He describes the reasons that a man could give for divorcing his wife as capricious and unlimited. For example, a divorce could be given “if the wife spoiled a dish of food, if she spun in the streets, if she talked to a strange man, if she spoke disrespectfully of her husband’s relations in his hearing, if she was a brawling woman, who was defined as a woman whose voice could be heard in the next house.” Rabbi Akiba even went to the length of saying that [divorce could occur] . . . if a man found a woman who was fairer in his eyes than his wife was . . . The result was that divorce, for the most trivial reasons, or for no reason at all, was tragically common” (The Gospel of Mark 1975:239). In other words, Jesus was lifting up the inherent value of women by emphasizing the sanctity of marriage and criticizing prevailing male-dominated power over women.
V. Conclusion. What I hope we see this morning is that the concept of “sanctuary” is so much broader than a building. It is a state of faithful understanding of the Christ story and a readiness to take in that story and replicate it in the world around us. We worship in a beautiful sanctuary that nourishes and forms us. We in turn, become ourselves a sanctuary for those who need to know, to be protected, and to be transformed by the Gospel of Christ. Thanks be to God that we have been given such a beautiful space; thanks be to God that we have been called to fill this space; and thanks be to God that God also calls us to live and share our faith in the space beyond 800 S. Northshore Drive -- beyond these walls into a world that desperately needs what Jesus Christ has to offer – sacred, safe space in the midst of challenging and often confusing lives. Amen.