Sermon, October 25, 2015

“Take Heart; Get Up, He Is Calling You.”
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
October 25, 2015   Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Reformation Sunday
Psalm 126; Jeremiah 31:7-9; Mark 10:46-52

There is so much joy in today’s scriptures, and in each case the joy comes out of sorrow, when God restores or saves or heals people who have suffered.

We, too, can have the joy of the Psalm: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy!”

We, too, can have the joy of Jeremiah: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.’”

We, too, can have the joy of Blind Bartimaeus. He was an outcast and all he owned was the cloak that he spread out for people to drop pennies into as they passed that Jericho roadside. Out of his long suffering he cried, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd rebuked him but he yelled all the more loudly, until Jesus heard and stood still and said, “Call him here.”

Then Bartimaeus heard the words he had been longing for: “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Imagine the joy with which he threw aside his cloak, leaving all he had behind, and sprang up and ran blindly to the light that he could see only with his heart.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. Imagine being Bartimaeus in that moment. Imagine that you are standing in front of Jesus right now. Imagine how you would answer that. What suffering is weighing on you? What hardship or old wound or obstacle is holding you back from the life you dream of living? “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. And you answer. And he does it. Stay with that a few minutes. Imagine!

The joy with which you sprang up full of wild hope changes to a different kind of joy. It is deep now, a peaceful, profound joy, and instead of running wildly you follow the one who has healed you and made you whole. You follow your heart’s deepest desire, the calling the Holy Spirit puts there for you, the way you were born to live and serve. You live your life, reformed.

People who have experienced that kind of grace have a light about them, and a lightness. They tend to laugh easily with delight, even at times when they are struggling. Today’s Silent Meditation quote is from the Brazilian Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara. He was an advocate for the poorest of the poor whom he lived with and loved. He worked for democracy and peace during a time of military rule. He recognized and challenged the government and economic systems that kept the poor in poverty.

Archbishop Câmara was visiting the United States when a war broke out. It pained him so deeply that his hosts were afraid for his health. People were asking him what could be done about the war, and he kept saying the same thing over and over. We need to use the intelligence God has given each of us to see one another as brothers and sisters. We must take the time to understand other people and not let the barriers of race and language prevent us from seeing each other as members of the same family. God embraces all human beings. The heart of faith is the call to love one another.

At one such meeting, “toward the end of the evening, the Archbishop said, ‘If you will live your religion, you will become different.’ He gave a gleeful little laugh, as though that idea thoroughly delighted him. He went on to challenge each of us…. to live as we say we believe, acknowledging God everywhere, living from that place within each of us where God dwells. It was a call to be courageous and faithful. To be who we are meant to be.” (Avis Crowe, quoted by Richard Rohr in his daily meditation 10/22/15)

The Archbishop’s gleeful laugh echoes what we hear in the Psalm and Jeremiah and Mark, it is a joy born out of sorrow, a joy that comes from doing just what he advises us to do: live what we believe, live from that deepest place in us where God dwells and the Spirit gives us gifts to share and calls us to a life of ultimate meaning and joy. Live from that place and you will become different, reformed, courageous, faithful, and you will be the person you are meant to be. You will find God everywhere, and you will laugh even in the midst of struggle.

“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” That is what they said to Blind Bartimaeus, but that is also a message for us. It is the call to throw off our beggar’s cloak and rise up and follow our calling. It is the call to enter into abundant life and superabundant joy.

Today we are letting Martin Luther and his hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” represent all the people who made the Protestant Reformation happen, but to me the real heroes of the Reformation were people Luther and his followers persecuted and killed by the thousands. They were the Anabaptists, groups like the Mennonites and Amish.

Luther brought about many needed reforms, but the Anabaptists saw that the church was still far from the pure teachings of Jesus. They read the New Testament and tried to model their lives on it as closely as they could. They rejected the Lutheran church as much as the Roman Catholic one for how it failed to follow Christ, particularly how the church resorted to violence to enforce its rule. That brought the sword of Luther’s forces down on them, and they were tortured and martyred in the most horrific ways. But the Anabaptists were so full of joy that they could not be stopped from singing and praising God all the way to their death.

Last November we watched the documentary of the American Civil Rights Movement called Eyes on the Prize. We heard that same joy coming from the paddy wagons and jail cells crowded with young African Americans who had thrown off their fear and submission and were reforming their world, starting with their own hearts.

Amazingly, someone walked past the vestry of this church the other day and heard that kind of joy coming out of a small group that was meeting there. I witnessed it, too, and it was downright giddy. There was laughter, and there was cheering, and unstoppable positive energy, and all of it was coming from an act of reformation.

It doesn’t matter that what was getting reformed was not centuries of racial or papal oppression or lifelong blindness. It doesn’t matter that it was just a small church website that the group was reforming. Joy is joy, from any source. The light that shines through this lighted window can come from any number of things that we do to create light. It can come from the Publicity Committee crafting a beautiful website for all the world to see, and it can come from the children showing off their good Sunday School work and singing “This Little Light of Mine,” and it can come from the Board of Mission and Social Action helping Syrian refugees or serving a Bradford community dinner. It can even come from the Trustees finding brighter lightbulbs to shine through the lighted window. Joy is joy, and light is light, and love is love, and all that matters is that we work constantly to reform ourselves to have more joy and light and love.

We have an Identity and Aspiration Statement that is printed in the bulletin again today. It could also be called a Reformation Statement for this congregation. If you want to increase your joy and the joy of this church, read through it and think about one thing you could do to help the church fulfill the Statement a little more. Join a committee or undertake a new project, help out at the next community dinner or simply reach out with a smile to someone you don’t know very well after worship today.

The novelist Jean Rhys said, “Listen to me. All of writing is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And then there are mere trickles like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake. I don’t matter. The lake matters. You must keep feeding the lake.”

The Christian writer Madeleine L’Engle commented on that quote saying, “To feed the lake is to serve.” It doesn’t matter how much or how little we have to offer. Last week I quoted Albert Schweitzer who said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

We have a joyous thing going on in this church, a process of reformation. All you need to do to participate in the joy is to serve with whatever you find in your heart to contribute, however large or small, whatever the Holy Spirit is giving you to share. This is not just about building our congregation—our congregation is not the ultimate lake that our trickles or rivers of joyous service will be feeding. This is about establishing God’s realm on earth. That is the ultimate end of all our reformations, and it starts in our innermost depths where we hear a voice saying, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you,” and we throw off our cloak and spring to our feet and follow our joy and the giver of joy wherever that leads.

You, too, can be part of a group of people laughing with gleeful delight down in the vestry as you serve in some creative way. The Holy Spirit wants that for you.

Let us pray in silence, listening for that voice that is calling us, and feeling the joy that is within our reach…