Monday, October 29, 2012

Sermon for Year B Proper 25


What do you want me to do for you?

That is the question Jesus asks 
when blind Bartimaeus comes bounding up to him.

What do you want me to do for you?

Well, duh, Jesus--I’m blind. I’m a beggar. What do you think?

What do you think, Jesus?

But isn’t it interesting that Jesus does not make assumptions.
Jesus does not make assumptions about a person
that the world only sees from the outside.
Jesus always takes time to gaze inside our hearts.

Jesus asks the question.
What do YOU want ME to do for you?

Teacher, let me see again.

I want to see AGAIN.

This let’s us know that Bartimaeus has not always been blind.
Once upon a time he must have seen the sun rise 
and the faces of his family
and dogs chasing after a sticks  
and women dancing--he remembers.
Bartimaeus remembers how beautiful and amazing 
it was
to live in technicolor.

Teacher, let me see AGAIN.

Sometimes we have to lose something
before we know how much it means to us.

We don’t know from the gospel reading
what happened to Bartimaeus.
How did he lose his sight, his vision?

We know that he is the son of Timaeus.
What happened to his family?
Did they die? Did they reject him 
         because they saw blindness
as a sin?
Did they throw him out on the street to beg
because he was so obnoxious, so pushy?

We are clear that Bartimaeus is a beggar.
He’s poor.
And even in those days, even in Jericho,
the poor were to be quiet.

Sit by the gate, beg if you must,
but don’t make a scene.
Don’t yell. Don’t bother people.

Bartimaeus must not have read the instruction manual
on how to be a proper beggar.
Or pehaps he is just desperate--
and this Jesus he has heard about--
this Jesus, 
sounds like his last chance.

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

He doesn’t whisper that as a prayer under his breath--
he shouts it out. He is yelling.
He wants to be heard.

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!

Jesus, you are my last chance. My only hope!

This yelling and screaming 
is unacceptable to the people around him.
They tell him to “Stop it!”.
No, not nice words like “Now calm down, Bartimaeus.”
They tell him sternly to be quiet.

And then aren’t the people surprised.
Jesus calls Bartimaeus over to him.

And Bartimaeus jumps up so quickly
         that his cloak goes flying off.
He is taking no chances 
         that Jesus might change his mind
 or that the crowd might prevent him 
         from getting to this man.

And Jesus heals him.
Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.”

So isn’t this a nice story?
A nice story about a healing of a blind man.

But there is more.

Because you see, all of us are blind.
In some way or in many ways,
all of us are blind.
There is a part of the truth about ourselves 
         and others and the world
that we just don’t see.
Maybe we don’t want to see it.

Maybe we don’t want to see 
       how we have hurt other people.
Maybe we don’t want to see 
      how deeply other people have hurt us.
Sometimes we choose blindness  
      over facing the clear vision of truth.

Bartimaeus is tired of being blind. 
Bartimaeus is tired of being a victim, a beggar.

Bartimaeus’ healing had begun even before Jesus spoke to him.
Because in his heart, Bartimaues knows,
he wants a different life.
He wants to see AGAIN.

And maybe this time,
he will realize how precious, how beautiful, 
how full of life and color the world really is.
Maybe this time
he won’t take things for granted.

I think about that moment of healing.
That moment when suddenly everything comes into focus.
The very first thing Bartimaeus sees--right in front of him--
is the face of Jesus.

The last line in this gospel is this:
Immediately he saw again, and he followed him on the way.

Bartimaeus is no longer blind.
Bartimaeus has shed his beggar’s cloak.
And he is truly transformed--
transformed enough to follow Jesus.

And let’s remember--
following Jesus is not an easy path.

There is nothing lukewarm about Bartimaeus.
He JUMPS up.

And the fact that he leaves his cloak behind--
tells us that he is leaving behind 
        his old way of life,
his life as a beggar.
A cloak was not for warmth,
the cloak’s purpose was to spread it on the ground,
so that people passing by
would leave coins or food 
       or whatever else they might give.

Leaving his cloak behind means 
Bartimaeus really really believes that Jesus will heal him.
He has no doubts.
He will have no use for that cloak ever again
in just a few minutes.
Think of the cloak like an open guitar case
     at the feet of a busker
     on a downtown Asheville streetcorner.

Remember last week’s gospel?
James and John--
           when Jesus asks them what they wanted?
They wanted power and prestige.
They wanted Jesus to pick them 
               as the next in command.

How different that is
from what Bartimaeus wants.

What would you say? What might I say?
If Jesus walked up to you right now
and said,
What do you want?

Would we say,
“Well, I’d like to win the Powerball lottery.”
“ I’d like to look like Brad Pitt --
or for some of us, “Marilyn Monroe.”
I’d like to be powerful or famous or rich or free.
That’s what I want, Jesus.

But that is not the point or purpose of this story.
Jesus does not show up like a Genie 
coming out of a magic lamp
to grant a wish.

This story is about a person 
who recognizes that he is blind.

This is a story about each of us--
and a call to recognize
that we too are blind in some ways.
This is story is about a person who recognizes--
even in blindness--
that Jesus is the Messiah.
This is a story about each of us--
and a call to stop pushing away a truth
that we too know.

This is story is about a person who BOISTEROUSLY believes.
Who JUMPS up when Jesus calls him.
This is a story about each of us--
and a call to us to be more BOISTEROUS
in our own faith.

For many of us, our faith as Episcopalians looks like:
Hey! I love Jesus. I really do. I really do.
       But let’s just keep calm and carry on. 
                      Shhh...don’t make a big fuss.

But this story is calling us to be a boisterous follower:

    I love Jesus.

What Bartimaeus is saying is this: I love you Jesus
I know who you are and I love you
and even though I am blind and poorer than dirt,
I know you love me.

And you love her...and him...and them...
and all of us. 
I know this.
I know this, Jesus.

We, like Bartimaeus, are called to leave 
our cloaks of fear and anxiety and victimhood
by the side of the road
and step forward in love., 
knowing how much we are loved.

“Teacher, let me see again.”

Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”     AMEN

Thursday, October 25, 2012


My faithful Merriam-Webster dictionary tells me that to admire someone is "to marvel at; to like very much; to respect highly."

I have been thinking this morning about admiration. Yesterday I was asked a question about whom I admire. Actually the question was a little more specific: is there a bishop you admire? To be truthful, I had never really thought about this before. I stumbled through that question yesterday but have been thinking about it ever since.

I do admire the two bishops I have served with in my own diocese. I admire Bishop Porter Taylor for his amazing gift as a teacher and also his gift as a writer. He has a way of reflecting on issues and people that helps shed light and opens my mind to new thinking.  I admire Bishop Bob Johnson for his ability to remember your name, your husband's name, your children's names and to pick up a conversation with you right where you last left off--even if it was a year ago.

I admire our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori. She was ordained a Bishop only a few years out of seminary and was selected as the Presiding Bishop only 12 years after her ordination to the priesthood. I admire her for her courage (she is the first woman Primate in the Anglican Communion), her grace and her honesty. She is clear about her positions, even the sometimes controversial ones such as supporting same-gender blessings and same-gender civil marriage. Yet she has worked to remain in dialogue with those who do not agree with her or the Episcopal Church. I admire someone who is honest and transparent about their own position, but does not slam the door in the face of anyone who disagrees nor does she run and hide from disagreement. She lifts up what unites us instead of what divides us.

I admire Bishop Ted Gulick because of his immense pastoral care gifts. They are legendary among my clergy friends who served with Ted in Kentucky. While serving as a student sacristan I was present once at a wedding rehearsal and was almost moved to tears by the way +Ted made even a rehearsal (which so many clergy rush through) a holy event.

I admire Bishop Julio Murray of Panama because I will never forget arriving late, late one night with a mission group from VTS and there he was, waiting for us, sitting beneath a mango tree in Santa Clara. He is an immensely gifted preacher who can go back and forth between English and Spanish and never miss a beat or a theological point. But what I really admire is that he does not stay sequestered in his office--he goes out and is with the people of his Diocese. +Julio can always make me laugh and on occasion even make me get up and dance.

I admire Bishop Barbara Harris for her courage and her ability to tell the truth. She was the first woman ordained a bishop in the Anglican Communion. She is still a powerful voice in the Church.

I admire Bishop Marianne Budde even though I only know her through one brief encounter when she came to preach at Virginia Theological Seminary and through friends. I admire her thoughtfulness and her ability to be really present with people. I think the Diocese of Washington is one to watch for wise, prayerful decisions and growth, both in numbers and in spiritual depth.

I admire Bishop Sean Rowe, the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church (ordained bishop at age 32). Sean and I share a bond as having both been VTS sacristans (that's a story for another post). I admire Sean for many reasons but one reason is for the bold and transparent way he handled a situation of sexual abuse by a former bishop in his diocese. He also spoke out against the child sexual abuse by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State which is located in his Diocese. Sean makes it very obvious that God calls people of all ages and that chronological years are not a pre-requisite to make some people wise.

I admire my friend Jeff Fisher, newly elected Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Texas. I admire him because I know that Jeff is a good and loving human being and one who is not afraid to say how much he really loves Jesus--which, to some, sounds almost un-Episcopal! The Diocese of Texas is doing exciting work, especially with evangelism, and I think it will only get better with +Jeff.

I admire Justin Duckworth, the Bishop of Wellington, New Zealand. Who could have imagined a bishop with dreadlocks and bare feet? Obviously the people of his Diocese did and paid more attention to the work he has done reaching out to those on the margins of society than his hairstyle. Hooray for Wellington!

Until yesterday I  had never spent much time specifically thinking about bishops I admire. Bishops are often criticized for doing this or not doing that, for not doing enough or doing too much. The amazing thing is that once I got started...well, as you can see by the length of this post, it was hard to stop (and my mind keeps going on and on --oh yes, Bishop Mark Dyer, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop Gene Robinson, Bishop Michael Curry......)

Bishops are not just about fancy vestments and pointy hats; there are really some amazing women and men who put themselves out there every day, loving God and loving God's people and tirelessly excavating hope in the world.

So, yes. Are there things wrong with the Church? Absolutely. Are there bishops who are arrogant and self-centered with a  terminal case of purple fever and pension fund max-out? Probably. But what this pondering has led me to realize  is that there are people--yes, even Bishops--out there in the world who work hard every day to live the Gospel, to love God's people and to try to inspire and lead others to do the same. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Invite the day

My husband Tom and I are long time fans of Brian Andreas. We love his story people. The pieces on my blog today are from his newest book (yes, you can get a book if you don't have room on your wall or enough money in your pocket to afford an original).

I love this image of inviting the day in again. We wake and invite the day and then all the morning tasks take over--walk, shower, pray, breakfast, to-do list--but how nice to just STOP and invite the whole day in once more. When I was in seminary, one of my professors, Bishop Mark Dyer, spoke about how each morning he prayed his calendar. That has stuck with me and I have made that part of my own spiritual practice. I look at my calendar and pray for each person I will meet with during the day, the people I will encounter as I run errands, and all those that I know have things on their calendars that day--ranging from surgeries to birthing babies--and I say a prayer for them. I pray for patience and wisdom and joy as I go through my day. I think praying my calendar  (usually done with a cup of Starbucks coffee in my hand) is a way I invite the whole day in again.

If you would like to order a copy of Brian's book, here's how to get more info:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

All that is good

Each morning I receive a daily meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. This morning's meditation made me think about my sermon this past week and the Book of Job; but mostly it made me realize how much we struggle with the "problem of evil." We rage and weep at injustice and suffering and how unfair life can be at times. Sometimes this is positive and moves us to action, but often we just feel overwhelmed and helpless.
But I think Richard Rohr makes a powerful point here when he writes:
"We have spent centuries of philosophy trying to solve “the problem of evil,” yet I believe the much more confounding and astounding issue is “the problem of good.” How do we account for so much gratuitous and sheer goodness in this world? Tackling this problem would achieve much better results."
What would happen if we began to focus more energy on "the problem of good" ? How might the world change, how might we be transformed if we let ourselves be overwhelmed with gratitude and thanksgiving and awe for all the good in this world? 
All that good--I think that is the true face of God.

(And if you are interested in reading more about and from Richard Rohr, as well as ordering this newest book, go to: )

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sermon for Year B Proper 24


At the time,
my mother was still very,very active
and I was still doing consulting work for museums 
and other non-profits.
This was before ordination, before seminary,
before my mother’s dementia began
and quite a few years before her death.

It was an ordinary day.
My mother was going next door to where my sister lived
to babysit for my niece, my sister’s daughter.

As my mother went up the porch steps--
who knows what really happened--
but my mother fell,
crashing down onto the hard cement of the porch.

She knew something very bad had happened.
Indeed, she had broken her pelvis in several places.

After a trip to the hospital and x-rays and other tests,
my mother returned home,
in bed,
to heal.
There is not much that can be done for a broken pelvis 
other than time immobilized,
pain management,
and some rehabilitation with physical therapy--
but mainly it takes time.
Six to ten weeks usually.

Both my brother and sister at the time were very busy attorneys.
They had little flexibility in their schedules.
I was a consultant for museums.

The assumption was--well, you don’t have a “real” job
so can you come 
and be with Mother and help out
while she is recovering.

Well, consulting is a very real job,
but it does--sometimes-- have some flexibility.

I was in the middle of an enormous exhibit research 
and development project
but the truth was I could do that work
in Raleigh as easily as I could do it in Valle Crucis--
so I loaded up my car 
with boxes of files and boxes of books
and headed east.

I stopped along the way and bought a laptop computer.
My first.
When I got to my mother’s house,
I set up a wooden TV tray as my desk in her bedroom
where she was confined at the time
and it was just fine.

My mother was grateful for my presence.
And I was happy to be there for her,
for she had been there for me many, many times.

She slept a lot.
That was good for my getting work done.
But repeatedly, when she was awake,
she would say,
“You know, I just don’t understand.
I have tried all my life to live a good life.
To be kind and loving.
I just don’t understand what I did 
to make God punish me like this.”

Now I wasn’t ordained yet
but I was more than willing to jump into the theological fray 
of this question.

“Mother, you didn’t do anything.
God is not punishing you.
Sometimes things just happen.
God does not cause our suffering.”

My mother would nod and say,
“Oh, I know. You’re right. You’re right.”

But usually it would only be a matter of hours,
before she would begin wrestling once more 
with this age old question:
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Why does God allow good people, 
                        innocent people to suffer?

This question has been around for a long time.
This very question is the heart of the book of Job. 
Our readings for the past few weeks--and for a few weeks to come--
are taking us through Job’s struggle.

The book of Job is a long poetic reflection 
about the problem of human suffering.
We don’t know if Job was a real person
or just a symbolic human 
representing everyman and everywoman.

If God is good,
then why is there evil in the world?

Job is a faithful good person.
He has a loving wife and ten wonderful children.
He is successful. He is prosperous.
But most importantly,
he is faithful.

And then his world falls to pieces.
He loses everything.
Literally everything--his family, his livelihood, his health.

And his friends--as some friends are apt to do--show up 
and want to “fix” things, 
explain things to Job.

Something is wrong here, Job.
You must have done SOMETHING bad.
God is punishing you for something.
Righteous people, good people 
don’t have bad things happen to them.
So say Job’s friends.

But they are wrong.
Though their reasoning makes sense--
and we still hear that type of theology today.

Indeed, until the book of Job, this is the theology 
we hear in the Old Testament.
Do something bad--and God will punish.
Do something good--and God will reward you.

It’s just not that simple.

Sometimes life and loss and despair and death just happen.
Life sometimes just does not make rational sense.

Job tries to handle it.
But finally--he just explodes at God.
And God explodes right back.
That’s what we hear in the reading from Job today.

And there is good Creation season images in this scripture.
“Where were you, Job, when I, God, laid the foundations of the earth?
Where were you when the morning stars sang,
when the seas were formed...
God is telling Job,
“Look, my friend, you’re not God.
You didn’t create the world
and at times 
                 you are not going to be able 
                 to understand the world.”

The question is regardless of what happens to us,
can we still hold on to faith?
Or do we have faith because we want to be rewarded?

We live in a world which preaches that we deserve to be rewarded 
for our hard work.
This just does not always happen.

I know quite a few people who work work work
and they still live barely above the poverty level.

And I know students who study study study
and they still can’t get above a C- in Spanish class.

I know quite a few people who would love to have a job
but they haven’t been able to find one--
and yes, they have looked--and are still looking.

We have heard in the news recently about a 14 year old Pakistani girl, Mulala, was shot in the head,
simply because she wanted an education.
What happened to her is wrong, is evil

But the question is not why is there evil 
or why do good people have to suffer?

The question is
can we still continue to do good in the world
even in the face of evil?

Can we still continue to love
when we are surrounded by hate?

The question is how will we respond to evil, to suffering, 
to our own misfortune?
What will we do?
Will we cast ourselves in the role of the pitiful victim?
O Woe is me!
We will go about
complaining and blaming and scapegoating?
Those paths lead no where.

We need to continuously cultivate a reservoir of faith, of hope--
for when the drought hits--
and sooner or later, it strikes all of us.
Usually when we least expect it.

It doesn’t take long to go from lucky to unlucky.


No one is protected.
No one.

God gives us free will.
We are not puppets.
God gives us free will--this is what we believe as Episcopalians.
We are given choices.

We choose how we live.
We choose how we react when good things happen to us
and when bad things happen to us.

We all live a version of Job’s story.
Perhaps not quite as harsh or horrific.
Or perhaps for some, even more so.

Job makes a choice 
to continue to love God and to love life
no matter what.

Job knows that God is with him--
throughout all the bad things that have happened to him.
God is present.
Just as God is present with us when good things are happening.

Job teaches us something else as well.
And this is important.
Job teaches us that it is okay to yell at God.
It’s okay to lose all patience and just say,
“What are you thinking!!!???
Why is this happening?

I think God understands when we shout and rage 
against injustice and suffering and evil and disappointment.
I think God always prefers our real and honest emotions
instead of false piety or easy cliches.

God hears. Sometimes God even responds and speaks to us
as he did to Job.

But most of all,
God never abandons us. God never walks away.
When there is nothing left, God is still right beside us.

And here is the hard truth:
we cannot avoid suffering or failure or heartbreak.
What we are called to do by God
is to go THROUGH it--
not to dance around it or avoid it or run from it
or try to deny it is really happening--
we are called to go THROUGH it.
And yes, sometimes it does indeed 
feel like we are walking THROUGH
the valley of the shadow of death.

But, if we go THROUGH it --as Job did, as Jonah did,
as John the Baptist did, as Jesus did--
if we go THROUGH it WITH God,
we WILL come out the other side--
we don’t get to pick what the other side looks like--
but we WILL come out on the other side.

Frederick Buechner, in his wonderful book WISHFUL THINKING
writes about Job and says:

Maybe the reason God doesn’t explain to Job
why terrible things happen
is that he knows what Job needs isn’t an explanation.
Suppose that God did explain.
Suppose that God were to say to Job 
that the reason the cattle were stolen,
the crops ruined, and the children killed
was thus and so, spelling everything out
right down to and including the case of boils.
Job would have his explanation.
And then what?

Understanding...why his children had to die, 
Job would still have to face their empty chairs
at breakfast every morning.
Carrying in his pocket
straight from the horse’s mouth 
a complete theological justification for his boils,
he would still have to scratch and burn.

God doesn’t reveal his grand design.
He reveals himself.
He doesn’t show why things are as they are.
He shows his face....

Even covered with sores and ashes, [Job] looks oddly
like a man who has asked for a crust 
and been given the whole loaf.

Sometimes we look for answers and explanations
when we really need to just pay attention
and look for the face of God.