Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Let us all see again."

Reflection for Morning Prayer, Rite 2, Diaconal Formation Class, February 14, 2009

Mark 10: 46-52 (NRSV) They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

“I am never going back to that church again.” My stunned wife and I looked across the table at our ten year old who had just burst into tears. He was not, and five years later, still is not the kind of kid who would normally make that kind of ultimatum. We could not argue with him. He had tried his best to fit in. My wife and I had repeatedly tried to educate the people in charge of the church class he was in. You see, when he was five, he was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome. It’s a neurological disability that causes him to have vocal and motor tics. No, he does not have coprolalia, which causes people to scream and uncontrollably shout profanity. Even though it is the symptom most commonly associated T.S. thanks to the media, it is actually a rare symptom. My son Andy’s symptoms involve movement tics and clearing his throat over and over again. I am very proud of my son. Since he was small, he never hesitates to try and educate people who feel compelled to stop and stare. He is an extraordinarily brave young man. I probably would have wilted at that age under just half the scrutiny he gets on a regular basis. However, no matter what he did or how much we tried to educate them, the people in charge of his class made it clear that they did not appreciate his behavior and disciplined him for what they viewed as intrusive, disruptive misbehavior. They would set him aside in the corner and isolate him from the others. We later learned that they even allowed a discussion to take place in class about whether or not his condition was one of those “demon possessions” that Jesus healed. No, my little boy was not demon possessed, but I certainly was for a while after learning of that incident. My wife and I did the only Christian thing we could do. We listened to our son and we never went back.

I dredge up that very painful story to say this. Our reading from Mark this morning is a fine story. I am sure it has profound layers of meaning about the theology of healing and Christology based on how Bartimaeus used the term “Son of David” and so on. However, as I personally reflected on it, all that my experience with disabled people would let me hear was that same old crowd saying, “Shut up Bartimaeus!” “Shhhh, stay back there and be quiet. We’ve got important Jesus things going on up here in the front row. You will interrupt our God games.”

I have seen Bartimaeus all my life. Not only do I have a son with a disability, but I also grew up in a single parent home and was raised by a father on dialysis and in a wheelchair. I have had front row seats to witness that same exclusion from Jesus because “we don’t have handicapped seating—our bathrooms are downstairs and we are grand -fathered in.” God forbid, the very last place you would want to make room for everyone would be a church. “We can’t fit you into our agenda right now. We’ve got important things to do like paint that steeple with our building funds. It’s vitally essential, you see. So, shush with all that racket, just go on about your business. You are a square peg in a round hole, an intrusion into our otherwise comfortable front row seats.”

Blind Bartimaeus and all the others like him, lepers, the lame and the deaf, begged outside the temple gate where they were excluded. They sat by the pool of Bethesda or lived in shanties by the side of the road. They sat in the shadows and like my dad and my son, they felt the sting of religious words that blamed them for their predicament---cursed by God. One of the very few times I can ever recall my very devout dad crying was after a fellow Christian told him that he could be well if he only had enough faith. That misguided person made him feel like was suffering needlessly for his own spiritual failure of "not believing enough."

On one level, the crowd was right. Bartimaeus was indeed an interruption. The narrative in this Gospel has Jesus on the way, quickly moving from place to place right on up to the climax of the story. In fact, the next thing in this Gospel is the highly anticipated triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The sacred cadences of Holy Week are playing when it all come to a screeching halt. One dissonant voice calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The music stops. (Silence) “Hey, who said that?” “How dare anyone interrupt this parade? Jesus has an important schedule to keep, you know.” It was a rather rude and inconvenient interruption after all.

The interesting thing is that the Gospel story of Jesus is one long series of inconveniently placed interruptions. Bartimaeus interrupts Jesus. A centurion intrudes upon him on his way into Capernaum. Jairus interrupts Jesus and a woman with a hemorrhage intrudes upon Jesus on his way to Jairus' daughter. A very emotional woman bursts in and interrupts his dinner in the home of Simon. They are all interruptions. Yet, when we pay attention to the those stories we begin to realize that those incidents were not interruptions of his ministry, but rather the interruptions were his ministry. I believe the spirit may be whispering through these stories to say “ The work of God is quite often found in the context of that which is the most inconvenient.”
I work at the homeless shelter. I am there to serve the homeless. Sometimes I get so busy with programs, making sure the food is properly prepared and the washing machine is working and all that goes into running a homeless shelter that when a homeless person actually shows up at the front desk to see me, I catch myself wanting to say, “Ahhhhh, now is not a good time. Tell him to come back next Tuesday. I am too busy serving the homeless.” It’s easy to instantly spot what’s wrong with that picture.

Bartimaeus is physically blind as this story begins, but I cannot help but wonder if the text is telling us that the crowds were the ones who really were blind. They could not see what was really impotant. On one hand we have a blind beggar and on the other hand we have Jesus coming down the street---the very Jesus who has a pretty good track record of healing the blind. Bartimaeus has to call out and persevere over the crowds trying to shush him. My question is why wasn’t blind Bartimaeus, of all people, placed up at the front to start with? Probably for the same reasons that I get so busy serving the homeless that I cannot make room for a homeless person in my schedule or that we get so busy carrying out our church agendas that we cannot accommodate someone whose very presence is an inconvenient interruption.That is the most tragic kind of blindness: the eyes of our hearts are dimmed and we are closed off from seeing what is really important.

When Jesus stops and actually notices Bartimaeus, he does more than heal his sight. He opens our eyes and teaches us how to see.

What would it take for us to be willing to make room for those who are an interruption into our otherwise sanitized Jesus parades? What can be done to welcome a homeless person who smells from not having a shower in days? What about someone who speaks another language or is from a different culture than our own? Heck, what about a kid with Tourette’s Syndrome? It is inconvenient. It is an interruption, and that is precisely where God is most often knocking at our door. The role of a deacon may very well be to say to the crowd, “Psssst, the blind guy is really what Jesus is all about. Why don’t you make way through the crowd so we can get him a front row seat at this parade.”

I will say this: we ended up at our little Episcopal parish out in the cornfields, not because they have the most polished liturgy or the most spectacular facility. We ended up there because they welcomed a kid who sometimes makes some funny noises and sometimes twitches. They said, “Oh big deal. Come on in. You are all welcome at this table.”

Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” I think the appropriate diaconal response would be, “My teacher, let us all really see again.”



Erin said...

wonderful! so glad you posted this here. I'm a chaplain at the college and university in our city and a growing number of our students are First Nations people. Once a student asked if she would be welcome in a particular church because she was an Indian and only had jeans to wear. She had had bad experiences before of exclusion from churches. I was happy to say that the little Anglican church she lived near would make her very welcome. But how often is that not the case.
thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable! I have found websites with people who think people with TS are demon possessed, but I can't believe that someone would tell a child they are demon possessed.

I have been lucky, there have been people who haven't understood, but no one has rejected me because of my TS, and our church is wonderfully inclusive.

I am glad that you have found the place for you.

much2ponder said...

I like this sermon a lot. It made me think and as you know I like to think. Working in the field of education and Special Education for a number of years has taught me a lot in this area, but you put it so well here.

First I want to say I am sorry that happened to your son. It is difficult to be noted for our differences in a negative light and I'm sure it is difficult for you, his father to watch this happen to him. If only we could truly get this and hold on to it in our heart to the point that it drives us to do what really needs to be done concerning one another. WOW! That would be awesome!

Jesus was interrupted again and again, you are correct in pointing this out and the fact that those interruptions or should we say, strays from the norm were where his heart was. He wanted to help people and love them right where they are. Maybe it is because we are only human or perhaps it is that we have been conditioned to feel society should all fit in a nice neat little package. In reality there is no venture or situation that goes off without a hitch or issue to deal with. Our own expectations keep us from seeing what matters most. That is so sad to me.

This happens even when we try very hard to get things right. In the church there people, each one is imperfect and broken in some way. Degrees may differ and some may not be outwardly viable, but we must get the message and truly understand that it is our imperfections and differences that bring color and different avenues for his love to spread.

I've been doing a bit of writing on my views concerning the "Church" and undue expectations over on my blog. You will need to scroll back to find them, but they are there. This post hits home for me in many ways.

I am glad you posted this here. Have a blessed day my friend and keep on writing:)

wilsonian said...

Powerful piece, Tim. I don't think you ever need to apologize for what (or when) you post here...

Morning Angel said...

No apology accepted, Sir. You just keep right on recycling. I'm happy to read your recyclables over someone else's shiny, new words any day.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

What a moving story. Our priests' son has Tourettes. I'm so sorry your son has such a terrible experience.

Jim said...

Beautifully written, Tim; and more so because it puts light on the truth. I particullary like the line "the interruptions were his ministry"; and, in the scenario about which you write, I would agree. Too often, though, I think that we who consider ourselves as being "in" ministry, in one way or another, get off-track and forget that, always, it YET is "His" ministry, not ours.......

Two Auntees said...

Beautiful homily. I am so sorry for what your son experienced at the first you spoke of. He sounds like a wonderful young man, especially, with his patience to try to teach people about Tourette's.

It is sad that people experience rejection and condemnation from churches. I believe that Jesus's ministry was about inclusion and love.

Sarah and I have weathered some tough times in our little Episcopal church. We are so blessed that so many love and cherish us but there have been a few people who have made it painfully clear they would prefer that we not be there.

Please give your son a hug for us.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

There is nothing worse than Christians behaving badly...and they do it so often. Sigh.

I believe the spirit may be whispering through these stories to say “ The work of God is quite often found in the context of that which is the most inconvenient.”

I agree. And I also ask: How can people know that the News is Good unless they can see the impact of it in their own lives? Your son could not see the work of God in a place where everyone was proclaiming the Good News, but not making it into a living reality for him.

My question is why wasn’t blind Bartimaeus, of all people, placed up at the front to start with?

An excellent question, and one I will ponder today...

Thanks, Tim. As the commenter above said, please keep recycling!


Suzer said...

Thank you for this, Tim! The idea that "the interruptions were his ministry" will stay with me for some time to come.

I work with a mission in Africa and we help a young boy with epilepsy get his medication each year. He was literally cast out of his village for being part of "witchcraft" and was saved by a missionary. While I can actually understand the ignorance that leads these villagers, many with no understanding of modern medicine, to do such a thing, I have a difficult time fathoming the treatment your son received in a (supposed) "first world" country.

God bless you, and your ministry. I have much to learn from you, and will keep reading.

Silverwolf104 said...

Very moving, and very powerful, Tim. I appreciate your sharing this sermon with me. I wonder if part of a deacon's duty is to also call the Church out every time it excludes "the least of these"?

Silverwolf104 said...

Very moving, and very powerful, Tim. I appreciate your sharing this sermon with me. I wonder if part of a deacon's duty is to also call the Church out every time it excludes "the least of these"?

Tim said...

Thank you all. I am very proud of my son and very grateful to discover people who live the good news of God's welcome in tangible ways. You all are very gracious. I am blessed by your presence here on this blog!

theMuddledMarketPlace said...

.....moving beyond 'getting things/ peole fixed' an impossability for some.

when stuff in my life has been plain broke ( not inclined to use correct grammer here!)....then i know where friendship and acceptance are.

so pleased your gang has found a belonging.