All Saints Sunday
We are given this Sunday the Gospel of John as he tells us the story of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus had known Martha and Mary and Lazarus as friends. It is in their home we hear the story of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha bangs pots and pans angrily in the kitchen. It is here in their home town this story of resurrection occurs.
I am caught off guard each time I read this story by its emotion and grittiness. Jesus deals first with Mary and her pain. He is overwhelmed at the loss he sees in her and feels himself. You can hear it in the words; “see how he loved him”. As he moves to the grave, he encounters Martha and her no-nonsense proclamation that Lazarus is dead and removing the stone will only bring the smell of death with it; he has been dead for four days. But Jesus cried out to Lazarus and out from this tomb comes life, not death. Out of this tomb comes the man bound in a shroud of death. He is literally bound with perfumed pieces of cloth. The words Jesus proclaims at the end of this gospel are the words that always catch me. “Unbind him, and let him go”, free him from this shroud of death.
Jesus’ words at the tomb are the words of our faith. Unbind him, and let him go. I think that is our call as Christians. I think that is the call we have each day, for and to each other. It is the truth of baptism, this going down into the waters of chaos and death and being reborn as creatures of life. That is the action of baptism. We die to the old and are reborn, coming out of the water as new creatures of God. It is the truth of our call to the world, a world bound by the trappings so perfumed, made to be so lovely, that you don’t even realize they are about death, not life. We are bound by wealth. We are bound by expectation. We are bound by social norms. We will not and cannot be saved by how much we own, or by how young and pretty we are. We cannot and will not be saved by property, or money or indeed anything else and the sad part is that it is made to look so appealing and to smell so sweet that we cannot and do not see the truth of death that tempts. Life cannot come from the worldliness of things. As saints of God, as claimers of the good news, we are called to go out and unbind with God's love. And the bindings that this world puts on us are meant to hide the reality of death. But the reality of death cannot be hidden just as it couldn’t with Martha.
Someone once asked me what the devil looked like. I think they thought I would say he was red and scaly; he had horns and was ugly. The devil is not ugly. The devil is the tempter. He is beautiful and beguiling. That is what the world offers. It tempts us. But as Christians, Jesus offers something different.
As we walk through our church year we have wonderful days of proclamation. We celebrate Christmas and the Incarnation. We celebrate Easter and resurrection. We celebrate transfiguration. We celebrate wonderful saints who have shaped our faith. Of all the days we celebrate, All Saints is the one meant for us. The sainthood we celebrate today does not center on the saints we proclaim throughout the year. Today we celebrate our baptisms. We celebrate that we too are a part of this great loud chorus of witnesses. Today we remember the saints who have shaped and changed us, those people who have touched our lives; the saints who taught you in Sunday School, who lifted you up, who forgave you, who loved you. We remember the saints who, because of their presence in our lives, have unbound us to know the truth of God’s resurrection and life. All Saints is the day to remember the saints who have touched and shaped our faith. We remember the people whose names are real. I don’t know who you remember this day, but the saints that sit in this room and the saints that have touched our lives are what we are called to proclaim today.
I hope you will look around this room and remember the saints that have shaped you; the saints that join with us as we gather at God’s altar to proclaim “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the proclamation of God’s redeeming love; a love which destroys Death and brings life. You have been unbound by God's love given in the waters of baptism. You have been shaped. Your call is to go forth and do likewise. You are to go forth as a saint and unbind in the name of our Lord.
There’s no telling how many Passover Pilgrimages he had worked; no way of knowing how many times he had set himself up for maximum exposure. All Bartimaeus knew was that he wanted to be visible. He wanted to make sure that his begging was successful and that meant putting himself in just the right place so that the most people would have to encounter him on the Jericho / Jerusalem road. This may have been the best part of the year for him, more revenue that any other because thousands would come by as they made their way to the festival of Passover in Jerusalem.
I guess that I imagined, having told a Parable about this road, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus would probably stop and help. But for Jesus this was not just any trip. He was going to his death and the pilgrimage was one that many people took, so the road was crowded, not just with pilgrims but those like Bartimaeus who sought to prey on the hearts of those who were on their way to the temple. This small, all most inconspicuous story about a beggar, has many ways in which to understand and many lessons to be learned.
When I went to seminary, I knew that at some level I was wonderful. God called me and many people had affirmed that call; my parish, the Standing Committee of the Diocese, the Commission on Ministry and the Bishop had all agreed that God called me. I had grown up in the south but in a family who welcomed all and who taught me to value all people. One of the things that I found in seminary was how blind I was and still am. In seminary we began our first year with huge amounts of reading for every class, papers, test and social and spiritual obligations like chapel. We also had something called “tutorial”. This was sort of a one-on-one class. It required several hundred pages about one subject and then to write a paper, and present that paper to a tutor. The subject matter varied from session to session.
One of the tutorials was on liberation theology. The main author was James Cone. Liberation theology is about the oppressed and how God sees them. Coming from the south I wanted to make sure that my tutor understood how good and open I was. I wrote my paper and defended my self. Somewhere in the middle of reading this paper on how good and open I was, it occurred to me that maybe I was protesting too much, even for myself.
It all of a sudden occurred to me how blind I was. What came to me was the realization that I was prejudiced, not so much around issues of black or white, or male or female; my prejudice concerned beggars. On the street outside the seminary and throughout New York there were beggars. These people survived each day by getting money from those who had more. I realized that I had something they wanted; something they needed. I could give them some money, a dollar or two and they would be happy and I would feel pretty good about myself. But one thing had never occurred to me. It never crossed my mind that maybe they had something to offer to me. Their humanity, that which God created and loves never crossed my mind. How Blind?
Bartimaeus and the experience of the miracle that took place in his life can teach a great deal about how God works. There are several things that are truth about how God works in our lives. One truth is that Bartimaeus knew he was blind. Maybe that is as important as anything; to realize my blindness. No one can get well if they do not believe there is a problem. I want to suggest that each of you are blind, each of you, in your own way are blind to something. If healing, the healing that Jesus calls us to, is to take place, then the first thing you need to do is recognize your blindness. Where is it that you are not living out what God wants for you? Where in your relationship with God or with work or with family do you need God's healing touch? Each week we gather and each week we come to this thing called the confession. How many of you are ready when we come to that confession? Have you prepared in any way to go before God with what you have failed in?
Bartimaeus also placed himself in the right place. He was prepared not just by putting himself in the right place but also by crying out to the Lord. Jesus proclaims that Bartimaeus was healed because of his faith. Not some pie in the sky faith but a tangible faith; a faith of action. Bartimaeus was healed because he knew his need and he placed himself in Jesus' presence and he asked and in that moment he was healed.
Every person in this room needs healing. Maybe it is in your relationship with your spouse. Maybe it is in attitude, the way that the world affects you. Maybe it is in addiction or maybe physically. God's healing touch and God reconciling love is for you. “Go; your faith has made you well.”