Writer’s Note: Yes, I am still preaching. In the past couple of months I have forgotten to update this blog. All of my sermons can be found at holycomforterspring.org/sermons (with audio if you want to hear my mellifluous voice).
The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost
October 25, 2015
There’s an old Humphrey Bogart movie, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” The story is about three men who go high into the Mexican Sierra Madre mountains to mine for gold. If you’ve seen that movie that’s great. But like most stories, the book is better. Now Bogart’s character, Dobbs, simply can’t handle all his new found wealth. The gold is just too much for him. He thinks that his two partners, Curtin and Howard, are going to kill him and take his share of the gold. That’s not true. Dobbs can’t take the pressure so he shoots Curtin, steals all the gold, and runs away.
Only to find himself captured by bandits. The bandits in turn kill Dobbs, and mistaking the bags of gold for sand, they dump it all out. The gold – the gold that Dobbs was willing to shoot for and to die for – is gone. The man who had to keep it all for himself, got nothing in return. Howard and Curtin, the other two men, they have a different head on their shoulders. Curtin actually survives being shot, and when he and Howard discover that all their gold has blown away, they laugh about it. What could have made them rich beyond their wildest dreams was lost, and they found humor in it. Those two actually knew how valuable that gold was in a way that Dobbs didn’t. They saw it for what it was. Dobbs, was blinded by his own insecurity.
Today in this story about Jesus, we hear of more blindness. And actually, there are two blind characters in this story. There is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, who is physically blind. He cannot see. And because he cannot see, he cannot work in the ancient world and he is sitting on the side of the road between Jericho and Jerusalem and he is a beggar. Along comes Jesus, and with him a crowd. And that crowd is also blind. They are blind to human need, they are blind to the grace and mercy that Jesus brings with him. When they hear Bartimaeus crying out to Jesus, crying out for mercy, they try to quiet him. They want to keep Bartimaeus silent. They want to keep Bartimaeus out. They are blind. Like Bogart in those Sierra Madre mountains keeping that gold for himself, the crowd wants to keep Jesus for themselves.
Think of it, that crowd and those disciples of Jesus have seen dead children brought back to life, they’ve seen crowds fed with just five loaves of bread and two fish, they’ve seen Jesus walk on the water and still the waves. But they want to keep that for themselves. They want to keep that mercy, that grace, that love close to them because they’re afraid that if they give it away, it’ll go away. They’re afraid that they’ll run out of whatever it is that Jesus is giving. They are blinded by their own insecurity, by their own desire to keep Jesus for themselves.
And I stand before you today, as a blind man too. I too have wanted to keep Jesus for myself. Looking back on my life, Jesus has given me grace and mercy and love beyond comprehension. The Lord God has given me gifts that I do not deserve. And I hoard it for myself. Like Bogart’s character in those Sierra Madre mountains, I put all of God’s love for me in little bags and I hold on tight.
And the tighter I hold on, the more it slips through my fingers. I don’t want to lose God’s love, so I get paranoid, and I try to keep it to myself. I know, and I trust that God has forgiven me, but still in the hardness of my heart, it’s difficult for me to forgive others. I harbor resentment like it’s gold. What’s worse, I don’t forgive myself. When I screw up, when I say something stupid, when I preach a bad sermon, or when I don’t make it to the hospital on time, when I let an email sit in my inbox for a few hours, I get real hard on myself. Whereas God forgives me, I don’t forgive myself. I’m blinded by my own insecurity. I am one of the crowd, I tell Bartimaeus to be quiet, so that I can hear Jesus.
And what do I hear Jesus say? “Call him here.” The very one that I have been trying to shut out is called in by Jesus, just as I too was once called in by Jesus. This is the radical nature of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. When we are called in close, and brought in as a child of God, that’s not enough. For there are more children that Jesus is still bringing this family. And look at what the story says. Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, who can now see because of his faith, joins the disciples and the crowd. Five minutes ago this crowd was trying to shout him down, now they’re in this thing together.
Remember when you were first brought in by Jesus. That grace and that mercy that you felt. And now be careful that you are here, there is a great danger in wanting to keep that for yourself and shutting out the people who come after you.
This is a lesson for the church. The crowd liked things the way they were. And Jesus keeps messing it up for them. By bringing in new people, the crowd has changed. And we don’t like change. We always joke about how Episcopalians don’t like change. And that’s true. You’ve heard it – how many Episcopalians does it take the change a light bulb? Three. One to hold the ladder, one to change the light bulb, and one to take about how much better the old one was. It’s funny how humor cuts to our core. Because at its essence, the problem is that we aren’t willing to give things away that we have been given by God. We are blind to the gifts that God has given us.
What is more, we are blind to the people all around us crying out for mercy from the Lord Jesus. The numbers are startling. Two thirds of the children in the United States wake up with no father at home. That statistic cuts across racial lines. That is symptomatic of so many issues. Spring, Texas is one of the least religious places in the United States. The people of this area are as religious as the Pacific Northwest or the most secular parts of the Northeast. Over two thirds of the students at our new partner elementary school in Spring are economically disadvantaged. The world is crying out for mercy.
We’re afraid that if we share that mercy, we’ll lose it. So we keep it for ourselves. The bags of gold that we worked so hard to gather up are emptied and scattered to the wind. It’s like what Jesus said, “the measure you give, is the measure you get back.” If you try to keep Jesus for yourself, you’ll lose it all. If you give away grace, mercy, hope, love, healing – if you invite others into this life with Jesus – it all comes back to you.
And that’s the good news of Jesus Christ; we are given grace, mercy, hope, love, healing in such tremendous proportions that it never runs out. We don’t have to keep any stored up in reserve for ourselves. What the crowd in this story doesn’t get, what they’re blind to, is that Jesus will give everything away and still have more to give, even his life. He gives it away, to take it up again.
My hope for this church, for Holy Comforter, is that we learn our lesson from the crowd. Jesus has given us enough grace to welcome people that don’t look like us, don’t talk like us, don’t act like us. Jesus has given us enough mercy to be a church that steps out into the community and gets to know our neighbors. Jesus has given us enough hope to believe in a church that will sustainable, accessible, and beautiful for years to come. Jesus has given us enough love, enough love, for us to love each other. My hope for this church, is that we open our hands and open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, so that whatever we receive from God, we give away freely.