Sermon, The Rev. Kristin Schultz, October 25

I’m going to start this morning with a brief history lesson             (I guess I’ve been inspired by all the Bible teaching I’ve been doing this fall) In the 7th century before Christ, the kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria. A little more than a century later, the kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed,             and the people of Israel and Judah were scattered. Generations lived in exile and struggled with what it meant to be the people of God – the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob, Rachel and Leah –         when they had lost their homeland and their temple.   Jeremiah was a prophet in Judah in the years leading up to, and following, it’s destruction. He warned the people that they would be destroyed for their unfaithfulness to God. He is known for his lament, his bitter wailing over the destruction and exile,             and is credited with writing the book of Lamentations. But in today’s reading, toward the end of his book, Jeremiah has a different message.

Thus says the Lord, ‘Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts of the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.

Jeremiah is promising restoration to those who have been lost. God will gather the scattered remnant of Israel and Judah,             to return them to their spiritual home.   Jeremiah introduces a theme that runs through today’s lessons –             that God desires the restoration of those who are lost. The kingdom of God is marked by restoration of those who are in exile –             who are marginalized, rejected, and scattered.   Psalm 126 has a different take on the restoration of Israel. It is a song of ascent – a song sung by pilgrims as they walked the road upward into Jerusalem to worship at the temple. It is a song of celebration, that looks back at the return from exile as a gift from God. The singer looks back at what God has done in the past,             restoring the fortunes of Zion. Even the surrounding nations recognize what a great thing God has done,             and the people of God are filled with joy.     Therefore, because of what God has done,             the community trusts their future to God as well. Restore our fortunes now, they cry. We who have sown with tears will reap with songs of joy. We will trust in God to restore us, as God has restored our ancestors.   We do not know what struggles the pilgrims bring with them to Jerusalem. But perhaps their experiences of exile and separation             are not unlike what we experience today. We, too, gather to worship with various wounds and struggles to bring before God –             loneliness, broken relationships and addiction,             joblessness, illness and grief – any of these things can feel like exile, like separation from community and our sense of what life is supposed to be like and who we are meant to be. We all know what it feels like to feel lost – to cry out, “Have mercy on me, O God.” Yet we gather here to hear the stories of what God has done for God’s people. We gather here to hear the promise that God intends to restore the lost –             even as the shepherd who goes after one lost sheep.     The story of Bartimaeus is also a story of restoration,             and a few things in particular caught my attention this week.             The first is how certain Bartimaeus is that Jesus will help him. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar – not, apparently, blind from birth, but someone who has become blind during his life. His blindness has separated him from meaningful work             and from a place in the community. He has heard stories of Jesus, and knows what Jesus has done in other places. He seems to trust completely that Jesus will restore him to wholeness. What’s more, he recognizes what even Jesus’ own disciples struggle to understand –             that Jesus is the Messiah. When he calls out to Jesus,             he is not looking for the help of an itinerant preacher and healer. He calls, “Son of David,” a name for the chosen Messiah of God,             who will come to restore God’s people.   At first, the people traveling with Jesus try to keep Bartimaeus from him. As if they need to protect Jesus from the rabble,             they shush Bartimaeus and try to hurry Jesus along. Now, Jesus could let loose a sigh of frustration – will they never get it? –             move past the nay-sayers, and walk right over to Bartimaeus.   Instead, he guides his followers to
participate             in the healing and restoration of Bartimaeus. He tells them, “bring him to me.” He is showing them what it means to be his followers. It means being a part – an active part – of the restoration of those of the margins and the healing of those who suffer.   It is like the time the disciples try to keep the children from bothering Jesus,             and he says, Bring the children to me.  I have come for the little children – and for whoever can receive me, in simplicity and trust, as a little child would.   It is like the time the disciples are worried about how the huge crowd will get home in time for dinner, and Jesus says to them, “You give them something to eat.” He blesses the loaves and fishes, and has the disciples pass them out to all the people – to give them practice in the work of being his followers by serving others.   When Jesus heals Bartimaeus, he restores not only his sight, but his purpose in life. In fact, he gives Bartimaeus a new purpose,             as Bartimaeus immediately chooses to follow Jesus on his way. He has experienced the rich blessing of God, and now chooses to follow Jesus,             to be a part of sharing that blessing with others.       The annual diocesan convention took place this weekend here in Albuquerque,             and one theme I heard repeated again and again was this: God provides all we need,             and it is our job to get what God provides to the place it needs to be. It especially resonated with me when spoken by Susan Hutchins, a transitional deacon who works at the border with the poorest of the poor –             immigrant families in the US and families in Mexico as well. Borderland Ministries provides tons of food, clothing, and basic necessities for hundreds of families. Susan spoke of recently visiting a colonia in Mexico where they are preparing to expand their ministry, and feeling overwhelmed by the need she saw. Then she took a breath, remembering that it is not her job to fix it all –             just to help each family and person that she can with what God has provided. I was moved by her commitment,             her trust in God and commitment to caring for God’s people. I was glad that the youth in Albuquerque will be helping, in our own small way,             when we gather next month to put together Christmas boxes for 20 families.   It was wonderful to hear such stories, and be reminded of the work of our church across the state of New Mexico and in far west Texas. Ministry with the homeless. Campus ministry at universities and colleges across the state. Weeks at Camp Stoney that share the love of God not only with our own kids,              but, during Grace camp, with kids who have a parent who is incarcerated. We are part of a larger church body that shows up for people in need and reaches beyond it’s own borders to build God’s kingdom of restoration, mercy and peace in this place and time.   As a community, we know what it is to look back on God’s faithfulness to us,             to sing praises for our abundant harvest, and to follow Jesus into the future. The abundant blessing of God is evident here in so many ways –             in our inspiring music,             and the care with which our worship space is tended and made beautiful;             in our outreach to the community and our gifted pastoral care team. It is evident in Godly Play and our preschool, and in the people coming forward this fall to be in ministry with our youth and children.   And we know, with the Psalmist,             that abundance of gratitude brings more abundance. Perhaps Psalm 126 can be our Psalm of Ascent this fall             as we move through our pledge campaign,             not with an attitude of, “what will we do? will we have enough?” but with deep conviction that God has richly blessed us, deep gratitude for our community and our current ministries,             and vibrant hope and expectation for what we can do together in new ways             to build God’s kingdom in this place.    

Sing aloud with gladness; proclaim, and give praise. The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.

Alleluia, alleluia. Amen.

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