It seems these days as though we encounter a lot of conversation that is focused on the upcoming election. It is not encouraging conversation, either. Though we may each exist in our own little bubbles, it is clear that there are a lot of politically oriented people just waiting to pounce on every instance or suggestion of a potential misdeed. It's a little scary.
When I look out the window of my office I usually look to the top of the trees across the street. There's pair of red tailed hawks that roost there. They turn their white breasts to the sun for warmth. They also, I have witnessed, swoop down and snatch their breakfast from the creek. Too bad for the duck. Occasionally I see them on the heights of our steeple. Which raises a question:
Why did the hawk sit on the church steeple? Because it was a bird of prey.
Obviously that is both a true statement and a play on words. The political person waiting to pounce, is a little like the hawk in the tree. But the political person waiting to pounce is the result of political alienation and division. That division, that alienation, is the result of two terrible factors: one is the loss of principles. The other is despair. Interestingly, our readings today give us insight into both principles--and their proper application--and despair.
In terms of despair, this morning we are treated to Job's summary of his trials which included all manner of negative emotions from despair to desperation, from blame to anger, from a sense of futility to one of acceptance. Job shows us that we need not give up on God even when it seems matters could not be worse. Job also reveals that he could have arrived at that decision to not give up on God earlier. And that is a strong message for us.
We, too, need to remember that. It is too easy to resign ourselves to victimhood. What is going on is we are living our lives and we are experiencing the joys and frustrations of that life often without a whole lot of control. But what we know from experience and could probably all benefit from remembering more often is this: What comes at us in life is important, but it is not as important as how we deal with it. That adage applies both to the good things that come our way and to those things that are disappointing or sometimes even infuriating.
But in terms of remedies for despair I think one of our greatest assets is our Book of Common Prayer. In that book there are prayers of every sort and variety. And they open our eyes, even when we're not looking for them, to things to pray for and to pray about that, frankly, often are a lot more important than out problems.
One of those prayers is the General Thanksgiving on page 836 in which we pray, "We thank you (God) for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone." We can decide to experience the awareness that we can look at every situation as an opportunity to draw closer to the Almighty. That is a remedy for despair.
In our Gospel we encounter Bartimaeus who is a blind beggar. His name means son of Timeaus, which is a clue to our exploration of the values he espouses and exhibits. Because, to quote the reading, " When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
This tells us that Bartimaeus respected heritage; just as he is Timeaus' son, he notes Jesus is descended from David. He has honored Jesus with this acknowledgement. Bartimeaus also asked Jesus to have mercy on him. Begging for mercy is not the same thing as asking for help. Mercy is unearned, so to ask mercy from God or from Jesus, or, for that matter, from a judge a jury, is to ask for that which one is not entitled. It is a cry to the goodness of the person from whom mercy is sought.
Bartimeaus revealed his understanding of Jesus' capacity to render mercy. Imagine a blind man begging every day by the side of the main road. He would hear much. Obviously Bartimeaus knew about Jesus and believed Jesus had the capacity to grant what he begged for.
Finally, in throwing off his cloak he is radically setting aside all he has and is committing his hopes and faith to Jesus. His faith, Jesus saw, was strong. Jesus asked what he wanted and he asked Jesus to let him see again. Jesus didn't say, "OK, I'll do that." He didn't say prayers over him. He simply told Bartimeaus, "Go; your faith has made you well."
One could say that Jesus observed that although Bartimeaus was asking to see again, he was able to see Jesus plainly as the Son of David, as one possessing mercy, as one to follow. Which is what he did.
In other words, Bartimeaus the blind beggar teaches us about principles by his manifestation of honor, commitment, faith, fidelity and discipleship.
What we've learned about principles from Bartimaeus and Job has been on my mind this week for a couple of reasons in addition to their being our readings. One, obviously, is the series of bombings that took place last week and the massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. Given the hate that has been spewing from the right, with encouragement from our President, it is sadly no surprise. It is predictable.The political tone around us has become toxic, truly deadly.
The fake threats that the President and his base are citing are insignificant compared to real threats facing our nation. In terms of our American values, consider that while the dreaded caravan of desperate immigrants treks toward America:
--they are only a fraction of a single per cent of the annual migration that enters the US every year;
--during the caravan 16,800 Americans will die from drug abuse;
--an estimated 690,000 people in our nation (including 270,000 children) will become homeless;
-- 8,850 Americans will die from guns, including murder and suicide;
-- about 9,000 Americans will die from a lack of or poor health insurance.
These are the real crises facing our nation.
At the same time as we observe the fearmongering and hate of the President and his base we find cause for hope. This week I had two fantastic experiences of inspiration from men I admire. One is our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. I am writing a grant application to plan a revival in the area featuring Bishop Michael. He has so captured the attention and the hearts of people in the church and those who just watched the royal wedding. I have reflected on his message of love and I realized that it is hard to stay anxious when I'm thinking about love.
The other experience involved Bruce Chilton, an Episcopal Priest and professor at Bard College who gave the keynote address at the Dutchess County Interfaith Council Wednesday. Professor Chilton spoke of how it is that we come together to become better acquainted with those of other faiths and we find ourselves drawn into relationships which do not otherwise occur much. We are aware of others who would encourage us to stay with our own kind, but we know that's a dead end. And we reflect some of God's glory in our disparity of different kinds: faith, culture, race, gender, and, sadly not so much, age.
There's lots of work to do to model principled living in this world. We know what our principles are. We recite them in our Baptismal Covenant. It is in living out our principles that we convey the message of hope and salvation that is insured by Bruce Chilton, Michael Curry, Job and by Bartimeaus, who though blind could see quite clearly the truth about Jesus.
God bless them all. Amen
A sermon preached Oct. 28, 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector