Sermon for Proper 25, Year B October 28, 2018

Jeremiah 31:7-9                                Psalm 126                            Hebrews 7:23-28                              Mark 10:46-52

Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.”  Whether or not we believe Jesus literally open the eyes of the blind man so that he could see again, we have all experienced times in our lives when we could not see what was happening right in front of us until something or someone opened our eyes to reality.  Often, what we do not see is something we don’t want to see.  Whether it is a betrayal of our trust by someone we love, or some form of addiction or mental illness, we turn a blind eye – as the expression goes, to what is happening.  Others can see it, but we become masterful at making excuses for the person’s behavior.

We may learn of the problem when an unexpected bill arrives, when we discover money is missing from our bank account, a job lost, or we get a call from the hospital or police.  There are many ways to learn that what we believe to be true is not. All the pieces start falling into place and we can see clearly.  When this happens, and this happens more than people like to admit, when this happens people of faith tend to turn to their faith for strength or turn from their faith and question how God could allow it to happen to me.  Why do some of us run from what has given us comfort and others hold on to it more tightly than before?

I can only speculate.  I do know, however, that people who wear their faith as a sort of good luck charm, who believe God rewards the good and punishes the wicked – they have trouble.  I know also, that people who turn to God for strength and solace, find it.  And then there are people like me, who sometimes forget to use my faith for strength, and then, when I am feeling sorry for myself, when I am feeling all alone, someone offers a kind word, shows genuine concern for me – and I know that I have just experience Christ’s presence.  My eyes are opened and I can see clearly that Christ is with me.

In both situations – when our eyes are opened to unsettling realities and when our eyes are opened to see Jesus in front of us, it is our faith that can make us whole again.  In several of the healing stories, Jesus tells the person that it is their faith that has healed them.  Jesus does not say, because of your faith, I will heal you.  No, he says what he did to Bartimaeus, “Go; your faith has made you well.”  God’s work in the world is one of restoration, not punishment.  The reading from Jeremiah is a hymn of celebration for the people who have been given a second chance and are being allowed to return to Jerusalem.  Actually, it maybe it was their 40th chance to live in peace with God.

The story of the tribe of Israel is full of instances when the people stray from their faith and suffer the consequences of turning their backs on the poor and the destitute and on God.  In the story they are protected by God when they are faithful, and God allows their enemy to take control of the promised land when they repeatable fail to keep God’s Commandments.  Jerusalem is captured and the people sent away.  They live in exile until they return to their faith. The people in exile are referred to as a remnant of Israel – thus the hymn in our reading from Jeremiah begins with the people saying, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel. “

The Lord then says, “See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return there.”  Thus, in this story of the people of Israel, the people whose lives have been shattered when they were driven from their homes, we hear the promise that their lives will be restored.   Like the man who has lost his sight and believes that Christ can heal him, this remnant of Israel regains their vision of life on the holy hill of Zion – Jerusalem.

Jeremiah is a testimony to not losing faith and the passage from Mark is a testimony to having faith that with God’s help we will find the peace we seek.  We know that the people of Israel do rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, but we also know that it is a scaled back version of what had been before.  And, we know too, that the second temple is eventually destroyed.  Does this mean that it was a good story, but now it over?  I don’t think so.  An Islamic Mosque now stands were the Temple once stood, but what we now know is that the Jewish Faith has survived longer than any nation – including its own, and it’s survival is a testimony to the faith of its people.

What we can learn, then, from what happens after the story of Israel’s return is that faith is what can keep us together by shaping our lives and teaching us that how we live is more important than where we live or which political party is in power.  Our eyes need to be open to see that the kingdom of God can be found in the present.  God’s love can be found in the people we meet each day.

God’s promise was not to bring only the best and the brightest back to the holy city of Jerusalem.  God’s promise was that those who were blind and lame, those with child and those in labor, TOGETHER, God says, they make a great company and “they shall return.”  In Matthew, there is a passage in which Jesus is speaking about the Son of Man coming into his glory.  He tells the disciples that the king will invite the faithful into his kingdom saying, “For when I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me (Matthew 25:35-36).”  The righteous are confused by this and ask when they had ever done any of these things.  He replies, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (25:40).”

Thus, the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, and those who are strangers are all part of God’s kingdom.  If we have faith, therefore, Christ can open our eyes to see that when we are caring for our neighbors in God’s kingdom, we are living in the kingdom.

Let us pray.

Loving God, open our hearts and minds that we might have the faith that will open our eyes to see the work you have given us to do and that we might care for our neighbor as you care for us.  Give us the strength and courage to live a life of service following the example of your Son, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit offer us life and peace.  Amen.