Restoration Hope - Sermon for October 24, 2021 (Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost)
Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 31:7–9 | Psalm 126 | Hebrews 7:23–28 | Mark 10:46–52
“Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”” (Mark 10:51).
A lot has happened to the outside of St. Luke’s Church this past month. After years of hopes and plans, and service, our building restoration work is now almost complete. That said, our restoration fundraising is still very much in progress. Right now we’re about one third of the way towards our fundraising goal. Much has already been accomplished, but we know there’s still much to do. Even so, it’s wonderful to actually see the longed-for restoration actually taking place.
There are of course many other kinds of restoration we’re still longing for: pre-COVID-19 rhythms of life… full pews, and a packed Sunday school… reunions or reconciliations with those we love… healings of our bodies, our minds, and our souls.
Our Scripture readings today from Jeremiah and the Gospel of Mark give us much to contemplate when it comes to hope of restoration.
Things were looking pretty grim in Jeremiah’s days. Israel’s Northern tribes had already been overrun by Assyria, their people taken away as slaves, and scattered out among the nations. Those left in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, reduced to the region around Jerusalem, had survived Assyria’s onslaught, but were now living in the shadow of another ancient superpower: Babylon.
By the time of our reading today from Jeremiah Chapter 31, Babylon had already defeated Judah once, and had taken away it’s royalty and upper classes into exile. This was a crushing blow to Judah’s people, who were on the brink of collapse… so many were trying to come up with plans to regain their nation’s independence… to find powerful allies to help them break free of Babylon. At this crucial time, Jeremiah kept preaching an unpopular message from the LORD God: that there was no way to go back, or to fight off this enemy… because it was God Himself who was sending Judah into Exile.
In Jeremiah 29:4-6, the prophet sends word to those already in Exile, dashing their hopes, fed by several false prophets, that Judah’s pain would soon be over, and that things would shortly go back to normal. “4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.” Settle in, God says to His people. Learn to live in this strange land. The message was clear: they would not be going back to the lives they once had known.
But despite this heart-breaking message, the LORD gives His people unexpectedly good news too. Through Jeremiah, God promises that even though Exile seems like an utter defeat for Judah, there’s far more to their story, and their future, then they imagined… and God gives them a mission, a purpose to take part in they would never have expected.
Jeremiah goes on to write to the exiles in 29:7
“7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Seek the welfare… of Babylon? Pray to the LORD for their worst enemy? Why? “For in its welfare you will find your welfare.” In this bizarre twist, Judah’s ultimate fate was now bound up with the fate of their Babylonian conquerors. They were to become neighbours, and seek to prosper together, side by side. While in Exile, God wanted His people to focus not on doing whatever it takes to get back to the ‘good old days’, but to play a real part in blessing their new neighbours, who knew nothing about the Living God. This was the surprising work the LORD had prepared for them to do.
But the people of Judah were also promised they would eventually return to their land. The LORD had not forgotten them, and was still their loving Saviour.
In Jeremiah 29:11-14, God makes this promise to His people: “11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” God still had plans for His people… plans for their good… for a future with hope! Restoring, not only their fortunes, but their whole community that had been scattered and lost… and most of all, restoring their communion with their Saving LORD. God was going to restore all that had been broken or lost… He would restore them.
With this promise in mind, we can hear much more fully the joyful words of hope found in our first reading this morning from Jeremiah 31. “7 For thus says the Lord: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel.” 8 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 here.” This scared and scattered people will be reunited and restored. Not just the strong and powerful, but even the most vulnerable as well… the blind, the lame, those about to give birth... no one is to be left out of God’s restoration of His people.
Let’s turn now to Mark’s Gospel, where we have already seen God’s restoration at work in and through Jesus Christ… even though at this point of the story the ultimate act of restoration at the cross has not yet occurred.
Today’s reading takes place as Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem… in fact, this was His last encounter before His triumphant entry on Palm Sunday. He’s passing through Jericho, preparing to confront Israel’s leadership and face His own death, when suddenly Jesus hears the voice of a blind man, named Bartimaeus, crying out for His help: “Jesus, Son of David,” he shouts “have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). It is a cry of desperation… and a cry of hope. Giving voice to his heart’s longing to receive his own restoration.
But Bartimaeus’ cry is not welcomed by the crowd surrounding Jesus. Mark tells us that “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet” (Mark 10:48). Cries for help and cries of hope, of course, can be quite disruptive. Disruptive to those who want things to keep on going, just as they are. Disruptive to those who only have their own agendas in mind. Disruptive to those who have no time for people who seem hopeless. Yet Bartimaeus keeps on crying out, and Jesus stops dead in His tracks.
Christ turns to those surrounding Him, and says to them: “Call him here.”
Imagine this scene playing out. Try to picture it in your head. Picture Jesus, and the crowd, and blind Bartimaeus, loudly crying out. Yet Jesus doesn’t go to him. He stands still instead, and tells those following Him to call the blind man to come.
Why does Jesus do this? He could have healed the man from a distance. He could have walked a few steps back to meet him. Why does this scene Mark gives to us play out the way it does? Who knows why? But one thing we can know is what happened as a result: Jesus involved everyone… the disciples, the crowd and Bartimaeus… and restored them all.
First of all, the disciples and the crowd. Many of them, Mark tells us, tried to sternly order the man to be quiet. Many of those who were following Jesus had hearts that were closed off to the man’s cries. So Jesus directly involves them… He tells them to change their course completely. Rather than discouraging Bartimaeus, Christ tells them to draw him near instead. Those who had once been an obstacle of grace, getting in the way, were now to become a means of this blind beggar receiving grace.
There is certainly a message here for those of us who follow Christ. How often have we Christians acted as obstacles to God’s grace? Discouraging others who desperately need new life by our actions or words… forgetting that our Lord has come to seek and to save the lost… to restore them in His mercy, and reconcile us all by His own blood.
Yet, even when we forget, and fail, we are still not without hope. The LORD remembers the plans He has for His people… plans to make us a part of His restoration work… which often needs to take place again and again, within our hearts too.
So, Christ restores the hearts of His followers, by calling them to embody His mercy, and invite this blind man to get up and come to Him.
Bartimaeus doesn’t miss a beat. He leaps up, throwing off his cloak, and makes his way to Jesus… most likely still relying on others to help get him there. Then Jesus asks a poignant question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). Not long before, in Mark 10:36 Christ had asked this very same question of two of His own disciples, James and John, when they had come to Him hoping for places of honour for themselves in His kingdom.
Jesus replied to their bold request by saying “You do not know what you are asking” (Mark 10:38). They still could not see what Jesus and God’s kingdom was really about. Then He turns to the rest of the disciples and tries again to drive home the point that God’s kingdom is not about status or power, but service and self-giving love.
Jesus says in Mark 10:42-45 “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The disciples still hoped that Jesus was going to offer them their own kind of kingdom. Instead He invites them to offer their lives in service to God’s kind of kingdom… one shaped by humility, and sharing healing, and hope.
This is the same invitation that Jesus offers us again today, to put our hopes and plans in the service of God’s hopes and plans for His world. Like the people of Judah in exile long ago, God is calling us to turn with eyes of love towards our own community… to seek to bless our flesh and blood neighbours, many who do not know much about the Living God. We are called to seek their wellbeing and pray for them, knowing that our fates are all intertwined… and trusting that God’s promised restoration in Jesus Christ, the Good News that we the Church have been entrusted with is meant for them just as much as it is meant for you and I.
And again, Jesus our Lord is calling us not to disregard those crying out in desperation and hope… those longing for new life, in body, mind, and spirit… to tell them that Jesus is calling for them… that He has heard their cries. That all who are broken and lost have a place in God’s good plan to reconcile and restore His world… God’s re-creation work begun and fulfilled by Christ at the cross.
Things may never go back to the way they once were… but our crucified and Risen Saviour has promised us a future with hope as He makes all things new. The question for us is will we believe that the Living God remains at work? That what He had planned long ago and accomplished at the cross will one day be complete? And that even now, His Spirit is drawing us into God’s great restoration?
In response to Jesus’ question, Bartimaeus simply says ““My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” (Mark 10:51-52). May the Lord Jesus Christ restore our sight to see and take part in His good kingdom. May the Holy Spirit restore within us all that is broken, lost, and needing repair. May our Heavenly Father draw us together with our neighbours in His eternal love. And may we too have faith to share in God’s great restoration. Amen.
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Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School