Spiritual Practices help us grow
A sermon preached by the Reverend Jason A Burns
at St. Philip’s, Easthampton, Massachusetts, on 24 October 2021 [Proper 25]:
Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
The healing of Bartimaeus is another two-dimensional story. I fully believe that Jesus was able to heal physical ailments, but what does that teach us? It teaches us that Jesus cared about other people and that God has the power to heal, which is a nice thought, it is comforting, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it because it is true, but is it the whole truth?
The more I engage with scripture, the more I read and talk about the truths that are found in it, the more I realize that there is so much more to being a follower of Christ Jesus than being a nice person. The life of Jesus not only teaches us how to interact with one another, it teaches us how to develop our relationship to God by turning our gaze inward, which brings us to the less obvious dimension of this story.
We are all blind to certain things, sometimes the blindness is intentional, but most of the time it isn’t. Either way our blindness is harmful to our relationships with each other, to our relationship with God, and to our own wellbeing. The most dangerous aspect of this is that we don’t know how harmful it is because we don’t see the problem.
Bartimaeus was physically blind and because of that was likely forced to be a beggar, but even though he was basically forgotten by the rest of society he still had faith that God could save him, and in the end, it was his faith that led to his healing. What I take from this is that if we want to uncover the things that we are blind to then we must draw closer to God and as we get closer to God our lives will be transformed, but how do we do that?
Well, we need to begin at the beginning, we need to listen to, learn about and reflect upon the teachings of Jesus because by doing so we are endeavoring to draw closer to God and it is through that process that we can reveal our flaws, our pain, our anger and begin the process of healing. Once we see these things, we will be able to, in time, remove the blinders and get relief from the pain and negativity associated with the thoughts, feelings, memories, and beliefs we were hiding behind the blindness. This process brings us closer to God because it is using the teachings of Christ Jesus to assist us as we work through things we very likely don’t want to face. If we learn nothing else from the healing of Bartimaeus we need to learn that God’s healing power comes from within us, because of our faith, and we have a role to play in the healing process.
The church is good at stressing the importance of striving to understand God and the teachings of Jesus because it is understanding those teachings and then applying them to our lives that leads to both resurrection and the kingdom of God, but what we are not good at is modeling how it is done, which is what I want to attempt to do now.
To begin, pick one thing, one emotion, one thought, one idea, one reaction that you have experienced and that you would like to change and hold it in your mind. The simple act of holding it in your mind, not constantly, but intentionally, is prayer. Once you have chosen the thing you want to hold commit yourself to thinking about it for a period, say at least a week, maybe longer. I find I do most of my praying while driving, I have conversations in my head about a topic. I probe it, I think about it in relationship to what I know about God and Jesus and try to work out what God may be calling me to do, if anything. If, while praying, you are finding that you aren’t sure how to relate it to God then grab a bible or google and read a passage or two; but not while you are driving. You can literally google what does the bible say about your topic and you will find stuff. If that feels like too much, think back to the readings you heard in church or what was said in a recent sermon and see what comes to mind. It is very likely that your mind will wander in a different direction and that is okay, treat that as the Holy Spirit guiding you in a different direction and go with it. I will sometimes come to a point where I have to write things down because I get a moment of clarity, when everything falls into place, and I understand what God is asking me to do. Sometimes it takes months to get to that moment, sometimes it never comes, which is either a sign that God does not want me to go in a particular direction or that I have my blinders on in relationship to that topic and have more work to do before I am ready to hear God.
I am going to end with a story to illustrate this process. Last week, as I was driving home from my retreat and visiting my sister, I passed a protest and I both rolled my eyes and got somewhat angry over what they were protesting because I think they are wrong. As I thought about it though I was reminded of the story of the woman who was going to be stoned to death for adultery until Jesus intervened pointing out that those holding the stones are not without sin. It was then that I realized that while I have every right to disagree with the protestors I should not allow my disagreement to lead to contempt because the protestors are also beloved children of God; I can’t allow my dislike of someone’s views to cloud how I see that person. My expression of anger is not going to change their minds and it is not going to spread the kingdom of God. So I calmed down and went about the remainder of my day thinking about how righteous anger doesn’t promote the kingdom and then the next day I read the scripture readings for today in preparation for preaching and over the course of the last week I have been thinking and praying about how I have been blind to the fact that people with whom I disagree are also a part of God’s creation and I need to be conscious of that. By coming to this realization, I have laid the issue, at least for now, at the foot of the cross and experienced resurrection, though probably only until the next time I pass some protestors I disagree with, but we will see.
My point, in case it is not obvious, is that while it can be hard to apply what we learn from scripture to our daily lives, it is not impossible and the benefits are significant because as we develop our spiritual practices, which is what I have been describing, we will draw closer to God and we will notice a positive change within ourselves. So your homework is to give it a try. Amen.