25 October 2009

Pentecost XXI / Trinity XX

Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost,
Year B, Proper 25

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

Recipe for success: one part awareness, one part knowledge, one part motivation, one part action. Slowly add one ingredient at a time, gradually and with care. Then begin again. Note: you may be inspired to start over at any point in the process.

One might place knowledge before awareness, but without awareness how does knowledge develop? Once we are aware and know, it takes motivation to produce action.

This recipe for success is present in the lessons we’ve read today with one specific difference; where the accountability lies.

Our reading from Hebrews describes a sort of “designated hitter” concept and might be heard as supporting a hint of clericalism. Priests abound, and their work keeps them going. Their main purpose is to intercede for others. In this context, the recipe for success might be difficult because the action ingredient belongs to someone else. For some, this might be just fine. In fact, for some, not having the final action or burden for action enables a lack of accountability for individual relationship and success.

The gospel, on the other hand, provides us with an account of the recipe for success from the perspective of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was aware of the ministry of healing that Jesus had become well-known for at this point in the story. Bartimaeus asked to be healed, to be able to see again. And Jesus healed him.

These two stories lead us to interpret the recipe for success in two very different ways: one, giving over the final ingredient to someone else; and the other, total responsibility for our own outcomes.

Certainly each of these readings describes Christian life as the end product in a recipe for success. In our experience of our faith and tradition there have been times when we have relied on someone else to intercede for us. An example might include a reliance on a priest to connect us with God in worship. Our Book of Common Prayer, however, would suggest that we are all equal in this process; we are all called into total engagement with the mission and ministry of the church.

Our Anglican tradition encourages a balance between scripture, reason, and tradition, suggesting an individual and corporate collaborative awareness and knowledge, not a reliance on intercessors or interpreters. Certainly we must be aware of the scholarly perspectives throughout history that guide us in understanding scripture. Throughout history we have become aware of just how important the scholarly perspectives are that impact our tradition and expression of our faith. There seems to be some difficulty when we begin to apply reason to the mix, as we have seen in recent debates.

But back to our recipe for success – the one thing that is certain is that awareness and knowledge, the first two ingredients, are essential to the end product.

Once we put the two readings together, our recipe for success might lead us to understand that it takes both individual and corporate restoration to wholeness for “real” success.

Using the metaphor of sight in the gospel story, we can understand that physical sight is not required to produce faith. In fact, although Bartimaeus was blind, his faith was strong. His faith did not seem to depend on whether or not he could be healed or whether or not Jesus would stop and heal him.

Throughout history, God has worked miracles through political forces, social action, and ordinary events, meeting people where they are and restoring them to wholeness. Whether or not we fall and call out from the gutter like Bartimaeus or turn ourselves around with a heightened sense of awareness and knowledge motivating us to act justly and walk humbly with our God, the product is faithful living.

The Bible tells us that those who return to the Lord are restored. But how do we arrive at this point of return? Some make it sound easy and quick, but remain skeptical when it comes to shortcuts. The journey is as important as the destination. God’s presence on that journey across generations inspires, sustains, and guides us in a reformation or transformational process.

Contemporary reformation synonyms are familiar: renovation, reorganization, restructuring. These are, interestingly, words we use in large corporate settings rather than small personal ones. The church, the corporate body of Christ, is a voice that calls for the wandering to return and then hosts the restoration banquet. In order to fulfill this mission, it must constantly be reforming. All of these words indicate that something will change. And change is often heard as a synonym for loss.

The radical new ways eventually become beloved traditions. We are always moving from blindness to sightedness, from unfaithfulness to faithfulness. And our faithfulness is what leads us into action or mission, a major focus for our church.

As we move forward we must recognize our blind spots as we look at our corporate life and we must see it with new eyes. Only then will we transform the process so that our recipe for success produces a new product. There is no question that a new product is necessary. We recognize already at some level that the mission of the church is a corporate activity. But once again, individually we have to undergone the reformation process, the transformation into wholeness, before we can corporately share that same process.

As with the readings today, we cannot rely on others to intercede for us and seek God’s blessing on our behalf. Waiting for this to happen puts our own relationship with God at risk. It is very obvious as we view the world around us that inaction on our part or reliance on someone else to be the instruments of God in our world, produces a less than perfect world. The time has come for us to change our awareness and anticipate just what kind of world we are leaving for our grandchildren.

We disciples of Jesus have vision problems. We sometimes describe our blindness as an inability to see the forest for the trees, but more worrisome is the inherited blindness of each generation, which so often assumes it is the best generation of all, with no lessons left to learn, only an inheritance to enjoy. This arrogance is the root of our blindness. We still need the miracle of restored sight.

This is the time to follow the recipe for success once again: first individually, with the gospel as our guide; and then corporately, creating the new sight, the new vision for the church. We have so many gifts to share, so why would we rely on someone else to do what God has called us all to do?

The path has unfolded before us once again. Ask for new sight just as Bartimaeus did, and then use what God has restored in you to transform the world.

-- The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People's Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member. E-mail: debroyals@yahoo.com.