The Rev. Steven Paulikas
All Saints’ Church
October 28, 2018
When Jesus was walking along the road out of Jericho, Bartimaeus approached him. Bartimaeus was not a powerful or a rich person. He was not held in regard by his own people. Bartimaeus was a beggar, and he was blind. But he was a child of God, and that’s all that mattered.
So when Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, Jesus heard him. He was probably the only person in the crowd who actually did. Remember, this scene in the Gospel of Mark takes place immediately after the disciples argued with one another and with Jesus about who would be first in the Kingdom of God. They were concerned with who would be on top, who would have the best seat. But Jesus told them that whoever wants to become great must become a servant of all. So in this moment, he showed them with his actions what he explained to them in words.
Bartimaeus asks Jesus to let him see again. Can you imagine the courage it would take to do that? Can you imagine the faith? This is the prayer of a man who has nothing in this world to lose, and who knows that all he wants to gain can come only from God. Bartimaeus, the beggar, doesn’t ask for money. He doesn’t ask for status, like the disciples do. He asks, insistently, with his whole heart, “my teacher, let me see again.” And Jesus says, “go; your faith has made you well.” And the Gospel says that Bartimaeus regained his sight, and followed Jesus on the way.
How desperately we need the faith of Bartimaeus in these times. How sincere our prayer must be to have our sight restored. And how deep our desire must be to jump up and follow Jesus on the way. Because this world in which we live—this complex, frenetic, violent, beautiful, exasperating world—this world is making us blind. If we are to see again, we must have the faith of the blind beggar, the one who has nothing to lose and everything to gain from God. Jesus, let us see again.
Yesterday, 11 of our fellow children of God were murdered while praying at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Their souls join the 26 who were killed last year while worshipping at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in Texas. They join the witness of the nine victims of the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston who were killed by a young man they invited in to their Bible study. Americans at prayer have become victims of violence. That which is sacred has become the target of the most profane.
As the news came in yesterday, I was reminded of a line from the poet Theodore Roethke: “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” This wave of gun violence in our houses of worship is evidence that we are a people groping blindly. The deep darkness that surrounds us has robbed us of our sight. And yet, as Roethke says, when the shadow is cast, it gives the eye a chance to adjust and to begin to see in a way it has not before. It can perceive that to which it was previously blind. Perhaps it is in a dark time that God will hurry to answer our prayers for sight. Maybe now is the time when we will see again, and the way of Jesus will be made straight and clear.
To our Jewish friends, sisters, brothers, and family members: our hearts go out to you. We are children of the one God. As Christians, we will forever be guests in your spiritual house, because the Lord we follow confessed your faith. Throughout history, we have abused the privilege of being your neighbors, and our prayer of repentance will last for centuries. We love you, and we grieve with you. And we commit ourselves to walking this dark path with you. Perhaps doing so will restore our sight.
It is against this backdrop that Stewardship Season begins here at All Saints’ Church. Now is an appropriate time—a necessary time—for us to dig deep and consider our responsibility as stewards of all that God has placed in our hands, and to ask for the vision to use it wisely and for God’s purposes.
Stewardship season the time when we prayerfully consider how we will give out of our own abundance for the work that God has in our midst in the coming year. The ministry of All Saints’ Church depends entirely on our own generosity, and it cannot exist without it.
Listen again to that: the ministry of this place depends on our generosity. It cannot exist without it. You see, stewardship is not about raising money. It is about an ongoing transformation of our hearts. It is about awakening from our own blindness to the reality of the world around us and deciding to get up and follow Jesus on the way. It is about opening our eyes anew and gaining a sense of perception, even in the darkness.
And much of that blindness is caused by the rampant materialism in which we live and move every day. We are the wealthiest country in history. Again: we are the wealthiest country in history! And yet for all our material wealth, we suffer from a poverty of spirit. As it says in 1 Timothy, the love of money is the root of all evil. The Christian faith has taught me that the violence in our society is in some part the result of our lack of generosity. It’s not that hard to see. When we love money more than people, when we love money more than God, then we place our faith in a thing that has no power in itself to heal and bind together, no value other than what it can buy and sell. A people that believes first and foremost in money is a cruel people, one that is comfortable with terrible injustices caused by poverty and inequality. And the fruit of this injustice can only be frustration, anger, and, yes, violence.
Today I am pledging 10 percent of my 2019 income, pre-tax, to God’s work at All Saints’ Church. That’s the Biblical tradition of tithing, and I feel blessed to be able to do it. And now that I’ve had the chance to practice tithing for many years, I know that it’s as much about me as it is about the church. Each check I hand over feels like a prayer. It separates me from my material possessions and reminds me who I am without them. It is a sign to myself and to God that I appreciate what I have rather than lusting for more. And it is an act of faith and hope in a better world, one in which we place value in those things that actually have value: in God and our fellow human beings.
Practicing stewardship is a profoundly counter-cultural act. The signals we receive tell us to hoard our things and strive for more, not to give them away. It is a constant onslaught of falsehood. We are bathed in this poison, day after day, year after year. Before long, we are no better than naughty children fighting on the playground over some shiny object. And once there are no adults in charge any longer, then all manner of terrible thing can happen. We see this over and over again.
But giving out of your abundance breaks this unfortunate spell. It awakens you to the beauty of life in all its forms. It makes you see how precious those gifts currently in your possession truly are. It pries open the heart and makes it eager to offer help and encouragement. And yes, it opens the eye and helps it to see more clearly. Giving out of your abundance is an act of profound faith. It is powerful spiritual medicine.
Though we may be blind in some way today, there is always the hope of sight tomorrow. Though darkness may cover the land now, there is the promise of daybreak in the morning. The eye is opened by the faith of the blind beggar. Lord Jesus, let us see again. Amen.