Rev. Ed Searcy
University Hill United Church : Sun, October 29, 2006
It is an old tradition in the church to preach to the baptised on the day of their baptism. It is an old tradition to give the baptised a text to carry with them through their Christian life. It is a tradition I intend to recover for myself and for you. I intend to begin today. Now. With this text. It is our gift to you Sue and it is our gift to little infant Finn. It is short - only six verses - but it is big enough to hold what you will need to remember who you are now. This story stands at the end and at the beginning. It stands at the end of Jesus’ journey from his own baptism in the Jordan. He is at Jericho. It is the last stop on the road to Jerusalem. It is the end of one journey. It is the beginning of another journey. Leaving Jericho Jesus can see the steep road to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus meets Jesus at this turning point. It is also the end of one journey and the beginning of another one for Bartimaeus. Today his life turns. It’s the reason this font stands here every Sunday - right in the midst of our gathering. It is the turning point. It is the place where our life turns. It is the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Kyrie Eleison. The ending of Bartimeaus journey is marked by this ancient prayer of the church. It is a prayer that the church learns from Bartimeaus who sings it blindly. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” “Kyrie Eleison.” Lord, have mercy. A cry for mercy. This is the starting place, the ending place, the right place to be baptised. To be baptised is to come to God in need and longing. To go under the water is to immerse your whole life in a cry for mercy. To baptise infant Finn is to catch up all his cries, his longings, his aches - now and in the years to come - and to drown them in a single cry for mercy. It is the reason that the recovery of the sung “Kyrie” in our worship is so crucial. The cry for mercy does not only belong at our baptism, of course. The aching cry is sung long before baptism and continues long after baptism. But at a baptism we see the kyrie lived, acted, embodied in the offering of a whole self in a cry for mercy. Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy. Bartimaeus will not stop singing it, shouting it, wailing it. Many voices "rebuke" him. It means that they yell at him to shut up. But his ache is too strong. He doesn’t care about being polite anymore. He doesn’t want to hold his trouble within any more. His blindness is killing him. He cannot see the way ahead. His life is perpetual begging, pleading, asking. He sits on the margins, longing to participate. Do you see why the church has known from the beginning that, in the gospel drama, we are Bartimaeus? This is where the good news begins - it begins with kyrie eleison sung, shouted, wailed, prayed ... and never silenced. Then there is a response. The gospel finally elicits a response. Something is heard in reply. The longing cries offered up in the middle of the night and the aching kyrie’s sung in the lonely silence of the heart do not drift into a void. Jesus sends word. Jesus does not speak directly to Bartimaeus. Instead Jesus invites others to call him. It is how it is here. Even before Finn’s kyrie is fully formed his mother and father and family tell him to come, that there is One who hears his trouble. And Sue ... Sue you have watched us and served us and been with us ... and you have heard us say that your prayers for belonging, for healing, for life do not go unanswered but that Jesus is calling you, too. Here at the font you have stepped forward, thrown off the cloak of an observer on the sidelines and dared to place your trust in Jesus Christ. This is the second chapter in the good news, the story of how we are being saved. It starts with a response from Jesus. He says “I hear your ache, I know your trouble, come to me.” It is one of the primary reasons for the existence of the church - to pass the word that the cries for mercy are being answered, that there is tender mercy and amazing grace with God. The second chapter begins with a response from Jesus. It ends with a response from Bartimeaus. He is not met where he sits. Jesus does not come over to him. If he wishes to receive mercy Bartimeaus in his blindness must get up and find Jesus. But he does not simply “get up”. Bartimeaus “springs up”. It is what he has been waiting for all these years. It is the sound of an answering call to his longing lamentations and sorrowful cries for mercy. There is an eagerness in Bartimeaus, a determination in Bartimeaus, an energy in Bartimeaus that cannot be ignored or denied. He doesn’t see, yet. He doesn’t know, yet. There has been no change. He cannot see. And yet, simply hearing the call to get up is enough to end one journey and begin another. Now Bartimeaus is not only singing longing, crying for mercy. Now he is also singing trust and hope. He does not ask questions. He does not ask for assistance. He is ready to meet Jesus. He steps forward. To the font. Do you see? This is the place where we meet Jesus. Here, where our longing for mercy and our hope for healing meet. Jesus asks one question: “What do you want me to do for you?” What is it that you long for? What is the mercy you ache to receive? Imagine if we had the safety, the trust, the honesty to ask this of one another ... and to answer. What stories we would hear. And tell. Imagine not asking “How are you?” but “What do you want Jesus to do for you?” Imagine waiting to listen to the answer, no matter the pain or sorrow or regret that it revealed. I believe that this is precisely what Bartimeaus asks for. He asks to see again. And when he receives his sight Jesus says he is free to go. But Bartimeaus does not go away. Instead he follows Jesus “on the way”. On the way to Jerusalem. On the way to suffering. Bartimeaus has been blind to the ache and the trouble and the suffering of others. Now he can see it. Now he does not run away from it. Now he follows Jesus. It is the drama we witness at the font. Here we ask for sight again, the sight we once had, the sight that revealed God’s presence close, the sight that was not blind to the aches and needs and sorrows of others. It is high drama. To be baptised is to take a daring leap of faith. There can be a strange comfort in singing “kyrie” for a lifetime. We can become accustomed, habituated to the role of sufferer, victim, beggar. The decision to step forward to the font and to go under the water and to receive the blessing and the hands laid on and the Holy Spirit called down is a decision to join Jesus in listening to the kyrie of others. Bartimeaus is given cruciform sight. He does not see the world through rose-coloured glasses. He sees his neighbours through the lens of the cross. He is alert to their deep suffering. He is not blinded by the thin veneers of their forced smiles and carefully crafted portraits. He does not try to heal them, to fix them, to cure them. He knows that this is up to God. But he does trust. He is witness to the holy three day Easter journey from death to life, from end to beginning, from deep aching grief to giddy impossible rejoicing. He knows that a haunting kyrie is the end of one journey, the beginning of another. This is a portrait of the community of the baptised. It is a picture of our calling and identity. It is now Sue’s story and Finn’s story. Their tears and cries and longings belong here. So do their desires to be healed, to be saved, to see. Those belong here as well. Always. At the font and table. And their new sight, their vision of the world through the lens of the cross ... it is necessary. We need the truth to be told. We need truthful kyrie’s to be sung and prayed for a world that is desperate for mercy. We need to know the truth about the healing we seek, the sight we long to receive. We need the witness of disciples whose new sight leads them to follow Jesus into trouble, trusting in the power of God ... the God who gives new life on the other side of the font and the tomb. We need all these things. And, do you see? God has provided them all. Truthful sorrow and guilt and regret. Truthful longing, seeking and asking. Truthful vision, witness and trust in the power of God. All this has been provided. Nothing has been withheld. Taste and see, the goodness of our God!