22 Pentecost, Year B
The Rev. Ted Berktold, Rector Emeritus
Jeremiah 31: 7-9; Psalm 126;
Hebrews 7: 23-28; Mark 10: 46-52
In my senior year at college, qualifying for a minor in education, I was a student teacher at a CatholicHigh School the day I turned twenty-one. I told my freshman Latin class what a big day it was for me; how much I had looked forward to that particular birthday. A student blurted out, "Now you can vote!" I don't think my response was every enthusiastic. I was thinking about the legal drinking age. In those days, not only was I unaware of the risks associated with alcohol consumption, but I was ignorant of my responsibilities in a democracy. When I worked in Brussels before moving to Eugene, I was surprised to learn that Belgians were fined if they did not vote. You could complain about the government all you wanted, but you had to vote. For some people, campaigns and elections don't seem all that important, while others brave wind and rain standing at intersections with placards urging "no" or "yes" on a particular candidate or ballot measure. Suffragettes and Civil Rights workers braved beatings and prison terms to secure the right to vote in years past, but many people today don't bother to fill in the ballot in the mailbox.
To the dismay of some and the delight of others, I did my best not to mix religion and politics here in the pulpit over my years as your rector, but I know that the moment you take Christ seriously, you face the fact that he addresses real life. The big issues; the questions of justice, freedom, human rights and dignity, may from one viewpoint be considered a political matter, but from another, a religious one. Christianity is not just a faith of myth and legends, pie in the sky. It is concerned with the real people and events of this world. "Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven," Jesus taught us to pray.
When it comes to politics today, it seems that many people have lost faith in the system and confidence in their leaders. We desperately seek heroes, someone we can trust, someone who will provide personal, national and even international security. Some yearn for a Jeremiah, who will proclaim God's judgment and voice our disgust, the way he has over these past Sundays. We heard how he denounced the king. He denounced the rich for exploiting the poor, and he denounced the poor for putting up with it. When the Israelites followed false gods, he stood at the gates of the Temple and told them that if they thought God was impressed by their behavior, they were wrong. When their nation collapsed and the Babylonians came and overpowered them, he told them that was God's judgment on them. "Save, O Lord, your people, the remnant of Israel," is his prayer in today's first lesson. Jewish tradition says they stoned him to death. I suppose it's not surprising. We like to find fault with others, not ourselves.
The great hero of the Israelites was Moses. He was a leader appointed by God, not elected by people. Even three thousand years later, he still attracts our attention and admiration. He had the two essential requirements of every leader. First of all, he was committed to his course. He knew what God expected of him, and he kept trying to get there. Secondly, he was able to keep people with him. He never got so far ahead that when he looked around, no one was there. Although he led the Israelites out of slavery under pharaoh, they were not always easy to deal with. They grumbled when things got rough, especially at the Red Sea. I don't blame them, with an unseen shore on the other side and the armies of the enemy behind them. "Why didn't you leave us in Egypt?" they asked him. But Moses stayed calm, stood before them and said (and I quote verse 13 of the 14th chapter of Exodus): "Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord." The sea parted and they passed through to safety on the other side, a pivotal event in their history. Lucky break for Moses, you might think. But it was more than luck. Great things come to pass when you listen to God.
Can we afford to stand still at a time like this? Can we sit by the roadside like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and wait for a savior to come by? There is a time for action, for putting your name on a petition or even marching in protest. There is a time to write to the people who represent us, and a time to turn in our ballots, and our pledge cards. But for a moment this morning, be still and see. See what? See first, as clearly as you can, the dark clouds around us. Nation threatening nation, nations divided from within. Good people are on both sides, for reasons that seem good to them. Sitting here, detached for a moment, it's easy to see how people in authority become wearied by their burdens, irritated by criticism and opposition. It's also easy to see how powerless people become frustrated and feel left out. Standing still before God, we can also see some of the possibilities for good that exist in every place and every person.
Standing still, we gain perspective and see ourselves against the backdrop of history. We fall in the last little bit of recorded civilization going back over thousands of years. We're not as important as we like to feel we are. Perhaps, in stillness, we will see what blind Bartimaeus saw. Christians need to use not only the background of history, but the greater background of God. We celebrate a God\ who is concerned not only about Oregon or the United States, but every land and people. We trust that God. Standing still, we come to know that God. If you're an open-country hiker, you know from training, or even from experience, that the toughest job for a lost person is to convince yourself that you're lost. To recover, an alcoholic has to say, "I'm lost."
That's what I hope we'll do this morning. Try to grasp just how lost we really are some times. Look for a clearing. Stand still. Make yourself visible to the One who is above. We have a hero who outshines even Jeremiah or Moses or any candidate on any ballot; a leader who, down through the
ages, has never let us down. Even blind Barimaeus could see the truth about Jesus, the true High Priest. Christ knows where he is going, and how to keep us with him. When you move from this clearing, from this service, resolve to act, to change the things you can change in our world. Be sure to vote, and then pray for those who are elected to lead us, whether they were your choice, or not. But while you are here in the stillness, stop and find peace for your soul. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.
Let us pray:
Let your love be here
Fill us with your peace
Let your joy be here
Fill us with your grace
Let your light be here
Fill us with your power
That we may glorify your name
In all the world.