What is required for life to flourish and be free, for us to work and praise faithfully? Generosity! But fears get in the way. We are afraid of others’ actions or opinions; we are afraid of our vulnerabilities and shortcomings; we are afraid we won’t have enough; we are afraid we aren’t enough. These fears keep us from generously sharing who we are and what we have. That not only affects others who would benefit from our gifts, it keeps us living smaller lives than we’re made for. Join us in October and explore the world-changing potential of fearless generosity.
A sermon shared by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, October28, 2018, the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost and Commitment Sunday. “Fearless Generosity” series.
Text: Mark 10:46-52
There once was a man named Bartimaeus who, at one time, had been able to see. But now he is blind and sitting in a prominent place on a prominent road. He is a beggar, a “nobody,” discounted by passers-by as one who was of no good to anyone. As he sits, he clutches his cloak. This, you see, is his comfort, it is his warmth, it is his security. By day, he spreads his cloak out in his lap to catch the coins that are tossed his way and by night that same cloak is his blanket. He clings to his cloak, his security blanket; holding on for dear life to the comforting, familiar contours of the thing that defines his way of life.
Over the years, Bartimaeus has come to believe what others say about him. He has grown comfortable with the “facts” of his situation. “It is what it is…” I imagine him thinking, “I am what I am…and I can’t trust anyone and I can’t be different than I am today. I am hurt and rejected, called a sinner because of my state, blamed for my own suffering. If I move from my spot here, someone else will come and take over my prime position by this road so I’m stuck here. People come and go in the busy-ness of their lives, all passing me by.”
But one day, Bartimaeus hears that Jesus of Nazareth is setting out for a journey along that prominent road from Jericho to Jerusalem. And somehow, from somewhere deep in his soul, Bartimaeus remembers who he really is. Like the son who had ventured far from his father’s home and had squandered all the gifts that he had freely received, Bartimaeus “came to himself.” He knew Jesus was near and so he cried “Mercy!” Those who were with Jesus only saw a nuisance, a nobody, a beggar—they were quick to remind Bartimaeus that he didn’t merit any notice, that he didn’t belong in their group, that he needed to keep his mouth shut. But Bartimaeus called out again to Jesus as the Messiah: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And then the most wonderful and surprising thing happened. The surprise is not that Jesus stopped in his tracks or that Jesus heard Bartimaeus’ cries or that Jesus called the man to himself. No, the surprise—the miracle—is that Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and sprang up. In that moment, this man sheds all the security and comfort and familiarity of his old way of life. He throws off the cloak of an identity and reality that kept him quiet, that left him feeling resentful and powerless, an identity that was deeply ingrained in his very being. And when Jesus asks what it is that Bartimaeus wants, the blind man does not ask for a lifetime supply of blankets, he doesn’t ask for a way to continue more comfortably in the life that he is living. Instead, Bartimaeus presents himself with the strange and faith-filled expectation that he can be changed, that he can become someone not entirely new, but more of who he knows himself, in his heart of hearts to be. He asks to see again. Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus’ care for him gives him the power to reclaim his life, to stand up and to speak out, to take his rightful place in the journey towards Jerusalem, to regain what he had lost. From this place of faith-filled power, Bartimaeus joins Jesus, following the messiah on the way to the cross.
The story of Bartimaeus is the story of our lives in so many ways. No matter what our circumstances, all of us have security blankets that, if we’re not careful, hold us back, keep us silent and sidelined, make us believe all those old limiting messages received from people in our past about who we are and what we’re capable of, make us cling to idols we think will save us. And Jesus draws near to all of us—whether we perceive that nearness or not—and is so generous. “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the question Jesus asked of James and John when they came with their demands (Mk 10:36) and it is the question Jesus asked of Bartimaeus when he cried out for mercy (Mk 10:51). I believe it’s the question Jesus asks of us all. Our God is so generous with us, wanting to give us not just what we think we want, but the deepest desire of our hearts—to be free of what binds us, to know ourselves held and loved by God, to have purpose and meaning for the living of our days.
These are the gifts that make it possible to live with less fear. But to truly receive them means we will have to throw off our proverbial “cloaks,” our false security blankets, and move toward and with Jesus. These past weeks, Foundry has been engaging with our “extended family” congregations, Asbury UMC and John Wesley AMEZ, in a study of Howard Thurman, the brilliant and influential pastor, teacher, and author who deeply influenced the civil rights and social justice movements of the past 100 years. In his book Jesus and the Disinherited Thurman speaks directly to our theme for today saying, “Nothing less than a great daring in the face of overwhelming odds can achieve the inner security in which fear cannot possibly survive. It is true that a man cannot be serene unless he possesses something about which to be serene. Here we reach the high-water mark of prophetic religion, and it is of the essence of the religion of Jesus of Nazareth. Of course God cares for the grass of the field, which lives a day and is no more, or the sparrow that falls unnoticed by the wayside. He also holds the stars in their appointed places, leaves his mark in every living thing. And [God] cares for me! To be assured of this becomes the answer to the threat of violence—yea, to violence itself. To the degree to which a [person] knows [that God cares about them], [that person] is unconquerable from within and without.”
Liberation from fear requires “great daring in the face of overwhelming odds.” That’s what we’re after around here. We at Foundry sit in a prominent place on a prominent road. And we intentionally stand in solidarity with those who live on the edge or are pushed to the margins. And we call out injustice and suffering even when others say we should keep our mouths shut. And we are doing all we can to make sure that folks don’t just pass us by, but have their lives or hearts impacted by our presence here; that the passers-by are challenged and inspired, maybe even drawn to the shared life and work and vision that is available in and through our congregation. And we are laboring to help those whose dignity and identity has been trampled or denied remember and believe that they are beautiful and beloved, that they can live fully and freely in the liberating love of God. And the only way we can do any of it is if we, like Bartimaeus, show great daring in the face of overwhelming odds, trust God’s love and care for us, throw off our security blankets, and get on the journey toward the cross and resurrection.
One of the primary ways we do that is through our giving. These past weeks, we’ve been talking about generosity, about how children remind us what fearless generosity looks like, about the way Jesus gets all up in our business and pushes our buttons about our relationship with our money and possessions, about the challenge to risk failure for the sake of love and justice. We’ve learned from our month-long study of the 10th chapter of Mark that giving without fear is a way to practice living without fear. And today we find ourselves in our prominent place on this prominent road and Jesus is drawing near and calling to us. We are being called to throw off the cloak of scarcity—the lie that we don’t have the financial resources among and between us to fund the vision for 2019 and keep our incredible forward movement going. Our fearless giving is what will make it possible to reach more people with the Gospel message of love and inclusion and hope and justice we proclaim. Our fearless giving is what will make it possible to feed, stand in solidarity, advocate, and serve in even more profound ways. Our fearless giving is what will make it possible to experience ever more transcendent worship, to support the growing numbers of babies, children, and youth that are all around us, and to be and become true beloved community.
And, yes, I know the markets tanked this past week. That just makes this moment even more poignant and significant. Even when the markets are great, giving money is a huge leap of faith. And in this moment I am asking that each one of us—in an act of great daring—truly gives as much as we can; I’m asking that you don’t just fill out the estimate card on auto-pilot but consider whether you can be one of at least 200 folks who will give for the first time or increase your gift for 2019 in the amount of $2000. It may be that some of you can cover five of your siblings who are unable to participate by contributing $10,000 or there might even be someone among us who can cover 50 folks with a gift of $100,000. Others may only be able to give or increase $1000 of $100. If you want to count yourself among those who will help us raise the additional $400,000 we need for 2019, I invite you to note that by writing “fearless” on your estimate of giving card. //
A story is told of an incredible tightrope walker who would do tightrope acts at tremendously scary heights all over Paris. And he not only crossed the rope, but would do it blindfolded, then he would go across the tightrope, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow. An American promoter (who didn’t think it could be done) challenged the tightrope walker to do his act over Niagara Falls. The reply came, “Sir, although I’ve never been to America and seen the Falls, I’d love to come.” After a lot of promotion and setting the whole thing up, many people came to see the event. The tightrope walker was to start on the Canadian side and come to the American side. Drums roll, and he comes across the rope which is suspended over the treacherous part of the falls—he does this blindfolded! He makes it across easily. The crowds go wild, and he comes to the promoter and says, “Well, now do you believe I can do it?” “Well of course I do, I mean, I just saw you do it.” “No, do you really believe I can do it?” “Well of course I do, you just did it.” “No, no, no, do you believe I can do it?” “Yes, I believe you can do it.” “Good, then you get into the wheelbarrow.”
Today is the day Jesus asks us to get into the wheelbarrow. Throwing off the cloaks of our old way of living, throwing off the cloaks of our false security and control, throwing off the cloaks of what we’re comfortable and familiar with—these are profound acts of faith in Christ. It means that we’re willing not just to call out to Jesus, not just to speak the words of faith—“O yes, Jesus, I believe in your power”—but to change our behavior, risk failure and loss, give fearlessly to practice living fearlessly. It means that we put ourselves in the wheelbarrow, trusting that Christ can and will sustain us. It means giving fearlessly so that all kinds of new life might emerge…