Blind Bartimaeus the Preacher and Confirmation is not what we think it is

GOSPEL: Mark 10:46-52
As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

If we are honest with ourselves, Confirmation is kind of weird. Most of us know what is involved in Confirmation. We think of teenagers sitting in stuffy church board rooms, listening to pastors drone on about the small catechism. Or terrified confirmands having to answer questions from the pastor in front of the whole congregation. Parents dragging reluctant kids with unhelpful lines like, “I suffered through confirmation when I was your age, and you can suffer through it too.”

More recently, we tend imagine a rite of passage provided by caring mentors, families and teachers for youth coming of age in the church. We picture something graduation-esque, complete with corsages and gowns that kind of look like academic robes. 

We can describe all kinds of aspects of and events surrounding confirmation, and yet, I am pretty sure that very few of us, if pressed, could actually describe or say what conformation is. Like what does confirmation mean and what is it actually. We know that baptism is the pouring of water on someone’s head, even if we attach parties, pictures and candles. We know that communion is receiving bread and wine, even if we devise complicated ways to distribute and receive it. 

But with confirmation… often we can only describe the things we attach to it and not the core element of it.  We aren’t quite sure what it actually is and that makes it a bit of an oddity. 

Deep down, we know that confirmation isn’t actually about making teenagers uncomfortable or sweat through very public knowledge tests. It shouldn’t be something to suffer through. But it also isn’t really a right of passage per se, it isn’t graduation from or to something. 

In fact, confirmation is actually something altogether different. 

The story of Jesus that we hear today kind of starts to get at what confirmation is really about, even if in a roundabout way. We begin with blind Bartimaeus begging on the roadside, when he hears that Jesus is coming by. He begins to make a scene, calling out and bothering the people around him. The more folks tell him to be quiet, the more of a scene he makes. Until finally Jesus notices him. 

I am sure we can easily imagine the embarrassment of the moment. We are people who tend to avoid making scenes, we avoid causing or enduring discomfort. 

And yet, making the scene, causing the annoyance and embarrassment is important. Bartimaeus isn’t just asking for help. Bartimaeus is proclaiming the gospel. His sermon is the same at the Kyrie we sing most week, Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. He isn’t telling those around him that they need help, he is setting the example by going first, by showing the world what Gospel can for him, by making public the healing and reconciliation that Jesus provides. 

Bartimaeus shows us that on some level, making a scene for Jesus is what Christian faith is about. All these strange things that we do, the hymns and prayers, the baptisms and communion, strange robes and old books, the flowery ancient language and unusual rituals… all of it is so different than what we see on TV or hear in our EarPods or spend time doing when we are out with polite company. Maybe there was a time 60 or 70 years ago when flowery prayers, funny robes, and solemn rituals were a part of service clubs, government meetings, civic observances and even seen often on TV. But not today, Christianity is as foreign to the majority as speaking another language. Openly displaying Christian practices, openly discussing our faith can be embarrassing. Being associated with Christians who have been making other scenes and getting noticed for their misbehaviour during the pandemic is not something we want. 

Yet, living our faith out in the world, sharing our faith with neighbour, passing our faith on to successive generations is something we do want, or least should want to do. 

And in this way, Christian faith is a strange experience of joining together with other people of faith to make a scene for Jesus, to hear and then re-tell the gospel through Word, Water, Bread and Wine, through hymns, prayers and worship. And inviting others into that shared experiences and community. 

Confirmation then is rooted in being  officially welcomed to that scene making community of faith called the church. 

Now technically, confirmation has historically been the laying on of hands by the bishop that follows baptism. As the early church grew, it took Bishops longer and longer to get around to confirm all the baptisms, to lay on hands in blessing and prayer. And so confirmation was combined with catechesis, the intentional teaching of the faith to new Christians who waited for the bishop to come by every few years to confirm all those newly baptized into the faith. As Lutherans we technically include confirmation with baptism, so Katie, you have actually been confirmed for a long time.

But at its core, confirmation tied to baptism is the final blessing that joins us to the Body of Christ, that group of followers that makes a scene for Jesus.

Confirmation is a final sign of our welcome into the body of Christ, into this weird group of faithful folks who do things that are so different than everything else we see in world, that loudly proclaim God’s promises even if it is weird and strange to our ears. 

And like Blind Bartimaeus who called out for mercy until Jesus heard him, being confirmed finally connects to this group of Jesus’s followers who loudly proclaim the good news of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness for all those who would listen, even if it makes a scene and a bother. And again like Blind Bartimaeus who makes this scene, Jesus comes and meets us too. Jesus meets us in the middle of our loud bother and Jesus confirms the good news of our faith, the Good News that God’s love has indeed been given for us. In the Word of Faith, in the waters of new life, in the bread and wine that nourishes our faith, Jesus meets us with love, mercy, and salvation. 

So yeah, confirmation is weird. And even when it is explained, it is still kind of weird. 

And being confirmed is about being joined to a community of faith that does weird things together, often making a scene… but also a community of faith that is inspired together to proclaim the good news to the whole world. 

So welcome into this faith that we all share, even if it is a little bit strange. 

Letting go of what we cannot do, because God does what only God can do.

Mark 10:17-31
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone….

Here we are at yet another unusual Thanksgiving weekend. Compared to last year when we were encouraged by Public Health Officials to keep Thanksgiving to our own households, vaccines have changed what is possible. Yet, the pandemic situation in Manitoba is remarkably similar to last year, I am sure many of us are remaining cautious without Thanksgiving activities. 

Thanksgiving is not a Christian holiday. Rather it is rooted in the celebration of the harvest for the gifts and bounty of the land provided to us for the year. Harvest festivals are as old as human beings cultivating the land, and certainly thankfulness and gratitude are connected to our faith. 

And thanksgiving is a moment to step back the consider the bigger picture of our lives and communities. This year that might prove to be a difficult task. We have been living small for a year and half now, with things to both bring us hope for an end to pandemic but also realities that have not lived up to expectations. Our journey out of this crisis is going to be neither short nor straightforward. 

As we have been hearing for a number of weeks from Mark’s gospel, Jesus again encounters someone who is struggling to get it. But it isn’t Jesus’ followers or disciples, and nor it is Jesus chief antagonists the Pharisees and Scribes. Instead a curious and wondering rich man comes to Jesus with a big question. You could also say that he was having a Thanksgiving moment. A moment when he is considering the big picture of his life and asking some pretty questions. 

The man comes to Jesus right to point, ““Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Right away Jesus starts challenging the Rich man’s assumptions. Good? Why do you call me good? Only God alone is good. And lest we hear the Santa Claus version of the question, “Have you been a good by this year Timmy?” “Good”in this case is surely connected to the idea of righteousness. Being good and righteous with God is more than just following the rules of being nice, it is justified and righteous down to the very core of one’s being. Jesus is undermining the Rich man’s assumption that goodness or righteousness is something to be achieved. 

And then Jesus continues. He starts to list the commandments. In fact he lists six of them. Commandments intended for us to keep good relationships with our neighbour. But it is noteworthy the commandments that Jesus omits… all the commands that have to do with our relationship to God. Having one God, taking the Lord’s name in vain and keeping the sabbath. 

But still the rich man doesn’t hear any of Jesus’ clues in his answer. Like so many who are used to being in control, he sees inheriting eternal life as a problem to fix, a puzzle to solve. He claims that he has kept all the commandments. You can sense that the rich man is getting ready to declare victory on the whole eternal life thing. So Jesus gets ready to throw a curve ball. But first Jesus looks at the man with love. He wants this man to understand what he is asking, he wants this rich man to understand the nature of the mission that he is on, the Mission of the Messiah to bring the Kingdom of God near. 

Jesus says, “You have to give it all up. All the money, wealth, power, security, comfort and control. All of it. And then follow me.”

But the rich man can’t. Of course he can’t. Jesus knew that wouldn’t be able to do it. 

The rich man cannot let go of all the things. He cannot let go of all the things that form his identity, his understanding of the world, his certainty and foundation. 

Letting go is hard to do. We have always known it is hard, but during the past 18 months we have learned lessons how much we hold on to those things that bring us certainty and security, those safety blankets and supports around us that give us our sense of self, our foundations and strength. 

All the things that have been put to the test during this time of crisis. In fact, almost certainly we have held on even tighter. Whether it is family or our jobs or our wealth or our hobbies and passions. Even our faith and faith communities. Our convictions and opinions, our politics and biases. 

We have been holding on, hoping that if we hold tight enough to those things that we can make it through the storms around us. We have hoped that we can use those security blankets, the things we think we control, to fix our problems and solve our puzzles. And yet know that that hasn’t exactly been going well. 

With all the drama around pandemic restrictions and now vaccinations, we see people holding on to things that are making it harder. 

With revelations about our history of racism, sexism, colonization, economic inequality we have learned that holding onto our past or the status quo isn’t working. 

With this struggles being faced by churches, volunteers groups, charities and nearly every public institution, that holding on, hoping to return to the past will not fix the problems. 

We have discovered over and over again that we don’t have the solutions we wish we had. 

Jesus hammers the point home with a now famous passage saying, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 

Jesus isn’t talking about cramming a camel through the eye of the needle. He is talking about the challenge of trying to get a notorious stubborn animal who is hard to get to do the simplest of tasks when dig their heels in and comparing that to how even more stubborn human beings can be. The rich man just cannot let go in order to see what Jesus is telling him. 

And that is Jesus’ point. 

The rich man wants to know how he can inherit eternal life, and Jesus response is to first divert him from notions that there is something he can do and refocus him on caring for his neighbour. And when that doesn’t work, Jesus suggest something impossible. 

But not because eternal life is impossibly hard. But because getting there, earning our salvation by our own merit is impossible. 

Jesus message from the start has not been about how to get into the Kingdom, but how the Kingdom of God is coming near to humanity, coming near to us. The rich man is focused on himself. The rich man cannot hear what God is doing. 

The disciples ask the question that the rich man could bear to hang around and ask. They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

God is the one doing the saving. 

God is the one who saves. 

God does the work and gives us eternal life. 

We do not earn it, we do not achieve it, we don’t problem solve ourselves into it, we don’t hold onto our power, control, and security in order to find our way to it. 

God does the work. 

And that is so hard to hear. 

It is hard to hear that there is nothing we can do, because we desperately want to do something, we want some measure of power and control. 

It is why holding onto our faith and having faith are often two different things, it is why the rich man cannot do the impossible and give up his wealth. 

It is why we are so divided as a society, why we struggle to get on the same page about things, we just cannot trust those in authority or those who vote for the other guys. 

It is why we have been holding on so tight to our own personal security blankets during this crisis, whatever they may be. 

Because hearing that God is the one doing the work of saving us is unsettling to the core. 

And yet, even as grip our own power and control and security as tightly as we can… God finds a way. 

The christ enters into created life, meets with sinners, and tells them the good news anyways. 

The Messiah walks the path of salvation, even when that path goes through death. 

Jesus steps out of the tomb and into new life bringing with him dumbfounded disciples who somehow carryon that message around the globe. 

The church, despite all our flaws and imperfections, our mistakes and divisions and conflicts, still has managed to proclaim the good news for 2000 years.

We though holding on tightly to whatever we can in have still been gathered here, gathered together as community to hear the promise of the Word, to be washed in Holy Baths, to be fed by Holy Meals despite all the odds. 

No we cannot save ourselves, no matte how hard we try, no matter the power and control wield. And yet we are forgiven, granted new life and salvation, none the less. 

[Because] Jesus looks at us and says], “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Jesus is not talking about divorce in the way we think

GOSPEL: Mark 10:2-16
Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

When I was 7 or 8 years old, I remember the first one of my friends telling us that his parents were getting a divorce. It was a strange and complicated situation. Over the following weeks and months, he began living one week with his mom and the next week with his dad. And while there were two birthday parties, two thanksgivings, two Christmases, I could tell that having parents who didn’t live with each other anymore and having to move your whole life back and forth every Saturday was not something I would ever want. 

Fast forward to one day when I was 19 and working as a camp counsellor, we got a panicked call from the camp director during our hour off. We were needed to come and settle a group of unruly campers. The old pastor who was doing bible study with the group of high school aged campers, had gotten into a heated discussion with one teenaged girl over whether or not it was a good thing for her parents to divorce. He was insisting it was a sin. She was insisting that the fighting, and anger and frustration that was tearing apart her family had finally gone away once her parents separated and that this was a good thing. 

Despite being relatively common and something that many couples experience these days, divorce is still a word that carries stigma and shame. The wounds of divorce can be deep and slow to heal. 

So, when we hear Jesus offer some pretty strong words about divorce, it can sound like condemnation. “Because of the hardness of your heart.” he says… and yet ask anyone going through a divorce what their heart feels like and they will probably tell you the story of a heart being ripped to shreds, a wounded and broken heart. Not a hard one. 

So what is the deal? Doesn’t Jesus get how messy and complicated this is? Doesn’t God have compassion and mercy for two flawed people who don’t know how to find their way back to each other? Can’t Jesus see that sometimes a marriage needs to die for the individuals in it to live?

We can’t forget which Gospel we are reading today. This is the Jesus who has just called the Syrophoenician woman a dog, who has called Peter Satan, who has told John that it would be better if he were thrown into the ocean than get in the way of Jesus’ mission. 

Jesus in Mark’s gospel does not suffer fools and he doesn’t have time for people who don’t get it. 

So what are we not getting?

For a long time the church has used this passage to clobber anyone considering divorce. Pastors have told abused women that it would be a sin to leave their husband. We have told incompatible couples that they must continue to suffer together. The church has forbid divorce on any grounds, just like Jesus seems to be doing here. 

So again, what we are not getting that Jesus gets? The clue is in the in the question. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Not is it lawful for a couple to get divorced, but for a MAN to do the divorcing. 

The Pharisees and Jesus are not talking about marriage as we know it. This is not about two people who enter into a loving covenant to share a life of love together. 

This is about the contract between a man and a woman’s father. This is about men buying women just like they would buy a cow or a sack of grain or a piece of land. 

In the world of the Pharisees, women were not people. They were property. Property whose function was to serve and provide pleasure for the man, and ultimately provide a male heir. And if these things were not provided whenever the man wanted them, this was grounds for divorce. In fact, pretty much any dissatisfaction was grounds for divorce.

All man had to do was say, “I divorce you.” and his wife was cast out of the marriage and onto the street, where her only two options were prostitution or begging for survival. 

So when Jesus calls the Pharisees hard of heart, he is speaking of a power imbalance in a contractual and economic relationship. Not hardness of heart between a modern husband and wife. 

Jesus is calling out the Pharisees for being selective in their reading of the law of Moses. They say that the legal procedure of divorce is simple. But they know that the law of Moses is full of concern for widows and destitute women. It was the duty of a widower’s brother to marry a widow. It was the duty of a widower’s kin to provide a widow with children if she didn’t have any. And if re-marrying was not possible for a widow, it was the duty of the community to care for her. The men harvesting fields were to leave a portion of the harvest behind to be gleaned and collected by the widows. It was a law that a portion of the offering collected in the synagogues and temple be given to the widows and poor. 

For a set of laws to be so concerned with the care of husbandless women in a community to make it so easy for a man to divorce his wife doesn’t make any sense… it is a deliberate misreading of the rules. 

And Jesus knows it. The Pharisees know it. The disciples know it. Mark knows it. 

It is why the passage about people bringing children to Jesus is tacked onto this passage about divorce. 

Jesus is calling the people around him to care for the weak and vulnerable among them. He is telling men that it is wrong to dump their wives onto the community to care for. He is telling those in power that they don’t get to abdicate their responsibility to care for the powerless. Jesus is calling out and condemning those who would tell the weak and vulnerable to pull themselves up by their own boot straps. He is telling those in authority that their power comes with the obligation to use it for good. 

If Jesus were to have this conversation with us today, it would not be about divorce at all. 

If Jesus were talking about our hardness of heart he would be calling us out for very different reasons. 

Jesus would say, because of your hardness of heart it took the discovery of unmarked graves for your nation to wake up to the tragedy that is Indian Residential Schools in Canada. 

Let those are who have been lost and forgotten by too many for too long come to me, because the Kingdom of God belongs to them. 

Jesus would say, because of your hardness of heart many are persecuting and causing violence to the healthcare workers, doctors and nurses and other medical staff who are simply caring for those that need it.

Let these tired and exhausted and depleted caregivers come to me, for there is rest and comfort and peace in the Kingdom of God. 

Jesus would say, because of your hardness of heart you are afraid of those who are different, those from other countries, who worship and pray differently, whose skin is differently coloured. 

Let those who are marginalized for the way they worship, for the colour of their skin, for the language they speak come to me for the Kingdom of God belongs to them. 

Jesus would say, because of your hardness of heart you have told married couples on the ropes that their need to divorce is a sin. 

Let those who dying to separate in order to live come to me. 

Yeah… it is hard to hear Jesus challenge the hard places in our hearts. 

Yeah… it has been rough to listen to Jesus call us out week after week. 

Yeah… this might not feel like good news. 

And just when it feels like Jesus has just come to stomp all over us for having hard hearts, Jesus reminds us that we easily forget who we are, and we easily forget what Jesus is doing for us, to us. 

As we gather around the Word, as we remember being washed and joined to the Body of Christ in the waters at the font, and as we are given bread and wine from the table of the Lord… Jesus is blessing us. For ours is the Kingdom. 

Jesus is reimagining our world. Jesus re-humanizing all those are pushed down to the bottom. Those who are marginalized by those in power, those who wind up the victims of hardened hearts. Those whom the disciples would try to send away but Jesus would welcome and bless. 

Jesus is restoring humanity and dignity to all. Lifting up those on the bottom by bringing them back into relationship with their community, but also by bringing down the high and mighty by bringing them back too into relationship with their communities. 

Yes, we have hard hearts. No we have not lived up to the power and responsibility we have been entrusted with. 

Jesus names that and it is hard to hear.

But Jesus also names our humanity and dignity, restoring us to community – wether we are the privileged on top or the marginalized on the bottom. 

Despite our hard hearts. Despite what we have failed to do for the weak and vulnerable, Jesus says, come to me. All of you. Because you too are all the weak and vulnerable in some way. And because I have named you my children, the Kingdom of God belongs to you.