Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity – Year B, 2018
‘Gone to be with Jesus’
At the beginning of this past week, a friend told me of the death of Eugene Peterson, someone whose writings I’ve closely read, a most gifted pastor, but above all, in all and through all, someone who deeply loved Jesus. We Might say “he has ‘gone to be with Jesus’”, but is that really what has happened?
I was forwarded some words from his family which I think teach us something about reality as we Perceive it as Christians.
Speaking of the time of his death they said – “During the previous days, it was apparent that he was navigating the thin and sacred space between earth and heaven, we overheard him speaking to people we can only presume were welcoming him into paradise.”
I have to say that I wasn’t surprised – this isn’t the first time I’ve been privy to such accounts. I remember the death of a dear friend, whose last days according to those who sat with her, were given over to speaking with and encouraging those who were making the same passage.
In both cases, I knew that for these people, it would be perfectly natural for them to see things so clearly in their final hours, for they lived with a deep sense of the closeness of the realm of the eternal, indeed a vision of it.
I don’t mean by that that they ‘visions of heaven’, as if this was something ‘supernatural’ or ‘out of the ordinary’, but rather that their hearts and minds were naturally and in their ordinary lives set on God and the things of God. It was the natural ordinary air that they breathed - the air of the eternal woven into the temporal. In this way their lives were not only receptacles of but also pathways of Eternal Life into the world, in the pattern, in the deepest sense, of Jesus Christ, in whom heaven and earth are woven together. They lives being woven into His, the intersection of Earth and Heaven was not alien to their life. Eternal Life was something Present to them in their
It is a matter of note that so many of Jesus healings are those of the blind – those who cannot see – for it is our Vision which needs awakening. We live day to day in the world in the way that we perceive it. How we See is fundamental to how we live. To Live the Christian Life is to See the world at the intersection between Heaven and Earth, to See the rich tapestry of the Eternal pervading the Quotidean, it is to See Jesus as Present, to the end of the Age.
If like Peterson and my friend we have Seen Him and live with eyes fixed on Him, if we perceive the world freighted with the Glory of God as revealed in Christ and Him Crucified, if we See aright, then there are times when we realise that boundaries between heaven and earth are not as concrete as we might have otherwise assumed – that is that there is little but our blinded sight which ‘separates’ them.
I don’t mean by this, to repeat myself, that we go around having ‘heavenly visions’, but rather that we know the truth of our faith that in Jesus Christ, Heaven and Earth are woven together. Put another way we learn to set our hearts and minds on Jesus . . . we learn to Love Him, in all, things through all things, and above all things. And we see things as they really are - having left all things for Him, we discover that we have all things in Him. We discover that our life is in him and his in us - woven together. Following Jesus, we Know and Experience Real Life as that Gift coming to us from God in each moment of time, the eternal flow of the Spirit.
This is an act of learning to see the world aright – and as I corresponded with someone regarding Peterson’s last days a description came to me, of our Christian life as a journey of learning to see – of Imaginitiation – our initiation into the Christian Imagination. For as we See, so we Live, so we Walk to use the Greek verb for Life. In the same way as our daily path in directed by our sight, so Life in its details is ‘Walked’ in accordance with our Seeing.
This put me in mind of some words I referred to when we first came here seven years ago. They are the words of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Paris, Suhard.
“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
We Walk according to Sight of Jesus, we Walk with Jesus
If God n Christ is always before your eyes, if we love him with heart should mind and strength then your life takes on a different direction. It doesn’t follow the well worn world weary grooves of existence ploughed by so many around us. We find our selves in more ways than one at Cross roads, at Cross purposes. Standing at the Intersection between heaven and Earth – (St Paul uses the phrase ‘standing before God’) – Where others see barriers, we See God. Where others see impossibility, we See God, where others See anything other than God, we See God. Your life takes trajectories are unthinkable to those who do not as yet See.
If we consider the gospel from a couple of weeks ago, Jesus’ encounter with the Rich man. His actions make perfect sense if he does not See God! If we don’t See Him in Jesus then the man’s failure to give up al he has and follow him makes perfect sense, it is the height of reasonableness. Perhaps this is the sting of this story for us – his behaviour is too reasonable to us who have an abundance of possessions, which possess our attention. It causes us to ask, do We See Jesus? Do we see the Eternal woven into flesh and blood?
The man sought eternal life – yet he didn’t recognise it stood in front of him . . . He just didn’t have an imagination filled with God, he didn’t in the deep sense of the word Fear God. His possessions possessed his imagination. He couldn’t See – his Stuff stole all his attention. (Some wonder if ‘demonic possession’ is real, if demons are real – they seem not to be anything we come across, yet demons don’t need waste their desperate and limited energy with possessing those who are possessed by their possessions)
As we have been journeying with Jesus in Mark’s gospel, we have constantly come across instances of the disciples failure to see. When Jesus rebukes Peter with those stinging words ‘Get behind me Satan!’ he follows up by saying ‘you are setting your mind not on the things of God but on the things of men.’ For having acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, He still doesn’t See. God doesn’t fill His vision – you do not Know Him – you only see as the world sees.
And so another encounter. Jesus has passed through Jericho – he’s not stopping there he is on his way towards Jerusalem. And as he passes by the gate, the place where in times of old the ruler of the city would sit in judgement over the cases brought to him, there sits one Looking – Looking for Mercy – the blind beggar, Bar-Timaeus.
We come here in many respects to the climax of the journey so far, the End of the continual failures of the Disciples, brought to an end by True Discipleship. As Jesus is about to go up to Jerusalem, after all the failures of his disciples to See, and to Follow – to go with Jesus in truth, here finally is a disciple.
‘One of those little ones’. A man like a child – without any power – utterly dependent on alms from passers by, uncluttered by visions of power and possessions, for all his blindness he ‘Sees’, in contrast with all those who have think they see . . .
And just as the disciples hinder the little ones being brought to Jesus, so too many people try to quieten him. You can imagine the dynamic, like the self important disciples dreaming of power – what place does this nobody have in the story? We’ve come to watch the Jesus show, Be Quiet!But that is just it! They have just come to watch – Bar-Timaeus wants in on it – He is the one who enters fully into the story, he steps into Life.
At the command of Jesus he leaps up from the ground, throwing away his cloak, his security, his cover for the night, as day light breaks in. He abandons what is in effect his life – for Real Life.
And his cry is so unlike any other made to Jesus. ‘Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me’ – not a theological question, unlike the disciples asking for seats of authority – indeed he cries out for something Only God can do.
The words of address Jesus uses to him are exactly the same as to James and John with their request for seats of power. “What do you wish that I might do for you?” James and John don’t understand Jesus or See him truthfully for what they ask of he cannot give. ‘To sit on my right or on my left is not mine to give’ You can share my cup and be baptised with my baptism, you can share my death and so share my life – for that is all I have of mine own to give, my Life, but who gets crucified along with me, well I guess that that is in the hands of the Romans.
But Bartimaeus asks according to true sight. For all he cannot see Jesus, he can See him. “What do you wish that I might do for you?”
‘Rabbouni’ he cries out. Robbouni – the cry – heard only on the lips of Mary Magdalene in the Garden on Easter morning. The word of her shocked recognition – My Teacher! My Life – Eternal Life is Seen by Mary – it is Seen by ‘Blind’ Bar-Timaeus.
Faith has been awakened in Bar-Timaeus. Rabbouni, my teacher, he Recognises Jesus – “Rabbouni! That I might see again. And in a sense all Jesus does is to name that awakened faith – he as good as says to him, ‘There is in truth nothing wrong with your Sight – you See well enough’ Your faith has healed you. Your Vision is Fine and Good 🙂 Go!
Well where do you go? You’ve left your life behind – you’ve begun the heavenly journey, where He is your Life. You follow Him, you go to be with Him . . . think of those words – ‘gone to be with Jesus’ – Oh that that became our way of speaking of the Christian life!! In the days that follow the crowds may wonder. I doubt they will have seen – they hadn’t given much consideration to him in the past. ‘Where’s he gone, that beggar? Bar-Timaeus??’ ‘Oh, I think he’s gone off to be with Jesus . . .’ He no longer fits into the imaginative life story of the World. He’s gone off into another story.
When we look to Jesus, what do we see, but the place where Heaven and Earth are woven together, the place where the Life of Heaven, the Life of God re-enters the Creation, and we go to be with him, in the between place, the woven together place. Betwixt heaven and Earth – manifested in the Cross
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it like this
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [again a matter of heaven vision] let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
What do we Fix our eyes on? This is the great question of human Life and Death. In the garden our forebears, surrounded as they were by the Glory of God fixed their eyes on the apple. We fix our eyes on that which we love. What is our Love? Is is Love Himself?
The Rich man had so much that his eyes were fixed on. His vision was full of his Stuff. Bartimaeus has only his cloak. With so little between him and the heavenly vision, like the finest of gauzes, he threw his cloak, his old life away, he leaps up and comes to Jesus.
What obscures our vision of Jesus? Are our eyes fixed on him? Has our Christian image Initiation been growing? Has it begun?
Where do we fix our eyes? Eugene Peterson loves Jesus, his eyes are fixed on Him, the joining place of heaven and earth. It was not a sign of his piety that he was blessed with this encounter between places – rather it was a sign of his Loves.
To fix our eyes on him is to begin to See Heaven, to see it woven into Earth, to See the Eternal as illuminating the Temporal – it is to be initiated into Christian Imagination. It is to Go! To be with Jesus.