Let’s begin by conceding that Mark’s point in this morning’s gospel isn’t exactly subtle.
You don’t exactly need to be an English major to figure out that in this story, Bartimaeus isn’t the one who is truly blind here.
It’s also clear that, as far as Mark is concerned, the miraculous healing is hardly the point, because the point is not that Bartimaeus can’t see.
The larger issue is that the world does not seem to see him. For the world, of course, can see. It just chooses not to notice him.
That’s central to Mark’s message for us this morning.
But actually, it goes even deeper than that.
For example, it helps to know that, in stopping at Jericho, Jesus and the disciples have stopped in a major city in the ancient world—a well to do spot on the water where people went to recover from the turmoil of life in the capital.
Jericho was the kind of place where making a big splash could have a major impact. They would have all been feeling that.
Jericho was a historic city—it was where Joshua and the Hebrew people first crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land. As symbols go, it was a profoundly symbolic place…a place where you’d want your messiah to do something big.
But listen again to Mark’s story. This is what he says about this visit to Jericho.
Mark writes: “Then they came to Jericho [period]. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city….”
What happened in Jericho? It must have gone well enough: we’re told that a large crowd followed them out of the city. Jesus must have nailed it. There was a debate, and Donald Trump was sick that day, and Jesus nailed it…Iowa, New Hampshire here we come.
But that’s not what Mark says happened in Jericho.
For Mark, what happened in Jericho was that Jesus met this man, Bartimaeus—he met this man that nobody else much cared about. This man who the world didn’t much notice. This man whose endorsement would not have mattered to anyone.
But Bartimaeus mattered to Jesus.
And Bartimaeus should matter to us.
Whatever was wrong with him was, deep down, the least of it…the most fixable thing of all.
The deeper challenge is the kind of spiritual blindness that might see, but decides not to bother.
The implication of Mark’s story is clear: being a Christian is about learning to notice the people that the world does not see.
Being a Christian is about hearing that voice calling from the back of the crowd, asking for help, asking for healing, asking for the grace to join the journey, too.
That day on the Jericho road was a long time ago. Nevertheless, we know that those voices are all around us, too. All around us, people are hurting and scrounging for any kind of hope they get their hands on.
So many of our neighbors feel left behind by the big party that it seems like life should be. And they don’t know why. And they don’t know what they’re supposed to do about it.
While we’re at it, let’s also acknowledge that Greenwich doesn’t make this particularly easy to figure out.
Here we live in this wonderful place—this town that is a watchword for success, and ambition, and rubbing elbows with glamorous and important public people—and who wouldn’t be fascinated by the things that the people all around us are up to?
And yet we know…and the longer we are here, the better we all know it…that even in this place, this wonderful place, people are hurting. People are searching. People are asking the big questions, and the answers they’re finding are coming up short.
This can be a hard town in which to do your struggling.
So this is the moment when some of you are waiting for the transition to the church and its ministries.
But what some of you are waiting for is for me to now say that when someone in our town is hurting, it’s so important that they have this place to come to.
I do think that.
But as God is my witness, what I want more than that, what I want more than anything in this world, is that when someone in this town finds themselves struggling, what I hope is that they will find one of you.
What I want more than anything else is that when someone out there doesn’t know who else to call, they’ll call you.
Whether they’re Christian or not…whether they will feel led to become Christian or not…if they call you, if you’re the one, then this church will already have been a blessing in their lives.
That’s what we’re here to do.
Because let’s remember that the church is not the building, although the building is so beautiful. The church is not the programs, although the programs here are terrific. The church is not the music, although if you spend any time here, you may find yourself humming “Little Grey Donkey” constantly for about four months out of every year.
These things are wonderful. But the church is not these things. The church is us.
The church is the discipleship of regular people, seeking to follow God’s path for their lives, and journeying along with others as they go forward into the future.
We do so much so well here, and there are so many other things we would love to do to expand our work, to tend our campus, to guarantee life-changing experiences for children regardless of cost, to love and support our seniors, to celebrate creativity in all its forms.
We have wonderful plans—dreams that Joseph even in his amazing Technicolor dreamcoat could scarcely have imagined.
Important stuff. Cool stuff. But let’s be honest: even so, that’s not what the church is.
But it is those things that teach the church. It’s those things that train the church. It’s those things that inspire the church, and shape the church, and sustain the church.
That’s why I give to the church. I’m blessed to be your pastor, and I’m blessed to be paid for the opportunity to do work I love. But I am taught, and trained, and inspired and shaped and sustained by our life together, and by the ministries of this place, and by how I find God with their help.
All these things are teaching me, and all of us, what it means for us to be the church of Jesus Christ, here in Greenwich 06830.
That’s why I give. And that’s why I hope you will join me and my family in giving to the work of this place. So that we can be the church together. So that we can be the church God needs us to be.
In it’s own way, Greenwich might be a little like Jericho. A beautiful place, rich in history and full of fascinating people doing all kinds of amazing things.
Oh, the stories we might tell…if all the anecdotes we have about encountering Diana Ross alone were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written….
And yet this morning’s Gospel reminds us that the real story is the story of that hurting person, that forgotten person, that ignored person who calls out for healing.
The real story is the one about the person who needs Jesus, and about how his life is transformed by meeting Jesus.
We are the Lord’s church, charged with carrying on his work, and charged with living in the ways he teaches us to live.
In a world where so many are crying out, in the midst of so many who cry out, we are charged to be the ones who notice, and the community of those who are called to respond.
That’s what it is to be the church.
I hope you will feel moved to be a part of it in all the ways you can, and to support and nurture its ministries, so that its ministries will support and nurture you and all those whom you may encounter on the road, wherever it may lead.