Sermon: 22nd Sunday after Pentecost 25th October 2015

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping  7am, 8am and 10am

Readings:  Job 42.1-6, 10-17, Ps 34.1-8 (19-22), Heb 7.21-28, Mark 10.46-52

The Reverend  Catherine Eaton

It’s good to be with you again. Thank you Fr Ross for the invitation. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunities and support this parish offered me at a critical time in my own journey.

As some of you know, I’ve recently returned to NSW from Melbourne. After a long process of discernment, taking me in various directions, I eventually felt clear that Newcastle was the place to go – a friendly Bishop, close to Sydney, and where I could have some small ministry as an ordained priest – female. It was the obvious and logical place. So I set out for Newcastle to look for a place to live. I knew my plans… and so did God. After months of uncertainty, I now felt I could do something definite.

Unfortunately, I arrived on the outskirts of Newcastle at peak hour on a dark, wintry Friday night. Not only was I caught up in a rushing stream of cars and trucks, there was also a torrential storm. Blinded by the lights and rain – you know the kind where windscreen wipers are redundant – I got hopelessly lost. Every time I turned off, I became more disoriented. Motels were all full, and most of the time I was just being carried along with the traffic, simply trying to stay safe. Road signs emerged out of the wet and disappeared. I seemed to be going round the outside of Newcastle, but it wasn’t going to let me in.

As I drove, my prayers became more desperate. But suddenly in that moment when I was most confused and anxious, most unclear about where I was or what I was doing, I heard that small voice in my head – ‘Where do you really want to be?’ Immediately I thought – ‘the Southern Highlands’. It was a split second when it seemed scales fell from my eyes, and I felt a deep peace and sense of knowing I hadn’t felt before. Not long after, a sign to Gosford emerged out of the haze of lights and water. I turned off, headed south, and eventually found my house in Bowral, but that’s a story for another day.

I realised I had to become blind before I could be open to a different reality. In that brief moment, my restricted vision was broken open and exposed to a new light. I had to go down the paths of dark unknowing before I could actually see what God was preparing before me.

There seems to be a theme in today’s readings, reminding us of our limited vision, and calling us to a greater seeing, a fuller beholding of God and the reality in which we’re held.

While the book of Job leaves us as perplexed as ever about the questions of suffering and God and the universe, today’s reading tells us of Job’s awakening to his own small view of reality. Suddenly, Job is confronted with the limits of his understanding and the shadows across his seeing. He says ‘I have uttered what I did not understand….. I had heard of you…but now my eye sees you’. In that moment, Job is both humbled before God and given new perspective, a new seeing. Only then was he ready for the new blessing.

Too often we judge the moments of our lives, the situations and events, as good or bad, hopeful or difficult, according to our own limited framework. We forget there’s a bigger reality in which each moment is held, a reality of love which is also before and after this moment.

The psalmist, however, reminds us how our focus can become clearer and our vision enlarged. ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’, ‘bless the Lord at all times’, ‘seek the Lord’, ‘look to him and be radiant’. Seeing the goodness of the Lord here and now – in every moment, even in the uncertainty of our lives, the times of unknowing and of darkness – that is what shapes our perspective.

‘Look to God and be radiant’……imagine – when your new priest comes, he (for it will be a he) will come in and find a sea of shining faces, turned not to him but to God, open to God’s greater reality, ready to receive the light you need for your journey.

The 2nd reading reminds us that Christ is our true priest, already here amongst you, the steady presence over the years of change, and it is on him your focus must remain.

Yes, you do need a new rector to lead this parish on the next stage of its journey. You do need a priest who is strong and wise, energetic and healthy, emotionally integrated, spiritually enlightened, pastorally astute, liturgically creative, politically savvy and an economic genius, able to deliver a stunning sermon on demand, glowing in holiness, and with a great sense of humour! What you will get is a human being, hopefully with some of these qualities, but a mere reflection of our true Priest, a glimpse though, as we all are, of the Christ-life into which we are all being drawn, in spite of our blindness.

And so Bartimaeus in today’s gospel reminds us who we are. We all take our place on the roadside of life. We know the contours of our world, the sounds and smells and the feel of it. And like Bartimaeus, our seeing is limited.

But as Jesus approached, Bartimaeus was alert, fully present to that moment. He wasn’t stuck in the past, remembering all the people who had ignored him before. Why would Jesus be any different?

He didn’t limit the future – ‘What’s the point? Jesus won’t be able to heal me anyway.’

And he didn’t miss the moment, fumbling to find that coin someone had just thrown on his coat.

In that moment of possibility he was awake, open and ready, perhaps more aware of his blindness than ever before. That was the moment of potential, a moment which would not come again, fully charged with the makings of a new seeing, a clearer vision, a possibility he’d never imagined.

How open are we to the bigger vision, full of unseen potential, which God offers us in every moment?

How often does the moment pass because we’re blinded by our preoccupations with little things and petty disturbances? How often is the brightness of its hidden potential clouded by our fears, our misplaced wants, our plans, or the concrete structures in which we encase our views of the world and life and others? Like Bartimaeus, our first task is to recognise our blindness, the narrowness of our vision, the shadows on our seeing, and, then, to cry out to God for a new seeing.

Bartimaeus says ‘Let me see again.’ He wants restoration of a sight he once had. This too is about us. We need to keep growing into a larger, more expansive vision of life. But we also lose sight, as our eyes and minds and hearts close with the familiar lines of our worlds. Our blindness creeps back in on us and shrouds our reality and the potential within it.

We need to discover our blindness again and again, so God’s light can keep breaking in on us. Little by little God seeks to awaken us to the bigger reality of God’s own vision, God’s desires and plans. God longs for us to enter into that new beholding, that greater reality, and to call out with Bartimaeus – ‘Teacher, let me see again’.

You, as a parish, are in a particular time of limited sight, as you wonder about the future of the parish and wait for your new priest. This is a time to encourage each other as those with Bartimaeus did – ‘Take heart, get up, he is calling you’.

Take heart, even when you cannot see what is happening.

Get up and out of your small visions and limited views, your desires and plans and wants.

God is calling each and every one of you into a greater reality, into a new seeing of life in all its brightness and wonder. Your new priest will come into that reality. This is not the time for you to be waiting for him, no matter how gifted he is, to come and create that reality and lead you into it. You need to be leaning into it now, opening yourselves to it with a new seeing.

Jesus says to you, as he said to Bartimaeus, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Don’t limit your prayer. Don’t just say ‘Give us a new rector.’ Say with Bartimaeus, ‘Let us see again… Give us sight beyond what we can now see, enlarge our vision, inspire our wondering, remove the scales from our eyes, and enable us to behold what you behold for this time in our parish’s life.’

We can only ever see a fragment of the reality in which God holds us. But live into this time as fully as you can, with all its uncertainties and opportunities, its challenges, its fears and its joys. For Christ himself is in it, whatever you may think of it.

And it will be into this enlarged vision, into this greater beholding, that your new priest will come, and even now is being prepared for it.

So as the psalmist reminds us, ‘look to God and be radiant’, so your new priest will come and find you all with faces shining, beholding the wonder of God, and ready to live into a future already prepared.