Sermon by Segt, Kevin Bryant, Affiliated Minister in the Memorial Church; Security Services Coordinator and Diversity/Community Liaison, Harvard University Police Department, July 26, 2020. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications
Good morning saints. Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, oh Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
Life is a journey that we all must travel. It's filled with lessons, hardships, heartaches, joys, celebrations, and special moments that will cause us to fulfill our purpose in life and ultimately lead us to our destination. Spiritually, we travel from justification to sanctification into glorification. Amen. However, in our travels through this life, we will encounter many trials and tribulations that will test our courage, challenge our strengths, wreak havoc on our weaknesses, and try our faith.
Here in our texts, we find Jesus and he's on a journey out of Jericho and he's headed to Jerusalem. As Jesus leaves Jericho, he encounters a blind man that is traveling through life, sitting on the side of the road. My brothers and sisters, in the land of the free, home of the brave, in these United States of America, many peoples have found themselves sitting on the side of the road. And let's not be naive about this. There are people all over this world that have been left sitting on the side of the road.
Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, there is sitting by the side of the road. In Aramaic, Bartimaeus means unclean, impure, unchaste or abominable. But the Greek version of the name means son, person of honor. And this would indicate the man's inner nature and destiny. And by giving us the name Bartimaeus with its double meaning, Mark could be telling us that here is a man who was supposed to be a man of honor and dignity, but living in a state of dishonor and shame. Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, sitting by the side of the road.
You see, he's also identified by his condition. You know, it's a terrible thing to be identified by your condition. What's that person's name that studies him? What's so and so name that has those seizures? My brothers and sisters, here in these United States of America, people are also identified by their condition and that condition is the color of their skin. It has to become a condition because of systemic racism in the land of the free, home of the brave.
Because of his condition, Bartimaeus was prevented from finding and performing a job in order to earn a living. There were no programs for the blind, no social security or charitable institutions that would help him. Bartimaeus was totally dependent upon the sympathy and generosity of others in order to survive. Bartimaeus lived a life of wretched poverty and he was always treated as less than.
You know, my brothers and sisters, I've been sitting by the side of the road many times and let me tell you what happens to you. While you're sitting there on the side of the road, frustration begins to build because life is going on. While you're sitting on the set of the road, you watch opportunities pass you by. Life is passing you by and discouragement and disappointment show up while you're sitting on the side of the road. Hopelessness and despair soon follow while you're sitting on the side of the road.
Now Bartimaeus was sitting on the side of the road and he was lonely. And loneliness isn't being about being alone. It's about not feeling connected. Over 127,000 United States citizens were imprisoned during World War II. Their condition? Japanese ancestry. President Roosevelt signed an executive order in February 1942, ordering the relocation of all Americans of Japanese ancestry to concentration camps in the United States. It made no difference that many had never even been to Japan. Even Japanese American veterans of World War I were forced to leave their homes. Land of the free, home of the brave. These Japanese American citizens were left sitting by the side of the road.
President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830 that relocated Native Americans in the Southeast in order to make room for white settlements. And between 1945 and 1968, federal laws terminated more than a hundred tribal nations' recognition and placed them under state jurisdiction contributing to the loss of millions of additional acres of tribal land. These Native American, these indigenous peoples of this country, were left sitting by the side of the road.
Bartimaeus had been shunned by society most of his life. When you were shunned by a people, it creates an absence that is difficult to describe because there's nothing but silence, a frightening, weary silence. Because others refused to speak, to acknowledge your presence, to treat you as though you matter. And there is no way to respond. A response assumes the listener. How do you respond when no one's listening? Words do not matter. George Floyd's words did not matter when that evil man that was impersonating a police officer had his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 48 seconds. Once again, in these United States of America, I find myself and other black and brown peoples sitting by the side of the road.
Bartimaeus was sitting by the side of the road when he heard a sound, a commotion. He heard the crowds pass by and he heard the excited voices of the people. He heard those that follows Jesus. They were making all this noise. You know, you can't follow Christ and be silent. And when Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me."
Now the crowd was not going to do a thing for Bartimaeus. They had the nerve to tell him, "Man, be quiet. Jesus doesn't have time for you, you worthless beggar. You'll never amount to much of anything, so be content with the donations you've already received today and here's another dollar or two for your cup. Now quit all that yelling."
So does Bartimaeus do? He cried it even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me." He gets louder and more persistent. Bartimaeus suddenly realizes that this is the chance of a lifetime and so he seizes the moment. He wants to make sure that Jesus doesn't pass him by.
You see, saints, Bartimaeus was not facing a fact of life when others told them to be quiet, he was simply facing a problem. And there was something he could do about this thing, this problem. Do I keep quiet or do I make as much noise as possible until I get Jesus's attention? And he chose the letter. The negative discouragements of others, he took that and turned it around and to his own advantage and started yelling all the more. He figured if those around him were telling him to be quiet, then they must have figured Jesus might be able to hear him. And therefore he shouted even loud here, "Son of David, have mercy on me."
You see, those people that are around Bartimaeus, they could have let him by the hand that Jesus, but they didn't. They didn't even want Jesus to know he was there. You see, in order to move beyond your particular situation, you've got to decide to do whatever you can do for you and be prepared to go against the crowd to reach your potential. Protest. Reevaluate the way policing is done in these United States, abolish Confederate flags, get rid of some of these statues. In order for all lives to matter, black and brown lives must matter as well.
And the crowd, they called the blind man saying to him, "Take heart. Get up. He's calling you." Now here are the very people that a moment ago told him to be quiet, but ignored him most of his life, shunned him, and were yelling at him to shut his mouth and be quiet. And now they see Bartimaeus has got the attention of Jesus and that Jesus has commanded him to come to him. They now know that Bartimaeus is going to be blessed. He's going to have a one-on-one audience with the Lord. Now, all of a sudden, people want to help him get up, fix his clothes, dust him off. You know, it's amazing how people will put you down, leave you alone, walk out on you and turn their back on you when things seem to get dark. But when Jesus start blessing you, they want to be right there with you.
So throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus. Did you notice what Bartimaeus did when Jesus called him? He threw off his cloak. Why do you think he did that? This cloak was the only personal possession this blind man could call his own. He probably sat on while he begged, he used it to wrap up against the weather, and it might've been his blanket at night. It was a tangible source of security, and yet at the same time, it was a constant reminder of his blindness. And by throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus was saying, "I'm trusting in his ability to change my circumstances and I'm turning my back on my old lifestyle." And he jumped up and began to walk in faith.
Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?"
And Bartimaeus said to him, "My teacher, let me see again."
And Jesus said to him, "Go, your faith has made you well." And immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
You see, Jesus didn't just give Bartimaeus what he needed. He gave him so much more. You see, Jesus doesn't just meet your needs. He exceeds your needs. Bartimaeus' life wasn't changed just because he had the eyes to see, but even more so because he had faith. And the last thing we're told about Bartimaeus is he followed Jesus down the road.
We are living in the country of the blind. Don't be like those who won't see. Don't be like those that refuse to see. My brothers and sisters, at the very least admit your inability to see so Jesus can open your eyes. And once your eyes are open, you need to make sure that in these United States of America, no person of color is ever left sitting by the side of the road. Amen.