Listen to this guest sermon from Matta Ghaly:
Matta (they/them) is a candidate for the ministry of Word and sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Along with a passion for congregational ministry, Matta feels a deep call to the@logical education and serves as adjunct faculty for Islamic and Quranic Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, CA. They are spiritually replenished through religious life as a vowed member of the monastic Community of Saint John Cassian (CSJC) and a dervish at Ateshi Ask (Fire of Love) Sufi Community. Matta is married to Rev. Sonny Graves (United Church of Christ) and finds joy in traveling, building community and offering hospitality.
Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen
It is an honor and a blessing to be here with you at Lyndale United Church of Christ and I pray that however and wherever you may find yourself this morning, in your heart, mind, body or soul, I pray that you know you are God’s deeply beloved child. Amen
I also must confess that I stand before this pulpit with a heavy heart, mourning, raging and remembering the saints of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, who yesterday, as they rested in and prayed to the Holy One on Shabbat morning, were murdered and terrorized by an alt-right Christian White supremacist who wrote beforehand “Jews are the children of Satan (john 8:44) – the lord Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” This is a time for grieving and mourning, a time for showing up for our neighbors and our friends, but it is also a time of reflecting on how our Christian tradition and our churches have been complicit in creating, participating in and perpetuating anti-Semitism in these United States and around the world. My heart is particularly heavy as a Lutheran that on this Reformation Sunday we honor Martin Luther who was a relentless anti-Semite and who wrote a document titled “the Jews and their lies.” This is a time for us to lament, to confess and to repent. Amen
In today’s gospel reading, we see Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, along with his intimate companions and a crowd of followers. It’s a tense and uneasy journey – just like today. Earlier in this chapter, the author of Mark tells us that Jesus; this audacious truth-telling road rabbi has a precarious but courageous plan. He will enter Jerusalem, the administrative, political and religious center of Roman-occupied Judea, and speak truth to power, preach freedom to the bound, proclaim justice and mercy in the midst of exploitation and oppression.
Jesus knows that the liberating and life-giving good news he brings, proclaims and embodies to his people is dreadful news to those who have betrayed and sold the people in exchange for power and privilege. He knows that he will be deemed a threat by a death-dealing empire and a tyrannical king, by complicit local politicians protecting their own self-interests and elite religious leaders who are afraid of getting too political in the pulpit. He knows he will be deemed an enemy of God by a temple aristocracy that prefers Caesar to God. He knows he will be condemned, will be delivered, tortured and executed by the state.
He knows yet he keeps walking towards Jerusalem.
I am convinced that Jesus is not fearless or heroic. He is also not solely motivated by a mission or a vision, but rather Jesus is moved by deep heartbreak, by his sorrow, by his rage and by his anguish, because as he travelled from town to town in a divided nation, a nation in a political and moral crisis, a nation marked by quarreling parties and bloody massacres, as he travelled teaching and healing, proclaiming God’s reign, he saw the immensity of his people’s pain. He witnessed their humiliating subjugation under the weight of brutal occupation and colonization; he saw the impact of forced poverty and economic exploitation, of racism and sexism and anti-Semitism, of checkpoints and border walls, of state violence and mass incarceration, of negating people’s identities and legalizing their erasure, of tyranny and fascism under the pretense of good law and order.
Carrying the magnitude of this pain in his broken heart on the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus enters the northern city of Jericho, a city with extravagant wealth, a winter resort for Jerusalem’s aristocracy, with King Herod’s winter palace at its center. I wonder what Jesus thought when he saw the disparity between the struggling towns of Galilee and the lavish villas and opulent palaces of Jericho. I imagine he was even more heartbroken, more enraged by and for the world.
Yet the author of Mark seems more interested in highlighting the impact of Jesus’s proclamation on those who lived, not at the center of Jericho, but on its margins, along the walls, begging for crumbs and pennies by the roadside, hoping to catch the attention and call out the benevolence of the elite aristocracy who inhabited the city.
The author centers the story of a blind beggar living at the societal, economic and religious peripheries of Jericho who in our text is named Bartimaeus, which in Aramaic means the son or child of Timaeus. He hears that Jesus of Nazareth is walking by with his band of followers, perhaps through the chatter of an inspired or impressed crowd, or perhaps intuitively, through the whispers of the Spirit of God – a spirit that urged him to call out his pain, to name his need, to trust with faith, to show up before God, and watch God show up for him.
This child of Timaeus calls out to Jesus, identifies him as the Son of David – the deliverer of the people, and pleads..
pleads for deliverance, healing and mercy in conditions so bereft of mercy
pleads for a living wage and a just economy in a system founded on inequity
pleads for black and brown lives to matter where only white lives seem to matter
pleads for trans and gender expansive people against the erasure and violence of transphobia and homo-hatred
pleads for women and their bodies in a society governed by patriarchy, misogyny and sexism.
pleads for Jewish communities, for Muslim communities, for immigrant communities, for marginal communities..
He pleads for mercy, and in his own Aramaic, a plea of mercy is a plea for God’s divine womb to move with deep compassion, with profound grace, to heal and repair a broken world.
Bartimaeus pleads for mercy from God’s womb but the crowd, the very disciples and followers of Jesus, those who are in on his messianic secret, who supposedly understand his mission and comprehend his teaching, whose ears have heard the gospel, whose eyes have seen his wonders, those very people – the insiders, the Church – harshly silence him. They order him to be quiet, to be ashamed of his need, to accept his place, to disappear from their sight.
They would rather turn him into an invisible shadow lest he reminds them of their privilege in the midst of his suffering, lest his call for mercy demands of them to repent, to change, to turn away from patterns and behaviors that deny him God’s gift of mercy, lest his cry for help break open their hearts with love, a love not dependent on transactions or an exchange of favors but that gives abundantly of one’s self and one’s possessions in service to all, a healing and co-suffering love that pours mercy, overflowing without measure, a love that would turn their lives upside down for God’s reign.
Yet against their protective hushes and shushes, this child of Timaeus cries out even louder, have mercy, have mercy.
Jesus hears his plea and feels that deep heartbreak and piercing heartache, his stillness comprehends and recognizes the fullness of his plea, and he orders the very people who were silencing Bartimaeus to now bring him for his miracle. Upon hearing the invitation, the child of Timaeus throws off his cloak, his one possession, and runs to Jesus.
What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asks with deep clarity and openness.
Unlike the disciples who are still hungry for status and respectability, the power and might of this world, who earlier ask Jesus to grant them to sit by his side at his glory, one at his right and the other at his left – narcissism much? – Bartimaeus makes one request and one request only;
My teacher, let me see, open my eyes
Let me see into myself, into the condition of my heart, into the reality of my trauma, into the ways I need to heal. Let me see my hidden patterns, behaviors and biases that stand as barriers to proclaiming your love and seeing your healing in this world. Let me see and recognize my heartbreak for the world with you, and let it move me with faith to follow you in the Way, the way of service, the way of the cross.
My teacher, let me see, open my eyes
Open my eyes to your presence when the world feels lonely and alienating.
Open my eyes to hope when I am surrounded by despondency and despair.
Open my eyes to the transformative power of faith in the midst of heartbreak, anxiety and uncertainty.
Open my eyes to the enormity and sufficiency of Love when hatred and bigotry are so loud.
Open my eyes to healing and wholeness when injury and pain are all around.
Open my eyes to the beauty of living in right relationship with creation, with the land, in community and among your people.
Open my eyes to the path of surrendering my heartbreak to you, and use it for your kin-dom.
Let me see, teacher, open my eyes.
Hear Jesus respond; Go, your faith in your plea, your trust that I see, hear and feel that plea, has made you well.”
Immediately, Bartimaeus regains his sight, he sees so deeply the liberating proclamation of the good news of God’s love and reign, he sees so deeply the path of dreaming into reality, laboring for and building God’s kin-dom, he sees in a way so profound that he surrenders his entire being, becomes a disciple, and follows Jesus on the Way, the way to Jerusalem, to the cross.
What is your need today? What’s your heartbreak like? What are you pleading for?
Is it a plea for rest? For a break from burnout and emotional exhaustion? Is it a plea for love? For justice? For healing? Is it a plea to be truly seen, truly heard, truly loved? This gospel reading calls us to vulnerably and loudly name our need, call out our plea, with child-like trust and complete faith that the teacher sees, knows and feels our need in his own heart and womb.
So what do you want me to do for you? Jesus asks. I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours, he assures. He stands still, he is available to you, with a desire to open the eyes of your heart today and call you on the Way. Amen.