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“Daring Greatly”–Mark 10: 46-52– Oct. 28, 2012

The title of this morning’s sermon comes from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt, which was entitled “Citizenship in a Republic,” given in Paris, France in April, 1910.  It’s also the title of Dr. Brene Brown’s most recent book, which I am in the midst of pondering and devouring.

Here’s the passage from Teddy Roosevelt’s speech–
“It is not the critic who counts; not the [person] who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the [person] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself [or herself] in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he [or she] fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

Bartimaeus was the man in the arena, his eyes clouded over, probably, from one of the many diseases of the eye common in those days; whose only resort had been to sit by the side of the road outside of Jericho and beg.  His cloak, his only possession, was wrapped around him as some protection from the cold, with its hem spread out around him to catch the few coins thrown his way.

He may have been blind, but he wasn’t deaf, thanks be to God, and he could hear what people were saying about Jesus of Nazareth.  How he healed the blind and the lame, how he had opened the deaf man’s ears, how he had stood up to those of the scribes and Pharisees who wanted to hush him from teaching with such authority and such power.  Bartimaeus may have been blind, but he wasn’t deaf.  He knew what people were saying now, and what the prophets had said about the one they called “Son of David.”

So, when he heard the crowd coming down the road and heard them talking about Jesus of Nazareth, Bartimaeus knew that this was his moment.  If ever he was going to engage with his life, if ever there was a time to show up in his life, now was the time.  He had nothing to lose, except his life at the side of the road, listening while the world and the life he knew he was meant to live passed him by.

So “he began to shout out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’  Many sternly ordered him to be quiet.”  Of course they did.  He knew they would.  People don’t like it when someone who’s become part of the architecture, who’s been a landmark along the side of the road, starts to move and shout for attention.  “But he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”

And, oh my God, “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’” Life responds to those who dare to call it by name.  “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’” And they called the blind man, saying to him, –now they said to him…!– ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’  So, throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus,” his heart pumping, his mind racing, yet also strangely focused.  This was it.

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’” And Bartimaeus, the blind man, said to him, ‘Rabbouni,’ [just like Mary did when she recognized Jesus in the garden on Easter morning]–Rabbouni, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

The first time Brene Brown read the Roosevelt quote about the man in the arena, she thought, “This is vulnerability. Everything I’ve learned from over a decade of research on vulnerability has taught me this exact lesson.  Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging.  It’s being all in.

“Vulnerability is not weakness, [she writes] and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional.  Our only choice is a question of engagement.  Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.” (P. 2) “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

The story of blind Bartimaeus is the last story in Mark’s gospel before Jesus rides into Jerusalem on an ass–talk about vulnerability!  Mark has skillfully crafted his story to sum up the journey so far, with echoes of the incidents and characters we’ve already met and heard of.  The disciples gathered around Jesus have been persistently blind, just not getting what Jesus was trying to tell them.  Yet here was “blind” Bartimaeus, who could see who Jesus was and who responded wholeheartedly.  The rich man who had followed all the commandments from his youth, who came to Jesus asking what he had to do to gain eternal life–or authentic life–, and when Jesus lovingly told him to go, sell all he had and give it to the poor, he turned away, broken-hearted, because he couldn’t bear that much vulnerability.  Bartimaeus, who only owned a cloak, threw even that away, risked everything, and ended up healed, whole, saved–all meanings of the word–and he followed Jesus on the way–on the way to Jerusalem, on the way to life, even though the road led through death.

And remember the woman who’d had the hemorrhage for 12 years who crept up to Jesus in the crowd and touched the hem of his robe and was immediately healed?  Remember her courage and her vulnerability when he asked, Who touched me? And even though she could have slipped away in the crowd, came forward and knelt at his feet.  Jesus said the same thing to her that he said to Bartimaeus, “Go, your faith has made you well [or whole].”

What is it you want to ask of Life? Or God? Or Jesus?  What would you do if you knew you might fail but it didn’t matter–not in the long run?  What would you risk if you knew that even though you might end up embarrassed or criticized or humiliated, that in the end, even if you failed, you are not a failure? That you are worthy of love and connection and joy?  What would you cry out if Jesus were coming down the road?  Would your cry be for healing or justice or peace or equality? (David Lose, workingpreacher.com, 10/21/12) What if you dared to call up the woman whose child has recently died, even if you didn’t know what to say? What if you connected to her?  What if you picked up the remote control and pressed “off” and said to your partner, “We need to talk”?  What if you connected?  What if you wrote that Letter to the Editor about what’s been burning a hole in your heart?  What if you connected to others who share that same heartburn, not to mention connecting to your true Self? What would you do?  What are you dying to dare greatly?

The story of Bartimaeus tells us that when we dare greatly, when we engage fully–show up fully–in our lives, we can be made whole–“the physical healing is only part of a more complete restoration.”  (Texts for Preaching, year B, p. 564) “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus.  “Rabbouni,” he said, “let me see again.”  And Bartimaeus saw, not just his hands in front of his eyes, but the face in front of him, looking into his eyes.  Not only his sight, but his vision was restored–the vision of what could be if he followed in the way, if we all followed in the Way of Jesus.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the [person] who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the [person] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself [or herself] in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he [or she] fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

Let us dare greatly–as men and women created in the image of God, and as a church, called to be the Body of Christ. Let us dare to live up to our calling, not to let our fears paralyze us, but to risk being used for a mighty, sacred purpose.  Surely that would be a Reformation to be celebrated.

Amen and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark


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