The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori: Hiking Jesus' Road

Sermon at St. Michael and All Angels in Mission, KS

by The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori


Did somebody call you by name when you turned up this morning? If so, I imagine that it reminded you that you are a valued member of this community. If not, it probably felt like something was missing. Most of us go looking for places where we can be recognized as unique human beings, and valued by the larger community. That's what good marriages are about, and long term partnerships, even social clubs. Being known and named is crucial to being a whole human being.

When you baptize next Sunday, one of the first things that will happen is to name those about to be baptized. We ask the sponsors to present a child by name and we call adults by name when we ask, "do you desire to be baptized?" Naming is absolutely central to being brought into this body of Christ.

In many other cultures, Christians are known by their baptismal names as well as their birth names. The Korean and Japanese and African Anglicans I know all have biblical names, names given at baptism, that define them, alongside the names given by their birth families: Nathaniel Makoto Uematsu, Joseph Mutie Kanuku, Hellen Grace Wangusa.

There's a lot of naming going on in the readings this morning, some of it highly unusual. Job has been restored to health, and long after the death of his children, his wife has borne 10 more, 7 sons and 3 daughters. The absolutely revolutionary thing here is that the daughters are named while the sons are not, and the daughters get a share of the inheritance along with their brothers. It is almost as though Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch, just by being named, are recognized as equal to the sons. It is a striking thing in Job's environment, where daughters were usually treated as property. It may be a hint of how Job's own life is being healed, and how that healing is spreading out into the relationships around him.

There's something similarly striking going on with the blind beggar in the gospel. Jesus heals lots of people in the gospels, but they are almost never named, whether they are male or female. They may be identified by relationship, like Simon Peter's mother-in-law, or the daughter of Jairus, or the centurion's servant, but they are more often only identified by their illness: the woman with a hemorrhage, the ten lepers, the boy with a demon, a blind man.

This blind man is named Bar-Timaeus, son of Timaeus, and he calls Jesus by a parallel name, Son of David. He has claimed a relationship with Jesus by what he calls him - a name like his own, but also a name that speaks of the healing of the whole nation, the Son of David. This act of naming seems to be a central part of Bartimaeus' healing - both being called by name and recognizing and naming Jesus as Messiah.

When Jesus was baptized, he was named in relationship to God, "You are my beloved, and with you I am well pleased." His identity is beloved - and his relationship is pleasing to God. The heavenly voice doesn't say, "I will be well pleased with you, when you're done with your work, but instead, right now, I am already well pleased. Baptism works the same way for us, who are adopted into God's family as brothers and sisters in Christ. We, too, are called beloved and pleasing to God, whatever we might hear from other voices around us.

Bartimaeus begins his journey to healing by yelling at Jesus, demanding his attention, and claiming a relationship. He's a lot like an aggressive panhandler - "I need two bucks for a hamburger, right now!" The people around him try to shut him up, but he's too insistent and obnoxious for them to ignore. Jesus hears him and calls him over - Jesus acknowledges the relationship and asks Bartimaeus what he wants him to do. The response is, "let me see again." He's healed and Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way. That's gospel-speak for joining Jesus on the road that leads home to God.

This is almost the only time in the gospels when a healed person joins Jesus as disciple. Usually, the people Jesus heals just go on their merry way - except the leper who comes back for a minute to say thank you. The only other person who sticks around after being healed is Mary of Magdala - and, like the other disciples around Jesus, we know her name. She becomes the first witness to the resurrection, the apostle who goes to tell the others. We're told Bartimaeus' name because he's a disciple, he's a follower of Jesus on the way.

This is the very last person Jesus heals in Mark's gospel. Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem and the last few days of his life. The way or the road that Bartimaeus joins is the same road that leads to Calvary and the cross - and eventually also to resurrection. It's a road that can't tolerate anonymous strangers.

Becoming a disciple has an essential connection with being named. Being known by name, whether John or Jane, Mitsuko or Michael, means being recognized as beloved child of God, and friend. Being called by name is essential to getting on the road. We don't travel with strangers.

We don't travel that road with strangers because we're going to need every friend we can find.

My husband climbed Denali 20 years ago. He spent months working together with three other guys planning and getting their equipment ready, training themselves, and building a team. They knew each other pretty well by the time they set off for Alaska. They spent almost a month on that mountain, and the friendship began to fray. They didn't know each other as well as they thought they did, and when individual fears and foibles began to surface, the team began to disintegrate. They all got off the mountain safely, but not together, and they didn't all even try to go to the top. For all four of them, their safety and their lives depended on the friends they kept and the new ones they made on that mountain.

Jesus' road is tougher than Denali, it's more treacherous, and more joyous. We need to know our companions.

Hiking Jesus' road means we really have to want to see - to see the world in all its wretchedness, and in all its glory. Like Bartimaeus, we have to be willing to shout out for those who need healing, and sometimes it will be us. We have to let go of the old comfortable security blankets - like Bartimaeus and his cloak - that we've depended on in our blindness. We have to know our own names, and the names of our companions on the journey. All those names start with beloved, and pleasing to God, and friend. There are no anonymous folks on this road.

I went running in the dark this morning, along Brush Creek down by the Plaza. There were people sleeping under almost every single overpass - dark bundles turned away from the path, yet still in view in the scattered streetlights, seeking some fragment of safety. Your rector tells me that when they're asked Jesus' question, "what do you want me to do for you?" the frequent answer is "pray with me." I think that's the same answer most of here this morning would give: help me see some hope in the midst of my pain, celebrate with me when I rejoice, let me know I'm not alone. Those folks asleep under the bridges have names, too, names that start with beloved and pleasing to God. It's up to us to learn their names and call them friend. We will all find healing in the process. This road is no place for strangers.

[Taken with permission from the website of The Episcopal Church.]