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Worship and Sermons
October 28, 2018

“True Discipleship” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, October 28, 2018, Year B / 23rd Sunday after Pentecost / Reformation Sunday – Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Psalm 126  •  Romans 1:1, 7-12, 16-17  •  Mark 10:46-52

THEME:  Respond to Jesus’ call to discipleship as Bartimaeus and our Presbyterian ancestors did:  by following him and serving him with our whole lives.

What does it mean to you to be Presbyterian? 

To ask this another way, what is the difference between a disciple of Jesus Christ in the Presbyterian tradition versus those in, say, the Lutheran or Methodist or Catholic traditions?

That is a question that I sometimes get when I lead one of our new member seminars.  Most often it comes from folks who’ve grown up in different religious traditions.  No matter how you grew up, we’re all Presbyterians now.  So this question has real relevance for us – especially on this Reformation Sunday when we celebrate our theological heritage.

First, to call ourselves Presbyterian is to claim our unique style of church government.  We are ruled by Elders, called Presbyters in the Greek New Testament.  Together, Elders form the Session which is the governing body of this church, and every other Presbyterian church. 

But that is not all that makes us unique.  We have our own distinct heritage.  Yes, like other Protestant denominations, our roots are in the 16th Century Reformation.  But Presbyterians followed our own unique path to become who we are today.

And that history of our ancestors’ faithfulness is passed down to us the same way your family probably passes down the stories of past generations to you.  And, just as those stories inspire you and help form your identity, our Presbyterian history inspires us and our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ.  

And one of their most important inspirations for our theological forebears was the story of Blind Bartimaeus that we just read.

What an odd story, in an odd place.  This is the turning point in Mark’s gospel.  It’s the end of the Galilean ministry.  Later this very same day, Jesus and his disciples will make the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, riding on a colt.  His followers will wave palm branches and shout joyfully about “the coming Kingdom” of their ancestor David.

Ever since leaving Galilee, Jesus has been trying to teach them what true disciples look like.  He’s given them a series of master classes on discipleship, but, so far, they’ve all gotten failing grades. 

Then, just as they're leaving Jericho on the final day's walk up the hill to the Passover Festival, they pass Bartimaeus in his usual spot, begging by the road.  

There’s a lot of hubbub.  The crowd around Jesus is a large one.  Bartimaeus asks the passersby “Who is this?”  Someone tells him that it’s Jesus of Nazareth.

Somehow, Bartimaeus has not only heard about Jesus, but he’s come to believe Jesus is much more than just some small-town rabbi from up north.  Immediately, he calls out “Jesus, Son of David!  Have mercy on me!” 

This is the first time anyone in this gospel has called Jesus Son of David.  It’s a term used for the Messiah. 

What Bartimaeus lacks in eyesight he more than makes up for in insight.  And whoever the “many” are who try to stop him from making a scene, it’s clear they’re as blind inwardly as Bartimaeus is outwardly. 

But Bartimaeus won’t be hushed.  Again, he cries out.  This time Jesus hears and Jesus calls for him.  And Bartimaeus responds.  

Here’s Bartimaeus, sitting cross-legged on the ground.  His ragged cloak, probably the only thing he owns, drawn across his lap.  That’s how he collects the coins and bits of bread people occasionally throw at him. 

Then he hears that Jesus is calling him.  Without a thought, he jumps up, spills the coins all over the ground, throws off his cloak and feels his way over to Jesus. 

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.  Now we’ve heard that question before, haven’t we?  Isn’t that the same question Jesus asked those two Zebedee boys, James and John, last week?

Do you remember what they wanted?  They wanted positions of honor in what they assumed would be Jesus’ glorious earthly kingdom.  It was proof of just how little they had learned, and how enslaved they were to ego and worldly ambition. 

But not Bartimaeus.  He doesn’t want greatness – he just wants his eyesight back.  He used to be able to see.  His humility comes from remembering how his life was wrecked when he lost his sight.  He knows he needs Jesus not for earthly glory and status, but simply because Jesus can make him whole again. 

That’s why, when Jesus calls him, he responds by dropping everything - cloak, coins and all - and following Jesus. 

At last, here is a true disciple!   Someone who understands what Jesus meant when he told his followers to “deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me.”

And that’s what Bartimaeus does.  When Jesus heals him, he follows Jesus on the way.  And you and I know where that way leads.  To Jerusalem, and Jesus’ passion.  Compared to Jesus’ other disciples, Bartimaeus stands out.  He’s at the head of the class.

That’s why Bartimaeus is one of the key inspirations for our own theological forefather, the great reformer, John Calvin.  In his Gospel commentaries Calvin wrote, “Faith does not consist merely in a person giving subscription to true doctrine, but also includes something greater and deeper: the hearer is to deny himself and commit his whole life to God.”

Calvin certainly knew what he was talking about.  He himself did exactly that.  It is entirely appropriate on this Reformation Sunday to remember his faithful discipleship.  He made it possible for us to worship and believe as we do.

        Calvin picked up where Martin Luther left off and he became his generation’s most prominent Reformation leader. 

he recognized the truth of Martin Luther’s insistence on the need for the Roman Catholic Church to reform.   Although he knew he was risking his life, he knew he had to speak out. 

So, when a good friend and fellow reformer was elected rector of the University of Paris, Calvin volunteered to help him write his inaugural address.   

It was a bombshell.  It highlighted the discrepancies between Jesus’ Beatitudes and the theology and practices of the Church.  It ended by calling for reform of the Church based on the still controversial ideas of Martin Luther.  His friend may have delivered the speech, but it was clear the words were Calvin’s.

The university officials and church authorities were so offended that both Calvin and his friend were forced to flee Paris.  Bear in mind that heretics were commonly burned at the stake.  As the story goes, Calvin escaped the city of Paris disguised as a vine-dresser with a hoe over his shoulder, after having been let down from a window by bed sheets.

Calvin went into hiding.  For a year, he moved around from place to place, staying with friends and always looking over his shoulder.  Eventually, he was forced to leave France altogether.  He found refuge in Geneva.  It was there that he first encountered our Scottish Presbyterian ancestor, John Knox.

As a young Catholic priest, John Knox had become convinced the ideas of the reformers were correct.  But, that was a risky position to take at a time when control of Scotland whip-sawed back and forth between  Catholic France and Protestant England. 

When French forces attacked the garrison where Knox was the chaplain, Knox had a choice to make.  Would he remain loyal to the reformers?  Like Calvin before him, John Knox was a faithful disciple even in the face of death.  He refused to recant his beliefs and was taken prisoner.  For 19 long months he was chained to a bench and forced to row all day long.

Even when he finally managed to escape and return to England, he found his life endangered when a Catholic queen ascended the throne.  With Protestant leaders and preachers being martyred Knox was forced to flee for his life.  He went to Geneva to study under Calvin.

A decade later, Knox returned to lead the Scottish Reformation.  He and five other ministers – all named John BTW – created what we know as the Scots Confession, the charter document of the Church of Scotland and one of the confessions we Presbyterians honor. 

Martin Luther.  John Calvin.  John Knox.  All three risked their lives as Jesus’ disciples in search of his true church.  A church that proclaims in Word and Sacrament that God is sovereign over all of life.  Where God offers salvation only by his grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. And where scripture is the one, true benchmark of our faith, worship and mission.

They were true disciples of Jesus Christ.  Like Blind Bartimaeus, they, and many others like them, responded to Jesus’ call by readily and joyfully giving their whole lives over to God’s service.  Their disciple inspires our own. 

Friends, that is the commitment that you and I reaffirm on this Commitment Sunday.  In just a few moments, we will all come forward with our 2019 pledges of financial support for God’s work through this Presbyterian congregation.

As we do, I ask us to do something more.  Let’s rededicate ourselves to God’s service – not only with our treasure, but our time and talent, too. 

That is what a true disciple does. 



Last Published: October 29, 2018 11:25 AM
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