Job 42:1-6; Mark 10:46-52
Everyone has a story. The last Sunday of the month of October is historically known as Reformation Sunday in the life of Protestant denominations. A little background story about how that came to be in the story about Martin Luther. In the year 1517 (501 years ago) on the eve of All Saints’ Day or Halloween night, 34 year old Martin Luther walked up the steps to the Castle Church in the university town of Wittenberg, and tacked a piece of paper on the church doors. Why church doors? Because that was a common exercise as the doors acted like a community bulletin board.
As an Augustinian monk and a professor of scripture at the university, Luther’s main desire was to open the door for conversation, not controversy. On this piece of paper were 95 propositions Luther posted for debate, and are commonly called the 95 theses against indulgences, which was a common practice of the time. In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, an indulgence was “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins” which may reduce either or both of the penance required after a sin has been forgiven, or after death, the time to be spent in Purgatory.
Luther was eventually charged with heresy. He defended his position in a sermon on “Indulgence and Grace.” Subsequently, he was brought before the general chapter of the Order of Augustinians in Heidelberg and there put forth a more elaborate defense of his position. But ultimately, Luther had no desire to quarrel with the Papacy. He had only hoped that the Pope would come to view the abuses of indulgences as he did. Well, unfortunately, the Pope did not and the powerful structure of indulgences continued for many more centuries. Yet with the desire for reformation came a schism with the Roman Catholic Church and this schism witnessed tumultuous and violent times, even burnings at the stake for heretics. This very real event happened to a friend of his and may have been the reason Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” which we will be singing.
Luther did not think he would marry because he expected the death of a heretic to befall him. Yet, Luther’s story does includes the fact that he married Katharina von Bora, one of 12 nuns he had helped escape from a Cistercian convent by arranging for them to be smuggled out in fish barrels – herring barrels. Herring barrels? That’s quite clever and humorous. Katharina was 26 while Luther was 41 years old when they married, and this marriage set the seal of approval on clerical marriages. They had six children and Luther’s “Katie” as he called her, helped the couple earn a living by farming the land and taking in boarders. Luther died in 1546 at the age of 63.
Luther’s story mirrors Jesus’ story in a way as both did not intend to split the religion of their upbringing, but wanted to reform it by removing the corruption within it. To do so each had to confront the religious power structure of the day and new things were birthed from the old.
Luther was only one of many protesters of the faith including some earlier attempts to reform the Roman Catholic Church by Hus, Waldo and Wycliffe. And during Luther’s time there were other reform impulses that arose independently of Luther’s attempts. The spread of Gutenberg’s printing press also quickly helped spread the message. It was quite a time and whether he intended to or not, Luther was in the middle of things and it must have been interesting to watch him in action. This story reminds us that there has always been controversy in the life of the church and men and women of faith who push the boundaries of the norm and of those in power. Through Luther’s story perhaps we can take heart today.
Everyone has a story. Job has a story, too. In this story we find that Job is a blameless person who is deprived of wealth, posterity, and health, and in spite of all his troubles keeps faith in God. His story is not an attempt to explain the mystery of suffering, but aims at probing the depths of faith in spite of suffering. Through all his trials and tribulations, Job comes to understand that God cares for this lonely man so deeply that Job is offered the fullness of God’s communion. This is reflected when Job says: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear[by others]. But now my eye sees you [for myself].” (42:5) God has become very real to Job. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, RSV) Job has a story and through his perhaps we, too, can take heart.
Everyone has a story. Blind Bartimaeus, the character in today’s New Testament reading was a beggar, sitting by the roadside. In first century Palestine blindness meant he would be subjected to abject poverty and reduced to begging for a living. This meant living at the mercy and generosity of others. Blindness in those days did not have the hope for a cure as we do today. Sitting there Bartimaeus learns that it is Jesus of Nazareth who is walking by and shouts out to him for mercy. And immediately he is sternly ordered to be quiet by the crowd. But then Bartimaeus starts shouting even louder. You know how that goes – both sides escalating. But, Jesus stood still and called for him and as he did so the crowd called to Bartimaeus to “take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Jesus asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” And Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” And we are told in this story that Bartimaeus immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way.
Yet in the telling of this short story in only seven verses, theologian, Leonard Sweet notes that we “see the crux of the Christian gospel in a swiftly drawn portrait of Christian love.” This story reveals that as Jesus encounters Bartimaeus in this moment, he portrays for us the ways in which we as Christians are called to love other people. And Jesus clearly demonstrated that love: the kind of love needed in our homes, in our intimate relationships, in our friendships, with our workers, our neighbors, with acquaintances, and even with strangers. (sermons.com) Bartimaeus has a story and through his story perhaps we, too, can take heart.
Everyone has a story. Do you remember that in 1987 the NAMES Project Foundation was established and the AIDS Memorial Quilt had begun with the creation of a single 3×6 foot panel? I remember how that quilt had grown through that early period and got to see portions of it in different venues. I remember seeing spectacular ones like the panel for Liberace and much more modest ones with names I do not recall. But each person named on each panel has a story.
As of June 2016 the AIDS Quilt was composed of more than 49,000 individual 3×6 foot panels, and reflected 94,000names of individuals who died of this autoimmune disease. These panels come from every state in the nation and every corner of the globe. They have been sewn by hundreds of thousands of people who know the stories behind each panel. This Quilt is called the largest piece of ongoing community art in the world. That’s incredible. And each person named reflects the story of a life.
Unfortunately and sadly, The Quilt continues to grow. Although we do not hear about this disease on a daily basis people continue to become HIV+ infected and suffer with the AIDS virus. Over the past 35 years this disease has taken 35 million lives worldwide. Fortunately, medical treatment continues to improve with better research, medicines and protocols.
In 2015 The AIDS Memorial Quilt was the focus of a 3-month program at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Sedona and the purpose was to make a quilt block for anyone who had not yet been named on The Quilt. This was an opportunity I undertook because there is one person who is a part of my life’s story who died of AIDS and because of this project, now has a panel.
Ray was my first love, my high school sweetheart, my first husband and the father of our son, Marc. Forgiveness given and received before his death, Ray died on October 12 in 2003. Hard to believe it’s been 15 years this month. Ray had not been named in an AIDS Quilt panel and I am thankful to have had an opportunity to honor him in this way.
Ray’s coming out was not an easy thing to handle yet his story is woven into the fabric of my life and Marc’s life. Marc was 15 years old when he found out his father was HIV infected and 35 when his Dad died. With new treatments protocols for AIDS at the end of the 1980’s and early 1990’s Ray lived many years longer than most of his friends. Through this story perhaps we, too, can perhaps take heart.
Everyone has a story. This week we heard of a number of area churches vandalized in different ways. The window breaking stone throwers have a story. The graffiti vandals have a story. We may not learn their stories but we can add to the story of a compassionate community by going to a vigil this Tuesday evening from 6-7 at the UU Church to show how love and care can erase wrong and hatred.
Everyone has a story. You do too. Before “The End” is added to your story are there a few more chapters that need to be completed or added? Some questions for us to think about. In our stories who are we still waiting for to forgive us? Are there any who will never give it? In our stories who is still waiting for us to forgive them? Are there any you are not willing to forgive? In our stories who is the Luther who pushes us to new understandings and actions that are outside of our comfort zones? In our stories, who is the blind person who helps us see? In our stories how has the reality and faithfulness of God been made known to us?
Everyone has a story. Sometimes these stories open our eyes and hearts and we see the world in new and different ways. Sometimes these stories give us courage to enable us to step up and walk the talk. Sometimes these stories give us hope in the midst of feeling hopeless and discouraged and lost. Sometimes these stories help us realize we are not alone in what we are going through or facing. Most times, Jesus calls us, each of us, and through the story of his love for the world, we too, can take heart. Amen. Copyright: DMC 2018