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Related Bible reading(s): Mark 10.46-52

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Up-to-the-minute jumping-off points for sermons, linking the reading to the latest news and global issues

 

Meeting in person

Bartimaeus longs to meet Jesus in person (Mark 10.46-52).

Context

  • Conservative MP Sir David Amess died after being stabbed at his constituency surgery in Essex.
  • The government is pressurising GPs to see more patients face-to-face.
  • The British Ritual Innovation under COVID-19 (BRIC) report, examining ritual observance during lockdown across a variety of religious communities, concludes that ‘human connection seems more important to congregants than technical quality or spectacle’.

 

Ideas for sermons or interactive talks

  • Bartimaeus ‘began to shout out’ – he may have been blind, but there was nothing wrong with his voice! Reports about Jesus’ activities were not enough; he wanted to meet Jesus for himself. With fewer coronavirus restrictions, we are returning to face-to-face meetings. I enjoy not only hearing speakers in person, but having all those little side-chats, catching up with friends. The tragic death of Sir David Amess, however, has reminded us that there is a vulnerability to in-person meetings. They carry risks, particularly for those in the public eye. As MPs struggle with how to hold face-to-face surgeries safely, may we treasure the access to our democratic representatives. And play our part in creating a culture of respect, in which disagreements are aired without threatening language.
  • ‘Jesus stood still’. There is a quality of attentiveness here – Jesus picked out the voice in the crowd; he stopped to listen. And he did not assume that he knew what was best for Bartimaeus, but asked, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’. He granted Bartimaeus the dignity of articulating his own needs. John Hull suggests, ‘Nowadays, the blind person would have said, ‘Get me some computer training and a job with a firm which has a decent equal opportunities policy’’ (In the Beginning There Was Darkness, SCM, 2001, p. 44). With fewer restrictions, we have decisions to make ­– Do we continue online, or revert to face-to-face? Do we still wear masks or not? – decisions which require being attentive to the needs of others. Who is excluded from online/face-to-face events? Whose anxiety increases if I don’t wear a mask? The government is keen for GPs to return to face-to-face consultations. There are indeed many medical situations when a phone or video call is inadequate. But sometimes online works best: for a quick query, to avoid debilitating travel, for those unable to get time off work … And, in the face of escalating demand, doctors are not being listened to. As one doctor writes, ‘The clapping on doorsteps made me uncomfortable. Because we are not heroes, nor are we villains. We are ordinary people who come into work each day wanting to do the best that we can ... And most of us can’t work … 14-hour days anymore.’ As we enjoy the possibility of in-person meetings again, let us be attentive to each other, and refrain from making unsustainable demands.
  • Jesus said to Bartimaeus, ‘Go; your faith has made you well’. ‘Faith’ here could be understood as participation. From calling out, to expressing his own desires, Bartimaeus has participated in his healing. People with disabilities don’t want pity, reducing them to the status of beggars. They want to speak for themselves, participate fully in society, and be recognised for their gifts. The BRIC-19 report concludes that although online ritual practice had some benefits, especially for people with disabilities, it caused much dissatisfaction, with feelings of involvement decreasing. Human connection was lost. Worshippers preferred interactive forms of online worship to the passive viewing of streamed videos. And smaller congregations maintained the sense of togetherness and mutual support better than larger ones. May we nurture feelings of belonging in our own worshipping communities, remembering that faith is a participatory activity.

 

Questions for discussion

  • What was your experience of worship during lockdown?
  • What have you enjoyed about returning to in-person meetings?
  • Who is getting left out in the ‘new normal’?

Ann Conway-Jones is an Honorary Research Fellow and Associate Tutor at The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education.

  

Check-in

Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people 

Three weeks ago, a fault in the fire safety systems of a production company took many TV channels off the air.  The system also destroyed hard disks in a broadcast facility, leaving Channel 4 unable to offer subtitles on its programmes for several weeks.

Mark Atkinson, chief executive at hearing loss charity RNID, said: ‘For more than three weeks, the 12 million people in the UK who are deaf or have hearing loss have felt excluded and increasingly angry, because the system to provide subtitles and signed content is broken.  It's impossible to imagine a failure that affected the hearing community being allowed to go on for so long. Contrast this experience with recent episodes of Strictly Come Dancing which have seen professionals, presenters and judges learning sign language to include and welcome a deaf contestant.  How does it feel when you are excluded from something because of who you are?

This week’s passage (Mark 10.46-52) is about someone who felt excluded because of one of their senses.  Bartimaeus was blind, but not only that, he was unseen.  Others pass him by on the road.  When he calls out, the crowd calls for him to be silent – to return to being unseen.  No one acknowledges his presence or his humanity.  Who are the people we ignore?  Who is it easier not to engage with?

But Jesus is different.  He stops, he takes an interest, he shows that he cares and it turns out that Bartimaeus can see who Jesus really is – something which the crowds and the disciples have failed to see.  Jesus stopping to notice Bartimaeus is a moment which reveals a glimpse of God.

The Bible opens with a story which says we are all made in the image of God.  When we stop and notice people, when we acknowledge their humanity, we see a glimpse of God.  Try to notice people you would normally ignore this week and engage with them.

Darren Philip is a Youth and Children’s Development Worker with the Church of Scotland, based in Livingston United Parish Church. 

 

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