Sermons That Work

Recipe for Success, Proper 25 (B) – 2009

October 25, 2009

Recipe for success: one part awareness, one part knowledge, one part motivation, one part action. Slowly add one ingredient at a time, gradually and with care. Then begin again. Note: you may be inspired to start over at any point in the process.

One might place knowledge before awareness, but without awareness how does knowledge develop? Once we are aware and know, it takes motivation to produce action.

This recipe for success is present in the lessons we’ve read today with one specific difference; where the accountability lies.

Our reading from Hebrews describes a sort of “designated hitter” concept and might be heard as supporting a hint of clericalism. Priests abound, and their work keeps them going. Their main purpose is to intercede for others. In this context, the recipe for success might be difficult because the action ingredient belongs to someone else. For some, this might be just fine. In fact, for some, not having the final action or burden for action enables a lack of accountability for individual relationship and success.

The gospel, on the other hand, provides us with an account of the recipe for success from the perspective of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was aware of the ministry of healing that Jesus had become well-known for at this point in the story. Bartimaeus asked to be healed, to be able to see again. And Jesus healed him.

These two stories lead us to interpret the recipe for success in two very different ways: one, giving over the final ingredient to someone else; and the other, total responsibility for our own outcomes.

Certainly each of these readings describes Christian life as the end product in a “Recipe for Success.” In our experience of our faith and tradition there have been times when we have relied on someone else to intercede for us. An example might include a reliance on a priest to connect us with God in worship although our Book of Common Prayer would actually suggest that we are all equal in this process. Total engagement with the mission and ministry of the church is what we are all called to be.

Our Anglican tradition actually encourages a balance between scripture, reason, and tradition suggesting an individual and corporate collaborative awareness and knowledge, not a reliance on intercessors or interpreters. Certainly we must be aware of the scholarly perspectives throughout history that guide us in understanding scripture. Throughout history we have become aware of just how important the scholarly perspectives are that impact our tradition and expression of our faith. There seems to be some difficulty when we begin to apply reason to the mix, as we have seen in recent debates.

But back to our recipe for success – the one thing that is certain is that awareness and knowledge, the first two ingredients, are essential to the end product.

Once we put the two readings together, our recipe for success might lead us to understand that it takes both individual and corporate restoration to wholeness for “real” success.

Using the metaphor of sight in the gospel story we can understand that physical sight is not required to produce faith. In fact, Bartimaeus is blind but his faith is strong. He does not seem to condition his faith on whether or not he can be healed or whether or not Jesus will stop and heal him. But he asks Jesus for healing or physical sight so he can be fully restored to wholeness.

Throughout history, God has worked miracles through political forces, social action, and ordinary events, meeting people where they are and restoring them to wholeness. Whether or not we fall and call out from the gutter like Bartimaeus or turn ourselves around with a heightened sense of awareness and knowledge motivating us to act justly and walk humbly with our God, the product is faithful living.

Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Of course Jesus had already heard Bartimaeus calling out to him and asking for healing, for sight. Why would he have to ask again what he was asking? Is it possible that the question served to emphasize the faithfulness, the confidence that Bartimaeus felt? Was Jesus asking again so that his disciples would reconsider their own faith, possibly suggesting that some self-reflection was in order?

It may be that Jesus also wanted to point out that the disciples, his followers, need not act as his agents, screening out whatever they felt Jesus should not attend to. Brian McLaren’s book Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide makes a strong case for considering the obvious here. “The kingdom of God is not simply a new belief or doctrine that can be patched into an old way of life; it is, rather, a new way of life that changes everything.”

Mary Anderson writes in her Christian Century article:

“Some changes are no doubt fast and immediate, but the changes that endure unto the generations are the result of a process of human or divine origin.”

Arriving at the place of restored wholeness can only happen through the process of self-reflection and self-knowledge. We cannot diminish the process and in fact it is the journey toward wholeness that is often the grace that binds us to God and each other, sustaining our faith and transforming us as God’s own. This level of transformation can only be known if we are honest and open – seeing clearly what is before us and giving way to those things that are best put into the past.

Reflection and restoration complement each other serving as process, as guideposts, which result in our personal journey toward life in Christ and the faithfulness like that of Bartimaeus. We are held accountable in our corporate lives as believers, being for one another the reminder, the emphasis the looking glass, to see those things that we may not be able to see or acknowledge. No matter how much we trust each other, though, this is a difficult scenario – one that we see being played out in the life of the church today.

We can be tempted to see the loss, the risk associated with this corporate interdependence and faithfulness. We have to be willing to let go of our rigidness, the hardened heart and embrace a new vision of ourselves and each other. We are always moving from blindness to sightedness, from unfaithfulness to faithfulness. And our faithfulness is what leads us into action or mission, a major focus for our church.

As we move forward we must recognize our blind spots and look creatively at our corporate life, seeing it with new eyes. Only then will we be taking the path that transforms the process so that our recipe for success produces a new product.

There is no question that a new product is necessary. We recognize already at some level that the mission of the church is a corporate activity. But once again, we individually have to undergone the reformation process, the transformation into wholeness before we can corporately share that same process.

As with the readings today, we cannot rely on others to intercede for us and seek God’s blessing on our behalf. Waiting for this to happen, risks our own relationship with God. It is very obvious as we view the world around us that inaction on our part or reliance on someone else to be the instruments of God in our world, produces what I would venture to say is a less than perfect world. The time has come for us to change our awareness and anticipate just what kind of world we are leaving for our grandchildren.

We disciples of Jesus have vision problems. We sometimes describe our blindness as an inability to see the forest for the trees, but that’s a benign analysis. More worrisome is the inherited blindness of each generation, which so often assumes it is the best generation of all, with no lessons left to learn, only an inheritance to enjoy. This arrogance is the root of our blindness. We still need the miracle of restored sight. This is the time to follow the recipe for success once again – first individually, with the gospel as our guide; and then corporately, creating the new sight, the new vision for the church. We have so many gifts to share, why would we rely on someone else to do what God has called us all to do?

The path has unfolded before us once again. Ask for new sight just as Bartimaeus did, and then use what God has restored in you to transform the world.

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Christopher Sikkema


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