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Shouts of Hope: The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

October 28th’s guest preacher was Canon Marilyn Malton, director of the Renison Institute of Ministry.

Readings:
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Through the written word, and the spoken word,
may we know your Living Word, Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen.

As you listened to the readings this morning,
did you notice there was a whole lot of shouting going on?

The prophet Jeremiah urges the people of Israel to
“Sing aloud with gladness and raise shouts!

The Psalmist, remembering when God restored the fortunes of Zion,
recalls the peoples’ shouts of joy.

Blind Bartimaeus sits by the side of the road shouting –
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
When people tell him to be quiet, Bartimaeus shouts all the louder!

What’s behind all this shouting?

The people in these stories have witnessed
loss, damage, and destruction –
their own, or that of others, or of creation.
They hope that grief will be replaced with joy,
weeping supplanted with shouts of joy,
that reconciliation will heal injuries,
and restoration reverse damage and destruction.

So they cry out for change
Jesus have mercy.
They shout out encouragement to others;
take heart, get up, sing aloud with gladness.
They shout and laugh with joy that they have seen, with their own eyes,
the restoration of the land.

Let’s look a little more closely at these readings –
beginning with Jeremiah.
Today’s reading is from a section called the book of consolation.
Its a book written for a people in exile.

In the 7th century before Jesus lived on the earth,
the Babylonians invaded the southern kingdom of Judah.

They destroyed Jerusalem and King Solomon’s magnificent temple.

They devasted the land and the people cried out:
Why – why – is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness?

Waves of Israelites were deported to Babylon,
over 1000 kilometres to the north-east.
Babylon – where the exiles sat down and wept by the rivers.

Jeremiah declares, to this traumatized community of exiles,
that God is resolved to give them a new future.

He offers bold words of encouragement.
The people deported to the north, says Jeremiah,
including the community’s most vulnerable members,
will come home.

Their negated land claims will be reinstated;
once again there will be fields of grain and flourishing vineyards.

The destroyed temple will be replaced with a new covenant
written on peoples’ hearts.

The hope of homecoming, healing, and restoration,
was something to shout from the rooftops!

The community of exiles – at least some of them –
did come home from the north – eventually.

That homecoming is recalled in today’s psalm,
a psalm that urges us to remember –
remember when God brought the exiles home –
remember – the people were like those in a dream
and their tongues were filled with shouts of joy.

However, it is one thing to listen to poetry
written by a prophet or a psalmist
about people shouting;
it is quite another to experience shouting first hand,
isn’t it?

When Bartimaeus began to shout, Jesus have mercy on me,
his shouting disturbed the people around him.
Perhaps they were embarrassed, annoyed, angered, or frightened.
Some tried to silence him; they ordered him to keep his voice down.
But Bartimaeus was beyond being silenced,
the yearning to have his sight restored
as potent as the exiles’ yearning to return home.
So, he shouted even more loudly – Have mercy on me.

It is one thing to listen to poetry about shouting;
It is a different experience to be the person
calling out loudly for change and restoration.

Bartimaeus called out, he shouted, he leapt up and encountered Jesus.
He had a ready answer about the change he desired.
He wanted to see again.

It is one thing to listen to poetry about shouting;
it is a different experience to encourage another person
or speak out on his or her behalf.

In a way, the people who shouted encouragement to Bartimaeus
were a little like Jeremiah offering encouragement to the exiles.
Take heart. Get up. Jesus is calling you.
Through God’s great love for you a new day is coming.

We are told that Bartimaeus had a sudden restoration of sight;
but we know that healing and rebuilding and reconciliation
often take a very long time.

That was true for the exiles who returned home from Babylon.
First there was a four-month journey home;
walking together takes longer
when the most vulnerable members of the community are included.

There was the back-breaking,
monumental, work of reconstructing ruined cities,
and finding places to live among the piles of rubble
that had been Jerusalem’s walls and temple.

There was land to reclaim,
fields and vineyards and olive groves to replant and tend.

There was the labour of renewing worship practices
and the struggle for self-government.

What helped the people keep hope alive
and sustain these efforts year after year?

Working together helped –
by its very nature
the labour of restoration is not an individual effort.

Prophets helped –
at great personal cost they reminded the people
that restoration was about more than rebuilding walls,
and they urged them to bring their behaviours in line
with God’s desire for a new day based on love and justice.

Psalmists and worship leaders helped –
they gathered the people to pray and sing psalms;
just as interfaith worship leaders will gather
the Pittsburgh community later today.
They will gather in the shadow of the shootings
at the Tree of Life, Dor Chadash and New Life congregations.
They, and we, gather to grieve and remember;
remember that God, who delivered us in the past,
is still with us to strengthen and give courage.


What about us?

Where have we have witnessed
loss, damage, and devastation –
our own, that of others, or of creation?

What are situations that cause us to cry out, Jesus have mercy?

What are the circumstances that have us longing for restoration?

This fall I visited an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Three artists, a photographer and two filmmakers,
collaborated to create works of art,
works of art that bear witness to the devastating impact
of human activity on the planet.
I wept.

Not long after my visit to the art gallery,
the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
released its report telling us of the urgent need for changed behaviours.
My grief deepened and my hope began to waver
that restoration of the planet is possible.

Then, through God’s grace,
I read a reflection about “getting past ecological grief’ and how,
as Christians, we need to “speak a word of hope
and offer steady consolation.”1

That sounded a lot like Jeremiah’s ministry and
the people in the crowd who called out to Bartimaeus:
Take heart. Get up. Jesus is calling you.

Like the exiles,
I needed to hear again of God’s desire to give us hope and a future,
and then offer to others words of hope and steady consolation.

Like the exiles who then returned home,
I need to pray and sing psalms – in the company of others –
to remember what God has done in the past
and to find courage and strength to keep going.

Like Bartimaeus, with God’s help,
I needed to take heart, get up,
and – in the company of others – continue to speak out.

Your story and your invitation from God will be different from mine.

What situations are causing you to cry out, Jesus have mercy?

What circumstances have you longing for change and restoration?
For yourself, for others, for the planet?

What, or who, sustains you and helps you keep hope alive?

And who needs you to “speak a word of hope and offer steady consolation”?

God desires to give us hope and a future.
So take heart. Get up. Jesus is calling you.
Pray. Sing psalms. Give voice to your longings.
Encourage one another. And work together for God’s new day.

© 2018 Canon Marilyn Malton

1 Henriette Thompson, Spirited Reflection: Getting past ecological grief.
October 12, 2018

Spirited Reflection: Getting past ecological grief