Following an Itinerant Savior
@Copyrighted by Rev. Richard Walker Sermon: Following an Itinerant Savior – Sunday October 25
Follow along with the video:
Throughout the world, the problem of homelessness continues to grow. Around the globe, millions are displaced from their homes by wars, genocides, natural disasters and poverty. Even in our nation, there are many routes to homelessness – sometimes a person with mental illness or a chemical dependency problem is unable to live in community with loved ones and ends up on the streets. Studies have found many more mentally ill people among the homeless since government safety nets were destroyed in the 80’s; tragically, many are veterans who suffer illnesses such as post traumatic stress. Moreover, as the recession lingered in many communities and with it high rates of underemployment, more people who were once steadily working folks have begun to appear among the ranks of the homeless.
It happened to Sheri West. Sheri was one of thousands of Americans caught in the foreclosure crisis. During the 90’s, Sheri bought a home near a park in Bedford, an inner suburb of Cleveland. Although she had a full-time job, Sheri opened a group home for homeless men to bring in extra income. She rented five of the bedrooms in her east side home and spent hours cooking the men meals and doing their laundry.
Shari was married. But her husband divorced her and she lost her job in the recession. Sheri’s home went into foreclosure. She said, “It’s like I was looking at somebody else’s life, not mine. I said this can’t be happening.” Severe depression and listlessness followed.
After spending countless night sleeping in her car, Sheri finally swallowed her pride and admitted her situation to friends and family. For months, she was a vagabond and moved among their houses, never wanting to outlast her welcome.
Ultimately, she turned to the ministry of the West Side Catholic Center for help. They provided shelter even while she worked at temporary, low wage jobs that didn’t cover the cost of housing. With their help and some financial counseling, she regained her footing. Shari now does in-home senior care and volunteers as a homelessness advocate.
In the wake of recent Tsunami’s of homelessness caused by ongoing civil wars and natural disasters, homelessness has huge global dimensions. Half of Syria alone has been displaced. The crisis of homelessness continues to grow daily and with winter, fast approaching could lead to many deaths.
A People Displaced
As we can deduce from Sheri’s story, even responsible, hard-working, Christian people who have themselves helped the homeless can experience the situation. If we look throughout the bible, we find the people of God were often a people journeying without a home.
We just heard it a few minutes ago in the text from Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived about five centuries before Christ. He had warned the people of God, of the coming judgment, and that by refusing to focus their hearts on God that they would soon be, a people without a place. When it happened, some neighboring people called them “no people at all.” Stripped of their homeland, they lost a key part of their identity. The final blow came when Jerusalem, their capitol, the city on a hill was destroyed, fortress walls torn down and the temple dismantled. The people of God, many of whom had wandered away from God, became fugitives, refugees, a people displaced all over the known world.
But the scriptures tell us that God was gracious even in the aftermath of their dispersal. In Jeremiah 31:2, the prophet speaks saying
2 Thus says the LORD:
The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
3 the LORD appeared to them from far away.
When they arrived in Babylon where their new ruler lived, God was already there. And God blessed the faithful. Through the prophets, God taught them new ways to worship that focused more on giving their hearts to God than rituals. God blessed their faithfulness to the teachings of Torah, and they were fruitful and multiplied. Some even became prominent in society, respected leaders in their King’s courts. Nehemiah and Daniel are examples.
God convinced the exiles of the truth of His words previously spoken through the prophet Jeremiah.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
But even though they prospered, they still longed for their land. They longed for their own place – the land of Canaan, the land of milk and honey that God had promised to their ancestors. Despite material success, they still were a people, displaced.
Calling a Remnant Home
Jeremiah, who had once prophesied their displacement, also announced that the Lord would call them home. He said,
7 … thus says the LORD:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
”Save, O LORD, your people,
the remnant of Israel.”
The remnant is the portion that remained of Israel, a shrunken but purified portion of the original nation. Other prophets, such as Isaiah and Haggai, also talked about a righteous remnant that God would save. (God is our Savior and the gift of salvation has physical, material and spiritual dimensions in the scriptures.) Those God would deliver would be a faithful people, a people committed to God, a people who loved the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. The Lord God declared…
8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
The LORD God would deliver disabled and able, young and old, pregnant and parents, rich and poor. Though they had been spread far apart, God was calling a great company to be a great congregation in Zion. God had looked on the remnant’s hearts and found them faithful: Faithful to His commandments to be a just and charitable community; to care for the poor, the orphans, the widows; to undergird the weak and the helpless. Yes, Jeremiah prophesied the Lord would call them home. Yes, people considered valueless by the world God saw as beautiful and of great value.
We see this happening even in our city. This past week the Enquirer sponsored storytelling by Downtown Dreamers – people who had pursued dreams that are helping to revitalize Downtown. One described a spiritual awakening that inspired him to return to Cincinnati from successful career in Boston to start up a local brewery in the depressed Over the Rhine area in a venture that has become a nationwide success.
Another, Nyah Higgins the founder of the Jamerisol Jamaican inspired food and beverage company also spoke. Higgins put it this way. Her story started with an eviction notice. Next came nights on a cot at the Drop-In center on 12th street. Higgins said, “I’m somebody that someone would have just thrown away.” But not in her downtown, her home. Said Higgins I have a community here that cares about the people that live here. She asked. You know how I know. They showed me. The result? I started to take and make faith not just something you say but something you do. … Faith is an action verb; it’s something that you have to practice.” And practice it she did, by starting a “Vegan Jamaican-American soul food” restaurant that graduated from the Over the Rhine business accelerator in April.
God knows our hearts and our faith. Let’s return to the faithful Jews who were being called to revitalize their devastated city. Those who loved the Lord, who had been purified by the fiery trials and tests, were a righteous remnant. God called them to be at home – no longer “not a people.” Now as they journeyed in response to God’s call, the Lord promised to make them a great company of people.
A Difficult Journey
However. It was to be a long, hard journey. Recall, that God called a people that included – the lame, the blind, the mothers of young children and women who were on the verge of labor to undertake a thousand mile journey on foot. It was like walking from West Chester, OH to Fort Worth, TX. It was a challenging call. God understood this and said through the prophet,
9 With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
God is gracious. And so the Lord promised to sustain and restore them on their backbreaking journey. Therefore, the word of the Lord said,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a Father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.
God promised that just as a loving Father provides and protects His child they would be protected. Just as their forefather Jacob promised covenantal blessings to his descendent Ephraim, so also gracious God, who be their protector and deliver the righteous remnant to their ancestral home in Jerusalem.
Throughout history, God has called the people of God to risk all, to follow His lead on paths to salvation and prosperity. God called His people out of Egypt to the Promised Land. God called His people out of Babylon and the corners of the known world to return to their own nation of Israel. And centuries later God’s Son would call a band of disciples to take up their cross and follow Him to Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem.
Disciples followed Jesus even though He warned them”… foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Through their efforts, their faithful sacrifice, the world was forever changed.
Jesus Saves a Blind Beggar
In the New Testament text, Jesus and his itinerant band of disciples followed by a large crowd had reached Jericho. Jericho is in an agricultural plain, on a major road that leads to Jerusalem. It is about 15 miles north of Jerusalem, near the Jordan River. So Jesus, the Messiah, was nearing the cross. Pilgrims passed on this road from all corners of the world as they made required journeys to Jerusalem to pay homage to God with traditional sacrifices for sins. It was also a major agricultural trading center. It was an extremely busy road as Passover drew near.
There, beside this road now filled with people seeking a Messiah, a deliverer, sat
46c Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar,
47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
The text is clear — Jesus stopped to call the man. And those who previously tried to hush him up, knowing the Messiah obviously had more important things on His itinerary, now passed the word on to Bartimaeus, – “He is calling you.”
Just as God called the lame and blind in the Jeremiah text we just looked at, so the Son of God, called this blind beggar to leave His seat on the side of the road and come to Jesus.
50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
He threw off his cloak. Imagine, a man who sat begging by the roadside, in all seasons of the year. The cloak was his heavy outer garment. As he sat on the ground, it made a cover for Bartimaeus lap. The cloak was both protection from the elements, and the catch basin for the coins people gave to him as he begged the passersby to give him that which he needed to sustain his existence. Literally, it was his security blanket – the means of his existence. But Bartimaeus, had heard that Jesus, had called him, and he knew he no longer needed a means to beg. So throwing off his cloak, he eagerly sprang up, leaving behind His beggar’s existence and came close to Jesus.
51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
This is not unusual – throughout the gospels if people didn’t make their needs known, Jesus would ask them to state their need. Similarly, success coaches tell people to state a goal. Get clear on the future you want to live. We need to see our desired change before we will recognize and embrace the blessing. If I am in a pit of poverty, my goal is to have the financial resources to retire my debt and live the abundant life God ordains. If I am in a bed of sickness, my goal is to be healthy to get up with my strength and energy restored. Jesus says this to us also, “What do you want me to do for you?” Returning to blind Bartimaeus…we see
The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”
52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
The Son of God, Jesus, graciously and immediately granted his requested and more. The Greek for made well is soza. It is also translated as saved. So the Lord saved Bartimaeus. Jesus called the blind man from the pit of poverty into a renewed life, a life of wholeness. Jesus gave him the gift of sight because he persistently, boldly in the face of resistance, placed his faith in the grace and power of the Son of the Living God. And the one, who had been sent by the Father to set the captives free, freed him from a life of dependency. Filled with gratitude he followed, Jesus the itinerant Savior onto the road of discipleship – journeying with Jesus to the cross.
When you follow Jesus, you don’t know where it will take you and how God will sustain you as you deny self and seek to obey God’s will.
I encountered Bennett in a Riverside restaurant. He shared his story about how God led him out of a life of dependency to find a new life. Bennett had returned to academia in his mid-life and gotten a Ph. D. in business at Wright State. A few months after he completed the program, he was still without a job and suddenly also found himself without a place to live. An older friend took him in for a few months there in the Dayton area.
But after some prayer, he became convinced there were jobs in Utah and realizing that his marketability was shrinking each day that passed after the completion of his Ph. D, he left for Salt Lake City. He arrived there penniless and with no contacts. Through God’s providence, Benet found a homeless shelter sponsored by a church. That gave him a base from which to work. He said it was somewhat insulting. He was a grown man and they insisted everyone be in bed, with the lights out by 8:30PM. In the morning, they were up at 5:30 AM for breakfast and mandatory worship. After spending time with God, they had to leave before 8 AM and spend their days looking for work. One job at a community college was lost when the people recognized his address as a homeless shelter. But convinced that God had led him to Utah, Bennett persisted. It paid off, he was hired by a major university in the area and when I encountered him, he had actually become their department head. He gave God the glory – convinced that God never abandoned him and brought him to a time of prosperity. Now Bennet joyfully shares his testimony about how God guided him to a new life of contribution.
Like Bartimaeus and Bennet – our journey to the cross following Jesus is the essence of discipleship. It is the way, that a people who were no people at all become a great gathering for God. When we turn to Jesus, acknowledging our need, he will stop, hear our need and answer our cry in a way that brings glory to God. For indeed, we are saved by a gracious Father and His Son who promise to deliver those who come to them in faith.
A common theme throughout the illustrations shared today is that servants of God were in the midst of the homeless, helping to stabilize and secure their situations as they were resettled and launched into a new life. This week WCPO ran a story that said thousands of families in Greater Cincinnati face homelessness right now with no place to turn.
Please pray about whether there is something God would have you do in response to the epidemic of homelessness that affects our community, our nation and our world. Then watch as God who helps the helpless, who is bread for the hungry and shelter for the homeless works through our obedient actions to do things beyond what we can think or imagine. Let those of us who follow Christ remember that He said “when you do it for the least of these my brethren, you do it for me.” Let’s do it for Jesus who gave His all for us. Amen