Mark 10: 46 – 52 What Makes Us Protestants? October 31, 2021


What Makes Us Protestants?

Mark 10: 46 – 52

(preached on October 31, 2021)

Every year Reformation Sunday brings us an opportunity to reflect on what makes us Protestants.  Of course I could talk all day about what makes us Protestants, but for now I’m going to focus on just one thing because to me, it’s the most important.  It’s faith, the kind of faith that can work miracles, like bringing sight to the blind.


We celebrate Reformation Sunday every year on the Sunday that’s closest to the anniversary of October 31st, 1517.   On that day an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed a sheet of paper to the door of the Castle Church in the German city of Wittenberg.  On the paper were 95 theses, statements that the church had fallen far short of its mission to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These 95 theses were the spark that ignited the movement that came to be known as the Protestant Reformation.


In the 95 theses, Luther summed up what he had discovered after years of study and spiritual struggle.  For all those years Luther had labored to make the gospel of Jesus, not the teachings of the church, front and center for believers.  Luther didn’t set out to start a new denomination.  He simply wanted to reform the church he dearly loved.


In his work as a university professor, Luther achieved a lot, but he was deeply troubled in spirit.  He prayed fervently and constantly, but he didn’t feel that he was in a right relationship with God.  He was burdened by an overwhelming sense of guilt, an overpowering sense of his own sinfulness.


Luther was in torment a lot of the time.  He felt that, in spite of all his efforts to bring himself into God’s good graces, he continued to fall short of the mark.  He fasted and performed drastic monastic practices to make himself more worthy of God’s favor, but it seemed that nothing would assure him of God’s grace.


Luther found himself drawn to the writings of the apostle Paul, especially Paul’s letter to the Romans.  As he studied and prayed, new insights began to dawn on him.  It was as if scales of misunderstanding fell from his eyes.  He came to the amazing realization that being in a right relationship with God is first and foremost about living in faith.  He realized that living in faith is not about achieving something, but about receiving something: receiving and accepting the reality that God loves each of us more than we can possibly imagine.


The life of faith is not about scoring points with God.  The life of faith is not about striving to be the most perfect person ever.  It’s not about knocking ourselves out to prove we’re good enough for God to love us.  The life of faith is about receiving and believing in the unconditional love of God.  The life of faith is about accepting this love and following the One who makes this love visible.


Luther’s insight: that we are put right with God when we accept God’s love in faith, led to a great change in the Christian church.  But we can see in our gospel passage for today that it wasn’t a new idea.  The beggar Bartimaeus understands very well how important faith is.  Bartimaeus sits in Jericho, beside the road to Jerusalem.  Hearing that Jesus is passing by, he cries out at the top of his lungs, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Over and over again he shouts, “Have mercy on me!”


The people in the crowd don’t like it.  They try to hush him up.  They don’t want to be reminded of his terrible disability.  They don’t want to be reminded that his life is difficult and full of pain.  Day after day he lives from hand to mouth, subsisting on the handouts he gets from travelers passing by on that busy road.  Every day is a struggle because Bartimaeus is blind.


The people in the crowd may be able to see, but they turn a blind eye to the needs of Bartimaeus.  They don’t want him to make such a fuss.  They don’t want this ragged, dirty, noisy, blind beggar spoiling their day. But Bartimaeus refuses to be silenced.


You know, Bartimaeus may be blind, but in a deeper sense he can see better than they can.  He can see that he is badly in need of Jesus’ healing touch.  He knows how much he needs Jesus’ help.  He has faith that Jesus can restore his sight.  Bartimaeus may be blind, but he can see that Jesus can heal him.  Everybody around him tries to keep him quiet, but he cries out even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  He’s not about to let Jesus get away.


With his bold cries for help, Bartimaeus stands out from the crowd.  He stands out from the crowd because he has no problem asking Jesus to heal him. He doesn’t hesitate.  When Jesus calls him, and asks, “What would you like me to do for you?”  he says without hesitation, “Rabbi, let me see again.”


I wonder, can you, or I, see as clearly as Bartimaeus, how much we need the healing touch of Jesus?  My guess is that we’re more like the people in the crowd.  We don’t cry out about our needs and vulnerabilities.  We’d rather be recognized for our achievements.  We don’t want to be known for our weaknesses; we’d rather be known for our strengths.  So we work hard to gain the success that will make us feel that we’re “worth” something.  We strive to win the approval of other people.  We work harder and harder and longer and longer to make our mark in the world.  We work harder and longer to earn the favor of God.  But the work that was supposed to win us points with God only brings us anxiety that we haven’t performed well enough.


Bartimaeus knows he doesn’t have to prove his worthiness to get into God’s good graces.  He knows he can come to Jesus with his deepest needs.  He can come in faith to receive the healing touch of Jesus.  And Jesus tells him, “your faith has made you well.”  It was the beggar’s faith, his willingness to believe, that made it possible for him to see again.


What do you suppose the world looked like to Bartimaeus as he opened his eyes that day?  Maybe the dazzling sunlight made him squint for a while.  Maybe he had to pause after he stood up, to get his bearings.  But it didn’t take him long to get a move on.  He didn’t even turn around to pick up his cloak.  He hurried to catch up, because in Jesus he had found his sight.  In Jesus he had found the One who healed him with a love that wasn’t his to earn but only to receive, in faith, and follow.


This Reformation Sunday can help us remember that we can also come in faith to receive the touch that heals us: the love of God.  It’s not something we can earn.  It’s not something we can gain by somehow proving our worthiness to God.  It’s something we can believe.  We can believe that God wants us to be healed.  We can believe that we are loved that much by God.


My friends, if you only remember one thing that makes us Protestants, remember this:  being in a right relationship with God is a matter of living in faith.  Living in faith isn’t about scoring points with God.  It’s not about going all-out to earn God’s favor, to prove we’re good enough for God to love us.  Living in faith means is receiving the amazing reality that God loves us, each one of us, more than we can possibly imagine.  Living in faith means accepting this wondrous gift of love and jumping up for joy, running to follow the One who is God’s love made visible.












Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

October 31, 2021

Pentecost 23