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Martin Luther’s father, Hans, wanted him to become a lawyer. So like a dutiful son, Martin went to school and eventually to the University at Erfurt to become a lawyer. One night he was travelling on horseback through the forest from home back to school, and a great thunderstorm came through. Of course, in Luther’s day, they did not know what a thunderstorm was made of like we do now. They did not know that lightning was actually electrons that had been scrapped off of atoms by cold and hot air grinding against each other in a thundercloud, then striking down towards earth. They did not know that thunder comes from superheated plasma gas in the middle of a lightning bolt crashing against the cooler air around it. But they knew what a thunderstorm is, probably better than we do. They knew it was the awesome power of God.
Problem was, Martin Luther feared the awesome power of God. Did not find it exciting or exhilarating like we might sometimes in a thunderstorm. Terrified. Torrents of rain everywhere , explosive cracks. A bolt of lightning struck a tree nearby and Martin Luther cried “St. Ann, save me. I will become a monk!”
Well, Martin survived the thunder storm. So now he had to become a monk because he had said he was going to. His father Hans was furious. Waste of a good education.
Martin became a very good monk. He worked very hard to do all the things God wanted him to do. But it was never enough. He thought of God as a righteous judge, angrily condemning him to hell all the time. He did all the things you were supposed to do to make up for your sins: pray, fast, help people who were sick or poor, give money to the church. It was never enough.
Luther would go to his father confessor, Father Staupitz and confess his sins and receive absolution. Hour and a half later, Luther would come back. “I forgot one of my sins.” So he would confess that. Forty five minutes later, “Father Staupitz, I sinned again, I had an unkind thought toward Brother Joe.”
Finally Father Staupitz got so frustrated he said, “Martin, go out and commit a real sin, then come back.”
Luther studied the Bible, eventually became a doctor of biblical theology. He made a pilgrimage to Rome, saw the holy sites. Climbed these stairs on his knees. Came back. Still wasn’t enough. It was never enough.
An angry and righteous and demanding God who requires that you be good enough. Luther hated this God.
Finally Martin Luther found in the book of Romans, this reality that we are justified by grace through faith, apart from the works of the law. Justified, that is, made righteous, good, beautiful, honorable, holy, by grace, that is as a gift, not by anything we earn, through faith, that is in a relationship of trust that God brings about with us, that God continually, continually works in us, apart from all those things that are never enough.
We do good things, not in order to get God to love us, but because God loves us already. We come to church, not to get into heaven, but because God is bringing us into heaven already, and we want to learn about that and see it, and strengthen our faith in it and share it with others.
In other words, the depth of God’s being is love, not rage. The destiny of God for us is hope and life and growth and learning and joy, not damnation. Luther said that it seemed like the gates of heaven had opened to him.
I’m not so sure things are that different nowadays than they used to be in Luther’s day. Yes, we drive cars around instead of riding horses. We live in a democracy, thank God, which seems to work a lot better than a monarchy like they had back then. But we still get those voices of not enough, don’t we.
We aren’t safe enough
We aren’t strong enough
We aren’t good enough
We aren’t nice enough
We aren’t rich enough
We aren’t pretty enough
We aren’t smart enough.
Blind Bartimaus in our Gospel lesson for today is definitely not enough. Close your eyes for a minute here. Let’s put ourselves in Bartimaus’s place. You can’t see, but you can feel. You can feel the heat of the sun on your arms and face. You can feel the dust, powdery on your legs, and a little grittiness of dust between your teeth. You can smell the goats and sheep and donkeys that pass by, with their baa’s. You can hear the conversations of people, snatches of conversation. Someone’s uncle has contracted for his son to marry a prominent merchant’s daughter. This would be a major advancement for the family. A sheep herder is worried about the price of his sheep. You are not a part of these conversations. You never will be because you are not enough. You are poor, you can’t see. What’s more, lots of people think you did something bad so that God took away your sight. It’s much easier for them to believe that, because then they don’t have to face the fact that illness comes and illness goes and it can leave anybody blind, including them. No, much more comfortable to blame you for it. But they might give you a copper coin out of pity. That would be good, because then you could eat today.
In among the snatches of conversation you have overheard for the last few weeks, is this legend of a holy man who can heal people, even raise people from the dead. Maybe he is the Messiah, the one to bring God’s great change toward life. Now, today you hear the conversation. He is on his way to Jerusalem and he is passing through here. Pretty soon you hear the hubbub of a crowd. You feel the dust on your limbs, even more, you can sense the anticipation in the air, the expectation. It is like a wall, like the side of a great beast moving forward.
Now the holy man is passing. You know it. You can taste the excitement, tangy and sweet in the air. “Son of David,” you cry, “have mercy on me. Son of David, have mercy on me.”
By the way, if you are feeling like you are not enough, and you want to be reminded of something deeper than not enough, and you ask for that reminder, and people tell you to shut up, don’t. Don’t shut up. “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus calls you to him. He says What do you want me to do? Just like he asked James and John last week, “What do you want me to do?” James and John wanted a seat in the pretty. They wanted to be close to the center of power. You, blind Bartimaus, what do you want? “I want to see again.” “I want to see.” Jesus says, “To, your faith has saved you.” “Your faith,” the relationship of trust God makes with you.
Oh, Bartimaus, you can’t see with your eyes, but with your spirit you see so much. You see who Jesus is.
Here’s something I’d like our young people especially to see. In fact, everyone. If you tell me you will do this, I will too. Let’s see what happens if, every morning between now and January we look in the mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say “God has made me strong. God has made me honorable. God has made me beautiful. God loves me.” Try that. “God has made me strong. God has made me honorable. God has made me beautiful. God loves me.” See what happens.
Don’t be surprised if this is very difficult to do at first. We have a lot of voices telling us to shut up. Don’t shut up. Lots of voices still telling us we’re not enough. They aren’t true. Trust the truth. Have faith in the truth. The deepest being of God is love, not rage. The destiny of God for us is hope and life and growth and learning and joy, not damnation. God loves you.