Ten years ago, Anne had hip replacement surgery.
It was the first major operation she ever had, with two weeks in a rehab facility afterward.
Her adult children were out of state, so there was little they could do to help.
But the community came out to support Anne and her husband Henry.
They received a stack of cards from friends and neighbors; the prayer chain was going for her healing; the church organized meals, and people regularly checked in on both Henry and Anne.
It was a beautiful example of what the ELCA calls ‘accompaniment.’
It is the strategy of our global mission arm of our national church, and it means
walking together in a solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality.
The community walked with Anne and Henry, checking on their needs and supporting them,
and receiving the appreciation that Anne and Henry shared as a result of their care.
On a global scale, the same reciprocal solidarity plays out:
The ELCA is a part of a network of missionaries, non profits, and 80 Lutheran church bodies around the globe.
In coming to know these global Lutherans, US Lutherans see how faith in Jesus
transforms lives and provides hope.
In response, they share gifts and talents to address root causes of poverty and conflict,
fight HIV/AIDS, and train people to preach the good news of Jesus.
I see this same interdependence and mutuality in our gospel lesson today.
It’s a healing story, and each of the characters in the story has a role to play
in the restoration that occurs. Let’s take a closer look.
Jesus and his disciples were continuing their journey toward Jerusalem.
Jesus’s preaching and healing had inspired many,
and he left the historic town of Jericho with a big crowd in tow.
Along the roadside, there was a man whose name was Bartimaeus.
He was blind, and as a result was excluded by his family and forced into begging.
When Bartimaeus heard Jesus was coming, he shouted out to Jesus,
Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me!
Oftentimes we might think being a beggar reduces a person to passivity-
just sitting and waiting for someone to notice and to help.
If we think of a beggar being self-determined at all, it is as a scam artist.
But Bartimaeus was neither passive nor shady – he actively pursued his own healing.
First of all, his calling out was a gutsy public act. It opened him to criticism, the crowd tried to shut him down -- and yet he carried on.
His cry also was a prayer. He used the messianic title for Jesus, Son of David – the first time this phrase occurs in Mark. He asked for mercy and specific healing.
Bartimaeus overcame barriers to ask boldly for what he needed.
He is an example of a brave and action oriented faith. He sprang up and on his own power, came over to Jesus.
In response to his healing, he chose to follow Jesus, and to learn from Jesus and share his own gifts.
The people who followed Jesus often did so out of their own need, but many also contributed to Jesus’ ministry, as Luke recounts of Mary Magdalene and others
who provided for Jesus out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3).
Bartimaeus chose to accompany Jesus, to live in Jesus’ community of interdependence,
and to be a contributing and receiving member.
The crowd around Jesus and Bartimaeus offer another model of accompaniment.
This time it is a model of transformation.
Because at first, the crowd does not welcome Bartimaeus.
They in fact shush him, ordering him to be quiet.
If you have ever been shushed when you asked for something you needed,
you know it is not a good feeling.
It makes you want to curl up under a rock and never ask for anything again.
But when Bartimaeus perseveres despite their condemnation, Jesus tells the crowd to call Bartimaeus over.
Now why is that? Jesus was perfectly capable of calling Bartimaeus himself, or even approaching Bartimaeus if he was out of ear shot.
But Jesus engaged the crowds, and in doing so, offered them a role in the healing.
Their job was to invite Bartimaeus to Jesus.
They received a transformation of spirit in Bartimaeus’ healing.
Instead of dismissing him as a blind beggar, they were given the ability to see him as a valued person, worthy of Jesus’ time and attention, a contributor to Jesus’ ministry as a fellow disciple.
They were transformed from gatekeeper to gate openers, welcoming others in.
It seems to me that accompaniment is itself a healing proposition; healing the divisions and power imbalances that exist in our world, building bridges and capacities for the good of all.
Today we lift up one of the ministries of accompaniment here at St. Matthew:
the prayer shawl ministry.
The practice of knitting or crocheting shawls and infusing them with prayer began at a Women’s Leadership Institute at Hartford Seminary several decades ago.
Since then, the ministry has spread across the country,
And people have received this gift of prayer and solidarity during cancer treatment,
hospitalizations and illnesses, deaths and births, to name a few.
At St. Matthew, we have some faithful knitters who create them—
but anyone can arrange to pick up a prayer shawl by calling the office and giving it to another.
St. Matthew prayer shawls have blessed members and people outside the congregation,
folks right here in the Valley, and people states away.
Those who have given and received the shawls describe the experience like this:
It’s like putting on a warm cloak, where you can release your anxiety.
You can feel God’s presence wrapped around you, a sense of peace when you wear it.
Prayers transfer through those shawls!
It is a gift of encouragement, a tangible sign that even when you are at your lowest, you are not alone.
That is another facet of the power of the accompaniment --
It takes the pain of isolation away.
Like the crowd, we can grow in our ability to accompany others.
We can participate ever more fully in the healing work of Jesus.
Today we will bless the prayer shawls, and add our prayers to those that have already been said over these shawls.
When we give them out, we become Jesus’ healing hands in the world.
And we can know that when we need healing, we can be like Bartimaeus;
we can cry out and ask for what we need. We can participate in our own healing
We can give thanks for this community of faith who accompanies us with the love of Christ.