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Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

I still remember my first Boundary Waters trip. Riding and paddling, hearing the bumping and swirling, feeling the rocking of the canoe as it slips through the water. What I remember most is the deep peace of the journey. The clarity of vision that comes, not from a lack of haze, but from a lack of noise. The memory is still so real that I can take it out and look at it, but I’m not done going into the woods. That trip is somewhere I have to go back to every now and again. Not necessarily to the same lakes, but to the quiet, slow, clear water. It’s a familiar memory, but I still have to go back and fill up on it. I have to fill up with rocks, trees, and water. I have to fill up with quiet, with myself, and with God. It’s almost as if the experience “runs out” if I don’t keep it topped off.

The reading from Hebrews reminds us that God never really runs out. Jesus’ work is done forever. This point pushes back against our tendency to seek a “do-it-yourself” faith. We often want a job, we want to know how to act, we want to be told what to do. This impulse is true in its way, because we are invited to participate in what God is doing; we’re given roles in God’s making and remaking of the world. But we have to remember: God is already doing it. We don’t have to earn it or otherwise make it happen. Today is Reformation Sunday, and as it happens, Hebrews gives us the great Protestant insight that there’s nothing we have to do – indeed, nothing we can do – to change God’s love for us. It’s simply there.

Maybe that’s why nobody preaches from Hebrews, because this stuff will ruin your church. It’s hard to build an institution on something God has already done for us. And we have to confess that we’ve built institutions in the past 500 years that rival the power Rome had in the 16th century. For a long time, believing and attending with us was how people could “earn” God’s favor. Nowadays, that happens less. People are less concerned about getting religion just right according to some set of rules. God often seems to be elsewhere. As for us, we sometimes worry about how to keep our institutions going, and at other times we wonder if we even should. If God already took care of it, there’s no way to build your church on the need to satisfy God somehow.

As a mainline church, we know three difficult things about ourselves: First, we know that the financial health of our institution depends on numbers. The numbers, in turn, depend on getting people to come and find God in our institution, as if attending our worship service is just what will do it. Second, we know what Hebrews says: Christ has done it for us. Jesus the Christ made a way for humanity to reach God. It’s been done, given, and completed for always. That’s the core of Luther’s insight. And there’s a third thing. In our tradition, John Calvin pointed out that not only do we have access to God through grace, but there’s nowhere in creation that God is not. God claims everything that exists for God’s glory, not just the church as we see it. That’s a profound threat to this institution. It’s no wonder that we religious people would rather argue about theological ideas, hymns, or paint samples than talk about this. If the truth got out that God is everywhere, this institution would all fall down. Well, maybe it took 500 years for that threat to come true, but it has. The church is no longer the only place people look for God. The truth is everywhere. We struggle with the idea of people seeking God elsewhere. I think we really struggle with God, who seeks people elsewhere than this congregation. God can find people with or without us.

So there was a man on the roadside. His name was Bart. He was begging, as always, and he heard that Jesus was coming. Bart knew who that was – it was the teacher from Nazareth – some even said he was the promised descendant of David who would free and restore the people. He was the Messiah. So Bart called out at the top of his lungs: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The great crowd of Jesus’ followers tried to silence him, as if to say that you can’t find Jesus that way. But Jesus said, “Call him to me. What do you want?” he asked Bartimaeus. “Teacher, I want to see again.” And Jesus gave him the gift of seeing again, and Bart followed.

“I want to see again.” I want to see in a way that is not bound by the blindness, lostness, and brokenness of the world. I want to see something more true than what I usually see. I want to see again with my own eyes and not have to be told by someone else. I want to see again. To see again, we have to go back. Back to where we saw God before, or back where God seemed absent before. We have to see again and recognize God where that happened.

When we see it again, a new truth comes clear. There’s something we didn’t know before. Luther’s truth that the love and mercy of God can’t be contained. Calvin’s truth that God claims the whole creation as the realm of heaven. The modern evangelical truth that we must find truth and relate to God personally. The postmodern truth that we seek Truth and apprehend God, but this happens only in a dim mirror; we only barely understand what we speak of. God’s presence is abundant, universal, immediate, and loving. When we return to this truth, we see yet more of God.

It’s like going into the Boundary Waters – or on a service trip, a retreat, or just home. It was always there, wherever you’re going, but by going and experiencing it, we become more deeply who we were all along and see ourselves more clearly. By giving, serving, and relating with each other, we learn just who we are, what we have, and how much God loves others too. That’s what this faith journey is about – not to change reality, but to change how we perceive reality, to see it properly and anew, to live more deeply, joyfully, and abundantly in that reality.