St. John's, Centreville
October 28, 2018
Proper 25 B
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. He is sitting on the side of the road, waiting for Jesus, along with the other pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for Passover, to pass by him and help him. Bartimaeus wants to see again, regain his sight, and transform his life by following Jesus. After he is healed, he becomes a disciple. He wants to stay with Jesus, be a part of his trip from Jericho to Jerusalem.
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks James and John in last week's gospel lesson, after they asked Jesus to do whatever they wanted. They reply, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in glory," they say. They want the seats of honor. They want to be recognized for their greatness, for their sacrifice. That is not what Jesus had in mind when he asked the question.
Jesus wants them, and us, to name our need, to recognize what it is in our lives that we want to change. It may be a physical ailment, or perhaps we are in a spiritually dry place and we long to hear the voice of God. Perhaps our need is for reconciliation or forgiveness, or our need is to see someone else healed. What we are talking about is transformation, of being liberated from what holds us back. Transformation can be defined as liberation from being stuck, from doing things the same way and getting the same results. It is about turning from being self-centered to being God-centered. When we embrace transformation, we change from having closed eyes and hearts and minds to the freeing ability to have hope and compassion; a new way of living and being as God wants us to live and be in this world with all that God has given us.
"What do you want me to do for you?" Imagine that Jesus is asking that question to this community of faith here at St. John's. Some might say "fix the roof" or "replace the air conditioners" or "give us enough money so we don't have to worry about our finances and our repairs." Others might say, "open our eyes more fully to the needs of our community", or "let us have a spiritual awakening" or "help us to grow." Some might say, "help us to be as eager and excited to follow Jesus as Bartimaeus was, or as faithful as Paul or as loving as Mary." Maybe some might say, "help us to be more grateful for all that God has given us, individually and as a community of faith" or "help us prayerfully discern how much we give back to God in thanksgiving as we pledge our time, talent and treasure for the coming year."
When Jesus heard Bartimaeus call out to him, he called him forward from the crowd. Bartimaeus leaped up, leaving his cloak behind. Now that may seem insignificant to us, but leaving that cloak behind is significant. That seems to be the only earthly possession that his man has, besides the clothes on his back. That cloak may be what he spreads out during the day to collect coins that people toss his way. That cloak may be all that he has to keep him warm at night. But he leaves it behind when Jesus calls out to him.
It may be symbolic that he is leaving his old life behind and starting a new life, a transformed life. After Jesus heals him, Bartimaeus follows him as he heads to Jerusalem. It is unfortunate that we don't know what happens to him, exactly how his life is changed. But we can be sure that it was.
Bartimaeus values Jesus' invitation to follow him, more than his most valuable possession. What is it that we give up to follow Jesus? What, if any, is our sacrifice? Do we give to God just what we have left over? Or is our giving to God sacrificial? What does it cost us?
As we are in the midst of our annual pledge campaign, I invite you to spend time in prayer and discernment about what you will offer to God in terms of time, talent and treasure in thanksgiving for all that God has given you and for the furthering of God's kingdom. God doesn't want just what is left over at the end of the month. Our faith in God calls us to give sacrificially. Your gifts of treasure that you indicate on your pledge card will be blessed at God's altar next Sunday.
"What do you want me to do for you?" The answer to that question is as varied as the number of people that are asked. Hopefully, our answer would not be like James and John who just want personal honor and recognition. Our answer may change daily or hourly, depending on our circumstances. Refugees, such as those in the caravan who are walking from Hondorus through Mexico toward the United States, would answer quite differently than those who live in a safe neighborhood with access to food, housing and medical care. Those who suffer from life-threatening diseases would answer differently than those who are healthy. Those who are abused would answer differently than those who are safe from violence.
"What do you want me to do for you"? What if we were to turn that question around and we asked Jesus, "What do you want me to do for you?" Like President Kennedy saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." What does Jesus want us to do for him? Much of that is captured in his teachings - to love one another as God loves us, to respect the dignity of every human being, including the refugees, the strangers, those who are "invisible", to treat others as you want to be treated, to follow the 10 commandments, to follow the way of Jesus.
What does Jesus want us to do for him? Through prayer, to deepen our relationship with him, to be the people we were created to be, to forgive others as God forgives us, to give of ourselves in service to others.
"What does Jesus want us to do for him?" I invite you to pray that question and listen with your heart to the answer that comes. It may come as a nudge to do something, or an opportunity to give something, or an invitation to hold others up in prayer. Through the work both inside and outside of the church, God calls us, God leads us, God nudges us. Pray. Listen. Answer. For that will transform our lives. Amen.