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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service – click on the video camera icon.
October 24, 2021
Twenty-second after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When was the last time you asked for something that you wanted? I don’t necessarily mean a Christmas or birthday present – although it could be that. When was the last time you truly wanted something and asked for it? What were you feeling at that time? Were you hesitant or afraid to ask for it? If you did ask, how was your request received? Were you shushed, or turned away? Do you regret making the “ask”? Did you have to ask more than once? Did you receive what you asked for?
Asking for what we want, and even what we need, is sometimes really hard – for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we think it’s frivolous, or just not worth it. Maybe we’re afraid of what others might think. Maybe we grew up in a home where asking for things was impolite or ignored or a punishable offense and so we learned to just keep quiet. Maybe we’re afraid that we won’t get exactly what we want – or that we will.
Regardless of the reason, asking for what we want is sometimes hard to do.
In last week’s Gospel reading, we know James and John didn’t seem to have any problem asking for they wanted. They asked Jesus to do for them whatever they asked. And so Jesus asked, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they asked to sit at his right hand and his left.
Setting aside the thing they asked for, we recognize that it was bold of them to even ask in the first place. So much so that the other disciples were angry with them for doing it. And there’s a similar dynamic in today’s gospel reading with Bartimaeus.
As Jesus and the disciples and a crowd left Jericho, Bartimaeus figured out what was happening and yelled for Jesus. But instead of helping him and saying, “Hey, Jesus – this guy’s trying to get your attention!” the people shushed Bartimaeus and tried to keep him quiet.
Only instead of being quiet, Bartimaeus yelled louder. And Jesus called to him – and then the crowd encouraged him. And Bartimaeus was so excited that he sprang up and threw off his cloak and went to Jesus – following him on the way even after Jesus told him to “go” after restoring his sight.
The writers of the blog “Spirituality of Conflict” remind us that our desires often come in layers. For example, with conflict, there may be that first layer of “I want this conflict to be over,” but it’s important to ask “Why?” because when we do, we discover that there may be more to it than what’s on the surface.
So we keep asking “Why?” until the reason creates a way of living in such that isn’t distracted by people around us who try to drag us back into conflict.
That same process can be applied to almost anything we ask for in life – especially the desires we hold deep in our hearts. When Bartimaeus cried out for mercy, and Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” he didn’t presume to know what Bartimaeus wanted, he let him speak for himself – to name what “mercy” meant to him.
Bartimaeus had had plenty of time to sift through the layers of what, exactly, that was for him. He didn’t just want to see again, he wanted his life back. But when his sight was restored, he didn’t go back to who he was before – he couldn’t, because so much had changed – he moved forward and followed Jesus.
It’s the same for us. When we cry out for mercy and Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” he isn’t trying to shut us down. He’s asking us to name it – to take the time to ask, “Why?” and peel back the layers of our answer. And discover how the essence of that meets up with who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.
Because whether we’re asking for ourselves as individuals or as a congregation, the chances are good that Jesus isn’t going to lead us back to where we were before – or to who we were before. But because we follow Jesus, we can trust where he leads us.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, theologians and psychologists and lot of other people have been publishing articles about how all of this is affecting us. Early on, we were encouraged to remember that the pandemic was a traumatic event – and twenty months later, it still is.
What sets it apart from other traumas is that the end of it keeps moving and we don’t really know when it’ll be done. And what’s hard is that the longer it goes on, the more things and people are changing because of it.
Covid has exposed things that we kinda knew about, but didn’t always think about – like the fragility of the economy and the supply chain, who the essential workers truly are, and so on. Trends that began before Covid, have been accelerated during Covid – like people changing jobs or moving to be closer to family. In churches across the US – the trends are showing up as decreased giving and worship attendance.
People are tired and anxieties are high because none of us knows when this will be done. But we know we want it to be done, right? When we ask that, we also have to ask, “Why?” and peel back the layers of our answer.
Thinking about our own lives – do we want the pandemic to end so that life can go back to the way it was before? Or do we want it to end so that we can finally move forward? For us as a congregation, do we want the pandemic to end so that we can go back to doing things the way they’ve always been done? Or do we want it to end so that we have a clearer idea of where Jesus is leading us?
In other words, when we cry out for mercy, what is it we want Jesus to do for us? And why?
It’s hard to ask these questions when we’re still in the midst of so much unknown. But Jesus doesn’t presume to know what we want. He lets us speak for ourselves and name what that “mercy” means for us.
As people of faith, this how we live. Crying out for what we want, asking questions, peeling back the layers of the answers one at a time until we get to the core of what it is we’re asking. As we do that, we discover how that answer meets up with who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.
And we remember that even though Jesus likely won’t lead us back to where we were before – or to who we were before, we know who Jesus is. We know that he is love, and grace, and mercy, and compassion. So when we ask all these things, we ask in trust. Because we know that wherever he leads us, Jesus gives us the confidence to follow. Thanks be to God! Amen.