Sunday, January 13, 2008

Holy desire

Mark 10:46-52

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They sound almost like the words of an eager salesperson,
when you walk into a department store, or car dealership.
“Good afternoon? What can I do for you?”

When Jesus encountered blind Bartimaeus,
his first words were “What do you want me to do for you?”
On the one hand, those words sound completely unremarkable.
Bartimaeus called out to Jesus,
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And Jesus answered, predictably,
“What do you want, Bartimaeus?”

But as I read this story again,
and reflected more on this question,
I saw something in it, that I think,
I don’t appreciate enough.

I...we...are used to looking at Jesus as Lord and Master,
one who calls us to be obedient disciples,
one who calls us to walk the hard way, through the narrow gate.
And that is absolutely right.
We dare not forget it.

But there is another side to Jesus seen here.
Jesus is tuning in to Bartimaeus’ desires.
“What to do for you, Bartimaeus?”
What is it that you really want?
Jesus is not barging into Bartimaeus’ life, here,
or any of ours, really,
and saying, “You know what you need?
I’ll tell you what you need.”
That’s the way we tend to put the issue,
when we’re in Jesus’ position, as the helper.
We see someone in need,
we identify the need ourselves, and say,
“You know what you need?
I’ll tell you what you need.
And I can provide that need for you.”
We think that way when we reach out
to the poor, or the homeless, in our neighborhoods,
or to the unchurched in our community,
or to the unevangelized peoples in Africa and Asia.
Or even to people in our own congregations
who are sick, or grieving,
or in some kind of emotional, physical, or spiritual distress.
We know what they need, and we’re here to help.

The need of Bartimaeus couldn’t have been more obvious.
There by the side of the road,
sitting on his cloak spread out under him,
to collect the coins that passersby would toss in his direction.
His need was not only obvious, it was institutionalized.
That’s the way the system worked.
That’s what blind people did, who needed to eat,
but had no ability to provide for themselves.
They begged. And people with means tossed coins.
But Jesus looked past his obvious need.
Looked past the way society organized itself to meet his need.
And asked a very human, a very compassionate, question,
“What to do for you?”
He was prompting Bartimaeus to reflect,
to think at a more profound level,
about what his deepest desires were.

And I believe Jesus is asking all of us the same question today.
“What do you want me to do for you?”
This question is a gift of grace.
It takes the relationship beyond what is expected.
We expect the master to tell the disciple what he or she needs,
and how to get that need met.
Jesus comes to us, gently probing us to explore our deep desires.
Because our deepest desires are holy desires.
Yes, desires can be holy.

I’m pretty critical, as you probably know,
about the way our consumeristic culture encourages us
to focus on our personal, individual desires,
and then do whatever it takes to satisfy those desires.
I have often said that the Christian life is not about us,
it’s about God.
That coming to church is not about
satisfying our needs and desires and preferences.
It’s about laying down our lives before God,
in sacrificial worship.
I have often said it,
and I will continue to say it.
Because I believe it.

But that should not be misunderstood.
It’s not that God doesn’t care about our personal desires.
It’s not that God isn’t deeply compassionate toward us,
as individuals that God created, and loves.

And this Gospel story of Jesus and Bartimaeus is the perfect example,
when we need to be reminded of that.
God wants to respond to our personal desires.
Not the superficial desires created by culture,
but the deep desires, the holy desires, implanted by our Creator.
God, through Jesus of Nazareth,
was reaching out to his beloved child Bartimaeus,
Bartimaeus, the blind man.
Bartimaeus, the outcast.
Bartimaeus, the drain on society.
Bartimaeus, the one who knew what he needed—
coins from those who could spare them.

And God, through Jesus, was gently prompting Bartimaeus
to look past all of that, and go deeper.
Through that simple question, Jesus reminded Bartimaeus,
that he was created for more than begging for people’s
leftover change.
And when given the opportunity to stop and reflect,
Bartimaeus immediately got in touch with that deep, holy desire.
His holy desire was not money for food.
It was to see again.

Maybe you think that’s not so surprising,
that Bartimaeus would know that he wanted to see again.
But assuming Bartimaeus had been blind for many years,
perhaps many decades,
how often do you suppose
he let himself think about that deep desire?
He was in survival mode. Day after humiliating day.
He couldn’t afford to waste his energy wishing for something
that he knew would never happen.
So that deep, and holy, desire to be made whole by his Creator—
that desire got suppressed,
shoved aside where it wouldn’t distract him
from his urgent need—to pay for food and shelter.

But Jesus’ tender compassionate question,
“What do you really want, Bartimaeus?”
quickened in him this holy desire to be made whole.

But you know, this is the second time in Mark, chapter 10,
that Jesus asks that same question,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
We already heard verses 46-52. Let’s back up to verses 35-37,
and I quote:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And Jesus said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Now, these are Jesus’ disciples—
two, of the inner circle of the chosen 12—
ones who ought to know better than anyone,
what the mission of Jesus is all about.
But they are blinder than Bartimaeus.

Jesus’ question does not cause them to reflect, to see at a deeper level.
The desire they are in touch with is superficial—
the desire for personal privilege, and a seat of honor.
Jesus patiently explains, “You don’t know what you’re asking.
Those desires aren’t mine to grant.”

In a touch of irony, you know what the name Bartimaeus means?
It means literally, “son of honor.”
James and John were desiring seats of honor.
Bartimaeus, the son of honor, wanted simply to be made whole.

Somehow, almost miraculously, he was in touch with that holy desire,
despite society’s efforts to put him in a box,
to suppress his desires to nothing more than
collecting spare change.

I sincerely believe most of us here today are in Bartimaeus’ position.
Our deepest, most holy desires, have been suppressed.
The pressure put on us by society, by our culture,
to focus on our immediate, and individualistic,
and superficial desires,
has overtaken our lives.
That’s where we put our energy.
That’s what makes us anxious and tense.
That’s what we think about day and night—
how we will manage to satisfy these desires...
The desire for material things.
The desire for financial security.
The desire for control, for power.
The desire for sexual satisfaction.
The desire to be admired for our physical beauty.
The desire to achieve a higher social status.
The desire for fame or for recognition.

And in the all-consuming efforts to satisfy these desires,
our holy desires are sometimes neglected.

God created us in God’s image.
God implanted in us, a desire to be in relationship with God,
to be rightly connected with the divine,
and to be wholly, and healthily, and deeply, human.
When we are less than what God created us for,
there is in us a sadness, a brokenness, a separation,
and a holy desire to be restored.
God created the whole world, the universe,
in perfection and beauty and balance.
And the world is also broken—the earth itself, and its inhabitants,
the nations, the peoples, and all living things.

God’s deepest desire is to restore all creation,
to redeem us and creation from the sin that has strangled us,
to forgive, to heal, to reconcile.
So whenever we take the time to get in touch
with the echo of that same desire that lives in us,
(because we were created in God’s own image),
then we are getting in touch with Holy Desire.

So whether it is the groaning of creation,
the warring of the nations,
the alienation in our own communities,
the separation in our churches,
the pain in our families,
the brokenness within ourselves,
the question Jesus is asking all of us today, is,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
It’s a question that invites us to go deeper,
to get in touch with the holy desire to be made whole,
to be in relationship with God,
to see ourselves, and all creation,
restored to God’s created purpose.
It’s an awareness-raising question.

Jesus is asking us today, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Our response to that question could be the superficial one
of James and John.
But rather, I invite us to respond like Bartimaeus—
with the holy desire for wholeness,
for the restoration of sight.

This morning, as on all three Sundays of this series,
we invite you to respond with prayers for healing and wholeness.

The focus of these prayers this morning,
will be to pray like Bartimaeus,
out of our holy desire for wholeness.
But this isn’t necessarily a prayer for personal healing.
Get in touch with whatever holy desires are stirring within,
Whether it is for healing in our families, in our congregation,
in our community, in our nation, among the nations,
and in ourselves.

Then we invite you to come and share that holy desire,
and receive prayer, and anointing if you wish,
for that desire—whether for your own healing,
or for someone you love,
or even for the broken world beyond us.

There will be four stations for prayer and anointing—
two here in the front, and two along the sides.
Go to whichever one you wish, and wait in line for your turn.
Share, in brief, the concern you are bringing,
and you’ll be asked whether you want to be anointed.
In either case we will pray with you.
The three of us pastors, and elder Bonnie Stutzman
will be leading in this.

If you don’t come to a station for prayer,
join us in prayer wherever you’re sitting.
Let us begin by singing together hymn #353,
“Lord, listen to your children praying.”
You are free to come whenever the stations are ready.
After the hymn there will be other music sung or played,
during our time of prayer.

—Phil Kniss, January 13, 2008

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