An "Ash Sunday" Sermon
This is my attempt at combining my Ash Wednesday sermon with my First Sunday of Lent sermon, since, due to the snowstorm, our Ash Wednesday service was cancelled. There are two gospels to consider. The first (Mark 10:46-52) is the story of Blind Bartimaeaus and is the basis of our Lenten theme, "Just Wondering, Jesus: Questions From the Roadside." The second (Luke 4:16-22) is the basis of our first Sunday of Lent theme, "Just Wondering, Jesus: What Do You Ask of Your Church?"
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from His Son, our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Because he was blind, he was an outsider. He was among the outcasts of his culture and society. He was considered a sinner, and likely had no friends and family left who cared for or supported him. It’s really an incredibly sad story. There he sat, all alone. on the roadside. But things were about to change for Blind Bartimaeus. This day would be different from all the rest. All of a sudden he heard the commotion of an approaching crowd. “It's Jesus!” someone whispered. “It's Jesus,” someone quickly told Bartimaeus. “Now be quiet and don't humiliate us!” But this only gave Bartimaeus reason to call out all the more. “Jesus? Is it really you?! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! I can’t see! Will you help me?” The crowd, embarrassed, surrounded him; shielding him from Jesus’ sight, but what he lacked in sight he made up for with voice. There was no quieting his voice. And then, amazingly, Jesus stopped. “Call him here.” The disciples go to Bartimaeus. “Cheer up! It’s your lucky day! Get up and come with us. Jesus is calling you.” And suddenly, the man's, this outcast’s life, would be changed forever - AND he would regain his sight.
When he came face-to-face with him, Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” It seems like a silly question, doesn't it? Isn't it obvious what the man is asking for? Didn't Jesus notice that he was blind? But the question Jesus asked was, as always, insightful and brilliant. He wanted the man to be specific. The blind man did not ask for pity, or financial security, or protection from the locals. He was quick with his request: “I want my sight back. I want to see again.” And Jesus was just as immediate with his response: “Go!” Jesus said, “Your faith has healed you.” Jesus saw in this blind man two things; a desire for change, and a belief that Jesus could provide it. So he did. And from that moment on, Bartimaeus was a faithful follower of Jesus.
I wonder what I would have asked for. This story makes we wonder, what need is so pressing in my life that, if I had the undivided attention of the Son of God, what would my request be? What would yours be? This isn't a genie popping out of a lamp and offering you three wishes; it is God asking what our heart's desire is for this life. What would you say? How would you answer? Some of you have already shared some of your pressing questions of faith and life on the cards that are available in the narthex, that I look forward to incorporating into my Lenten sermons throughout the season. Thank you for those! Keep them coming!
When one visits our partner churches of Mtera or Migoli or any of the cities, towns, villages or parishes of the Iringa Diocese in Tanzania, it never fails - the children will flock to you in awe and wonder. Children are the same everywhere. Their laughter, smile, and overall joy is infectious. In my experiences in Tanzania the children always run up to me asking for something - what do you think it was? Not money. Not candy. Not piggy back rides. That I would take their photo. “Wazunga!” (white person) they would shout with glee, “Will you take my photo?” And I would take out my phone and take their picture. They would shriek with excitement! “Now let me see what you see!” they would shout in their broken English. “Let me see what you see!” over and over, I remember. “Let me see what you see!” This memory of mine, as I reflected on the story of Bartimaeus, was, ultimately, what he was asking on the road outside of Jericho that day. He wanted to see what Jesus saw. The real miracle that day was not that he regained his sight and was able to see again, but that, upon regaining his sight, he chose to follow Jesus. He was not satisfied to merely see the sights, to find familiar faces and places in his hometown. He wanted to see the world, from Jesus' point of view - to see the people and the places and the problems and the possibilities that Jesus saw. Bartimaeus chose to leave behind what would have certainly been a notorious reputation (“I once was blind, but now I see!”) to follow Jesus. And so we never hear from him again in scripture. We don't know where his journey of newfound faith took him. What we do know is that once Jesus gave the man his sight, the man was no longer content to hang around Jericho. He chose to follow Jesus, in order to see what Jesus saw.
And that brings me back to the question: What do you want Jesus to do for you? What would your sign read? In truth, he has already done so much, that you might be wondering, what else is there? We have forgiveness for our sins, and we have the promise of eternal life. We unconditional love. What else is there? What else could we possibly want Jesus to do for us? Of course there are so many prayer requests on behalf of ourselves and loved ones, that we continually ask of Jesus. Keep asking those! But consider also, what Bartimaeus wanted; to see the world as Jesus sees it. To look at the fringe people of our world with compassion instead of judgment. To look at the poor and reach out to them in mercy, instead of running from them. To see broken, sinful, disobedient people and treat them with forgiveness and grace instead of rejection and scorn. In short, to see others the same way Jesus sees us, and then to love them. Which reminds me of our church mission statement - “To Share Christ’s Love With Joy!”
Which now brings us to the theme of this first Sunday of Lent - Just Wondering, Jesus: What do you ask of your Church? To paraphrase our other gospel reading this morning from Luke: Jesus returned to Nazareth where he had grown up. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to temple. But this time he stood up to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: "God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, he has sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, and to announce, “This is God’s time to act!” He then rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he added, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”
That is the purpose of the Church. To see the world, and the people of this world, through the eyes of Jesus. It’s what Bartimaeus wanted. It’s what Bartimaeus was given. Like Bartimaeus, we too, once we come to faith, are called to follow and to share everything we know and love about Jesus and how He has healed us, with others - and we at SPLC have committed to do it with joy! We are the blind beggar on that road to Jericho that has been given every reason to be joy-full! Jesus has given us light and life and love. And once we too, see the world as Jesus sees it, we cannot sit on the side of the road any longer. We need to share, with joy, the joy of the Lord, and what we are now able to see - Jesus’ light and life and love.
In recent news cycles you’ve likely heard about the “Asbury Revival” at Asbury University in the small town of Wilmore, Kentucky. This spontaneous marathon 24/7 worship service which began on February 8 has drawn tens of thousands of visitors from across the country and world! After just over two weeks of continuous worship, it finally was forced to end this past Friday by University and town officials saying that the rapid influx of visitors to this small town — whom they welcome and appreciate — was causing too many logistical issues for the town and surrounding area and will need to move off campus. Amazing, right?
While there is definitely a place for worship within the Church, and while this recent revival is great and reason to rejoice, I have found myself asking, is it what Jesus asks of His Church according to Luke’s gospel? Consider with me for a moment what author, pastor, and activist, John Pavlovitz recently said about this revival on his blog: “Christians, you want to have a real “revival”? Stop singing. Start emulating Jesus. Get out of the church building and go feed the hungry, heal the sick, care for the poor, welcome the immigrant, and love the least. It takes no effort to sing. Singing alone helps no one outside the building. Leave the building. Go and love. Then, sing while you do.”
On this first Sunday of Lent, like Blind Bartimaeus, I invite you to ask Jesus to let you see your world with his eyes. Like those young Tanzanian children, I invite you to ask Jesus to see what he sees - to make you and me aware of the hurting and the helpless and the people without hope. This is what God asks of God’s Church. To get out of the building and to see and to act as the eyes, and the heart, and the hands of Christ! To want change, and then to trust that God will use you to provide it. And then, to sing when you do.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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Pastor Dale Stiles
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