Homily: October 25, 2015

Pentecost 22, YEAR B; Rev. Phil Boelter, Vicar “What do you want me to do for you?”

What an odd question Jesus poses in our gospel reading this morning.

 

The man Jesus addresses was in obvious distress…

Bartimeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.

 

He was sitting in the place where all beggars sat-

By the side of the road

Near the city gates.

 

This roadside charity was Jericho’s social safety net.

In the ancient world there was no government welfare,

no social security checks,

just begging.

 

There this blind man was waiting

probably with dozens of other people in need,

for someone to come by and help them out with a

handout of a coin or two.

 

To make it even more obvious,

Bart had already been yelling out repeatedly for Jesus:

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 

It should have been obvious what Bartimeus wants and needs:

Money, shelter, healing.

 

So exactly why does Jesus ask “What do you want me to do for you?”

 

With that question,

Jesus is asking Bartimeus to sharpen his spiritual vision,

to really dig deep and begin to ask the tough question:

what do I really want and need?

 

Jesus doesn’t ask the question so that Jesus himself will find out-

but that so Bartimeus will know and understand.

 

Sometimes God gets our attention best

when we ourselves are in need.

 

God uses the tough times,

the difficulties in life

To teach us how to live in faith, hope and love.

 

That is Grace.

 

Don’t get me wrong-

I’m not saying that God causes our issues,

our problems,

the world’s troubles.

 

But God DOES use what the world considers bad luck,

Misfortune,

Evil

To accomplish redemption,

Salvation,

Fullness of life.

 

As the Porteguese saying goes

God writes straight on crooked lines.

 

Grace comes first not to the wealthy,

the healthy,

the happy.

 

Grace finds her first and best home in those among us with needy hearts.

 

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me...”

The author of these words was John Newton,

the self-proclaimed wretch

who once was lost but then was found,

saved by amazing grace.

 

He knew the grace he was singing about alright.

 

Newton was born in London in the early 1700’s.

When John was eleven,

he went to sea with his father and made six voyages with him

before the elder Newton retired.

In 1744 John was impressed into service on a man-of-war,

the H. M. S. Harwich.

 

Finding conditions on board intolerable,

he deserted but was soon recaptured

and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman.

 

Finally at his own request

he was exchanged into service on a slave ship,

which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone.

He then became the servant of a slave trader

and was brutally abused.

 

Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain

who had known John's father.

John Newton ultimately became captain of his own ship,

one which plied the slave trade.

 

Although he had had some early religious instruction from his mother,

who had died when he was a child,

he had long since given up any religious convictions.

 

However, on a homeward voyage,

while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm,

Newton experienced what he was to refer to later as his “great deliverance.”

 

He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost

and the ship would surely sink,

he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”

 

Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said

and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm

and that grace had begun to work for him.

 

It was precisely in his darkest moment

that John Newton,

Veteran seaman and slave trader,

went from being lost to being found,

from being blind

to seeing God’s greater purpose for his life.

 

His life was changed in an instant-

Like the blind man sitting near the Jericho road.

 

I want to define what I mean by life change.

 

Sometimes we think that God brings with himself

The instant solution to all our problems-

But nothing could be further from the truth.

 

The change which happens when Grace comes

Changes everything and changes nothing…..

 

John Newton knew great consolation

And became one of the great hymn writers of his age.

But following his conversion life became harder

not easier.

 

He was consistently misunderstood-

Vilified for having been a slave trader,

A Victim of ill health in his latter years,

And left a widower after his wife’s long illness.

 

In a similar way

Blind Bartimeus found the miracle of new sight.

and his story in scripture ends

With the interesting phrase

He followed Jesus in the way.

 

That way isn’t described in scripture-

But imagine with me if you will

How different,

Even bewildering Bart’s life would become-

Years of begging ended-

The new sight to get adjusted to,

Trying to resume or perhaps even take for the first

His place in society as a sighted person.

 

It can’t have been easy.

 

But, like John Newton,

He did so in the company of God.

As he followed Jesus in the way.

 

Where are you and I hurting today?

Where are we ill,

Torn, near shipwreck,

In danger of losing our serenity

If not our sanity?

 

It is precisely there where you and I find this Amazing Grace.

 

As blind Bartimeus did….

As slave trader John Newton did.

 

We find grace to help us

When we come to the end of our own resources.

 

When God asks each one of us….

 

What do you need?

What do you want me to do for you?

 

Will we answer God today?

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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