They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
It was my first Sunday in a new town and it was hotter than blazes outside. My time in seminary would start the next day and I figured I needed to be in church before embarking on my theological journey.
So, like any good millennial, I googled “nearby United Methodist Churches” and I decided to try out the one with the least bad website.
I meandered through the open front doors and stood awkwardly in the narthex.
It was empty.
No ushers. No greeters. No nothing.
So I walked into the sanctuary, hoping against hope that the website had been accurate in terms of the church’s worship time, because there wasn’t a soul in the sanctuary.
I paced around for a minute or two contemplating the strangeness of the situation, when a I heard footsteps behind me. I turned and discovered a rather old and disheveled looking man who blurted out, “You must be new. We’re having worship in the fellowship hall. Follow me.”
And so I did.
We navigated a few frightening corridors, all while passing long-forgotten Sunday school rooms, until we entered the dimly lit fellowship hall. Folding chairs were arranged in a haphazard semi-circle, a leaning piano rested in the corner, and there was a make-shift plastic folding table altar next to a podium.
As I crossed the threshold to the space for holy worship, the preacher encouraged the couple dozen present to rise for the opening hymn:
Take my voice and let me sing, always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be, filled with messages from thee.
Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use, every power as thou shalt choose.
Then we settled in for worship. We prayed. We listened. We heard a sermon about the virtues of Christian generosity, about the call to give back to God what God first gave to us, and the imperative to raise enough funds to replace the Air Conditioning in the sanctuary lest we keep worshipping in the fellowship hall until Jesus returns on his cloud of glory.
After the benediction was shared, we were invited to the other side of the room where lemonade and cookies were waiting to be consumed. The preacher promptly pull me aside, introduced himself, and apologized saying, “I’m sorry you had to hear all of that on your very first Sunday. I don’t want you to leave thinking this is what it’s like every week.”
I made some sort of comment that attempted to soothe his worries, when the little old man who led me to the sanctuary came up and said. “Don’t listen to the preacher. It should be like this every week. Giving is what being a disciple is all about.”
I attended that church every Sunday until I graduated from seminary.
A blind beggar was sitting by the roadside. What should we think about this situation in the strange new world of the Bible? Because right here, in one sentence, we have the whole truth about one person, and also the entirety of humanity.
This is what life can do to us.
Life, at times, seems to be everything we intend it to be. We have the right job, the right spouse, the right whatever. And then life happens. Usually, without warning, life comes at us pretty fast and we find ourselves sitting by the roadside of life. A wayward diagnosis, an argument leads to a fight which leads to words that can’t be unsaid, a company folds, on and on.
Blind Bartimaeus sits by the roadside. That’s what they called him – named by what he couldn’t do. The only thing others could see about him was that he couldn’t. Forgotten or, worse, tossed aside. If he disappeared maybe one person would notice, but life would continue on its merry way whether Bartimaeus did or not.
And the world looks quite different from the roadside. It looks different from the hospital bed, or from behind bars, or from the fear of living paycheck to paycheck. There is nothing that one can do from the roadside but to accept fate and recognize that this is what life will be.
And yet, Bartimaeus, in his blindness, sees the truth of the world. He understands, like others in his position, what we who feel on top of the world miss – life is cruel.
Sometimes we get a taste of it, we visit someone in their distress, we sit in these pews for a funeral, but we do whatever we can to return to the comforts of our lives as soon as we possibly can. We live under the power of denial that life will continue on however we want it to, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
And then, another One comes onto the scene. This is another person who, like Bartimaeus, is about to be pushed by the world to the side of the road, to be thrown out among the dead. He has friends, they follow him, and yet they are fools. They argue about greatness and power and prestige. And, in the end, they will all abandon him.
So what happens between these two figures?
Bartimaeus is at the very bottom of life, both geographically (Jericho is 900 feet below sea level) and literally. He has no hope in the world. And yet, the hope of the world happens across his path that day.
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”
The crowds beckon the beggar to shut his mouth. Can’t he see that the Messiah doesn’t have time to waste on him?
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”
And the Lord stands still, and calls upon the blind beggar by the roadside. “What do you want me to do for you?” He asks.
It’s the same question he just asked the thunder brothers. Do you remember what they asked for? “Lord, let us sit by your side in glory, can we have cabinet positions in the kingdom of God?”
And what does Bartimaeus ask for? Mercy!
This blind man, left to the ditches of life, sees more clearly than anyone else. “Lord, let me see again!” “Go, your faith has made you well.” And immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Notice: Jesus heals Bartimaeus, reverses the misfortunes of the world, and orders him home. Go live the life you never had Bartimaeus.
But he didn’t! Because if Bartimaeus had gone back to a normal life, we surely wouldn’t be here talking about him. After his life is changed, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way.
Jesus is in the business of transformation – of taking us from where we are, to where we can be. That’s what church is all about. We don’t do all of this just to sing a few songs, and think a few lofty thoughts, and feel a few warm fuzzies only to do it all again next week. We do this because it changes us.
You know, for what it’s worth (pun intended), the Bible speaks about money and possessions more than anything other topic except for love. Which, of course, relates to money and possessions. Where our treasure is, there are hearts are also.
Following Jesus on the way is all about coming to grips with a new reality in which giving of ourselves in the only way we know how to live because that’s exactly what Jesus did, and does, for us.
Our giving, whether it’s our time, our talents, or our tithes, connects with how we, and others, experience little slices of heaven on earth here and now. Or, to use the language of our scripture today, they give us opportunities to have our eyes opened by Jesus to the truth.
In just the last few months alone I have witnessed the transformative ministry of God through this church. We welcomed in gobs of kids for Vacation Bible School and taught them about the virtues of discipleship. We sent our youth on a hometown mission trip in which they truly lived out their faith by loving their literal neighbors. We restarted all of our Sunday school classes and small groups in which, through the powerful work of study, we’ve grown in Christlikeness. We’ve even brought back our different music stylings from the praise band at the early service to the different bell choirs at the traditional service all so that we can retune ourselves to God’s frequencies in the world.
All of those things are made possible by and because of giving – the giving of talents, times, and, tithes.
Generosity changes us. It changes us in the immediate because our brains release endorphins when we do things for other. And it changes us in the long term because our giving now makes things possible for others later.
We have a church history room down off from Memorial Hall. There’s a remarkable quilt that details the different developments of Methodism, there are pictures of the building throughout the decades, and boxes full of old paperwork.
This week a woman came by the church because she was baptized here, she was married here, and is now back in town and she wanted a change to remember. So she and I sat together in the history room, we looked over the old attendance records where she was able to find the names of long gone friends and family. It was a remarkable experience.
After she left I went back into the room for a moment and found myself bowled over with emotions. 100 years ago a group of people were so committed to the Good News, despite the world being filled to the brim with bad news, that they decided to start this church. And for one hundred years Christians like us have been gathering again and again to proclaim the Gospel and to respond to it with giving.
People gave their time, talents, and tithes without knowing at all how it would bear fruit, and they did it anyway.
That’s the kind of mission we’re caught up in today. Planting seeds with our time, talents, and tithes so that they might bear fruit in ways we can’t even imagine. Jesus’ great gift makes gift givers of us all. What we do as a church is nothing short of eye-opening endeavors in which we are given opportunity after opportunity to be blessings to other because we have been so blessed.
We are all Bartimaeus. Life has knocked us down at some point or another. We’ve felt the weight of the world come crashing down upon us. We’ve felt abandoned to frightening fates in the ditches of life.
And Jesus come to us there in the ditch. Meeting us in our sins and in our shortcomings. The great gift giver comes to set us free. He opens our eyes to the truth.
“Go,” Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.”
What happens next, is up to us. Amen.