30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today we begin a brief sermon-series about stewardship…, which should not really surprise anyone. It is common practice for many pastors, at some point in the fall to use the word “stewardship” in at least one sermon.
Now, you can look at this from a cynical point of view: as we come to the end of our church’s fiscal year, your elders want to start planning a budget for the next. So at some point, we want to ask (what I think) is a reasonable question: what do you suppose is your best guess about how much you’ll be giving to the work of the church in the coming year? I say that’s the cynical point of view, but it’s really not that cynical. Like I said, I think it’s a reasonable question and it helps us discern what we can or cannot afford to do.
But there is another way you can look at sermons like these that is decidedly not cynical. These sermons give us a chance to remember, at least once a year, what the notion of “stewardship” is all about. Stewardship, especially when it’s about more than money, is actually a beautiful thing.
Now, I’ve been your pastor for ten years now. Which means that I’ve been preaching at least one sermon about stewardship a year for the past ten years. Each time I do, I try to throw in my own definition of stewardship; because it’s different than what you’ll find in a dictionary. So out of curiosity, does anyone want to take a stab at how I define stewardship? Didn’t think there’d be a pop quiz today did you? Well, don’t worry, I am prepared to define it again; but pay attention, you will be tested on this again. Stewardship is everything we do in response to the salvation we’ve received. So yes, our financial giving is stewardship; but so is the kindness we show to those in need; the time we spend helping others; the ways we use the talents we’ve been given in the church and in the world; and so much more. Today we talk about stewardship; and we learn about it from a guy who knew how to do it right.
Today, we hear Mark’s account of the healing of Bartimaeus. And what strikes me about this story all that we know about him. We know from the story that he was, of course, blind; but also that he was, of course, a beggar; that was really the only job a blind guy could get in those days. But there’s more to him, isn’t there? Based on this interaction, it seems that he was also kind of mouthy, right? He practically extorts this healing out of Jesus: he just shouts until he gets what he wants. He’s so obnoxious that people try to quiet him down; which only makes him louder. We may know people like that, right? So finally, Jesus calls for him and everybody suddenly changes their tune: “Hey, good news, buddy; he’s calling for you.”
As a beggar, maybe this was his begging style: just yell and make a scene until someone helps you; it may not be a nice, or even effective way to solicit donations, but berating people until they give is a style. It’s not my style, by the way; I’m usually quite polite about “the ask,” as they say. But I think, more to the point, he’s not the kind of guy who will be passive about his own salvation. He is disabled, yes; he is dependent on society’s handouts, but he’s not going to stay that way if given a choice. And as Jesus walks by, he has his choice.
It seems strange to me that Jesus calls him over, rather than going to Bartimaeus. I mean, wouldn’t you go to the blind person, rather than the other way around? But maybe it has something to do with his take-charge attitude. Maybe Jesus is trying to see how much Bartimaeus is willing to put into his healing. Hard to say.
But more importantly, perhaps the most surprising thing we know about Bartimaeus is that his name is Bartimaeus. They called him blind. They called him a beggar. But we call him Bartimaeus! There’s sort of a joke in the way Mark tells us his name, by the way: Mark calls him “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus.” The joke is, in Hebrew, “Bar” literally means “son of;” his name is “Junior.” Either Mark is, for some reason, translating the Hebrew part of his name for his readers, or there’s something else going on. My money is on the “something else.” I think Mark mentions Junior by name because the early church knew Bartimaeus by name. They knew him because he was important in the early church; they knew him because knew how to respond to his salvation. That’s a pretty good thing to be famous for.
The stewardship lesson we learn today from Bartimaeus is that salvation ought to inspire something in us. A pastor friend of mine asked me recently what I was grateful for. The time it took me to think of an answer made me realize that I should be asked that question more often. Last week the question was, “Which kingdom are you living in?” The fact that we can answer, “I am living in the Kingdom of God,” ought to bring us such joy! Bartimaeus gets it right. The God who called all things into being–the God who became one of us so that we might have life forever–intends for us to live in that abundant kingdom now. We have much to be grateful for.
But there is one other lesson we learn from Bartimaeus that’s worth noting. It comes right at the end of verse 52: Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well;” and what does Bartimaeus do? After receiving his sight, Mark tells us that he, “Followed [Jesus] on the way.” Now to be honest, it’s not really clear as to what Mark means by “followed Jesus on the way:” it could be that he literally started walking behind Jesus along the road that Jesus was on that led to Jerusalem. I think it’s more likely a way Mark is saying that, on that day, after receiving his salvation, Bartimaeus became a follower of Jesus; on that day, he became a disciple.
There are other notable blind beggars in the Gospels. I like to think that at least a couple of them are Bartimaeus, but perhaps unnamed. Like the guy in John who gives the religious leaders such a hard time. More likely we meet him again in the Gospel of Luke: in Luke 18, we read a story that seems to me to be this same story. But Luke goes on to also mention the way Bartimaeus begins to follow Jesus: it reads, “Immediately he regained his sight and followed [Jesus], glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.”
He follows Jesus the way any disciple should: giving glory to God. Now lest we forget, it doesn’t seem that he was exactly wallowing in the mire before Jesus gave him his new life. But after his sight is restored, he uses his renewed life to let the world know his joy. The way he followed Jesus matters; he follows with grateful joy; I wonder if he skipped.
Have you ever noticed men aren’t really allowed to skip? Everyone else can skip if they want to: children skip and you hardly even notice it; a grown woman skips and it’s cute and whimsical; if you see a man skipping toward you down the street, you cross the street. Men cannot skip.
Which is really a shame, if you think about it: I mean, why would a person skip? No one needs to skip; walking is a perfectly efficient way to get you from one place to another; and running would certainly get you there faster. No, skipping does more than just to get you where you’re going. In a way, skipping tells a story about someone. Skipping tells the world how you feel (and if you’re man, that maybe that you’re a weirdo). And how does a skipping person feel? Well let me put it this way: have you ever seen anyone crying while they’re skipping? You can’t be sad when you’re skipping; you can’t be angry when you’re skipping. In fact, skipping might be at least a temporary antidote to unresolved anger. Give it a try: next time you are mad go for a nice skip around the house; my guess is that you won’t stay angry for long.
Skipping is about joy; a joy that just can’t be hidden away; a joy whose expression can’t be bothered with self-consciousness just because it looks silly. Which is why it’s tragic that men can’t skip: because everyone who truly understands the gift of salvation that they have received, has a reason to skip. The good news is: skipping is not the only way we express the gratitude we feel. In fact, as our Scripture lesson remind us today, our entire lives can be an expression of the joy we have in our salvation.
Whatever our circumstances might be today, we have been given a wonderful gift. The salvation we have received calls us to respond: it calls us to rise and follow Jesus and it calls us do so with joy. Let us learn from the example of Son of Timaeus: let us seek to live as faithful stewards of the lives we’ve been given; giving thanks as we follow Jesus along the way.