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What's Your Cry, What's Your Request? Pray Like Bartimaeus.

Pray Like Bartimaeus
A sermon preached October 28, 2012
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector, The Falls Church Episcopal

Jesus and his disciples 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. (Mark 10:46-52)

As those of you who were here last week know, this is the second in a three part sermon series. 

Last week, we looked at the passage just before this one in Mark, where James and John approach Jesus and say, “we want you to do whatever we ask of you,” and Jesus says, “what is it you want me to do for you?” and they respond that they want places of honor. 
I suggested last week that instead of piling on James and John – instead of criticizing them for asking to be great and first – that we consider the fact that Jesus does not criticize them for what they desire: he does not tell them their desire for greatness…their desire to be first…is itself bad: instead, he redefines for them what it means to be great, what it means to be first.  

“Among the Gentiles” he says – among, in other words, people who don’t put God first, out there in what we’d call the popular culture – there’s a set of standards in which being great, being first, means having lots of power over people and lording that power over them. 
Not so among you, Jesus says. But whomever wishes to be great among you must be your servant and whomever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

Jesus does not say, “you should not seek to be great. Your desire to be first is bad.”

Instead, he redirects their notion of greatness.

He says [essentially], “your notion of greatness and God’s notion of greatness are different. 

You want to be first? Good, be the first person to serve, the first person in someone’s day, to say “you need some help with that, can I help you, is there some way I can be of service to you?”

In other words, Jesus meets James and John where they are and pulls them to another place.

And so I think that James and John actually model a good (or at least sincere) way of praying: tell God what you want, even if what you want isn’t exactly a model of purity or holiness, even if what you want is selfish or materialistic. 

Pray honestly, because it’s not as though God doesn’t already know those things about you; it’s not as if there’s a part of us that God doesn’t know about…so we might as well get that all out there where God can work with it.

So if last week I was encouraging us to pray “James and John prayers,” this week I’m encouraging “blind Bartimaeus prayers.”

To set the stage: Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd are leaving the city of Jericho. 

Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, is sitting by the roadside. When he “hears that it was Jesus of Nazareth,” he starts to shout out “Jesus, son of David [honored one, anointed one], “mercify me!”

(I say “mercify me” because as one biblical commentator[1]  has pointed out, there’s not really a good English translation of what (“eleeson me”) Bartimaeus is shouting out: 

He’s not asking Jesus to be kindly disposed toward him,” to feel mercy or pity toward him: he’s asking him to do something for him, and so a better translation is probably “help me!”

That’s at the root of Bartimaeus’ prayer: “help me.”

What happens next?

“Many sternly ordered him to be quiet.”  

I find that fascinating.

Many sternly ordered him to be quiet. 

Not “just then, someone from the crowd tried to hush Bartimaeus” (shhhhh)....

...but “many sternly ordered him” to be quiet.

You know how last week I told the story of my daughter’s friend kicking off her high heels after her dance, moving around and saying “ feels so weird to feel normal!”? 

I was naming a dynamic that will come up if we pray naturally: 

I was making the point that if we pray the “James and John prayers” to God, at first it’ll feel weird, strange…because we tend to believe we’ve got to wear uncomfortable "high heels" in prayer instead of just being our barefoot selves: we’ve somehow picked up the notion that prayer should be formal, or done in a certain way, or be filled with holy thoughts…and so – fair warning – if we pray honestly, it’ll “feel weird to feel normal” before God.

Well, fair warning this week: if we pray the Bartimaeus prayer – if we shout out to God, “help me!” – if we go to God on a daily, hourly basis for help, if we cry out to God for help, then don’t be surprised if “many” voices start sternly ordering you to be quiet.

Because there are a lot of competing voices to our voice of sincere prayer. There are a lot of competing voices to our sincere requests for help. 

There’s a voice that says, “I don’t really need any help…I can handle this on my own. Things aren’t so bad. It’ll be all right.” 

When you hear that voice sternly ordering you to be quiet, cry out even more loudly, “I DO need help! I CAN'T handle this on my own, things ARE bad, I’m NOT sure how things are going, I need help. Help!" 

There’s a voice that says, “who is it you think you’re yelling out to anyway? Does God really exist? Aren’t you just talking to your imagination?” When you hear that voice sternly ordering you to be quiet, cry out even more loudly, “God, you are mystery, incomprehensible, beyond my understanding. But that doesn’t mean you don’t exist! I believe. I believe you are up there, and in here: I believe you are
o   below me, supporting me,
o   ahead of me, guiding me,  
o   above me, watching over me,
o   behind me, pushing me forward –
surrounding me with your care and support, enveloping me with your love.  

There’s a voice that says, “well even if God does exist, he’s too big and powerful, too busy with too many other people and problems to worry about you. 

When you hear that voice sternly ordering you to be quiet, cry out even more loudly, “God, you are not a harassed telephone operator (as per JB Phillips), or a corporate CEO – you are God, not human, and that means you don’t have…you’re not limited by human attributes; you can and in fact you do care about every single human being on the face of the planet at the exact same time. So remind me you are outside of time and space, not limited by either, remind me that even the hairs of our head are all counted, and that you are intimately concerned about every detail of my life: so help me. 

There’s a voice that says, “well, even if God does exist and does care, he’s mad at you…disappointed in you…you’re in trouble, because God has seen what you’ve done and disapproves of you.” 

When you hear that (evil!) voice sternly ordering you to be quiet, cry out even more loudly – shout! – “I don’t know what Bible you’re reading or where you got that from, but the God I know in this Bible and the God I’m reminded of each week at my church is a God of goodness and mercy, who makes his goodness and mercy known – God is described as a forgiving father rushing out to embrace the prodigal son, a God who not only is not horrified by me when I turn to him but who is delighted, who throws a party, who speaks of angels rejoicing in heaven…and say “help me.”

Because what happens when Bartimaeus keeps yelling?

Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”

And they called the blind man – the blind man who could see God’s grace and mercy, who had a clearer vision of God than anyone around – they call him and say, “take heart, cheer up, courage…don’t be afraid.”

He throws off his cloak…throws off his past…throws off his limitations and former sources of securities…springs up and comes to Jesus…

…and although he can’t see Jesus, he hears Jesus ask him, “what do you want me to do for you?”

“Let me see again.”

What’s your cry? What’s your request?

Can you hear God saying, in response, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

...and when you hear the voices trying to silence your prayer, can you call out all the more...

...praying like Bartimaeus?

[1] [A.K.M. Adam, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 4, pg 215]


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