What do you want me to do for you?
That’s a loaded question, isn’t it?
A couple of months ago, we crossed a threshold. We started a journey towards Jerusalem—which doesn’t exactly refer to a place on the map. In one sense it does, but in a deeper sense…it means so much more. In religious terms—the way we will use it in our closing hymn, for example—Jerusalem, is code for the heart of it all…It’s the beginning, and the end…the place we start from, the place we come home to…the eternal…It’s the heart of God…the City of God… the city of peace. Jerusalem is a term completely saturated with meaning…loosely translated it means, “City of Peace,” but that root word “salem” means so much more than just peace…it’s where we get “shalom” and “salam”…or more than simply the absence of discord…It means wholeness…completeness…unbrokenness…Jerusalem refers to the beating heart of God…The reality that is God’s dream of a whole, repaired, and reconciled creation. It’s where we’re all headed…and helping build that dream city is our sacred task…but we’re not there yet…we’re on the journey to it…so, let’s look back where we’ve just come from.
Back in September, at the beginning of the fall, we were way out in the region of Tyre…out in Syrophoenician territory…out in the borderlands. And there we met an incredible woman who knelt down in front of Jesus and begged him to heal her daughter. They had words, and we learned that peace-making and wholeness certainly doesn’t mean the absence of conflict, but rather that truth-telling and staying in the relationship is important…and the daughter was healed.
Then we traveled to the region of the Decapolis. Still out in the borderlands, but closer. And there we met a man deaf and mute. And Jesus touched his ears, and his tongue and whispered “ephphatha”—be opened. And his ears were opened. And I reminded us that that is sort of the point…having our ears and hearts opened…more and more and more.
Then we were back up north…in the region of Caesarea Philippi…the road to Jerusalem is not a straight line, it curves around like a labyrinth. And with our ears opened, we heard Jesus telling us about the Son of Man—the human one—suffering, and being rejected, and killed…and he may have said something , about “rising again,” but we’d stopped listening by that point…because…that’s not right! How is it possible that Jesus should suffer? How is it possible that anyone should suffer? Isn’t God supposed to do something about that? … But all we heard Jesus say was something about losing and finding…taking up a cross…it didn’t make a lot of sense.
Then we went down to Galilee (headed back toward Jerusalem). And when we got there, Jesus asked: “what were you arguing about?” And we we’re like, “nothing.” Because he was still talking about being killed, and that was really disturbing us, so we were arguing about who was the greatest, which, now that I think back on it was pretty dumb, but whatever… And then he found that kid. I have no idea where the kid came from, but Jesus took her and said, whoever welcomes this child welcomes me. And we didn’t really understand that either…our ears are open, and we’re hearing a lot, but not understanding very much.
And then he said don’t put a stumbling block in front of one of these little ones. Well, we found a lot of stumbling blocks, didn’t we?
We set out again, this time further south, and a group of guys from the city came out to meet us, and tested him with questions about divorce…and initially we thought he sounded pretty judgy, but then we thought, maybe that’s just our own brokenness… we’re scared that all of the things we’ve done…and left undone…maybe we’re afraid that all of that stuff will somehow keep us out of Jerusalem…out of the heart of God…maybe we won’t get into that place of wholeness and peace. What if there is something in us so broken that we simply can’t get in?
And then we set out towards the city…Jerusalem. We were on our way, we met a rich young man who also wanted to know how to get into the city of peace and wholeness…and remember what Jesus told him? Get rid of your stuff and share the wealth. But he thought that was too hard, so he left. And we were still wondering, how can anyone get in…if you’re too broken, if you’ve done something, if you’re rich…it just seems impossible. And Jesus said…”For mortals it is impossible, but not for God.”
And then last week, as we were getting closer to Jerusalem, James and John said they wanted to sit at his right hand. And he sighed, and said, “no. you still don’t get it. The last will be first and the first will be last.” (shrug)
And today, we’re in in Jerico…which is like a days walk from Jerusalem…we’re really close. And we’re still wondering how we can possibly get in, and what’s going to happen…And Bartimaeus comes up and we hear Jesus ask him the exact same question he asked John and James… “What do you want me to do for you?” John and James trip all over themselves, but Bartimaeus simply says…”let me see again.”
Our ears were opened back in September, but we kept tripping over things…is it because we still can’t see?
There’s a well know condition that people with brain injuries often have…called “visual neglect”… I learned about this when I worked as a chaplain at a VA hospital…Their eyes work fine, but the brain doesn’t register everything. So while they think they’re seeing everything, they’re actually missing a whole chunk. They have to be reminded to look toward the missing area. One therapist put orange dots on things they might potentially bump into (stumbling blocks), and then the patients were told to “find for the dots.” Which meant they had to continually scan the area to get their full range of vision. I think that something similar happens spiritually….
We look at our own past and see all things we’ve done wrong…all the times we’ve tripped…and we miss seeing all of the good that we’ve done…all the times when we were helped back up, or when we helped others up…
We look at our own present and see all the things that are wrong…but do we also see the progress that is being made, the signs of life and hope and joy that are also present if we look for them.
we look at our future and see a lot of looming black clouds…omens and storms…wars and rumors of wars…and Jesus is going to remind us that these are but the beginnings of the birthpangs. Do we also see the city of hope? The city of God’s dream? The city of peace and wholeness, and unbrokenness…Look there it is…every time we gather around this altar we see it. Every time our hearts and voices soar with a hymn, we hear it. Every time we welcome a child, or feed someone who is hungry…every time we laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep…we catch a glimpse of that city…
What do you want Jesus to do for you, today? I know what I want…I want to see…I want to see all of that…I want to look into the past, and the present, and the future and to see all of it…whole…and redeemed…restored…and I want to follow Jesus into the heart of it all.