“What would you like me to do for you?”
October 25, Proper 25:
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
There are two really challenging questions that every Christian must wrestle with.
Well, there’s probably a lot more than just two…
But there’s two primary ones that I’m thinking about today.
“Who do you say that I am?” And “What do you want me to do for you?”
The first is almost a given. It’s THE question. The primary proclamation of faith. It also happens to be the question that we’re actually given the answer to. Peter says it in scripture, “you are the Messiah.”
It’s the question we answer each week when we join in saying those difficult, mysterious, poetic, and ancient words of the Creed. That Jesus is the Son of God. True God from True God. And also somehow truly and fully human. The Son of Man. The messiah. The promised one. The anointed one. The Christ. Our savior.
This formulaic answer is reiterated in all of our Eucharistic prayers, occasionally using slightly different metaphors and images, but all pointing to one reality…that Jesus is The One, and one with The One.
We all still have to wrestle with that question and answer—with what it means to us personally. We still have to fill those words—“Messiah,” “Son of God,” “Christ,” “Savior,”—we still have to fill those with meaning for ourselves. But at least we have the containers…we know the words.
This other question…
The one we heard last week and then again today…is … different.
“What do you want me to do for you?”
There’s no single answer for that.
Every answer to that question will necessarily be unique, and keyed to the individual responding.
For each of us, I imagine, the answer might even be different at different points of our lives.
For those of us who are genuinely hurting…who are really desperate…for Bartimaeus, for example, the answer is simple. Heal me. Save me. Help me.
Most of us have been in a similarly desperate place, and if you haven’t been there yet…well, I hate to say it, but you will, at some point.
In those periods of real anguish the response to “what do you want me to do for you?” is often clear and simple.
It’s when we’re living with more stability, when we’re higher up the ladder of privilege, further up the hierarchy of needs, that’s when the answers get harder.
And the response to this question then becomes a different kind of faith proclamation. It requires a different level of understanding. Not who is Jesus? But who am I? And who is God calling me to be?
Franciscans tell us that the prayer St. Francis used as a meditation tool every day was this simple repeated phrase…”God who are you? And God, who am I?”
Take a moment and imagine Jesus standing in front of you. Imagine his eyes filled with love for you. Looking at you the way a dear friend might look at you after not seeing you for a very long time. Now, imagine him asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”
I’ve been trying this kind of meditation for a while now, and I still think that, for me, answering that question requires a level of self-awareness that I’m not sure I have yet.
Oh, sure, there are things I want…Questions I’d like answers to…situations I’d like changed…People whom I know are suffering, and I’d like them not to be suffering…
But this isn’t a genie-in-the-bottle-you-get-three-wishes type of question. And if I turn it into that, I end up sounding like James and John last week…asking for something completely wrong or outrageous — something that will make Jesus respond, “you don’t know what you’re asking for.”
The question, “What do you want me to do for you?” requires that we dig deep. It asks us to grow up, to grow more and more into the full stature of Christ. To become more and more the person God has created us to be. And that, in my experience, is much harder than affirming that Jesus is the Messiah.
Most Christians (especially really smart ones) can get caught up in trying to figure out the first question…Who is Jesus? How is he both fully human and fully divine? Trying to parse and understand and intellectually wrestle with that question…we can do it so much that we don’t ever get to the second question…which, for many of us, might actually be more important.
As difficult as it might be to respond with integrity that Jesus is the Son of God, it’s maybe even more difficult to respond with integrity to this second question. Because it requires us to know ourselves as we are known. To see ourselves as Christ sees us. As beloved and broken. As flawed and forgiven. And to clearly, and bravely, ask for that deep transformation.
What do you want me to do for you? is essentially Jesus offering us the gift of our true self. But we often think it’s easier (and maybe better) to be someone else.
Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak, says that: “Accepting [the gift of who you truly are] turns out to be even more demanding than attempting to become someone else.” We often ignore it, or hide from it, or flee from it…Parker tells a Hasidic story of how we all have a tendency to want to not be our true selves…to be someone else: Rabbi Zusya said, when he was old, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’” [Palmer, Parker J. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. John Wiley & Son, 2000. p. 10-11.]
God doesn’t want us to be Moses, or Zusya. God doesn’t require us to be other than who we are. God wants us to be who God created us to be. God needs us to be the people God created us to be. But daring to look for that person, to ask Jesus to show you that person…to ask him to help you become that person…that’s a daring thing to do. I think it might have been e.e. cummings who once said, “it takes courage to grow up and be who you are.”
That person you are, the person you were created to be, is the image of God within you. It’s what Thomas Merton called the “true self.” It’s what Quakers call the “inner light.” It’s that integrity at the core of your being. [Palmer, Ibid. p.11].
It’s your light. Your glimmer of the divine spark.
In our fall stewardship we’re encouraging you to “Let your light shine.”
So as you continue to prayerfully think about what and how you’d like to pledge this year, I want to invite you to take some time and let yourself get quiet, let yourself be in God’s presence and consider how you would answer that question. What would you like God to do for you? What would you like God to do for you in the world, and in particular what would you like God to do for you here at All Saints.
Each week when we answer the first question, we proclaim something about how God acts in the world.We say that Jesus is divine—the Son of God—and became Jesus became flesh. Incarnate. The Son of Man. God works through what is real and tangible. God works through people, and places, and budgets, and brick and mortar buildings. God works with and through us. God will help you to come closer to and reveal your true self, your godly image, your inner light, and God will work through all of us and this place to do it. Notice that Jesus uses the crowd to bring Bartimaeus to him.
So even if you still don’t quite have the answer to the first question all worked out to your satisfaction. Spend some time this week on the second one.
What inside you is longing to be revealed?
What do you desire to see brought to life in you, here?
What do you need healed, transformed, renewed?
What do you want God to do for you, here?
Spend some time with those questions and then fill our your pledge card and return it next week.
What do you want me to do for you?
Jesus still stands before you, ready to respond to this…
What will you ask for?