What do you want me to do for you?
A sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
and live streamed via Facebook: Sirach 26:10
October 24, 2021
This is a sermon for Homecoming Sunday. This is a sermon about the magic of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how it draws us home to Him so that we might draw others make a home in Jesus. This is a sermon about viability and vitality and the dance of the faith needed to take risks.
This morning’s Gospel is a good place to start. Jesus and his disciples have been in the city of Jericho, teaching and preaching and healing. As they were leaving Jericho, they came by a man named Bartimaeus who was sitting by the side of the road.
Now, Bartimaeus was apparently known in the community. Mark knew that he was the son of Timaeus and apparently thought it important enough to note. Mark is silent on the significance of that fact – I’m sure there’s a real backstory to it – but I have a hunch it has to do with the fact that Bartimaeus has been reduced to begging as his only source of income – a real source of embarrassment, no doubt, to him and his family.
However, there is an upside. As a beggar of money, Bartimaeus knew how to make himself heard. He calls out to Jesus, asking not for money but for mercy. His neighbors and other travelers try to shush him but that only made him cry out even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And, son of a gun, if Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to call Bartimaeus to him. Well, Bartimaeus didn’t waste a second, even dropping his cloak so he could get himself up and over to Jesus who said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Now that’s a question that begs the obvious, doesn’t it? The man is blind. Jesus is not. He has been reduced to begging. So, off course Bartimaeus says to Jesus, “Let me see again.”
Now, let me pause here for a moment to point out that we may have a hint at the backstory to the blindness of Bartimaeus. “Again,” he said. Bartimaeus said, “Let me see again.”
I wonder what sort of tragedy befell Bartimaeus to steal him of his sight? Was it a health issue? Was it an accident? Might the accident have involved his father, Timeaus? We’ll never know, of course, but Jesus seems to know because he answers, “Go; your faith has made you well.”
Which begs even more questions about how long Bartimaeus has been blind and how long he had been praying for the return of his sight. Jesus didn’t put his hands on Bartimaeus; neither did he claim that he had restored the sight of Bartimaeus by himself or the power of God or some trick of magic.
No, Jesus said, “Go; your FAITH has made you well.” He must have been praying and never giving up hope. Jesus proclaims that it was Bartimaeus and his faith - Bartimaeus participated in the miracle of his own healing. Mark reports, “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him (Jesus) on the way.”
Which brings me to homecoming. Coming home. By which we mean, to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, right here on 122 East Pine Street in Georgetown, DE, which we claim to be, as our Catechism states beginning on page 844 of the BCP, “The Body of Christ”.
We are not just “the church”. We are “The Body of Christ”. That’s a pretty bold claim to make, isn’t it? We rely on the promise that Jesus made when he said, “Whenever two or more are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20).
But, we go even beyond that. We believe that not only is Jesus here in the midst of us, we believe that we ARE the Body of Christ. At the closing prayer at the end of our Eucharistic service, we pray, "... and for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son . . . "
That’s not a statement of magic; that is a statement of our theology. It is our spirituality. It is mystical and a deep and wonderful mystery which is impossible to explain much understand. It is a statement of belief, yes, but it is a statement of faith.
I know I believe that with all my heart. Maybe that's why some people think I'm crazy. That's okay. It doesn't shake my belief or my faith.
Some of you in church this morning have been coming to church faithfully for years. Others of you left years ago and are now back, curious about the stirrings of growth and activity you may have been hearing about.
Still others just want to see this crazy woman they’ve convinced to come here, week after week, in this pulpit and behind that altar who really believes that Jesus is present here in this church, who really believes there is lots of life and vitality here, and Jesus is asking us, in our own spiritual blindness, to come to him so he can ask us to our face, “What do you want me to do for you?”
And, yes, I really believe that. We are all Bartimaeus this morning. We cannot see what Jesus has in store for us but we have faith – our faith is strong – and so we come and sit and pray, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on us.”
We want this church to be filled with life again. We want an active, vital church that is alive with faith and hope and joy. But that’s not going to happen if we just sit here and call out to Jesus. Like Bartimaeus, we’ve got to put our whole selves in and dare to be specific about what it is we want when Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The question then becomes, “Well, what do we have to do before Jesus will do for us?” Yes, I have an answer to that question but I’m betting solid money it’s not at all what you expect.
Oh, the easy answer is that we have to do the ministry of Jesus and the mission of his gospel of Good News. Yes, of course. The bishop would want me to say that. The wardens and vestry would like me to point out all the wonderful ministry happening here. But, there’s an even deeper answer for which we have to go to the ‘back story’ to find the answer.
First, here’s the story behind the story. This was told to me by my dear friend and colleague, Rev. Lauren Stanley, who has been a missionary to Sudan and Haiti and is now pastor to several little churches on the Rosebud Reservation for Native Americans of the Sicangu Lakota, and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, a branch of the Lakota people in South Dakota. This is the fun part, so pay attention:
During World War II, a musician by the name of Larry LaPrise served in the European Theater. After the war, LaPrise and his friends formed a band called the ‘Ram Trio’ that entertained the crowds coming off a day of skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho.
One of the songs he wrote – or so the story goes – is one that all of us know: The Hokey-Pokey. You know this song, right? Most of us have sung it and danced to it, usually as kids and then again, for some unknown reason, at weddings.
The words “Hokey Pokey” come from the words “hocus pocus,” which most of us know are the words you speak when you’re doing magic. Now, the words “hocus pocus” come from the Latin phrase, Hoc est corpus meum – “This is my body,” – the words the priest speaks when he or she elevates the bread during the Eucharist.
In the early days of the church, when the priests would celebrate in great stone cathedrals, the priest would turn his back to the people, and sing the Mass: “Hoc est corpus meum!” His voice would reverberate throughout the cathedrals, and as the echo moved throughout the cathedral, what the priest was signing – “Hoc est corpus meum” – would sound to the people in the pews in the back of the cathedral ("the cheap seats") like Hoooo-cuuussss pooooocuuuuus . . . . . . .”
From that term – “hocus pocus” – LaPrise came up with the “Hokey Pokey” (although there are some who claim that the song and dance existed in England during the war). In 1949, LaPrise and the Ram Trio recorded the song and it soon became nationally known.
So now some of you are thinking, ‘What are we supposed to do with the information in this story about a silly song and dance?’ Well, think again about the last part of the song: You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about!
Isn’t that what Jesus is asking us to do? Just what he asked Bartimaeus to do? He wants us to turn ourselves around and put our whole selves into Him. Jesus is saying, “Turn around and come home to me. Turn around and make your home in me.” That’s what the Hokey Pokey is telling us to do: Turn ourselves around and put our whole selves in! Turn around (the Greek word for that is Metanoia – meaning ‘repent’ – which means ‘turn around’). Turn around and come home.
You’ve been going one way, now turn around and come home. Come home to Jesus, our home in this life and our eternal home in the next. And, like Bartimaeus, it is our faith – participating in what we say it is we believe – that will heal us and make us whole.
Well, how do we do that, you ask? Well, you start with one hand, because sometimes that’s all you can do. Maybe you start by just coming to church. Then you put in a foot and sing in the choir or take a turn with hospitality. Maybe you agree to provide transportation to church for someone or you agree to stock up the Little Red Cupboard. Then you go for your right side, followed by your left.
And then, if you can, if you’re willing to be bold – to take a risk for the Gospel, for Jesus, who gave His all for you and wants all of you, just as you are without one plea – if you can have that kind of courage, Jesus asks that you put your whole self into the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ (known as the church), you turn yourself around and you commit yourself to Christ.
Because, you know, that’s what it’s all
about. THAT's what's really important. Not numbers of figures or dollars - although that is important. But, the most important thing to Jesus and so, to this Body of Christ that we claim to be, is that you turn yourself around and you commit yourself to Christ.
It’s something we have to do over and over again, this turning around, this committing ourselves. But we can do it. And we can start to do it through the Hokey Pokey, believe it or not. It’s a silly song, at least on the surface. But when you learn the real meaning of it, when you learn what the words are and what the intentions are, it becomes something a whole lot more significant.
Well, are you willing to do this? On this Homecoming Sunday, are you willing to take a small risk for the Gospel? Are you willing to stand up and dance the Hokey Pokey with me?
Okay, then. Let’s do it. (“Oh
no,” you’re thinking, “She’s not going to make us get up!” Oh yes she is!). When I was in Palestine and just last week in Egypt, the people can be heard to say in Arabic, "Yallah!" Which means, "C'mon! "Let's Go!
Yallah! C’mon! Everybody who is able, move out of your pew. That’s it. Let’s do the Hokey Pokey. Right here in church. Ready? Everybody sing and dance!
"You put your right hand in. You take your right hand out. You put your right hand in and shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around. And, that’s what it’s all about."
"You put your left foot in. You take your left foot out. You put your left foot in and shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around. And, and that’ what it’s all about".
"You put your whole self in, you take your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. ‘Cuz that’s what it’s all about."
Yes, that’s what the magic of the mission of the Gospel, the magic of the Gospel is all about.
That’s what you have to do in order to have a church that is viable and vital and sustainable. Take a risk. Do something you haven’t done in a long while or have never done. Small steps. First one foot and then the other. Turn yourself around. Come home to Jesus. Ask him to help you see again: Hope and possibility, new life and joy. Again.
As Joe Biden often say, "Here’s the deal": Bartimaeus did it. You can do it, too! There's no magic. Stand up. Go to Jesus when he calls. Have him open your eyes so you can see. And, follow him wherever he leads you – which may not be anything you’ve ever seen before or expected.
In fact, when you follow Jesus, expect different. Expect a lot of things to be different.
There’s no magic. The magic, my friends, is created in the doing. The magic is created by answering Jesus honestly when he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”
And we, like Bartimaeus, will
answer, “My teacher, let me see again.”