Reformation Sunday, Confirmation Sunday October 28, 2012
Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-9
Being the parent of grade schoolers, I sometimes get sucked in to games of “Would you rather?” I remember this kind of conversation from my childhood, but now, like so many things, it has become an actual commercial product, a packet of cards you can purchase that poses questions like,
“Would you rather be boiled in hot oil, or chopped into pieces?”
“Would you rather lose both your legs below the knee, or
both your opposable thumbs?”
For some reason, my kids enjoy posing all these worst-case scenarios against one another, no matter how gruesome the options. But we never make it far into the game before at least one (usually a grown-up) member of the family points out that the choices are ridiculous. If you were in such a situation, your hope would be to get out of the choice, not to make the choice.
But occasionally it is enlightening to see where our priorities would lie, and so I’d like to try a game of “Would you rather?” with you. You don’t have to speak your answer or raise a hand. Just ask yourself:
Would you rather seek out God in your own terms, or have to accept what other people are telling you about when and how God is present ?
Would you rather ask God what you can do, or ask God to do something for you?
Would you rather be loved by Jesus, or be called by Jesus?
Would you rather have lots of things, and willingly give them all away; Or have one thing, and throw that aside in desperation for something better
Would you rather be a rich upright citizen, or a blind helpless beggar?
Most of us don't like these choices, because of course we’d rather not have to choose between extremes. After all, everyone in this election season is on the side of the middle class, right? Whether you make 10 dollars an hour or $200,000 a year, we all want to be middle class.
But if we are looking to find ourselves amongst all the people Jesus encounters in the gospels—they don't really give us that option. Jesus doesn’t generally encounter middle-class people, middle of the road people, people who take a moderate approach to following him. He encounters the poor and the sick and the lame. And he encounters the powerful, the rich and the respected. Especially in these chapters of Mark, there isn’t much middle. Specifically Mark seems to hold up these two men who could not be more opposite.
A rich young man comes running up to Jesus, and asks what must I do to inherit eternal life?
While a blind beggar can only shout from the sidelines because he has heard that Jesus is passing by.
The rich man says, “I’ve obeyed the commandments! What else can I do?”
The blind man can only say “Jesus, son of David, have
mercy on me.
The rich man, Jesus loves.
But to the blind man, he says “what do you want me to do for you?” And then he does it.
The rich man, goes away sad, because he has many possessions
The blind man throws off the one thing he has, his beggar’s cloak, and asks for his sight. He receives it and then follows Jesus on the way.
The beggar is the only person Jesus heals in the whole Bible who is named, named twice. “Bartimaeus and ‘son of Timaeus’ mean exactly the same thing. He is named, and he is the only one whom Jesus heals whom we are told follows Jesus afterwards.
I'm not sure it's helpful, finally to ask would you rather be. We all know exactly where we'd rather be, and dependent and desperate and poor are not our lists. We’d rather be the one who is loved by Jesus, who is upright, who is rich, who is called by Jesus, healed by him, AND who follows him– but that one does not appear in the Gospel. But this is not about our choices.
But thanks be to God that this is not about what we choose to be. No matter where life takes us, Jesus will be there – challenging us to let go when we think we have grasped our salvation, and calling us to follow and giving us the sight to do so even when we think we have nothing to offer.
This day we celebrate as these confirmands affirm the promises of their baptisms, and I think it's fair to say that they are all above average! We look into their apparently bright futures, and we would never wish for them a moment of desperation. But let us be clear -- our faith is not about them standing alone, upright, righteous and able to seek God on their own. Jesus calls us when we can't even see him ourselves.
Jesus called these young people when they were helpless, and unable to walk to the font themselves. Jesus called them when they couldn’t see anything except maybe the eyes of their parents or grandparents holding them and gazing at them. Jesus called them when the only thing they could articulate was a cry.
And truth be told, though we celebrate that they can now stand on their own, and affirm the promises of their baptism; though we can look at their projects and see how they have come to seek God and try and understand God; though we celebrate that they might even want to do something for God, we know that there will be other times
There will be times when they cannot see the path in front of them
Times when they have nothing to give and cannot imagine doing anything FOR God.
There will be times – times after a diagnosis, or after a rejection, times of doubt and desperation and grief. There will be times when the only words that come out in prayer are cries for help.
There will be times when they understand, not just in their heads but in their hearts, Martin Luther’s dying words, “we are all beggars, that is true.”
But in those moments we are not alone. In the body of Christ we stand in a throng, a whole great company, as Jeremiah puts it, of people too ill to travel on their own, too vulnerable to make their way without help.
We stand, or maybe just sit, in that crowd, and we rely on the witness of the saints before us and the on the company of those around us, who say, “Take heart. Get up. He is calling you.”
And then he Jesus calls us, and sees us, and gives us
sight to follow. Thanks be to God.