Monday, April 11, 2011

Christ: The King of Just the Right Word

Preached April 10, 2011

Scripture readings: Genesis 3:1-13: Mark 10:46-52

I remember back in the old days when there was a comedienne named Gracie Allen who was famous for saying this: she said, “I never know what I’m thinking until I hear myself say it.”

Has that ever happened to you? Once in a while I will find myself saying or doing something that reveals a side of me that I was not aware of before. Maybe other people saw that side of me, but I didn’t; I couldn’t.

And then, there are the people who have the gift of bringing this out in us. Some of them are people we don’t like. They bring out the worst in us. We would like to think that what they bring out in us is the exception. But I think they bring out the truth.

It’s like looking into a mirror. There are mirrors that are kind to us, and mirrors that aren’t so kind; but even a carnival mirror will not tell us a complete lie about ourselves. They won’t show us something that is not there. They just show what is there in an exaggerated or a funny way.

The people who bring out the worst in me still bring out the truth in me. Then I have some serious thinking and praying to do.

There are also other people who reveal the unknown truth that lurks within us. These people bring out the best in us.

Most of my best friends, as a kid, sort of took me as I was. I was thankful for that; and that was a good thing.

But, when I was starting out in college, a fellow college student who was an older brother of a classmate of mine took me as I was, but he also helped me grow. Larry Jenkins was one of the people who helped me to recommit my life to Christ.

I learned a lot about prayer from Larry, and about living with faith in God and living with a generous spirit toward others. Larry was an excellent example of a Christian who took his faith seriously and yet he had the best sense of humor and of fun. He was someone who was always quicker to laugh at himself than at others, and he didn’t have an ounce of “churchiness” in him.

He helped me learn to dig into the Bible, and to interact and wrestle with what the Bible says. If I have ever taught anything helpful about the Bible, the roots of that are in what Larry Jenkins taught me about how to read it and understand it.

As important as all of that is, Larry did more than that. Larry also helped me to be more of a real human being than I had been before. He helped me live more without fear and more with confidence.

For instance, Larry helped me learn to drive. That sounds odd. I should have known how to drive before I was in college. I took drivers education and drivers training in high school, but I hadn’t done very well.

My dad took me out to practice once or twice, but basically my dad was of the opinion that I was one of those people who couldn’t drive, and shouldn’t drive. He explained this to me more than once or twice. I was probably just born that way.

Even with Larry helping me learn to drive, it took me about four attempts to pass the drivers test. A lot of this was a matter of confidence. I was so nervous that I would shake. Before I finally passed, my dad had a talk with me and reminded me of the fact that I should accept the fact that I was one of those people who couldn’t drive.

Now the fact is that this is pretty much how my dad taught me to think about myself in every area of my life. It was very discouraging. It was really debilitating. I knew I couldn’t do anything. My dad had a lot of admirable qualities and a lot of integrity. But, with me, every thing that really mattered seemed to become a test that I managed to fail.

One good thing was that, eventually, he realized what he had done. A couple years before he died, he apologized for the way he treated me.

Larry took me as I was, but also he talked and acted as if I could be more than I was; and as if I could learn to do things. So he was the one who finally taught me how to drive.

He taught me a lot of other things as well. He helped be to simply be a person. He taught me how to be a person who could learn and grow. I had never been that before. That was, and is, a great gift.

Larry was able to help me, not only by means of his patience and his will to do me good; but he was able to help me because he always seemed to know the right thing to say: not necessarily the perfect thing, but the right thing.

Larry knew how to say the constructive thing. He knew how to explain something and how to ask me a question without discouraging me or belittling me.

This is an art; to know the right word. When other people know this art and use it for our good, they are a blessing to us. This art, in their hands, is a gift from God. This art is learned through a lot of paying attention, and through a lot of intense thinking and praying.

It is an art that comes from the very heart, and essence, and nature of God. It is an art that we were created for, and we can rediscover this art again in the love of Christ. Jesus Christ teaches this art of seeking the right word to those who want to follow him.

The first question that God asks in the Bible is, “Where are you?” Adam and Eve had just eaten the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. They ate it because they thought it would make them as smart as God. They thought it would make it possible for them to know things independently, and not have to depend on God. They could be in charge of their own lives.

There are good things about being smart, but there are bad ways to be smart. It’s like the cartoon about the boy whose parents are taking him to play in the Christmas pageant. He is wearing a crown and a robe, and his dad says, “Now son, remember you are a wise man and not a wise guy.” There is a way of thinking and acting that we think is wise, but it is not wise at all.

Well God had designed the garden where Adam and Eve lived to be a place of fellowship with him; a place where they could grow, but not a place for them to be separate and independent. It was to be a place designed for them to learn about themselves as creatures of God, children of God, who were known and loved.

So God came to them there, in the cool of the day, and God knew exactly what was wrong. He knew what Adam and Eve had done.

There were all kinds of things that God could have said about this. He could have said, “Adam and Eve! I see you hiding behind that cedar tree. You come out this very instant. You’ve stolen that fruit I told you not to eat; haven’t you? Just wait till I get my hands on you!”

But God didn’t say anything like that. God knew just the right word to say. He said, “Where are you?”

Adam and Eve were afraid of God. But their kind of the fear of the Lord is not what the Lord wants when the Bible talks about the fear of the Lord. The most frightening thing about God is that the Lord who made the universe, the Lord who made the heavens and the earth, the Lord who made time and space, loves us. God loves us. That should be the scariest thing in the world; and the most wonderful.

God’s question, “Where are you?” was a serious way of playing a game we play for fun. It was like playing “hide and seek” with really little children who are not so good at hiding.

You know where they are. Finding them is no problem. But the most important thing in the world for them is to experience what it means to be looked for and to be found.

The ultimate safety is to live in a world where, no matter how bad things are, no matter how much trouble you are in, you can be found and claimed. And that is what God’s question was about. In this scary world, fear and emptiness drive human beings to search for God. And they search, and they search, and they search, and they search, because they do not realize that they live in a world where God is searching for them; like a parent searching for a child who is not really hidden from them.

Notice, though, that Adam and Eve never gave God a straight answer to his questions. In their answers they try to never face what God is getting at. They answer in a way that shows that they hope to remain unfound.

Their answers were always defensive and self-serving, and that is the proof that eating the forbidden fruit was really the wrong thing to do. What they had done had changed them for the worse. They knew this. Their hearts and minds were already being poisoned by what they had done. They could no longer speak the truth without distorting it to their own advantage.

The truth is that, living as we do in a world where God is always saying just the right thing to us and asking us just the right questions, against our will, we are like children sticking their fingers in their ears and saying, “La, la, la, la, la, la! La, la, la, la, la, la!”

When we are going wrong, we never give God’s questions a straight answer. We are too mixed up to even know what he is saying or why he is saying it.

Jesus is God becoming a human like us, in order to bridge the gap; in order to pull our fingers from our ears; in order to find us in our hiding places and ask us, “Where are you?” And so Jesus is always the master of just the right word.

There are so many examples of this, but here is one. Jesus asked the blind man Bartimaeus the strangest question that you could ever ask a blind person, “What do you want me to do for you?” I mean this is the strangest question when Jesus is the one asking it.

Bartimaeus knew that Jesus was at least a healer. He knew that Jesus had the power to heal the blind; and Jesus (being Jesus) knew that Bartimaeus knew this.

Actually Bartimaeus might have been asked the same question every day: “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus lived by begging. That is what most blind people did to earn their keep. Bartimaeus lived by telling people what he wanted them to do for him.

“What do you want me to do for you Bartimaeus?” asked the people of the town, or the people passing by on the road. Here, I have a penny I can give you. I have a loaf of bread I can give you. I can lead you to the well for a drink, Bartimaeus.

When I ask someone what I can do for them, I feel as if those are almost the only kind of things I can do for them. I can give them a ride. I can pay a bill, or buy them food or gas. Since I am in the Lions club, which specializes in care for sight and hearing, if they have a problem with their eyes, I can take them to an eye doctor, or find a way to get them into a hospital where they can get a cornea implant. I suppose I can help them get a seeing-eye dog.

And yet I can do more than this. I guess I can do more. I can listen. I can share some thought that God puts on my heart. I can pray.

But for people like Bartimaeus, only God can heal. I am not God. And people need help in ways where I have no power to help. We all know people whom we have no power to help.

There is a kind of faith (a good kind of faith) that gives us courage to ask people for help, when we need it. Humility is one of the qualities of God that we see in Jesus. In Christ, God became our servant for the purpose of rescuing us from the power of sin and death.

Humility is one of the qualities that we must have if we are to belong to the humble God. So it is a good kind of faith to be daring enough to help other people to know what they might do for you. There are people who care, who want to know. They deserve to know.

It is another kind of faith to answer God’s question, “What do you want me to do for you?” In this case it is a completely different question.

There are needs beyond human help. There are times when no human help seems to be enough. The question of Jesus required faith from Bartimaeus, simply to name the impossible desire that he wanted.

There were good reasons for Bartimaeus to not want to see. If Bartimaeus was born blind, or if he had become blind due to one of the many childhood illnesses that were common in those days, he would have hardly any notion of how to live with eyes that could see.

Bartimaeus was an expert at living blind. There are ways that we all are living blind, but we manage to get along. I have known a number of blind people who were amazingly independent. You can do a lot of things for yourself when you are blind.

If Bartimaeus suddenly gained his sight, he might not be able to find his way home without closing his eyes first. To see his way home would only confuse him. He knew how to feel his way, but not how to see his way. And he would have no way of earning a living, or earning his keep. His effective begging days would be over. He had never been an apprentice to anyone to learn a trade. Labor was cheap. Why would anyone train him when he was blind?

He was blind! If he worked on a farm, or in the field, or in a garden, he wouldn’t know what anything looked like. At least to begin with, he wouldn’t know the difference between a weed and a plant. He had no idea what the work he was supposed to do would look like.

There are a lot of things we want. There are a lot of things we regret not having. But the question Jesus asks you may be different than you think. We are often not brave enough to want what is best. Jesus asks us to want a world and a way of life that we are afraid to see and afraid to live.

Each one of us should want something that everything in our life, up to this point in time, has told us that we are incompetent for. You should want something that you don’t know how to do. You should want something for which you feel unready and unworthy. I don’t know what that is for you, and I am not going to tell you what it is for me.

Bartimaeus asked for his sight, but he really wanted much more. The miracle was that he got a lot more than he asked. He got Jesus.

We read that, the moment he was healed, he took off with Jesus and followed Jesus on the road. And that road was only a few miles and a few days away from Jerusalem; and the arrest, and the condemnation, and the crucifixion of Jesus.

The road Bartimaeus took would lead him into a life he could never have imagined. He was completely unprepared for it. The road took him to see Jesus die on the cross, and probably be among the mourners who went into hiding from sheer terror. Imagine taking a road that led so fast from healing to tragedy and terror.

And yet, the seeing man would probably have been one of the first ones to walk out of one of the city gates of Jerusalem to find the empty grave. There he met, once again, the one who had given him sight, now with wounds in his hands and feet and side, and very much alive.

Jesus had met the worst things that any of us can fear. Jesus had met the changes that terrify us most, so that we can meet them without fear. He has the power to offer us the life that we are afraid of, that we are afraid to ask for.

Jesus defeated Bartimaeus’ blindness when he healed him. And soon Bartimaeus would see that Jesus had healed his heart, and mind, and life. Bartimaeus would see that Jesus was the King of the kingdom of God.

God is our maker and our savior. Because God brings so much to us, God knows just the right word to ask us. And Jesus is the Word of God from the very beginning.

Jesus is God for us, and he can say the right word to us for God. Jesus is human for us, and can say the right word to us as our brother and our friend. Jesus is the servant, the washer of our feet. Jesus is the victim and the sacrifice for the sins and evils of the world; and for your sins and evils as well.

Jesus is the giver of forgiveness and grace, and the giver of freedom and abundant life. Jesus is the giver of hope, the giver of heaven, and the giver of a new creation.

All that Jesus is and that he has done is a message to you, a good word to you: just the right word to offer you a life from God. Jesus is a word that seeks you out, and finds you where you are, and asks you what you really want; as long as it is something that only he can give.

The Lord’s Supper is a word too. It is a message about the word that came down from heaven in Jesus. This meal tells us that Jesus is our host in this world, and that the food he gives us is not junk food.

His food is nourishment, and grace to make us whole. His food is his promise to give us something better than we can ever know how to ask.

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