Last weekend I was on the road to Dallas for the Red River Rivalry and saw a church sign in Waco that angered me: “introducing 30 minute worship.” What angered me was the marketing. You see, they had a product – 30 minute worship – and this church did a really good job of selling their product.
And it made me think – far too often we approach God – far too often we approach the church – as a product or a service or something that exists to meet our wants. 30 minute worship is a response – not to a genuine need – but to a want. The pastor of this church is smart – he knows the people of Waco are “shopping” for a church and he wants his product to sell. And so he asked around – What do you want me to do for you? And here’s what I imagine they said. “Well, we’re tired. We work too much, our life is out of balance, and we’re not getting enough sleep. What we want is an extra 30 minutes. We want twice the worship experience in half the time. What we want is a better product.” And so the pastor gave it to them– 30 minute worship.
“What do you want me to do for you?” That’s the question Jesus asked James and John last week, that’s the question he asks Bartimaeus this week, and that’s the question our Lord is asking each and every one of us this morning. What do you want me to do for you?
Well, we know what James and John said. “We want power. We want fame. We want front row seats in the Kingdom of God.” And we recall Jesus’ response. “You’re blind.” He said. “You cannot see that your “what can I get” approach is what’s keeping you from being fulfilled. If you’ve come to me primarily to receive, if you’re looking for a better product, then I cannot give you what you want. Because life in my Kingdom isn’t about what you can get. Life in my Kingdom is about what you can give.
Now that’s a hard pill to swallow. You and I have been conditioned by a world that thrives on giving us what we want. We want things to be faster and cheaper and smaller and to have less carbs – and guess what – we get it. In the Kingdom of the world, nothing we want is off limits. The customer is always right. Where there’s a want, there’s a way. To quote “the Burger King” – have it your way. This is how we’ve been conditioned to see. We’ve inherited a “what can I get” approach to life. And so before we look at blind Bartimaeus, I want to be clear about what I perceive to be our blindness – myself included. We live in a world that gives what we want. We follow a God that wants what we give. Life in our world is about what we can get. Life in God’s world is about what we can give. And so if we’re trying to understand the kingdom of God through the eyes of our world – we are blind – sitting by the roadside day after day unfulfilled, all because we want something that Jesus never came to give.
In today’s Gospel we hear the story of blind Bartimaeus, and his life revolves around what he can get. Day after day Bartimaeus sits there with his cloak, and since Jericho is far too hot to wear a cloak, this cloak would have been used to collect money. For the author of Mark’s Gospel, this cloak symbolizes a life of receiving. And so sitting by the roadside day after day Bartimaeus spreads that cloak on the ground and he thinks to himself, “I wonder what I can get.”
But is Bartimaeus fulfilled? Sure, his cloak fills up each day, but Bartimaeus wants so much more. And so when he hears that Jesus is coming his way, Bartimaeus cries out because he is sick of being blind. He is sick of sitting by the roadside. He is sick of living for what he can get. And so he cries out – not once but twice – for the Messiah to open his eyes.
And that’s exactly what happens. Bartimaeus hears the words that I know each of us are desperate for Jesus to speak to us – “Take heart. Get up. I am calling you.” What do we want Jesus to do for us? Isn’t this it? For Jesus Christ to see us, for him to notice us in this big, confusing world, to stop and to speak to us when we’re discouraged, to understand when we hurt, and then to speak those words of grace – “take heart John. Get up. I am calling you.”
Those words changed Bartimaeus’ life. In fact, the moment he heard them he threw off his cloak. Day after day Bartimaeus spread that cloak on the ground and thought to himself, “I wonder what I can get.” But the moment Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus springs up and leaves that cloak where it belongs – on the side of the road. And when Jesus asks him the ultimate question – What do you want me to do for you? – what does Bartimaeus say? “Let me see again.” No more sitting by the roadside for Bartimaeus, because when Jesus restores his sight, he does the most natural thing in the world. He follows Jesus to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus sees a cross in the distance, and he comes to know that there – and only there – will he find the salvation he’s wanted his entire life. Life for Bartimaeus will no longer be about what he can get. It’s now going to revolve around what he can give.
What do you want me to do for you? That’s the question our Lord is asking us this morning. But before we answer his question, we need to answer a better one – what does Jesus want to do for us? He wants to teach us how to give. Jesus wants to teach us how to give – what an amazing complement coming from the Creator of the Universe. To quote the Gospel of John, “Jesus came that we might have life, and that might have it more abundantly.” But to give us abundant life, Jesus first has to open our eyes so that we can see where abundant life is found. And I promise you this – it’s not in a better product – a better sermon or a better car or a better salary. After all, it’s no accident that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to give his life for the world when he notices Bartimaeus by the roadside. Jesus is going to the cross when he sees Bartimaeus clutching his cloak, living for what he can get, and Jesus says, “Bartimaeus get up! I’m going to the cross and I want you to come with me. And so give me your life, and if you do that Bartimaeus I promise you this – you’re going to find what you’ve wanted your entire life.
And so tonight we’re reminded that giving is at the heart of the abundant life that all of us want – the Father giving His Son, the Son giving his life, the Spirit giving us the courage to get up, to throw off that cloak, and to give our lives to Jesus. And so for the record, my message today is not that God wants a portion of your money or a portion of your time. No, my message is much more challenging. God wants you. God wants it all – all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your mind, and all of your strength. And so here’s the question I’m going to leave us with.
In what aspect of your life are you sitting by the roadside? Where has your “what can I get” approach to life left you unfulfilled? In other words – what do want more of? Do you want more time? Then give more time to God. Read His Word, listen for His voice and let God teach you about what’s worth living for so that you take what’s not off your calendar. Do you want more love? Try giving more love. Go out of your way to bless the people in your life and I promise you that love will be given back tenfold. Do you want more money? If so, why – is it a better product you’re after, and if you get that money, will it really be enough? Try giving some more money away. And just see if you’re not a million times richer because of it.
In what aspect of your life are you sitting by the roadside? Because Jesus of Nazareth is about to pass by. He’s going to the cross to give his life for you. And so take heart. Get up. Throw off your cloak. He’s calling you to go with him.