What Do We Want?

“What Do We Want?”

Mark 10:46-52 (10:51) – October 24, 2021

            What would it be like to have a blind person as a next-door neighbor, as a co-worker, or in your class at school, every day? What kinds of experiences would we have, as close friends? I have known several people who have limited vision, and have been friends with two people who are blind, who have since moved away. But, I never thought about such a personal question before – what might our blind friend want more than anything else?       

All those thoughts and more were going through my head as I read this Bible reading from Mark chapter 10 this week.

The Rabbi Jesus and His disciples were traveling through Palestine, as they had been for months and months. They arrived at the town of Jericho, on the way for Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem. The townspeople were really excited! They had heard great things about Jesus! They had heard about the miracles He performed, as well as the marvelous teaching and preaching He had done. It was almost like a parade, with Jesus and His friends entering the city.

Have you ever been at a similar function, or activity? Where there is someone really famous or important, and a whole crowd is gathering to meet and greet Him? Say hello? Get a moment of His time? It can be a really hectic and crowded situation for the crowd, even if someone is in good health and has the free use of their arms and legs.

But, what about for someone who is disabled? Deaf? Or, blind? What would a loud, noisy, chaotic commotion like an impromptu parade welcoming Jesus be like for a person who is disabled? What do you think it was like for this blind man, Bartimaeus?

Today, of course, there are lots of jobs available to blind people and persons with limited eyesight, thanks to advances in modern technology. What about in that time? Not very much, according to the society of that day. Our Gospel writer Mark tells us that Bartimaeus was in his usual place, begging for money. That was something many disabled people did at that time – as well as today, in third world countries, anyway. It did not matter to Bartimaeus. As soon as he heard than the famous, itinerant Rabbi Jesus was coming by the place where he usually sat as a beggar, he started yelling. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”  

            I really appreciate what our commentator Karoline Lewis says about this whole scene: ““Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly.” Thank God. Literally. Bartimaeus won’t be told to shut up. Good for him. I like this guy.

“Because, how often do we feel like we are required to keep silent? How often are we asked to keep our voices down, lest there is some offense that would cause a disruption in our very controlled and contrived world? Lest there be an utterance that might tear apart that which we’ve constructed to keep out what, or who, we don’t want to see, or hear, or acknowledge? Or, how often do we silence others, convinced that their cries for mercy are not worthy of God’s attention?[1]     

What does Bartimaeus cry, even louder? Not only “have mercy on me!” which is a common appeal to God for help (used in the Psalms, for example), but he also cried “Jesus, son of David!” No matter what other people at that time thought about this itinerant Rabbi, Bartimaeus knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Bartimaeus was using a title that meant this Rabbi Jesus had messianic credentials![2] That was huge!

            We are not told this, but I wonder whether people ever paid attention to Bartimaeus in the past, and made him feel like a real person, someone’s friend. I wonder whether Bartimaeus was habitually told he wasn’t worth much. Perhaps as a pesky beggar, members of the crowd just wanted to shut him up, and even make him go away.

            But, our Lord Jesus heard Bartimaeus. Jesus came over to where the blind man sat! Perhaps Jesus knew Bartimaeus down to his very soul, and so Jesus asked: “What do you want Me to do for you?”

            What would you respond if Jesus asked you that same question? What do you – what do I – want Jesus to do for us? Our Lord Jesus can see deep within each of us, and He knows the deepest wishes and desires of each of our hearts. I felt this question deep in my soul, as I prayed. I used Ignatian prayer, and Jesus asked me directly, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Do you feel it, too? Is Jesus asking you, too?

            Perhaps Bartimaeus was born seeing and lost his sight, or maybe he was born blind. We do not know. What we do know is his response to Jesus’ question: “The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” Praise God! the man who had been blind not only was granted eyesight, but he became a follower of Jesus!

            Maybe that is what you and I need – to become true followers of Jesus. Maybe you and I cannot see very well, and are caught between seeing, and not seeing, and realizing we never really saw Jesus at all. Perhaps that is exactly what Jesus wants us to do – wants all people to do. Follow Jesus. Yes, some places where Jesus leads us can be frightening and confusing. Or, dark and scary. But, Jesus is right by our sides.

Some places do have scary things and mean people in them. Again, Jesus is right by our sides. [3] Jesus was preparing to walk the darkest road of His life on that road to Jerusalem, and Bartimaeus walked it with Him, following Jesus. Could it be that following Jesus is exactly what we, like Bartimaeus, are given what sight we have for?  

            With Jesus close by our sides, what a tremendous journey we have. We can follow Bartimaeus. Follow Jesus. And, live the life God intends for us. Truly. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1]  https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/no-more-silence

“No More Silence,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

[2] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyg/sunday30bg.html

“Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[3] https://dancingwiththeword.com/my-teacher-let-me-see-again/

Do We Listen to God?

“Do We Listen to God?” (preached at Epiphany UCC, Chicago)

1 Samuel 3:1-21 (3:8-10) – October 17, 2021

            Are you a good listener? Listening well is a real challenge. Many people are not particularly attentive listeners; they might get distracted, or they are preoccupied, or any one of a dozen other reasons. It is difficult sometimes to listen, especially when we are straining to listen to a crackle-y voice, like on an old-fashioned radio, or over a cell phone’s poor connection.

            If we consider our Scripture reading this morning, we are told something right up front: The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known.” People couldn’t simply check out their Bibles, or look up a reading on their cell phone or laptop. No!

The word of the Lord was mostly verbal, chiefly an oral tradition passed down, passed around by priests and temple workers. There wasn’t a written set of Scriptures, except for probably a collection of the laws of Moses, an early account of the Patriarchs, and early history of the children of Abraham, probably kept in the Tabernacle, God’s special tent where God was pleased to dwell.

All of these factors are a challenge, when it comes to listening to God – in the time of Samuel, anyway. The Lord’s word was rare at this time. So, when God did speak to a person, that must have been a huge event!

The Hebrew word for “rare” also means precious. That would go for both the voice of God as much as for visions from God. As precious as precious metals or precious stones!

Even Samuel’s upright mother Hannah was not one of these favored people, to hear the voice of God. What we know from 1 Samuel 1 was that she was a barren woman for years and years; she could not conceive a child. Eli the priest finally saw Hannah in her need, praying in great distress. He promised she would receive what she prayed for so earnestly: a son.

Hannah was so thankful that she returned the precious gift of a son: she gave Samuel to the Lord when he was very young, to serve in God’s Tabernacle from that time forward. That leaves us at the point where we re-enter the narrative – here.

. And, what does this reading say about the boy Samuel? “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” A few years have gone by since his mother Hannah entrusted him to the priest Eli. Samuel works in the special tent where God’s special presence is located, where the intricate Ark of the Covenant is stored, with the Ten Commandments tablets inside.

Do we begin to have some sort of idea how valuable—how rare it was for anyone to hear from God, the Lord Almighty, who made heaven and earth? If you and I are abandoned to total silence from God, that must be a very sad time, indeed.

Is it difficult to listen to God? I know we have a lot of competing sounds and voices in our world today. Just think of the insistent voices of business and school, assignments and responsibility that call to us. Remind us that we have more work to do. Something important to handle, an urgent message or an impatient person to get back to.

What about the seductive sounds of social media? All kinds of eye-popping entertainment? You and I can be entertained 24/7, 365 days a year, if we so desire. Talk about drowning out the voices of our friends and family! Much less the voice of God!

I know Samuel was still a boy. Children can have serious concerns and other important stuff going on, too. But, let us take a closer look at this passage: “Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So Samuel went and lay down.”

I do need to go back in our reading, and emphasize one point in particular. In verse 2, we are told the priest Eli had lost his eyesight. “With failing vision, he cannot see God as clearly as he might have during the height of his ministry. Although Eli could not see it, God had already called his student, Samuel, to lead Israel.” [1] The Lord was already calling to young Samuel, but Eli and Samuel are both missing that call. Misunderstanding that voice.

How often do you and I miss an important voice? Mis-hear or misunderstand? And, sometimes our attention is not the best. I know I can get distracted, and not hear. I’m sure you are aware of that, too. I suspect it’s happened to you when you’ve been worried or frustrated or distracted, Or, what about your kids, or grandkids? “How many times do I have to tell you? In one ear and out the other – could you stop, pay attention, and listen to me, for cryin’ out loud?”

The priest Eli may have been losing his eyesight, but he had not lost touch with his position. He was the priest of Israel, serving the Lord God Almighty. He had the internal insight to tell that the Lord was calling to Samuel. Our commentator Herbert Marbury tells us “Thankfully, it took Eli only three attempts to recognize God’s voice. The omniscient narrator heightens the reader’s frustration by clueing the reader in to the identity of the voice before Eli identifies its source. Finally, Eli realizes the gift that God had given to Samuel.” [2]

And, it is indeed a gift that God gives to Samuel! God calls to Samuel, and Samuel responds. He answers, as Eli prompts, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

I know it is not the easiest thing to focus closely and to listen to God, especially when God’s voice is half drowned out by the cacophony of competing voices, sounds, buzzes and beeps of modern technology. Not to mention the internal worries, concerns and anxieties of this heightened pandemic, this COVID-time – worries not only for us, but for our loved ones, too.  

Sometimes it is good to slow down, to rest, to make oneself quiet within and without. And then, you and I may be more likely to hear God speak. “God persisted in the darkness of Samuel’s room until Samuel recognized God’s voice. Just as Samuel finally recognized God’s voice, God persists until we listen.” [3] Amen! Speak, Lord!

Can you slow down and listen? Listen to the voice of God? So often, you and I can be distracted or dismayed, preoccupied or anxious. Can we take a deep breath and unplug? Listen for that calm voice of love and welcome. Can we be as open to God as the boy Samuel?

            When we quiet, slow down and become available to God, we can see ourselves in the image of our Creator, not in the images developed by market-driven mass media. On that day, when each one has what she needs to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” then the blessings of the Lord will truly be revealed among us. [4]

            Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=94

Lectionary Commentary, 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Herbert R. Marbury, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Come, Follow Jesus!

“Come, Follow Jesus!”

Mark 10:17-27 (10:21) – October 10, 2021

            From time to time, I have worked alongside of people who were big talkers, but that was all there was. Only talk. No follow through. I’m thinking of someone who was a fellow church member several decades ago, when I was in my twenties. She talked a great game, when it came to volunteering for the church. But, what about the follow through? Showing up? Getting things done? It just wouldn’t happen. She just could not show up to complete any project or task.

            I cannot tell whether this rich young man from Mark chapter 10 was all talk or not. Let’s listen again to the words from Mark 10: “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Sure, he engages with the Rabbi Jesus at the moment. I’m guessing he thought he was an upright, upstanding guy. The rich young man might even had had the best intentions!

            Jesus goes on to say: “19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” This guy apparently was honest and sincere. In fact, the young man was so earnest, that our Gospel writer Mark even said that the Rabbi Jesus dearly loved this young man!

            Many people would not be willing to say that they loved their acquaintances, today. Do you know anyone who could easily say that, today? Jesus and the rich young man had just met. It was amazing that these two people connected in such a significant way.

A friend of mine, Rev. Maria, is reminded of the lyrics from the old Elton John tune. She says, “The words from “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” pop into my head when I think of this reading… “What have I got to do to make you love me? What have I got to do to make you care?” It seems like the rich young man had this kind of tit-for-tat mindset. Quid pro quo. He would perform X, Y and Z, work really hard, be diligent all his days, and then, at his death he would get rewarded with eternal life. Both Maria and I are amazed by Jesus’s words of ultimate caring to the rich young man he just met – Jesus loved him!

 Can you and I say the same thing about someone we have just met? Our Lord Jesus did! Jesus connected with this young man in a significant way – a way that nevertheless had Jesus seeing this young man with clear, divine insight. Jesus really knew what was going on inside this man’s heart and mind.

My grandfather had keen insight. He was able to understand and interpret a person’s actions and thoughts with remarkable accuracy. I heard stories about how his marvelous instincts and intellect allowed him to excel in his chosen profession, which was being a skilled salesman. However, I am sure that the stories I heard about my grandfather did not even hold a candle to these stories in the Gospels about the Rabbi Jesus and His perceptive understanding of people.

But, wait! There’s more! Jesus had a ready response for the young man. He said, ““One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” Jesus wanted the rich young man to change, to move, to transform. The problem with the young man? There was a barrier between him and Jesus: the very solid, very real barrier of money. Wealth. Power. Status. Material possessions.

Jesus invited the young man to follow Him. Become His disciple. What is more, this wasn’t just lip-service. I suspect if it was only a matter of words, the rich young man would have done it! Except, Jesus asked too much. He asked for the ultimate follow-through. Not just talk.

What I am going to do in my sermon right now is a bit different from what I usually do.

Settle into your seat, and get comfortable. I have a hand mirror here. Or, you can use the mirror feature on your cell phone. For those of you at home, you can look in a bathroom or bedroom mirror. I would like us to focus on transformation; and transformation begins within each person’s heart and soul. Often, we cannot experience transformation until we look honestly – and deeply – at ourselves in the mirror. Question to the congregation: “What is the one thing that prevents you from fully following Jesus?”

As you look at yourself in the mirror, ask yourself: “How can I do what Jesus does? What have I been meaning to start in my devotional life? How can I stay accountable to a friend or partner? What about my life of service to God? What might God be calling me to that I have thought out of the question?

Another way of phrasing this question comes from our commentator Karoline Lewis. She asks, “What is the one thing that is at the core of who you are, what keeps you from being the follower, the disciple, the believer, the witness God wants and needs you to be? This is a terribly hard question to answer, I know.” [1]

Please, do not be in a rush when you do this. When you have some time, undistracted and thoughtful time, take a long look at yourself in the mirror. Reflect on your reflection, and sincerely pray. Ask God what God would have you do. Afterwards, I invite you to conclude with Jesus’ words: “Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow Me.”

The rich young man turned away from Jesus, sad and sorrowful, because he had great wealth. But, we don’t have to. Again, hear the invitation of our Lord Jesus: “Come, follow Me!” May we truly follow. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

(Thanks so much to the website www.umcdiscipleship.org and Rev. Lindsey Baynham, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church currently serving as the Director of Clergy Excellence in the Virginia Annual Conference. I appreciate her guided time of prayer for this reading from Mark 10.)


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/the-thing-you-lack

“The Thing You Lack,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2015.

Finding God’s Majestic Name!

“Finding God’s Majestic Name!”

Psalm 8:1-9 (8:1) – October 3, 2021

            Have you ever been far from the city lights, at night? Have you ever looked up into the sky, and seen countless stars spread out, twinkling high above? I have. When I went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and again in rural central Indiana, the starry skies were absolutely breathtaking. Amazing. Majestic, as the psalmist King David said in our Psalm reading today.

            Listen again: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.” I can just imagine King David sitting far away from the lights of the city of Jerusalem, perhaps contemplating the stars as he saw them in his youth, when he looked after his father’s sheep, or as a younger adult, a leader of men in the wilderness of Judah,. David certainly had many opportunities to gaze up into the night skies and see the breathtaking stars.

            I needed to take two science classes in college, for my undergraduate degree. I was happy to take a biology course, and I enjoyed it! But, I wanted to take something different for my second science course. A quirky but popular teacher also taught science – he taught astronomy! I don’t remember many facts from that class, but I remember him. I remember how excited he was about his subject, and how much he tried to make the course material interesting and accessible to his students. I have always had a warm spot inside for stars, for star-gazing and the moon and other planets, both before and ever since.

            When King David wrote this psalm, he used words like “majestic” and “awesome.” Can you remember when everything was “awesome?” “In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the word “awesome” was overused and abused. Everything was “awesome.” Events and people were awesome. God was awesome.” [1] Now, some years later, I am relieved to find this word is not so misused. However, God has not changed. God certainly is still truly awesome. Majestic, too.

            We can see King David had great awe and godly fear for the Lord his God. Just look at the language he uses! The opening verses of Psalm 8 has royal language all over the place. The very words “Lord” and “Sovereign” are used in conversation with a king in other places in Scripture, too. We can see that usage from both 1 and 2 Kings. These books of the Hebrew Scriptures use these expressions interchangeably for the king of Judah and the king of Israel.  

            When King David praises the majesty of God’s name, this also points to a royal understanding of God. The territory over which God reigns is not a small, limited region, but instead “all the earth.” [2] Yet, Dr. Elizabeth Webb makes a point of saying that even though David leads off this psalm with such huge, overarching thoughts, he then turns to humanity. Yes, God is Sovereign! Majestic! Awesome! The ultimate Godly authority! But, then, the earth is full of mere people. Frail humanity. Here one minute, and gone the next.

            “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” When we consider limited humans on a scale like that, with a cosmic Sovereign as vast as the heavens, how miniscule are we? How frail and short-lasting?

“Psalm 144:3-4, for example, begins with a similar question: “O Lord, what are human beings that you regard them, or mortals that you think of them?” In Psalm 144 it is human frailty that makes God’s interest in us almost incomprehensible: “They are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.” What concern could God possibly have with frail beings that are here one moment, gone the next?” [3] Truly something to wonder about. I have thought about it, from time to time. How can God concern Godself with me? With my trials or troubles, with God being so huge?

In Psalm 8, what the writer finds so wondrous is that the very God who established the order of the heavens actually cares for human beings, for us, for you and me. Listen to verse 4 again: “what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

If I did not believe that God was loving and caring, full of chesed, full of magnificent lovingkindness, I might really give up. Why should I even try to communicate with a faraway, distant, uncaring God, who would just as soon squash me like a bug? That’s even considering whether that cold and distant God even saw me crawling around on the earth?

Except, we know that God is not that way! Instead, our Lord is full of the attributes grace, mercy, love and chesed, shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We are here in church today to celebrate World Communion Sunday, a day when the Church worldwide celebrates the unity of the blessed Eucharist, that Lord’s Supper that believers all over the world celebrate in a variety of different languages, but proclaiming the same Lord. Thank God our Lord is a loving and caring God. Thank God our Lord is full of that magnificent, majestic attribute chesed, full of lovingkindness.

Here we are: frail, earthly human beings. Our God truly welcomes all of us as God’s children. Our God welcomes us at the Lord’s Table, especially on this World Communion Sunday. Can you praise the name of the Lord? Can you bless God for the profound, awesome gifts you have been given?   

“O LORD, our LORD, your majestic name fills the earth. Your glory is higher than
the heavens…!
We are blessed to be able to offer God our worship and praise!
In speechless and awed worship, we marvel at God’s holy presence with us,
as we contemplate all that God has given to us! We are all so very blessed! Amen. [4]

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/Psalms/8.html

“Our God Is Awesome!” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/the-holy-trinity/commentary-on-psalm-8-10

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.thetimelesspsalms.net/w_resources/pentecost1a_2017.htm

The Timeless Psalms: Psalm 8, Joan Stott, prayers and meditations based on lectionary Psalms, 2017.