A message given at Asbury UMC, Sunday October 29, 2006

Mark 10:46-52

When our children were young — our son was two or three years old – one of their story books was entitled Blind Bartimaeus, a child’s version of the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho.

In the original version in the Gospel of Mark, Bartimaeus cries out from a crowd – he shouts –“Jesus son of David have mercy on me!” For some reason the crowd is hostile to the poor guy. Mark reports that, “Many sternly ordered him to be quiet.” In the version in the children’s storybook, the crowd simply says, “Hush blind fool!”

Those words crept into our son’s early vocabulary. If you spoke to him sternly, he might answer, “Hush blind fool!” If one of his little friends was annoying him, he might say, “Hush, blind fool!”

It was interesting how well our son learned the gospel story, and how things backfired in terms of him grasping the point of the story. This is why we need preachers, and so people get the right interpretation of the gospel!

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Bartimaeus wanted something, wanted it in every fiber of his being. He longed, longed to see. The story invites us into that place deep inside us where desire lies. There is a place in us that wants, that wants, that wants…. something. There is in us a great longing, a deep hunger.

10:46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.

10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

10:49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 10:50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 10:51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

[There is that question, what do you want?]

The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again: “10:52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

What do you want? “Master, let me see! I want to see!”

What do you want?
What do you want?

This is a question that rattles around the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. In the passage from last Sunday’s Gospel reading two of the disciples, James and John, the former fisherman, come to Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

[There is something that they want.]

Jesus answered them, “What do you want?”

[Ah — there is the question again: “What do you want?”]

They said,AWe want glory. We want power — grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said, AThat is not mine to give.@ [Interesting answer.]

The question floats in the air: “What do you want?”
Jesus makes clear: he is not in the business of offering people what they ask for, or what they want, or what they think they want.

What do you want?
The salesperson says, “May I help you? Is there anything you’d like?” The waiter or waitress says, “What will you be having?”
You scan the menu “Let’s see, what do I want?”
The car dealer says – “Whaddya lookin’ for? You look like a person who knows they want. What is it: sport utility, four door, two door, hatchback, red, black, hybrid? I can get you what you want at the right price. What do you see yourself sitting in?

How do you know when you have what you want?

I did not follow professional baseball this year. I have nothing against professional baseball, I just did not have the time to track of it. But last week, since it was the World Series, every now and then I tuned in and watched a bit of it. Quite amazing.

The stadium is filled. Tens of thousands of people crowd the stands.
It’s late in the game, the score is close, the winning run is on deck; the count is 3 and 2; the world hangs on the next pitch.

In the stadium and at home watching or listening to the radio, millions — count them — millions of human hearts are beating faster; adrenalin is being manufactured and released: thousands of gallons of adrenaline are being produced as a result of eighteen men playing a game.

People are holding onto each other; many are in an attitude of prayer. Some are clutching religious objects. Many are so filled with emotion they close their eyes; the passage of time, that slow baseball passage of time is excruciating; here it comes… the pitch!

Depending upon whether it is a strike or a base hit, millions of lives will be instantly affected. People will react in that moment with the passionate intensity of someone giving birth or hearing of a death — the body chemistry is all scrambled up; emotions are flying around like a swarm of bees. It is a great laboratory of human desire based upon a small object being thrown ninety feet.

That moment the pitcher goes into his windup, millions of people know exactly what they want. What do you want? What does any of us want?

My son is a big Yankees fan, hater of Red Sox. The last time that the Yankees beat the Red Sox for the pennant, I happened to be sitting at my home computer the next day when an instant message to my son popped up on my computer screen. It was from one of my son’s buddies directed to him. It said simply, AThe day after ‑‑ weird, isn’t it?@

When you want – want – want something and you get it ‑‑ what then? Sometimes it isn’t what you expected; sometimes it’s weird, isn’t it B getting what you thought you wanted more than anything else?

Successful people are very vulnerable. What do you do when you get what you want ‑‑ everything you want? That is a precarious moment for the soul.

How do we measure what we want, so that we know when we have succeeded? How do we know whether what we want is what we want?

What do you want? This summer the journal Science reported on research having to do with happiness and satisfaction in life. The article cites the obvious fact that the majority of people persist in believing they would be happier, if they had something that they do not have.

Each of us can confirm the truth of this by looking for ten seconds inside our own heads. There we will find a list of things we wish we had, and which we believe would make us happy or at least happier if we have them. Come on, ten seconds is all it takes. You check this list all the time, so there’s no point saying that you lost the page. It’s right there. It’s the page with big letters on top, “If Only” or it may be labeled When, as in, when I get this, or when this happens, or when this is done, then I will be happy.

We make the assumption every moment of our lives that we know what we want, and we assume that what we want would make us happier.

The report in Science confirms some old truths and challenges others. I assume we have all heard the reports about lottery winners. It’s widely recognized that people who win the lottery often end up regretting the day they got the winning ticket. But there is a corollary to this finding that may surprise you, because to seems to run counter to common sense.

The suggested that even if something you fear should happen today: you lose your job or your marriage breaks up, in the long run in the long run you probably will not be less happy.

We know the old adage that money can’t make you happy, and the research shows that largely to be true. In fact, this same article reported that there is little direct correlation between personal income and personal happiness, but that people with higher incomes statistically – we’re not talking about things that are true of all people, but statistically – people with higher income tend to have slightly higher tension and anger as compared with people of relatively lower income.

But what I am focusing on the moment that part of the research that showed that people can lose so much, and after they have weathered the blow, they tend to rebound; they tend to return to the state of happiness they were in before the event took place.

What if the most basic assumptions we make about our happiness are not true?

What if we do not even understand ourselves and what makes us happy?

What if what we think will make us happy probably will not,
and what we think will devastate us and destroy our happiness
probably will not?

This certainly complicates the pursuit of happiness, doesn’t it?

Bartimaeus, a stranger in a crowd, asks Jesus for something, and Jesus gives it to him with a blessing and an invitation to come and follow him.

Two of Jesus’ own handpicked followers, James and John,
men who walked with him,
broke bread with him,
slept beside him on the journey,
and heard his words every day,
they ask Jesus for something,
and they do not get it.

They don’t get it,
because they don’t get it;
they don’t get what Jesus is about.
They are looking for power and glory:
“We want, we want, we want position and power.”

Jesus answered: “I give you the servant life; I am among you as one who serves; the greatest among you is least of all and servant of all.”

We are now in the process of recruiting, nominating, and electing leaders for the life of the Church. We are small struggling church facing many challenges. There is not a lot of glory and power in being a leader in the church at such a time. But there was never a time when there was greater need for servant leaders, for people who will not shy away from leadership, because it is difficult and does not have a lot of obvious rewards.

There was never a time of greater need for those who will embrace the role of servant leader. I am planning a service of anointing for church leaders for the new year, a service in which those who commit themselves to leadership in the congregation will take the anointing of God for the work of a servant leader,
seeking neither glory nor power,
only asking to be useful to God
in service to God’s people.

I have asked you today to think about your longings and desires.
I have shared with you some contemporary research concerning human happiness.
I have repeated to you the ancient words of the Gospel, where human fulfillment is found in the way of discipleship and in the role of the servant.

I am no more an expert on happiness than any of you. Like you, I have my lists, and my longings. And like you, I am hearing today an invitation.

It is not my invitation.
It is the invitation of Christ to follow him and to model our lives by him, who came to serve.

Christ does not promise of happiness in the same terms as the world. Christ offers us something different and something strange to this world of craving and longing.

We will continue to make our lists.
We will continue to think that our happiness lies in this or that, getting this or that, or avoiding this or that. This is our human nature. Even the apostles could not escape this human tendency.

But when we gather to worship, and when we meditate on Christ,
and on the word of the Gospel, we will hear again and again the strange notion
that challenges our assumptions about what makes life worth living:

“I am among you as one who serves. The path I offer is the path of the servant. Come, follow me, and you will have life, even this very day.”

Grace and peace to you.