Science Hill Community Church
Responding to God's Work
Responding to God’s Work
If you were to suddenly lose your eyesight for the rest of your life, what do you think you would you miss most? Would it be beautiful scenes of nature – a sunrise, a sunset, a starry night, a waterfall, the budding of flowers, the fall leaves? (After this winter, it probably wouldn’t be a snow scene! At least, not for awhile!) Or would it be the utilitarian, everyday images we need to navigate through life – street signs, directions, menus, instructions, facebook communications? Or would it be faces – the faces of friends, of family members, of loved ones, of people perhaps we haven’t even met yet?
Imagine the plight of the blind man as we meet him at the beginning of our scripture reading today. For some length of time, he has been blind. It wasn’t always this way – the Bible says that he desired to “see again.” But however long it has been, this blind man, who Mark tells us is named Bartimaeus, has had to deal with a handicap that leaves him begging at the city gate of Jericho. The gate was the place to hang out for beggars. It was a high-traffic area, the Wal-Mart of its day. As people came and went, Bartimaeus begged for compassion and received alms from generous people to help lighten his burden.
Blindness, as difficult as it is today, was far worse in the ancient world. There were no provisions for disability, no equal access, no Braille, no accommodations. Without eyesight, you were extremely limited in what you could do. Today, those who are blind can achieve many wonderful things. In fact, as many of you know, for almost twenty years Science Hill was pastored by Barry Stirbens, who was blind from birth. Interestingly enough, I recently found out that one of my son’s friends at Marlington thought I was blind. When he was younger, he had heard that the pastor at Science Hill was blind, and he knew that Daniel was the pastor’s son; he just didn’t realize there had been a change in pastors a few years ago!
Put yourself in Bartimaeus’ shoes, or sandals, this morning. By the way, I’m getting tired of that long name Bartimaeus, so let’s just call him Bart. No longer can Bart see the faces of his family and friends, no longer can he get from one end of the city to the other without assistance, no longer can he work and support himself. For however long it’s been, Bart has endured the difficulty of blindness. This is the life that Bart knows, and he really has no hope for something better.
But something is different on the day that Luke writes about. Jesus is coming to town! At first, Bart just hears commotion. He knows something is going on because a crowd far larger than normal is passing by. Again, being blind, he has to call out and ask, “What’s going on?” Someone kindly informs him, “Jesus is here – he’s passing through your town.” We don’t know how much Bart has already heard of Jesus, but I think it’s fair to say that he had a clue who Jesus was. News, no matter what age you’re living in, travels fast, and the reputation of a man who can do miracles of healing and restoration is sure to be of interest to a blind man. But Bart had never had the ability to go to where Jesus was. A blind man in that day could not track down an itinerant preacher who was always on the move. But now Jesus was coming to him, Jesus was coming to his town, and Bart suddenly had a chance for his own miracle.
But how fleeting that chance would be! Jesus would be in earshot for only a few moments, and then Bart’s opportunity would be gone! So he begins calling out, as loudly as he can. His plea is the same one that we could all say, no matter our condition, our affliction, our pain, or our need. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”
Bart attracts attention all right. The ones around him in the crowd who told him that Jesus was passing by are probably now sorry they said anything at all. They tell Bart to shut up, to sit down, to be quiet. You know, if Bart had listened to them, we might not even have this story in the Bible. He may have gone unheard, unnoticed, and unhealed. But he did the exact opposite of what he was told to do. You know, sometimes you need to do the exact opposite of what people tell you if God is telling you something different. Bart wasn’t interested in being polite or deferential here – he was interested in seeing again! Bart may have been rather obnoxious, but he needed to be loud because he needed Jesus. Nothing was going to get in his way. And so he shouts all the louder: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”
This time Jesus hears him. Are you tempted to give up quickly if you think God didn’t hear you the first time you prayed? Are you easily dissuaded from calling out to God? Don’t be. Don’t be afraid to put a little effort, a little persistence, a little volume to your prayers. Don’t be afraid to let your passion and your need show. Don’t be afraid to be embarrassed. For when Jesus heard the cry of Bartimaeus, he stopped.
Jesus called for the man to be brought to him and asked him what he wanted. Bart had never encountered Jesus before, but he knew that this Messiah, this Son of David, this miracle-worker, was the one who could help him. And he is not disappointed. With a word, his sight is restored. “Receive your sight, your faith has saved you,” Jesus said. “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.”
That last verse is what I want to focus on with you this morning. That last verse, I believe, holds the key to the meaning in this miracle.
Let me ask you: Do we ever get this excited over God’s work in our lives? You may say, well, I haven’t been given an incredible miracle like restored sight! No, that’s true. You’ve been given the incredible miracle of sight. You didn’t have to go years without it like Bartimaeus. So that should be even more cause for praising God, right? If you can see, then you’ve got – and have always had – what caused this man to leap up and dance and laugh and sing. But to us, being able to see is just the same old thing, commonplace, ordinary. We see every day, and it is no longer a cause for celebration or a reason for joy.
And God didn’t only give us sight. He also gave us hearing. He also gave us touch. He also gave us taste – some more than others! He also gave us smell – again, some more than others! And how many more blessings on top of these have we been given? The question is, how are we receiving these gifts of God? How are we responding to God’s work in our lives? I think there are basically three possibilities…
First, complaining about what we don’t have. It seems to be human nature to always want more. We so often ignore the powerful word, “Enough.” Let me ask you: When is it enough? When do we stop climbing and grasping? When do we stop asking for more?
I confess that my prayers are often lists what I want God to do – to heal that person, to comfort that family, to bless that ministry, to fix that problem. I wish it weren’t that way. I wonder what God thinks of that. I know how I would feel to walk in the door and have the first moments of interaction with the people I love merely be a laundry list of what they want me to do next! Hopefully you have heard by now that what God really wants from us is a relationship. But think about what that word means. A relationship isn’t all about us telling God what we want.
Have you discovered the deep sense of peace and satisfaction that comes in realizing that if we have God, we have Enough? With Paul, we should be able to say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul knew the secret of Enough.
A second response to God’s work is that of casual disregard. I don’t know what’s worse – always asking for more or obliviousness, neglect, disinterest. People rarely acknowledge God anymore, unless it is to blame Him for whatever’s wrong in the world. If God is not a vital part of our lives, if we only turn to Him when things are going badly, then we ignore and disregard His work.
The other day my daughter did something I want to brag about. While Debbie and I were finishing dinner, Bethany quietly slunk off to the kitchen and did the dishes. She loaded the dishwasher. She put the food away. By the time Debbie and I realized what she was doing, she had cleaned the kitchen. Now I know what you’re thinking – what did she want? How had she gotten in trouble at school that day? But no, she just did it because she wanted to do something nice for her parents.
Now we had a choice about how we would respond. We could have said, “Oh, that’s nice Bethany, but look – you didn’t organize the cupboards. The refrigerator still needs cleaned. While you’re at it, can you sweep the floor, too?” That would have crushed her spirit. Or we could have just shrugged and not acknowledged her effort at all. Neither of those options are the mark of a healthy relationship.
So I’ll tell you what I did do. We took the third option, which was to show gratitude. I said, “Wow, Bethany! What a great job – how impressive you took it upon yourself to show initiative and clean the kitchen. Great job. Here’s a bonus!” And I gave her a dollar and a hug. Later on, as bedtime drew near, she asked, “Dad, can I have a cupcake?” (You see, at our household, we get Hostess cupcakes as treats, but they go in the parents’ cupboard. Chips, pretzels, granola bars, cereal, crackers – all that goes in the family cupboard and the kids can munch on those things when they’re hungry. But cupcakes? We keep a closer eye on those.) Without hesitation, I said, “Sure, Bethany. You’ve earned a cupcake today.”
Now here’s my point: how do you show your appreciation to God? Do you grumble at Him about what He’s not doing for you? Are you always asking for more? Gee, God, thanks so much for coming through and helping me to pay off my credit cards and get out of debt. Now can you help me get that boat I’ve always wanted? Thank you Lord for seeing me through my surgery, now can you make my spouse do what I want? We can be a bottomless pit of needs and wants. Or do we not even stop to register and let a flicker of gratitude arc across the gray matter in our head? Do we greet that grace of God with a shrug and a yawn? There is a better way. The third way.
Living a life of gratitude, of joy, of praise, of thanksgiving is the best way to respond to God’s work. If we truly believe that every moment of life is a gift from God, if we truly believe that every day is a fresh blessing, what would it be like to actually live that way? Consider the gratitude of not only Bart but the crowd that witnessed this miracle. Others were excited and praised God on Bart’s behalf. They themselves didn’t receive their sight back, but they were witnesses to the miracle and rejoiced alongside him. Can’t we respond to God’s work like that?
The deeper meaning in this miracle is that our God is a giving, benevolent, gracious God. And our joyful response should be the same as that of a blind man who miraculously receives his sight as well as the spontaneous delight of the crowd that rejoiced alongside him. For we are really all like Bart! But instead of sight, the most important thing God has done for any of us is life, the eternal life He has given us in Jesus. The most precious gift He has given us is the gift of Himself.
Just like Bart, God has moved us from darkness into light, from death into life. Consider the testimony of Peter: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” That is why we are having an open house today! We are filled with excitement about what God has done in our lives and in the life of our church! As we enjoy fellowship and refreshments and church tours after the service today, let us also take time to share our praises and thanks with each other for what God is doing in our lives!
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