XCovid-19:Important Updates for Worship, Church Operations and Staying ConnectedRead more

Sermon Archives

"What do you want me to do for you?"

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Oct 25

Texts: Psalm 126, and Mark 10:46-52

“What can I help you with?” When I press and hold the button on my iPhone, these are the words that appear on the screen. “What can I help you with?” SIRI asks. SIRI can help me find the nearest supermarket, ice cream shop, or auto mechanic. “She” can direct me to a url that will tell me what giraffes eat, or take me to Pablo Neruda’s poetry, or tell me about the Civilian Conservation Corps. SIRI can tell me where to send a Red Cross donation or help me find a gender-free contra dance in my area. SIRI can do a lot.

“What can I help you with?” In this age of customer service and instant answers, we love that question so much that we have programmed our smart phones to ask it.

Yesterday I pushed and held that little button on my iPhone and said, SIRI, say “How can I help you?” And you know what she said? “Ask not how you can help me, but how I can help you.” (I didn’t make this up—it really happened!) SIRI’s even got a sense of humor and a little JFK programmed into her!

“What can I do for you?” The question caters to the consumer tastes of the economically comfortable in a culture of gratification. One wonders if we are so fond of SIRI—in part––because we are searching for deeper meaning and connection. Are we struggling with bigger questions? Like, where do we find meaning and purpose? Where will we find safety and security? What is the source of healing? What does wholeness look like for me—for us? Who are my people and what is our hope? What can I do for this world? What can we do?

Our tradition dares to go after the big questions. That’s part of why I’m here today. Because I need to ask the big questions and I need to ask them in community—with you. I wonder if that’s what draws some of you to First Church, too. (Even, maybe, our new members today—Andy and Christina, Emily, Jean, Jon and Rob) Not because we offer easy answers, but because we are willing to engage the big questions.

The news this week has been hard. Again. How do we get our bearings? Where do we find community? How do we act? In the last ten days, eight Black churches have been burned to the ground in the St. Louis area. All of them under investigation for arson. How do we act?

We have watched in horror as a humanitarian crisis unfolds in Syria. We see footage of refugees fleeing their homes, families seeking safety and shelter, and—some of them—asylum. We hear of fences built, barriers erected, and weapons used to turn away migrants.

Last week at our 10:00 adult formation hour, we had a visitor who gave an account of life in exile. Our speaker, Razek Siriani, an ordained lay deacon of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, has been working with the Middle East Council of Churches. Razek described the arrival of ISIS in his home city of Aleppo. He spoke of being separated from family and loved ones, his homeland devastated, buildings leveled, roads destroyed, hospitals bombed out.

“Where is God in such times?” we ask. Yet there is an abiding promise in our tradition of God’s presence in the midst of exile. We find it in Psalm 126. The psalm looks back to the Babylonian exile—a time of sorrow. Yet it is infused with quiet joy. “Joy remembered and joy anticipated.” It is a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s protection in the past and a prayer for [God’s] help in the future.”

The psalmist writes, “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” Weeping and joy. Sorrow and hope. God’s presence in the midst of it all.

Thankfully, most of us have not experienced political exile and that kind of danger that our Syrian guest described. But how many of us have experienced the bitter tears of not knowing whether our home is a safe place—emotionally or physically? How many of us have lost our way in the midst of life transition or vocational crisis? How many of us have experienced job loss, housing loss, financial vulnerability, or struggled with self-worth?

The promise at the heart of our tradition is that God meets us where we are—in brokenness, or exile, fear or isolation. We hear it in the psalms and in the words of Hebrew prophets. We see it in Jesus’ life and actions.

Mark’s gospel tells us that as Jesus and the disciples are going out of the walled city of Jericho, they encounter a man by the side of the road. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, but his voice is almost lost in the crowd. The disciples brush right by him. People in the crowd try to silence him. But he calls out loudly, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

First let me say that I love it that Mark’s gospel calls Bartimaeus by name. He is not a stand-in for blind beggars, or a generic symbol for all who are in need. For Jesus, Bartimaeus is a real person. He has a family (he is the son of Timaeus), an identity, and a community. If he represents anything in this story, it’s persistence and faith. When he calls out to Jesus, Jesus summons Bartimaeus to him and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“What do you want me to do for you?” A potent question, coming from Jesus’ lips. How different is sounds than SIRI’s, “What can I help you with?” From Jesus, it is a clarifying question. It’s a call for all of us to sort out our deepest priorities. Insiders and outsiders, members and friends, believers and questioners. What do you want me to do for you? Asks Jesus.

Perceiving Jesus’ power, Bartimaeus responds, “My teacher, let me see again.” And Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus regains his eyesight and he follows Jesus on the way, joined to a purpose, a community and a movement.

Bartimaeus is loud and insistent. I wonder if this is one of our take-aways. The disciples pass him by, the crowd wants to silence Bartimaeus. But he insists on being heard. Is there a message about urgency? When you know what you need, you persevere. Maybe it’s something personal, like seeking a second opinion in a medical diagnosis. But maybe it’s something public, like rage spilling out into the streets after the killing of a child. Sometimes we need to use loud voices so we will be heard.

Some have criticized activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. Too violent. Too angry. Too loud. But how loud is loud enough? What is the right portion of anger in a situation that is intolerable?

Although he speaks to the individual—Bartimaeus—we can also hear Jesus’ question as a question for the collective. What are the deep needs of your people—however you define that community? What keeps you up at night? What will bring you wholeness and purpose? What draws you into relationship?

What is it that we yearn for, here in Cambridge in this beloved community of disciples—we, who seek to follow Jesus on the way?

Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” He meets us in our weeping and isolation and fear. Calls forth our courage and convictions, welcomes our loud voices crying out for justice. But he also brings us joy and wholeness and community.

Here in this community we seek to follow the ways of Jesus. Sometimes in quiet listening, sometimes with loud, persistent voices. We may find ourselves asking each other and asking our neighbor and asking of Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Psalms, p. 399.
Psalms, p. 387.

Looking for ways to support our community during this unprecedented time of need? The Missions and Social Justice Committee has compiled and vetted a short list of organizations looking for assistance to aid in their work in the COVID-19 response...

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Shelter has expanded into Sage Hall to allow for greater social distancing, and is now open to guests around the clock, thanks to additional funding from the Commonwealth. They would very much welcome...