We can’t get rid of John the Baptist’s call to repentance and we shouldn’t try, but neither do we have to be afraid of it. The experience we’ve had of false accusation and self-interested blame may give us every reason in the world to get defensive, to get our hackles up, to counter-punch and deny we’re at fault even a little. But the God who revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ is a loving God, full of both grace and truth.
Jesus said, "There will be signs… on the earth distress among nations... People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”
And so what does Jesus tell us to do about this? We may agree or disagree about what exactly the signs are or which are the scariest of the swirling powers in the world, but the one thing we can control and change, something over which, in this tangled up and chaotic world, we do have power, is the way we choose to respond to fear and to insecurity, the way we choose to behave when we’re vulnerable.
In our more democratic era we may forget that the Jesus we read about each week, the teacher who let the little children come unto him, the good shepherd who washed his disciples’ feet, was also a great and mighty King. And not just a king, but the king of kings and lord of lords. He came to us in disguise, like a commoner, looking like just another ordinary man. He was a king, but he was a hidden king. We today may fail to see it too, just like most everyone Jesus met.
So in the spirit of stewardship season, in addition to examining our bank accounts and our spending habits, I urge us to consider those things that we hold close to our hearts, the things that, when knocked around or displaced or challenged, we rise up quickly to defend, to put back in the same spot, to restore equilibrium as quickly as possible. Because those are the things that have weaseled into our hearts. Whatever leaves us feeling adrift when it’s removed, whatever shoves us into irritation when it’s shifted, whatever makes us all twitchy when it’s disturbed, that is what we’ve been making into a god. That’s the thing that’s been controlling our thoughts and spinning up lies in our heads.
Don’t give just because this church needs it. Give instead because we need God, and so that we can reach out to our neighbors who need God too. Give because we all need to be free of the grip that money has on our hearts, of greed and pride and the anxious worry that we need every cent because we can’t depend on God. Give because when you give, to God and to the Kingdom of God, that is what your heart will begin to love.
Stewardship isn’t just a season about raising money and getting volunteers. Not at all. It’s about learning to see our whole lives as a gift from God, and offering it back as a gift. It’s not about how many zeroes are in your bank account. It’s not about how talented you think you are or how well you can sing. It’s about taking whatever gifts God has blessed you with and offering them back with a cheerful heart and a generous spirit. It’s not just about what we give to God here in church; it’s about what we give to God in our whole lives, at home, at work, in our neighborhoods, and everywhere else.
We might think it’s obvious that if we were blind, we’d ask to see again, but is that really true? Being blind, after all, can be more comfortable than the alternative. We have blind spots because there are things that we don’t want to see, either about ourselves or the world we live in. How would I live with myself if… Who would I even be if I were wrong about… What if I had to admit that they’re right… What would I have to give up if I really followed Jesus? Bartimaeus wasn’t afraid. He wanted to see, really see, however hard it was, whatever it cost.
Our culture pretends that in ourselves have power over evil, that we are strong to crush cancer under our feet, that enough rehab facilities will banish addictions from our bodies, that our marriages and family relationships can be made effortless and without any cracks if we just try hard enough. Many of you know from your intimate experiences with all these evils that what our culture tells us day in and day out about the hope that we can make for ourselves through government programs and through emotional toughness and through enough money and enough security and enough therapy is a lie.
We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. This is the bad news, and this is the good news. Desperation, fear, and hopelessness spring from trying to be our own saviors, from pinning our hope on a chemotherapy drug, from considering the midterm elections to be our salvation, from imagining that our deliverance can come from a larger paycheck or a better elementary school or a better use of time. None of these things can save us. None of these things can contribute to our peace.