Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
This Sunday was an intentional intergenerational Sunday, which includes liturgy that is written specifically for children’s developmental levels and a sermon that is written with the children’s developmental levels in mind. Before Ann, our lay reader, read our Scripture, I told everyone that there was more than one story in our reading and asked them to pay attention to how many different stories they heard. As you read our scripture for the week, I invite you to do the same. How many stories are in this one story?
Mark 10: 32-52
They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
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. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 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.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Sometimes our readings for Sunday morning have more than one story. Before our reading today, I asked you to listen to see how many stories this chunk of Mark is telling. When you were listening, how many stories did you hear? (listen to their guesses) Those are all good guesses. Becky and I figured that there were three: the first part, where Jesus predicted that something bad was going to happen to him in Jerusalem, the second part, where James and John want to have the best seats alongside Jesus, and the part where Jesus heals a man named Bartimaeus. And, these three stories work together to tell us something about what it means to follow Jesus.
The first story in this reading, the one where Jesus made a prediction about what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem. Remember, Jesus and the disciples are walking together and he is teaching and healing people along the way. In this part of the story, when it says that people are following Jesus, it means that they are literally walking with him towards Jerusalem. And, some people who were mad at Jesus and were in the city of Jerusalem had already sent spies to check on what he was teaching. We haven’t read that story together recently, but they did. So, as the group of people were walking with Jesus towards Jerusalem, they got nervous. They knew that people who didn’t trust Jesus lived there.
If you are doing something scary and your friends are coming with you, it is good to let them know that the thing you will be doing together is scary, especially if the thing you all are doing is important. And, what Jesus was going to do in Jerusalem was important. He had to make sure that everyone who followed him knew that it would likely be dangerous and also make sure that they were willing to risk going there with him even if it were dangerous. Sometimes being brave means knowing something is scary, feeling scared, and doing the hard thing anyway. The first part of the story is where Jesus makes sure that the disciples know that not everyone likes what he’s teaching and some people are really mad about it. But, even if people are mad and will hurt him, in the end, they cannot stop him from rising. A couple of the disciples then go on to ask some questions about what it means to follow Jesus and if they could have a special place with him. Intern Pastor Becky is going to tell you more about that.
This morning you heard a story during the scripture reading about James and John, two of Jesus’ 12 disciples. They both asked Jesus to grant them the right to sit one at the right hand and one at the left hand in Jesus’ glory. They wanted to have special seating in front of the 10 other disciples. Do you think the disciples were shocked at John and James’ request or mad that they didn’t think to ask first?
Think about this for a minute: When you go to your Grandparent’s house for Thanksgiving dinner or another special occasion, do you rush to sit at the table beside one of your grandparents, or do you have to sit away from them or even at a different table? What about when you were having your lunch in the school cafeteria before Covid? Was there a special person that you felt you needed to sit beside to eat lunch or lunch wouldn’t taste the same if there wasn’t space available??
Jesus agrees that it is good to be a leader, but says that a leader is a person who puts the needs and wants of others before his or her own. Think about being part of a team, like the 12 disciples were. I know many of you have been part of a sports team or played music with other people, so you know what it is like learning to work together. It can be difficult at first to learn to pass the ball so someone else can score, instead of keeping it to score yourself. Or being one of the members of a relay team and learning that everyone working together can make you all winners, not just the one crossing the finish line. Leaders are people who give up their own glory for the good of the team. A few leaders that come to my mind are Rev. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
James and John had asked Jesus the question because they believed it would be a privilege and they would sit in greatness besides Jesus. But Jesus’ lesson was about servanthood, helping others before helping ourselves. When we follow Jesus’ teachings, we stay close to him, by serving others before ourselves.
So, the first story is Jesus warning his friends of the danger that awaits them in the city. The second story shows us that the disciples want to follow Jesus, even if it’s dangerous, but that they misunderstand what will happen if they follow him. James and John think that they might have a special honor if they follow him. Jesus has to tell them and all the disciples that following him isn’t about making yourself special but about serving the people around you. And, then we have the third story, a story where Jesus heals someone and that person immediately begins to follow him. I read an article by a teacher named Mark Vitalis Hoffman who said that this story is pretty special. There are lots of stories where Jesus heals people. There are lots of stories where people decide to follow Jesus. There aren’t as many where someone is healed and also starts following Jesus down the road. Bartimaeus is special. He has a great gift, and this gift allows him to come closer to Jesus than many people could have imagined. Thank goodness that he realized he had such a gift, or he might never have approached Jesus and he might never have been healed. And, what is Bartimaeus’ great gift? His faith. As you may remember, Jesus said that it was his faith that made him well. And, we can all learn an important lesson from Bartimaeus about how to use the gifts that we have to follow Jesus.
Bartimaeus didn't have much money. Notice that we first see him, he was asking for money from strangers when he encountered Jesus. Sometimes people have so little that they have to ask strangers for help so they can have food and a safe place to stay. Sometimes people call our church and ask for help like Bartimaeus did. And, since he is asking strangers for help, it probably means that he doesn’t have family or friends who are helping take care of him. Sometimes people aren’t nice to people like Bartimaeus, very poor people who are sick and have to ask strangers for help. When Bartimaeus realized that Jesus was coming close to him, he started shouting out for his help. He must have already learned that Jesus could heal people and hoped that Jesus could heal him. Some of the people with Jesus told Bartimaeus to be quiet… to leave Jesus alone… it’s like they thought Jesus had more important things to do than deal with the likes of Bartimaeus.
Luckily for him, Bartimaeus wouldn’t be shushed when help was so close to him. He kept yelling and asking for help. He did something else special, too. He realized, way before other people, that Jesus was the Messiah. That’s what he was saying when he called Jesus the Son of David. Few other people realized so quickly who Jesus was. When Jesus heard Bartimaeus cry out, he had compassion for this man with the great gifts of faith and bravery. Jesus asked his friends to go get him. Jesus' disciples said to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Has anyone ever told you to take heart? That means, “Hey! Something good is getting ready to happen. I hope you feel good about it.”
In the last couple weeks, we’ve heard stories about different people approaching Jesus. A teacher named Bonnie Bowman Thurston noticed something interesting while comparing Bartimaeus to the rich young man who approached Jesus. When Jesus told the rich young man that he needed to give away everything he had to the poor and follow Jesus, the rich man got very sad and didn’t immediately follow Jesus down the road. He walked away. Bartimaeus was different. He was willing to give up all he had to come to Jesus. Did you hear that part that said he “threw off his cloak, and sprang up, and came to Jesus.” His cloak was probably the only thing he owned. He was ready to drop all that he had to get to Jesus quickly.
Jesus asked Bartimaeus the same question that he had asked James and John in the second story. He said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Rather than ask for a place of honor, as James and John did, Bartimaeus, asked to be able to see. Jesus does it. He heals his eyes so he can see. Jesus says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” This sounds like he’s telling him that he can leave and go somewhere else. But rather than run off to go celebrate, Bartimaeus chose to follow Jesus, joining the disciples and others who were walking with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Wow! That was a lot to learn in three short stories. What do you think we learned about following Jesus today? Here's some that I came up with: Something scary may happen in Jerusalem. Sometimes you have to do hard things even if you are scared. It is good to take people with you when you do something important. We follow Jesus not because we want to get fancy things or be in charge but because we want to be servants like he was. Be kind when someone with no money asks for help. Be willing to give up something if you are going to follow Jesus. Following him and being a servant is more important than having lots of money. Ask Jesus when you need help. These are all good lessons! Do you think you’ll be able to put any of these lessons into action this week? Next week, will you let me know if you did?
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2642
Bonnie Bowman Thurston, Preaching Mark, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002).
Carolyn Brown: http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/09/year-b-proper-24-29th-sunday-in.html
Seasons of the Spirit
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.