Mercy, Healing, and Call
Mark 10: 46-52
If you believe the things people say, students come to college to throw off God and all traces of religion, like an old, dried husk. People seem to like wringing their hands over the state of “young people today.” Depending upon their ideas about religion, the church, and what college is for, people also seem to like to blame someone. The church, for not scooping up all these wayward college students with our giant Jesus butterfly net…college students, for being so self-centered, partying, and uninterested in important things like God and the church.
So, in case you are a college student visiting for the first time, or a family member visiting a college student for Family Weekend, or a regular congregation member who still wonders why the Wesley Foundation campus ministry is here on the Wesley block and what exactly we do, this sermon is for you. (And if you aren’t any of those folks, and you’re not even a hand-wringing worry-er about the state of young people today, it’s also for you.)
Our campus ministry tagline is “a place to be, a place to become.” What we try to communicate with that is that we don’t expect a one-size-fits all approach to faith and we recognize that students need both a place and a community of faith where they can just be – nurtured, unchallenged, accepted as is – as well as a place and a community where they can become – more, different, challenged, a deeper disciple of Christ. In the midst of life at college, where in four years students are learning to live away from their families, to organize their days and weeks on their own…where they are learning to ask for help, to make sense of the ambiguities of life, to discern their major and their vocation, when they are learning how to be in adult relationships – with friends, parents, professors, and significant others, when they are trying things on for size, exploring academic and social interests….This is where we are. Campus ministry walks with college students in the midst of this wonderful, exciting, scary, life-changing crucible of time and place.
I’m very purposefully saying “walks with” college students because I am definitely not a giant Jesus butterfly net kind of person or pastor. In this mixed-up, amazing four years in the lives of students, they need companionship and an open door. I have met students who are actively trying to outgrow the religion they grew up with and I’ve met those who want more than they had growing up. Whoever they are and whatever their personal, spiritual journey during college, they need to know that the church “gets it,” that what we want for them is a closer relationship with God, regardless of the butts in our pews. They need to know that they have a pastor who will listen to whatever it is and wherever they are and that they have a place, a community that is big enough and Christ-like enough to include them in whatever state they find themselves. Many students come to college looking for answers – religious and otherwise – and many find answers. But what I really hope for them is that they will learn to ask the right questions – even and especially when they hang in the air without obvious or immediate answers.
Questions like the one Jesus asks Bartimaeus in the story we heard from Mark this morning. Bartimaeus is a man sitting by the side of the road, blind and begging for his daily needs. When he hears the crowds and Jesus coming near, he shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v.48) That’s fascinating to me. Given the description we have of him as a “blind beggar,” you might think he would have shouted out a request for food or clothing or money – or at least that he might ask to be healed of his blindness (v. 46).
Have mercy on me. That’s a prayer I know I don’t pray often enough. What about you? What do you call out for? Your deepest need? Quick, Jesus is headed this way right now – what are you going to shout out to him?
Have mercy on me. Those are the words that stop Jesus in his tracks. The disciples and the crowds want to press on. They try to shush Bartimaeus. He’s a distraction. Just some needy nobody on the way to somewhere important. But Jesus stops, calls the man to him, and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v.51).
Imagine how that would have sounded to him. What do you want me to do for you? Bartimaeus changes what he calls Jesus here. He drops the title “Son of David” and moves to the more intimate “teacher”: “My teacher, let me see again” (v. 51). Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well” (v.52). Go, your belief has healed you. You asked for mercy and healing and that demonstration of faith is what made you well again.
Biblical commentators call this a healing story but one I read wondered if it ought to be considered a call story instead, since Bartimaeus gets up and follows Jesus to Jerusalem after their encounter. This got me to wondering: What if every healing story is also a story of calling? What if every call from God is also related to where we need to heal?
Frederick Buechner describes calling this way (Wishful Thinking): “The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work that you need most to do and that the world most needs to have done…The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” The kind of work you need most to do…the work that will heal you even as it calls you forward…the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger. What if this is how we know which major is the right one? What if this is how we know when we are being healed, becoming more whole? What if this is how we know we are headed in the right direction with our summer internship or the career path we are setting out on? What if this is how we know when to get up and follow Jesus down the road?
Bartimaeus starts out with mercy. Have mercy on me. What do we need to call out for or ask for when Jesus comes near? Where are we in need of being made whole again? And how can that possibly be related to our calling?
By this point in his life Bartimaeus may have given up on seeing again. Remember, he doesn’t ask for it right away. Maybe he had ruled it out as something beyond healing. Maybe he knew he had one shot and his need for mercy was so much more profound than his need to see again.
You can probably tell that this heal-call opportunity exists our whole lives. Maybe we first notice during college, when there are so many calls on our time, attention, and spirit. Maybe for some of us, the very struggle to stay in or join with the church is part of our healing and calling.
However you first hear it, keep listening, because it will keep coming. God doesn’t issue just one call, like an ad that appears in your Facebook feed one time and then disappears to history. God’s call is a consistent murmur, the song of the wind in the trees or the waves hitting the sand, a wonderful beautiful melody, ever present. Just as we are always in need of mercy and healing.
If you believe the things people say, then believe me when I say that God is alive on Grounds. Sometimes that looks like we think it might and sometimes it surprises us. Around here, it’s a privilege to walk with students as they practice saying “have mercy on me.” It’s a gift to learn from them how to do it more gracefully in my own life. It’s the Spirit of God in the midst of our campus ministry community who enables us to show our deepest vulnerabilities, offering them up to God to be healed and to call us out into the world. It’s our most merciful God who stops by whatever wayward dusty road we’re on to ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” And who offers us healing in the places we thought were beyond redemption and purpose when we’re stuck by the side of the road.
Thanks be to God!
©2012 Deborah E. Lewis
28 October 2012
Wesley Memorial UMC – Family Weekend at UVA