A sermon for Evensong at Sherborne Abbey, preached on Sunday 22 March 2019 by The Reverend Jono Tregale, Team Vicar

Picture the scene. A well-known celebrity arrives at the launch-event for her latest album or book. Outside the venue are hordes of waiting fans – some having travelled many miles to be there, at great cost. Some have even been camped outside since the day before to ensure that they would be in the front row of the crowd and be prime position to get that all-important autograph. It is a scene of great anticipation: row after row of loyal fans hoping for at least a fleeting glimpse of their idol. But it is not to be. After waiting patiently for longer than they expected to for the celebrity to arrive, the crowd receive a message from inside the building which first brings disappointment and then anger to the crowd. The launch event has already taken place inside, and the superstar has already been and gone. She has refused to have any contact with the waiting fans and has rushed in and out of the rear-entrance of the venue flanked by burly minders on every side. Quite simply she has chosen to have no time for the crowds.

In our Second Lesson today [Mark 10:46-52] Jesus finds himself in exactly the same situation of being confronted with his own fame. He is in Jericho, en-route to Jerusalem a mere 20 miles away, and unknown to his followers about to enter his final week before facing death at the hand of Roman executioners. But there is no hint of this in this encounter; there is neither a sense of urgency nor of anxiety on his part.

And in utter contrast to our celebrity who treated her fans with arrogant contempt, Jesus took the time to respond to a blind man’s cry for help. As ever he allowed the poor and powerless to stop him in his tracks. You see his agenda was so different to that of his disciples, who should have known better. Once again we find them trying to ignore the cries of the needy and dismissing the weak as a distraction to Jesus’ ministry. We see it just a little earlier in the chapter when they tried to keep the children away from Jesus. And here, as then, Jesus is never put out by the very things that annoy his followers. Rather, he reaches out beyond everyone’s expectations to offer hope to those who call out to him. You see, to Jesus, Bartimaeus was not just a beggar but a person, a ‘you’, not an ‘it’.

And in our society where we are often identified as a number rather than a name, where people are often marginalized because of economic concerns, or where we can feel invisible surrounded by other, as we might think, more important people, this story reminds us that Jesus has time for us. He notices us. He sees us as individuals who are important to him; to be known and loved by him. If we cry out to him in our need he will meet with us.

But back to our gospel story. Bartimaeus had called out; he had Jesus’ full attention. And Jesus says to him “what do you want me to do for you?”

Now, it’s quite possible that no-one had ever bothered to ask him that before. Most might have simply walked past oblivious to his need but those who had noticed him might have assumed a few pennies thrown in his direction would be all that was needed. But Jesus shows no such presumption. That in part is why the question is asked and in reply Bartimaeus articulates his need.

Jesus has given him great dignity, the power to exercise choice; to say what he wants.

The question required a response from Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus needed to ask, and in doing so exercised faith. The gospel story tells us that he threw his cloak to one side. This would not have been so much a garment of warmth, Jericho is notoriously warm and dry, but would have been used more as a mat for him to sit upon as he begged. In a sense he was throwing aside a potent symbol of his identity. He no longer wanted to be dominated and defined by his problem, but trusted himself to Christ. He longed for healing. And on this occasion physical healing came to him.

Jesus still longs to hear us cry out to him – to follow Bartimaeus’ example. He still poses us the question today, “what do you want me to do for you?” A conscious response or request to Jesus is required, even if with faltering faith. But this, itself, can be tough. At times, even, it may require a letting-go of all that has been of comfort in the past, a throwing-off of our cloaks. For if we call out to God in our need we can expect him to meet with us. Now, that doesn’t mean we get exactly what we ask for; God is no slot-machine deity at our beck and call. But He hears and He reaches out to us and He meets with us.

How do you respond to Jesus’ words today? “What do you want me to do for you?” he asks. Will you throw off your cloak and come to Jesus?

It sounds simple doesn’t it? But there are times, maybe we’ve all known, when God seems silent – when it feels as though God has not heard us. Perhaps your experience is like that of the Psalmist who so often writes of his frustration: “Hear me, O God” and “Why this, O God?” And yet both the Psalms and our gospel reading today remind us that if we cry out to God in our need then we can expect him to meet with us. This is the Christian hope, God with us, the hope of glory. It’s not always easy – but God has heard, God is with us.

Let us be encouraged today by this encounter between Bartimaeus and our Lord Jesus – that we can reach out to God in prayer, with confidence. You see, for Bartimaeus, he didn’t just believe in Jesus (in his case, that he was a great healer) but called out to him. And for us? Do we simply believe that Jesus was the son of God, or even that he was raised from the dead is therefore still the son of God? But the truth is today that we can actually encounter Jesus and be transformed, just like Bartimaeus.

Remember those words from our Old Testament reading, from the prophecy of Isaiah? It’s an invitation to come to our God. “Come, all who are thirsty”. “Come, those without riches”. “Seek the Lord”, we are exhorted “Call on him”.

And so now, take some time in the silence to respond to Christ’s question to you this evening. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asks. For if we call out to God in our need we can expect him to meet with us. He has time for us.

Gracious God,

who heard the blind man’s cry of help

and called him to yourself,

have mercy on us in our need

and come and meet with us,

Through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.