If I were to preach a stewardship sermon this morning, I might begin with the Old English roots of our word “steward” – the “ward” of the “sty,” the keeper of the hall, a royal banquet hall. The steward is not king or queen, so the hall does not belong to the steward. The steward does not sit with the queen or king at the head table during feasts. Nor is the steward one of the guests at a royal banquet. Instead, the steward stands between the king and his guests, but is not in the way. Attentive and active, but not possessive or self-promoting, the steward serves the queen by serving her guests as they feast together. If I were to preach a stewardship sermon this morning… But I don’t have to. Not alone, anyway. Because Howard Henry is here to offer his testimony. Just allow me to return a little later and wonder about what our gospel story of Jesus and Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, might have to do with stewardship. In the meantime, Howard.
Many of you know me as the guy up front who’s usually smiling.
I am smiling because being part of our Eucharists gives me a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
We are called to “Lift up your hearts”, and St. Paul’s liturgy is so powerful that I do so each Sunday.
I never fail to be lifted out of the cares and troubles I have brought with me from the past week.
I pray that happens for you as well.
And in this vision of the heavenly banquet, I feel surrounded by saints.
You, my fellow parishioners, are these saints.
Up front I feel as if I am acting as a Steward to serve us all in the heavenly banquet.
But in a broader sense, we at St. Paul’s are all called on to be Stewards to serve the greater community.
Each Eucharist invites me -- and all of us -- to give thanks to the Lord our God.
In recent years this parish has helped me become more and more intentional in recognizing all the blessings that God gives me in my life.
That is far better than taking these gifts for granted, as I once did.
I give thanks to God through the many ways I contribute to our shared life at St. Paul’s, including serving in the liturgies.
Financially I give almost 13%, the single biggest item in my budget, and far more than my combined installments of property taxes, which I was reminded of recently.
And I give thanks to you, my fellow Stewards, for the blessed life that we share together in this parish.
And so I smile at you, for being my fellow guests, and my fellow Stewards, in the heavenly banquet that we share together each week.
Now what might our gospel story of Jesus and the blind beggar Bartimaeus have to do with stewardship – with worship – and with life in the world?
Unlike chapter 9 of John’s gospel, this is the story of a man not born blind. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks Bartimaeus; “My teacher, let me see again,” is his reply (Mark 10:51). Born seeing, Bartimaeus has lost his sight. Lost the ability to stand on his own in the social and economic system of his day. Bartimaeus sits by the roadside and begs. Like the remnant of Israel in our reading from Jeremiah (31:7-9), and like the inhabitants of Zion in our psalm (126), the story of Bartimaeus and Jesus is about re-covery and re-newal. Lost sight regained. Lost fortunes restored. Return to a lost land and a lost way of life. We often talk about the stewardship of what we have, what we have been given. I wonder if there might also be a stewardship of what we have lost? Lost as individuals. As families and organizations. As a country (especially in light of the news of the past twenty-four hours on top of the past week). The human race. Might there be a stewardship of what others have lost? A stewardship of all peoples’ deepest longings for what has been lost?
Humor me and the way I began this sermon and visualize a steward standing between the king or queen and their guests. I wonder, then, if we should look not to Jesus or Bartimaeus for clues about stewardship in our gospel story, but to the crowd standing between. Clues, first of all, by seeing what stewardship is not. The crowd stands between Bartimaeus and Jesus but gets in the way. When the blind beggar hears that it is Jesus of Nazareth in the caravan leaving Jericho, he shouts out his deep longing for recovery and renewal: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47) The crowd gets in the way by “sternly ordering” Bartimaeus “to be quiet” (10:48). The crowd is inattentive. Blind, even, to the blind man and his longing. They pass him by. They are too intent on moving on toward Jerusalem. The crowd is inactive toward Bartimaeus. Maybe they are too possessive of Jesus, of his time and attention. The Jesus they think belongs to them. Too self-promoting in the wake of Jesus’ mercy. For whatever reason, the crowd gets in the way, failing to see the blind man and suppressing his voice.
Things change when Jesus abruptly stops and stands still. He has heard Bartimaeus. Jesus says to the crowd, “call him here” (49). And somehow, Jesus’ calling of Bartimaeus calls forth stewardship in the crowd. They now become attentive and active. They give way. They get out of the way. They make room for the blind man. The crowd sheds their possessiveness and self-promotion. They now can encourage Bartimaeus: “Take heart; get up, he is calling you” (49). The crowd allows Bartimaeus to replace them and take his place with Jesus. The blind man throws off his cloak of protection and invisibility, springs up, and comes close to his hope. Jesus himself remarks, “Go; your faith has made you well” (52). What faith of Bartimaeus? His refusal to despair in the face of systemic injustice. His having no more time for silence and marginalization. With regained sight, he joins in and follows Jesus on the way.
So, I wonder this morning if we might learn something about a stewardship of what has been lost from the crowd standing between Jesus and Bartimaeus. I wonder. But here’s what I believe, deeply, even if I don’t really know how to live it out. I believe we are capable of stewarding, able to serve Jesus by serving the guests of his mercy, only because we are always already guests in Jesus’ banquet hall. We can steward Bartimaeus and what he lost, only because we are Bartimaeus. We have been invited in and seated at Jesus’ table, the head table in his royal hall – this eucharistic table. We feast at Jesus’ very own table, not some little card table hastily set up in the back corner of the hall. We, all of us. Not alone. As community, a crowd of guests and stewards. All of us – the blind and the lame in every sense of the words, those with child and those in labor (Jeremiah 31:8), shouting out our deepest longing for recovery and renewal (Mark 10:47-48). Individually. As families and organizations. This country. The whole human race.
Take heart. Get up. Jesus is calling. That’s the hope, that’s the promise, in our gospel reading. And yet it was been the words of our psalm that kept coming back to me all last night and early this morning. Words from the scriptures of our Jewish sisters and brothers, including those at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Words that were scripture for Jesus and are scripture, still, for us. Words about the promise of God; God’s unbelievable promise.
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream….
Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out with weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.” (Psalm 126:1, 6-7)