"All I Want for..."

II Samuel 23:1-7

Psalm 20

Mark 10:35-52

It was a wonderful day in downtown Iowa City last Wednesday. The sun was shining. It was warmer than it had been in many days. There was plenty of on-street parking as the students had left town and the University was winding down for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Life in downtown Iowa City can often seem crowded and hectic—and don’t get me wrong, that can be energizing and enjoyable. But last Wednesday the feeling was much more “Iowa” than “City.” Among the few people walking around, I encountered another member of our congregation. We agreed that it was a wonderful day.

You should have been there.

On second thought, maybe not. That would have only made for a crowd.

I could have used a couple more weeks like that—but it isn’t going to be that way. Still, it was a day to be thankful—even if Wednesday wasn’t a national holiday.

Now, after pausing on Thursday to give thanks, our nation now resumes its ongoing and greater concern over what we don’t have, what we want. And with Christmas exactly one month away, we go full throttle.

If she hasn’t already, Mariah Carey will begin to tell us “All I Want for Christmas Is You”—which is presented as not asking too much, compared to all sorts of gifts around the tree, but, when you think about it, that’s quite a request, isn’t it?

What do you want?

This time of year earnest ministers such as myself are generally telling people, “Dial it back. Don’t be so greedy, so needy.”

Shop owners often flinch at such rhetoric, as they did twenty years ago when the environmental activist, Bill McKibben, published a small book titled Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas. In it he suggests families spend $100 on Christmas and leave it at that. He writes: “There’s nothing magic about a hundred dollars; truth be told, I chose the name because it sounded good with ‘holiday.’ And obviously big families may decide to spend more at Christmas, and small ones may be happier spending less. But the hundred dollar goal seems to work well as a kind of check, a way of saying that your commitment to a better Christmas goes beyond merely complaining or telling yourself that this year it will be different.”

He’s received a lot of flack about this idea and this book over the years.

But one thing he says gets at the real issue here: “Christmas should be something to enjoy rather than endure. Instead of an island of bustle, it should be an island of peace amid a busy life. We want so much more out of Christmas: more music, more companionship, more contemplation, more time outdoors, more love.”

We want so much more.

We want so much more—not just out of Christmas, but out of life.

And that’s something to accept, to embrace, to celebrate.

These days, these times of giving thanks and giving and receiving, the upcoming seasons of Advent and Christmas all ask us an important question: “What do you want?”

We listened this morning as Jesus asked the same question in two different situations.

James and John come up to Jesus with a simple request—and they are upfront about this.

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Simple enough.

And Jesus replies, as he often does, with a question: “What do you want me to do for you?

A little later Jesus asks the same question to Bartimaeus, a blind beggar. “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do you want?

Perhaps in being asked that question James and John and Bartimaeus also heard an echo of the hope and blessing of the psalm that we read this morning: “May God grant you your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your plans.”

What do you want?

What is your heart’s desire?

How do you recognize it?

Maybe it begins with a feeling of emptiness, that desire for more.

Such an emptiness can be a voracious pit that is never filled.  Many will try to fill it with things or endless work or mindless leisure. But these can never really meet our heart’s desire, for they do not fulfill us. No matter how much we have, we will always want more. No matter how hard we work, we will always find more that needs to be done. No matter how long we rest or how hard we party, we will not be satisfied.

And yet that hungry heart can hold a yearning that will move you forward to your goal. Can you identify what is missing, that place of emptiness in your life?

Is there a deep passion that won’t let you go?

Is there a desire that, fulfilled, would make your life worth living, a desire that would, indeed, be a tree of life? 

That feeling of emptiness can help us discover a new way of life, a new way of seeing and doing.

It’s the desire that makes us feel alive.

Rightly understood, even our very salvation is a matter of the heart’s desire, for salvation is a word that speaks of wholeness, the fulfillment of desire. Which is why I’m convinced that the question “What do you want?” is a very religious question. Indeed, it was often the only question Jesus asked of those he encountered.

It asks about what is most important to us.

It is a question about what we love, what we value, about our ultimate commitments.

What do you want?

Watch again as Jesus walks out of Jericho and comes upon Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, sitting by the side of the road.

Like many blind people in the gospel stories, he is similar to the disciples, who also must have their spiritual blindness cured by Jesus before they can see the new way of life to which they are called. We today sit with that blind man, we stand with the disciples, needing new, clear sight.

In his misery he is not thinking of others. He cries out for attention. Listen to him: “Jesus, have mercy upon me!”

The people following Jesus respond very much how we might expect followers of Jesus to respond. They tell Bartimaeus to be quiet. You know how followers of Jesus can be—knowing just what everyone else should do, silencing those who are too loud.

Jesus himself responds differently.

He stops.

And asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”

The God of mercy comes to each of us asking a simple question: “What do you want?”

What is your heart’s desire?

Well, without missing a beat, Bartimaeus says: “My teacher, let me see again.”

He knows what he wants. He knows what is of great importance to him.

Do we?

Are we willing to say it?

Many people have a good idea of what is bugging them. Many are good at saying quite quickly and clearly what they don’t like. Many know what they would like somebody else to do.

Do you know people like that?

Ask them what they want.

Or ask yourself what you want.

Fewer people are able to give much of an answer. Maybe they will say: “I know what I want, but it’s not possible.”

Let yourself know what you want—and give voice to that desire. Make it grand enough that, when that desire is fulfilled, it will be worth it—it will be a tree of life.

When we speak from our heart’s desire we can enter into genuine conversation with one another in the presence of God.

Then will we be like that blind man, knowing and saying what he wants. “Jesus says to him: ‘Go your way; your faith has made you well.’” With renewed sight, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way.

When we say what we want, when we give voice to our heart’s desire, we take the first step toward making it a reality.

But this is not some magic at work. There is another part of all of this.

Recall the other story from Mark that we heard this morning.

James and John come up to Jesus and say: “Jesus, do us a favor.”

Again, the same question from Jesus: “What do you want?”

Well, they say, they’d like to sit by Jesus' side in his glory—one at his right hand, one at his left. It seems only appropriate to them, I guess. After all, they’ve been hanging around him for some time now. There’s got to be some reward coming for all of this.

This time Jesus asks another question. I know. It sure would be nice if he’d cut the questions and just tell us something. But Jesus asks: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”

Saying what we want is an important first step. If we don't say what we want, we will never get it.

But once we have spoken our heart’s desire, then we are asked: “And what are you willing to do, what are you willing to give, to get it?”

Desire calls forth commitment and action.

It’s like the story that’s told about the novelist Sinclair Lewis arriving to deliver an hour-long lecture to a group of college students who planned to be writers. He opened his talk with a question:

“How many of you really intend to be writers?”

All the hands in the room went up.

“In that case,” he said, “my advice to you is to go home and write.”

And with that, he left the room.

I don’t know if such an approach would work down the street at the Writer’s Workshop, but it would certainly give the faculty more free time.

Being honest about what we want, we move from listening or talking to action.

If we lived out of our desires, if we acted upon our deepest commitments, we would astound ourselves with all we could do.

What do you want?

Bill McKibben was right: We want so much more: more music, more companionship, more contemplation, more time outdoors, more love.”

Developing a loving relationship, nurturing a family, doing the work that you’re best at and like to do best, creating a work of great beauty, making this city, this world a better place.

What do you want?

What do you want for this congregation? That it would be a place of acceptance, of love, of kindness, a center where forgiveness is encountered, where the love of God is shown to the world?

What do you want?

And what are you willing to do?

So, while I didn’t start out with this in mind, ultimately, this is a stewardship sermon. Your heart’s desire is a gift from God. Being aware of what you want is another part of the responsible use of all that God has given to you. Desire needs to be nurtured. Right stewardship of your desires will give new vision. How are you taking care of and using the passion in your heart?

Let us learn to be good stewards of our desires.

May we encounter the God of whom David spoke with his dying breath, the God who will cause to prosper all our help and all our desire.