Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pentecost 20 - Year B

If you’re like me and you watch TV preachers, you’ve probably encountered some of these guys who say that if you want to be rich and successful, then turn your life over to Jesus and receive God’s blessing. A blessing which, of course, takes the form of beachfront property or $2000 Armani suits.

Some folks call this prosperity gospel, where faith becomes a technique for getting what we want, where the object of our worship is not God for what God has done for us in Jesus, but in what we can get out of the relationship. Christianity is not about God, it’s about us. It’s baptized consumerism.

If these guys were around 2000 years ago (and they were) then Jesus’ disciples would have drank up their message like cheap Molson’s at Happy Hour. These preachers would have received a hearty “Amen!” from Jesus’ disciples. At least that would be your conclusion if you listen in on their argument in today’s gospel. James and John are fighting they way brothers often do. “Who’s going to sit at Jesus’ right hand, the seat of power, when the Kingdom of God comes in it fullness?”

“Who is going to be the Grand Pooh-bah in the presence of the Almighty?”

A little presumptuous, don’t you think? That’s how Jesus heard it. James and John hadn’t a clue what they were asking.

When the other disciples caught wind of what these two were up to they were understandably miffed. And given Jesus’ little sermon to them, I think they were angry because they were left out of the running. They wanted a piece of the action themselves. Why should James and John get all the good stuff?

It’s easy to look down at the disciples for being so obtuse.

You’d think that after following Jesus around and hanging on his every word, the disciples would have a clearer hint as to how Jesus wanted them to live. But it’s obvious from today’s bible reading that they hadn’t the foggiest notion of what Jesus wanted from them.

But at least they’re honest. They didn’t lower their eyes in feigned reverence, only to go off and do what they wanted when the teacher wasn’t looking. Part way through Mark’s gospel they’re like little kids who don’t want to kick up a fuss. Mark tells us that the disciples “didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but were afraid to ask.”

Jesus’ inner circle, those who knew him best, were amazed and afraid of him. It makes sense. They never know what he’s going to say next, let alone what he’s going to do. First he’s hugging lepers, and then he’s telling folks to love those who hurt them. There’s no common sense with Jesus. Jesus can’t be accused of being a well-adjusted, participating member of society. No citizenship awards for him. It seems that Jesus goes out of his way to prove just how crazy he is. Forget about his cousin John. Jesus is the REAL Wildman.

And either the disciples don’t see or choose to ignore his quirkier moments, because they still lusted for worldly power and glory, even when Jesus warned them about the nails and the grave.

I remember when I was elected Dean of the Atlantic Conference (the dean is the bishop’s representative for a specific geographic area), I was elected on the FIRST BALLOT. The bishop’s assistant who was overseeing the election said she hadn’t ever seen that before. It often takes at least two ballots before someone is elected. Usually more.

“It will be an honour to serve God and church in this office,” I said as I accepted the position with all the solemn dignity appropriate for the occasion. But inside I was beaming. My innards transformed into one big smile. I was the Grand Pooh-Bah in my little domain.

I really enjoyed the job. I was able to connect with the wider church in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I planted myself firmly within my own sphere of influence. It was a lot of work. And a lot of fun.

But if we take today’s gospel seriously, how I felt about the job wasn’t the point. The point is that I should be a slave. I should be willing to grab Jesus’ cup of death with two hands and start chugging. I should be willing to be dunked with Jesus in his baptism until water fills my lungs. Enjoyment? Significance? FUN? That’s all irrelevant. What’s important, the text seems to be saying, is dying to self for the sake of someone else.

“Don’t get sidetracked by your petty ambitions,” Jesus seems to be saying. “Don’t let your ego get in the way when the Kingdom of God starts rolling.”

At least that’s the way this passage has been traditionally interpreted.

But I wonder, if that’s the standard, then who can serve? We are all a muddle of mixed motivations. If Jesus is looking for purity of purpose, then he’s asking the wrong crowd. None of us comes unpolluted by the need for significance.

And I ask if that is such a bad thing. I know when I recruit Stephen Ministers, I look for folks who are willing to serve selflessly, but I also look for people who are looking to make their lives mean something, something more than the TV culture that keeps us amused and anesthetized rather than encountering something real and significant.

And those who have heard and answered the call to serve as Stephen Ministers, who make the two year commitment, who go through the 50 hours of training, do so for the privilege of sitting - one-on-one - with people who are going to through a difficult disease, a job loss, the death of a spouse, mental illness, or whatever else people struggle with. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it can be gut- wrenching. Yes, it can sometimes end in failure, and even in death.

But I think that if you ask the Stephen Ministers, they might tell you that the more they give of themselves, the more they find they have. When they drink the cup that Jesus drinks, they find sweet wine rather than bitter poison. That when they drown with Jesus in the waters of baptism, they rise with him to see the kingdom blossom in all it’s upside down glory.

And it’s not just the Stephen Ministers who give of themselves here at Good Shepherd. It’s not just the formalized ministries who drink from Jesus’ cup. It’s you, all of you, everyday. Every time we gather together in Jesus’ name, knowing that we cannot be who we are without one another other. We are invested, even adorned with each other.

What I don’t think Jesus is asking us to do is to give up ourselves, to be drowned in the water of his death, because Jesus knew he’d go to his death alone. I think Jesus is asking us to dig around to find where real life is buried. Because it’s not where we might think. Real life is hidden in the faces of those who suffer, who cry pails of tears, whose stomachs whimper with hunger; whose marriages are collapsing, whose faces bear the marks of a life badly lived, those whose eyes catch the frozen gaze of death.

And believe it or not, that’s where Jesus says we will find life. That’s where the kingdom is hidden.

Today, Duncan Hugh Macintyre is joining your ranks as a servant of God’s upside down kingdom, where he joins Jesus in his baptism. Where he puts on the garments of servanthood and takes up the yoke of a slave, toiling in the Lord’s vineyard of love and compassion.

It is my prayer that Duncan and all of us will be great in our slavery, will live lives that matter, will find significance and life in the faces of those who suffer, and discover the greatness of those who give of themselves, and who receive much more than they ever thought possible.

May this be so among us. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home