One More Time

    Oct 18, 2015

    Passage: Mark 10:35-45

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton


    I want to begin this morning by saying thank you to Jimmy, Michael, Laura, Cathy and Bill….The staff that stepped up and filled in for me this last two weeks. I also want to thank you all for your prayers and kind notes.

    I was going to title this week’s homily, “The Pastor Who Thought He Could Fly”….but laughing hurts my rib! I was coming down the stairs with a cup of coffee last Tuesday afternoon in a great mood when I found myself air-born and heading for the front door that wasn’t open! My coffee flew ahead as I threw it to fee my hand, I turned in the air and slammed into the wall and door and was soon on my hands and knees praying in tongues. I had broken a rib, but had a funeral in an hour and it was much too late to cancel. The next day, I heard of my good friend’s untimely death and was asked to officiate. Thought I’d be all better by then and needed to go anyway. Jimmy would preach and Michael would do the children’s message. I went and it reminded me of Jesus coming to the home of Lazarus four days after his death. “Unbind him and let him go!” It is the calling of clergy to cry to the dead by name, “Come out” and declare that death does not have the final word and encourage the mourners to emotionally and spiritually, while standing on Christ’s foundation of belief in eternal life, say what they need to say and let the deceased go to heaven.

    Anyway, it went ok and after a stressful trip home I was able to return to work on Wednesday. But Thursday I received a call for a funeral of a 26 year old who died tragically in a crash. I’ll officiate that tomorrow morning.

    Three funerals. The first was a 50 year old whom I knew since he was in high-school/lots of problems but died unexpectedly some time after talking with his sister and was discovered by his brother later that day. The second, 81, was struck by a pick-up truck crossing the road. The third died at 26 driving home from work.

    Since my untimely or timely fall (the second in less than a year) I am keenly aware at just how tenuous life can be. We don’t dwell on it, but any of us can be here one moment and in the twinkling of an eye can be gone. This is not meant to scare anyone. I’m not afraid, just keenly aware. We are fragile beings.

    We would do well to consider our prime purpose in this life and get to it. Not put it off or chose a secondary route through life. We would do well to be aware of the love of God that we represent to others, and love them as God in Christ loved us.

    Jesus was insistent that in order to find divine purpose in life, we must serve others with compassionate and graceful love.

    In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus forewarns his disciples three separate times about his destiny at the hands of political powers and raucous mobs in Jerusalem – betrayal, mockery, condemnation, suffering, violent execution, but then resurrection. Despite knowing what awaited him in Jerusalem, Jesus was resolute. “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them, they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” (9:32; cf Lk. 9:51)

    Right after each of these three predictions, the disciples responded to Jesus with objections. After walking with him three years, they still badly misunderstood the true nature of his redemptive mission.

    After his first “passion prediction,” Jesus rebuked Peter from trying to prevent his sufferings: “You do not have in mind the things of God but the things of man” (Mk. 8:33). After his second prediction, the disciples argued about who was the greatest (Mk. 9:34).

    Then after the third prediction in the gospel this week, in a power grab of remarkable audacity, presumption and exaggerated self-importance, James and John asked Jesus, “Do for us whatever we ask. Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (10:37). The other ten disciples implicated themselves by indignantly protesting, fearing that James and John might gain some advantage over them.

    They objected to Jesus’s self-sacrifice in Jerusalem. They argued about who among them was to be the greatest. They failed to heal a little boy, then tried to stop and anonymous healer “who wasn’t part of us. Tell him to stop!” When they passed through a Samaritan village and the people didn’t welcome them, they wanted to call down hell fire on them. And now they ask seats of glory in the kingdom (here or hereafter). Wow!

    It seems like these two chapters cover every feeling we have and every request we make.

    We want no to denigrate Christ. We are constantly vying to be number one. We despise competition and do all in our power to put them out of business. We want our enemies crushed and we want a reward for our faithfulness. We don’t understand or accept suffering, especially if it involves a child or someone we love dearly. We cannot make sense of suffering. We feel as though we need the praise of the world, or we amount to little and feel ashamed, or at least angry. And we want our reward for service to Christ to not only feel warm and fuzzy, but be noted by others.

    Jesus responded to James and John and the disciples’ desire for greatness, glory and power by pointing out that what they desired is what the Roman’s already had. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” Rome’s political power-mongers whom the disciples imitated were the same people they despised and resented. (Beware of making the mistake of doing bad things to your enemy because they do them to you)

    Jesus reversed and subverted this common pattern of human behavior. Genuine human greatness isn’t characterized by domineering spirit, political power, schemes to control and subjugate people for your own advantage, or the egotistical grasp for glory, Jesus said, but by self-sacrificial service to others. In theory we believe this, though our practices belie us.

    [There’s the story of the European (well dressed) woman on safari in Africa. Her group stopped at a hospital for lepers. The heat was intense, the flies buzzing. She noticed a nurse bending down in the dirt, tending to the pus-filled sores of a leper. With disdain the woman remarked, “Why, I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world!” The nurse quietly replied, “Neither would I.”]

    Our motives are of the utmost importance if we are to realize the joy of self-sacrifice. If we are serving others to make ourselves feel good, it won’t happen because that makes our feelings dependent on how our help is received and perceived or noticed by others. We serve out of love for the other. Serving is an act of love and if that love is agape, not expecting anything in return, it will prove most satisfying indeed. It’s like doing the right thing! It’s the feeling of being loved when you are clueless to what that other person sees in you to love and yet are grateful for it.

    Jesus own life, teaching, death and resurrection were an extended demonstration of the true nature of human greatness. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (10:45).

    That is not the way of the world. It flies in the face of much of what we try to teach our children. [When my children were young I wrestled with teaching them the Christian understanding of “turning the other cheek”. My good friend taught his sons to stand up and fight because they should be able to “choose” if they wanted to turn the other cheek; not out of cowardice, but out of strength.] We teach our children how to compete and what it takes to win. We teach them to learn from their losses so that the next time they might win. We teach them that in order to compete they need to be prepared intellectually and physically. And as Christians we teach them that all of this worldly preparation is so that they can better serve God. But we have a difficult time translating to be “first they must be last” in a way that will not leave them disadvantaged in the cruel marketplace and vulnerable to failure.

    Well, guess what? That is one of the dangers of being a Christian. Pain seems to be a necessary ingredient when it comes to emulating Christ in our daily lives. We must learn and teach that as God is sensitive to us (we are prone to sin in an effort to feel secure and wanted and powerful and even loves) so we must be sensitive to the other person’s perspective. Christ taught that power is sometimes manifested in weakness, in giving oneself to others. Authentic greatness to Christ is redefined to mean serving instead of being served, using the power of love rather than seeking power and control.

    Henry Nouwen, in his book “In the Name of Jesus” while dealing with the temptation of power that Christ faced in the wilderness observes that “one of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power” – political, military, economic, or moral and spiritual -