Sunday, October 18, 2009

20 Pentecost

Jubilee Sunday
October 18, 2009

Mark 10:35-45

We’ve all known people like them, haven’t we? We have all had our own Jameses and Johns. We’ve all had them as co-workers, or fellow students, or simply fellow parishioners. They are the ones who—while we quietly labor, quietly do our duties—they sort of weasel their way up the ladder. They are the ones who try to get a better place in line. They are the ones who drive us—who work and sacrifice and try to do the good thing—they drive us crazy.

Or maybe…and maybe none of us want to admit it …maybe, they are the ones that we relate to the most in this morning’s Gospel. Maybe we are ourselves at times are the James and the Johns. Maybe we ourselves are the Sons or Daughters of Thunder.

Whatever the case may be, the fact is James and John are really missing out. Like some of the other apostles, they just don’t get it. They don’t quite understand what Jesus is getting at when he is talking about the last being first. They don’t understand him when he says that we are called to serve and not be served. They just don’t understand that simple virtue of humility. Their view of Christianity—their view of where they stand in relation to Jesus—is a constant jockeying for position. And many of us to this day feel the same way in our own lives, in our work and in our faith lives.

But what today’s Gospel shows us is that Jesus is calling us to something much bigger than we probably fully understand. I think a lot of us—even those of us who come to church every Sunday—sometimes look at Christianity as a somewhat quaint, peace-loving religion. We dress up, we come to church on Sunday, we sing hymns, we hear about God’s love, and then we go home and…and we don’t think about it again until the next week.

But the Christianity of Jesus is not just a whitewashed, quaint religion. The Christianity of Jesus, as we hopefully have all figured out here at St. Stephen’s, is a radical faith. It is a faith that challenges—that makes us uncomfortable when we get comfortable, that riles us when we have become complacent. It is a faith that works well here in church, on Sunday morning, but also should motivate us to get up from these pews and go out into the world and live out the faith we have learned here.

And it is this fact that many of us might find a bit frightening. Like James and John, we all want to gain heaven. We want a nice place beside Jesus in that world-to-come. But few of us want to live out our faith in all that do and say. And even fewer of us are ready to be servants—to be slaves for others.

We don’t always want to serve the lowliest among us. We don’t want to suffer like Jesus suffered. We don’t want to taste from the same cup of anguish that Jesus drank from on the night before he was murdered. And we sure don’t want to be humble sometimes.

I will admit, I am in this boat sometimes. I sometimes don’t want to be a servant or slave to others. I don’t want to suffer like Jesus suffered. And although I might try—and not always that hard—I am not so good at being humble sometimes. But we all, I think, at least here at St. Stephen’s, are trying. We all making the effort in some way.

Today of course is Jubilee Sunday. On this Sunday we are reminded that we as Christians are called truly to be servants to each other and especially tot hose who need to be served. We are asked on this Sunday to do something uncomfortable. We are to asked to take a long, hard look at the world around us and to recognize the fact that there are people living in poverty in our midst.

That’s not easy to do. Most of us are comfortable in our lives. We have worked long and hard to build up financial security for ourselves and our families. Which is a very good thing to do. But in our comfortable lives, it is important that we look around us and realize not everyone has had the same breaks we have had. Not everyone has had the privilege of being born in a country where we have what we have. Not everyone lives in the same comfortable ways we do. But to remain silent in the face of that reality is say we are not followers of Jesus.

Now I’ll be honest: I don’t want to think about the outstanding poverty that exists in this world. When I do, I realize how overwhelming it is. I realize how frightening it is. And, probably most importantly, I realize how powerless I am in the face of that poverty. When I ignore those in need, when I don’t serve, when I don’t stand up against injustice—I am made very aware that in that moment, I am not following Jesus. If I don’t do those things, but I still stand up here and call myself a Christian, then I have truly become a “Son of Thunder.”

And, for most of us, that is exactly what it sounds like when we want the benefits of our faith, without making the sacrifices of our faith.

In those instances, we truly do sound like a low, distant thunder. We cannot bulldoze our way into heaven by riding roughshod over those we should be serving along the way. We seem to have forgotten this virtue of humility in our Church and in our society. We rarely hear anyone preaching about it. Certainly we don’t hear humility mentioned in the mass media, nor do we see our movie stars, our politicians or our church leaders speaking of it, much less living it out in their own lives.

But Jesus, especially in today’s Gospel, pays much attention to it. After all, who could give a better example of humility than Jesus? In a very clear way, he was the purest example of humility. When we call him the Lamb of God, we are not using this title as a sweet, comforting symbol nor are using it as victorious symbol of triumph. Jesus as Lamb of God is a symbol of absolute humility—one who willingly came to us and laid down his life—like a quiet humble lamb—as a sacrifice.

Now, of course, when we talk about humility, we need to be clear: we are not talking about humiliation. Jesus is not expecting us to be humiliated or to humiliate ourselves. We don’t have to beat ourselves raw if we fail or do something wrong.

He is simply saying to us, love God and love your neighbor as yourself—and when we do, in our lives, in our work, in the way we perceive the world around us, then a natural humility will come over us. In those moments, we will recognize that God is in control. Not us. What is more humbling than that realization in our lives?

Again, here is another example of this radical Christianity. It carries through in how we serve each other. Christians are not expected to bring anyone to Christ through an arrogant attitude. We are not expected to come charging into people’s lives, making them tremble before us in fear. We are not expected to thump our Bibles and wave the Words of Jesus before people in a desperate attempt to win souls for Christ. We aren’t forcing Christ on anyone, nor should we. In doing so, we dominate people. We coerce them into believing.

But if we simply serve those Christ calls us to serve, with love and charity and humility, sometimes that says more than any Sunday sermon or curbside rant. Think of the words Jesus could use. He could use, “power” to mean “dominance,” or “oppression” or “force.” But he doesn’t. Rather, Jesus uses the words “serve” and “servant”

Certainly we are given plenty of “power” as Christians. In our baptism, we are given power—but this power we are given is the power to die in Christ and to be raised into a new life with Christ. That is what we celebrate every time we renew our baptismal vows. That is what we celebrate when we think back to what happened at our own baptisms. We celebrate and we live out in our lives this power—this power that we are dead to our former selves and alive—alive in a powerful and amazing way—with Christ. Baptism empowers us—it makes us something more than we were before—but not in the way we think of empowering. It empowers us by making us true servants to each other.

We who share in the Body and Blood of Christ here at this altar are given a strength unlike any other in the world. But it not a strength that overpowers others. It is a strength rather that empowers us to serve each other and God. The cup and the bread we share here at the altar strengthens us to be true servants in the world. It strengthens us to bear the anguish and despair of this life. It strengthens us to persevere and to live our lives fully in Christ.

In all of this, Jesus is telling us that we are to be servants—servants not only to God, but to each other as well. I, as a priest, who stands here at this altar at each celebration of the Eucharist —I am not the only called to be a minister of God. We are all called to be ministers of God. By our very baptism, by the Eucharist we share at this altar each Sunday, we are called by God to serve each other.

We are not here on Sunday morning to be served—to be waited upon, to be lavished with gifts. We are here to serve. And it is this sense of service that we must take with us out of here into the world.

James and John eventually figured this out. They went on from that day and served Christ in the world. Eventually , they would both die for Christ as martyrs—as very witnesses to Christ by their deaths.

So, for those of us who get angry at the sons of thunder in our lives—be patient. For those of who recognize ourselves as a son or daughter of thunder—relax. Christ finds a way to break through our barriers. It is this breaking through, after all, that makes our Christianity so radical. So, serve God. Serve each other in whatever ways God leads you to serve.

Today, after this Eucharist, at coffee hour, Stand up. Take a stand against poverty. And in doing so, remember that you are empowered in ways in which you might not even have been fully aware. By the very fact that you are baptized and fed with Christ’s Body and Blood, live out your service in the world. And when you do, you just may find that the thunder you hear is the thunder not of arrogance or pride, but rather the thunder of the kingdom of God breaking through into our midst.

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