This thing we’re part of
(Job 28:1-7, Psalm 98) Mark 10:32-45
Rev. Kara K Root
Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Sing to the Lord a new song
for he has done marvelous things.
The right hand and holy arm of the Lord
have secured the victory.
The Lord has made known this victory
and has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel,
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth into joyous son and sing praises!
Sing to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the voice of song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy before the King, the Lord,
Let the sea roar and all that fills it,
the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands,
and let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
32 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. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ 36And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 38But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 39They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
What is this thing we’re a part of?
James and John, even after just hearing Jesus explain for a third time, that he will suffer and die, still don’t know what this thing is. They still hear power, authority, status and importance. So they sidle up to Jesus and ask him to grant them a favor, a special request. And then they ask to be his cabinet, his diplomats, his go-to guys when he gets the glory that is coming to him.
In the past few weeks we’ve already seen Peter come face to face with the reality that we do not get the God we want, we get a God who joins and suffers alongside and for us instead of a God who triumphs over and conquers on our behalf.
And we’ve seen Jesus say, quite explicitly, that the diplomat God chooses to represent God is the weakest, the most ignored, the most overlooked ones of all as he places a child before them and says to welcome God they must welcome her.
And now three times, Jesus has said that he will die at the hands of others; three times they’ve missed it and started up again with their talk of glory and power, and three times, Jesus has reminded them that he is coming from an upside down, inside out, last are first, least are greatest, backwards kind of kingdom.
“Make us your back up,” they whisper to him, glancing over their shoulders to see if the others are listening, “put us in power with you. Let us share your authority.“ And Jesus says to them, “you do not know what you are asking.”
Why don’t they get it? Why don’t we?
Perhaps it isn’t that they are quite so stupid that they keep missing it, even when he is being rather straightforward, speaking very plainly and openly about what is coming, and maybe they are not so calloused that they don’t hear him repeating this terrible and painful prediction of his suffering and death.
Perhaps they don’t listen to it because they are afraid.
Everyone knows how the world works, the wealthy are in charge and the strong advance and the way you make sure you are safe is to have security, back up, to make nice with the right people and have a nest egg and health insurance and homeowners insurance and fire and flood insurance and car insurance and pre-nups and contracts and investments and more insurance, so that when all is said and done you’ll be ok - so that no matter what, you’ll be ok. And then he keeps on talking about being killed. And there is no room in our loss prevention plans for a dead God.
But Jesus is patient with them, and he calls them together with all their competitive anger and their fear and their worry about the future, and he paints, once again, the picture of the kingdom of God. The alternate community, where leaders are servants instead of tyrants, where power is claimed and used not to advance ourselves but to lift up each other instead.
Can you drink this cup that I drink, can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? He asks. “Of course we can!” say the fearful, flailing and proud ones, “of course we can, you know we can, Lord.” Well, Jesus says, you will. You will drink this cup and you will be baptized with my baptism. You will share my destiny as I have shared yours.
Today is a celebration. Today we welcome into membership of this congregation four new members. Their stories are different, stories of lives already woven deeply into our own, now more fully and finally, stories of past joys and present calling coming together once again in this very faith community, stories of turning a page, a new beginning in an unfolding journey that now involves us. And it makes us ask, because we are all here for one reason or another or many, What is this thing that we are part of?
Church membership is a changing concept, it used to be that you were born and baptized into a congregation and grew up there, got confirmed, became a member, and after some time you assumed power in the church, a member with all the rights and responsibilities therein, and you made decisions, helped to steer the ship, carried some clout, had a voice, until you didn’t anymore and then when all was said and done, that congregation buried you, and the power passed onto the next generation and the next.
But rarely do people stay in one place any more, geographically, vocationally, spiritually, people come and go, grow and leave, change and return or are never seen again. People switch careers and relationships and homes and denominations and doctors and internet providers - and churches just aren’t that important anymore. And who is in charge of what just isn’t that intriguing any more, and churches gain or lose members as people’s lives ebb and flow and they aren’t playing the game like they used to.
And it forces us to confront the ways our communities of faith may have, like James and John, mirrored the systems and powers of the world, how maybe we have made churches the places we use power to make ourselves feel safe, instead of living into the backwards and upside down kingdom of servant God.
It forces us to grapple with the fact that we are here, for one another, for a season, some longer than others for whatever reason, and that being with one another as followers of Jesus doesn’t make us any safer or stronger or more secure or less afraid. But it can make us more real, more honest, more willing to share our fears and listen to the fears of others.
Being here, with and for each other, as Jesus Christ was and is, with and for us, means we suffer with each other, and we suffer each other. It means we use our power to lift each other up instead of competing, we give away control instead of stockpiling it, we share ourselves and our gifts with one another and risk letting ourselves be known.
It means we live out and proclaim an alternate reality, we come together as citizens of another kingdom, a kingdom that pictures life differently and lives into that promise, where life isn’t horded but spent, and where we are free to be guided by love and find strength in our shared weakness.
Being part of this thing means we are expected to bring all of who we are and not check parts of ourselves at the door. None of us is here because we are right or good, but because we are loved, and because love claims us and holds us and changes us, it makes us see one another and this whole world in a different way,
and we choose to live this life of love in the face of a world that cannot comprehend such an upside down reality. And living this love within the world changes the world as it changes us, so that things cannot remain the same, as the kingdom of God breaks in, and in and in….
Today we celebrate this thing we are part of. This thing that goes far beyond any individual one of us or the whole of this congregation, this thing that goes beyond the PCUSA and all denominations, beyond our books of order and our doctrine and structures and symbols, past parliaments and policies and presidents, Today we celebrate that we are part of this thing that is bigger than cities and nations and coalitions, embargos and wars and truces, in fact it stretches farther back than all the history that came before us and reaches out beyond all the future that lays yet untouched in front of us, it goes beyond seas and skies, famines and floods, cyclones and shifting tectonic plates, underneath and around every molecule, mountain and mystery. Every living thing that has ever walked on, or grown in, the earth witnesses to this thing we celebrate today, this thing we are a part of:
That the God who stretched the heavens out and laid the earth on its foundations,
came and joined us fully, loves us each one, and calls us, each one, as we are, to be part of an alternate way of living, citizens of a different reality. We celebrate today that we have been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, with all the rights and responsibilities therein, and that for this season, for this time and place, God has brought together this rag tag collection of people, this clumsy and astonishing bunch of us, to share in this alternate reality with each other, to figure out together this thing we are part of, and in all of our power and weakness, to witness to the upside down kingdom of God in the world.