JULIE KAE SIGARS
Readings for the Sunday:
Isaiah 53:4-12 | Psalm 91:9-16 | Hebrews 5:1-10 | Mark 10: [32-34] 35-45.
“There is a longing in our hearts, O Lord, for you to reveal yourself to us. There is a long in our hearts for love we only find in you, our God.”
-Glory to God #470
When hearing Isaiah, how many of you begin to sing… “Surely…All we like sheep…” Handel’s Messiah… and if you didn’t sing along, or hear singing, Handel’s great oratorio does what Christians have done for two thousand years, hearing the passage through the lens of the crucified and risen Christ. It is a part of our Holy week liturgy, every year.
And there are very difficult images in there: “…we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. He was cut off from the land of the living…It was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain…
Then, we get to the “but it gets better part” that suggests that all this suffering makes everything better, for everybody…
Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.
Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
One of those circular things…great then servant than great.
First than slave then first….. Where are we? Are those longing for greatness rewarded by taking the bait and trying out the servant thing for a while?
This is the sort of thing I used to ask as a child and it would drive my Sunday School teachers nuts.
But here is where it finally made sense for me.
We begin at that human place…wanting to be first….wanting to be great…and when we find that that isn’t really satisfying, constantly struggling to be great and first, we open ourselves to another possibility. Open to the wholeness we feel when we are a servant, like Christ, offering bread to the hungry. Here. Take. Eat. This is the body of Christ for you. Here, have more. You have room on your plate. Let me fill that with good things. Here. Come with us. You can stay here tonight. It is warm, and it is dry.
Instead of “Lording it over others” we find that humility, servanthood, what the world calls weakness, brings us to wholeness.
And our whole definition of being great, or being first, changes.
In the movie, Winning Dad, Colby confronts his dad in a moment of deep truth. “What you see as weakness, Dad, I …see it…as something …holy.”
What the world sees as weakness, lack of power, lack of millions or billions, lack of voice, lack of …you name it…can be our way to transformation. To the beauty of holiness. To Wholeness. To our full “very good” humanity.
But just why does it seem that there always has to be some suffering…
We had a bit of discussion last week during after talk about what is our humanness. Are we good? Are we self-centered? We have beautiful scripture about being created…good. God said so. There is something in us that is….good. Very good. And when we have those “good” moments…all seems to be well with the world. We feel whole. Connected. One with the Triune God and all creation.
And then…we don’t. We are feeling good and suddenly, we want more. And here it comes. You know what, if you want more, you need to be a servant.
You want to be first, you need to be last.
What? Can we just stick with the good stuff please?
Rodger Nishioka writes of a practice of his when going to most any Roman Catholic retreat center. He would put Jesus in a drawer. He would get to his room and see the crucifix hanging on the wall. Most of the time over his bed. This practice began when he was staying at one retreat center and had arrived late at night. When he turned on the light, the crucifix was different than the others. With this one, the artist wanted to portray the suffering of Christ as graphically as possible. And he was hanging just above the pillow on the bed. Nishioka knew he could not sleep there looking up at the feet of the Lord with the nails sticking out and his blood ready to drip on his head. So he took him off the wall and put him in a drawer.
Years later, he shared this continuing practice with a friend, a Roman Catholic religious, who quickly grew exasperated with him.
“Good Grief! You Protestants! Why are you so afraid of the death of the Lord? You people gloss over the crucifixion as if it was some temporary inconvenience so you can get to Easter morning and celebrate the empty tomb! What is wrong with you!”
“That’s the whole point!” he remembered responding back to her. “It’s all about the empty tomb. It is all about the power of the resurrection—Christ’s triumph over death.”
“But don’t you see?” she answered. “That is exactly it. He had to die in order to triumph over death. You cannot have resurrection without dying. He had to suffer in his dying so that every person who suffers through human history would know that the God of the universe understands suffering and pain and injustice and is fully capable of sharing in this because God encountered it.”
Nishioka no longer puts Jesus in a drawer. [FOTW additional essays Year B Proper 24. Rodger Y. Nishioka]
Our Hebrews text also reminds us that we are called for “function and not for status.” [Susan R. Andrews] You could say we are not called to be the best, but to bring our best to the service of God. Look at the call of Jesus, which Susan R. Andrews, former moderator of the PCUSA, which she calls an ordination in a muddy bath.
And all of us, this priesthood of believers, this church, we come to worship and confession, with as much self-knowledge as we can bear, to remember our calls, with humility, and obedience.
God desires each of us to be the priestly body of Christ in the world. And Jesus models this for us: “suffering with us, not for us—not rescuing us, but strengthening us” for this way of living that comes with our own baptisms.
I would like to suggest that we, the Body of Christ, the church, might be in a place that we need to remember that the triumphant empty tomb is not the entire story. Because, in a way, it can become the “let us be great! let us be first!” that Jesus never said would be a part of being his follower. Could it be that the suffering servant is, today, the church? Are we willing to be a partner in Christ’s sacrifice? Willing to die, to suffer, to rise again?
James and John seemed to want to not hear about the journey to Jerusalem and what that meant. Even though Jesus told them three times up to this point. Did you hear? Jesus seemed to be racing to Jerusalem. He was walking ahead of them and they were amazed and afraid. And he took the twelve aside AGAIN and told them what was to happen to him. James and John, who had been with him since the beginning, they seem to be going: [hands over ears gesture] LALALALA. They put the bloody Jesus in a drawer, and skipped right to the “Let us be on your right and left hand in your glory.” It is almost laughable. If it was not so sad and a part of our own lives.
But you know, at least they said it out loud. We want a lot of things that we never say out loud. Henri Nouwen wrote: Only those who face their wounded condition can be available for healing and so enter a new way of living. When we are honest with ourselves, about our condition, we can begin a journey toward wholeness. When we can admit our fears, when we can admit our insecurities, when we put aside our need for greatness, numbers, being first, we may find that “transformation happens through servanthood following Jesus even in unorthodox ways…which leads to wholeness.” [David B. Howell FOTW]
And here’s something. Jesus offers James and John this hope, and it is ours also:
“Yes, you will drink the cup I drink and you will be baptized by the baptism with which I was baptized.” Can we hope that we will not always be driven by our fears? Can we hope that we will be empowered to “take up our cross and follow Jesus? At least some of the time? That we will be faithful to the end?
Church! You need not fear. We need not continually seek our own security. We can always offer the world a new way to be. Here. Have this bread. It is for you child of God. Here. There is still some room on your plate. Have some more. Taste and See.
Church, we come to adore and we come to follow. We come to be reminded of our tendencies to long for greatness and security, and be assured that we can begin again in a new, but old way through humble obedient servanthood.
“We are now a new creation through the grace of Jesus Christ. Sing with thanks and adoration to the God of endless life!”
Now to the Holy One, Holy Three
who by the power at work within us
is able to do far more abundantly
than all we can ask or imagine.
St. Andrew Sermons