A sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost are here.
I have a confession to make, well, I guess it’s a necessary confession by the world’s standards because apparently I’m breaking the rule of “must haves” so I admit it, I have an iPhone 6 and I have no desire to get a new one. My phone works just fine and it will have to die completely before I fork out the money required for a new one. But what will most likely happen is that the manufacturers will stop supporting the operating system long before it gives out and force me to get a new one which will only benefit them and not me. Call me a rebel, if you must, but I’ve learned that I don’t have to be afraid of missing out, even if a TV commercial tells me I should be.
Fear of missing out isn’t something new. The original 12 disciples and so many other Followers throughout history have suffered from the same fear. Our desire to follow Jesus is challenged by our desire to be accepted by and participate in the culture into which we are born and raised.
In our gospel reading for today, we continue walking with Jesus and the disciples as the Good News story is told to us by Mark. Last week Jesus asked them “Who do you say that I am” and at first blush, Peter’s response rings true: “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” But as Jesus begins to tell them what must happen, Peter tries to lead Jesus on the path of worldly power and Jesus reminds him in no uncertain terms just how this Following thing is to work.
If we want the true life, the real life God has in store for us, the life we are created for, we have to give up the life we think we want, the life the world says will somehow make us happy, well, that is until the next new thing comes along and we are told again that we won’t be happy without it.
So, about a week after the “get behind me” incident, after Jesus and three of the disciples have had a mountaintop experience and Jesus has cast out a dangerous and stubborn demon from a boy when the others disciples had been unable to do so, Jesus once again takes the disciples aside to remind them just how ‘power’ in God’s Kingdom works: The Messiah will be delivered into the hands of humans and killed and THEN he will rise again.
And they still didn’t understand him, and were afraid to ask Jesus to explain it further.
Why do you suppose they were afraid?
Perhaps because they knew their own desires were not in line with what he was saying and they weren’t ready to give them up?
Perhaps because they didn’t want to admit they stopped listening to him when he said “killed” and completely missed what came next?
Or perhaps because they had heard what he said and were remembering all the times they had been complicit in the cultural system that would promote the killing of the one who threatened the current power source?
Or perhaps because they just didn’t want what he’d been saying to be true so if they just ignore it, maybe it won’t happen?
And true to his nature, Jesus doesn’t force them or try to coerce them or threaten them. He simply speaks the truth and lives the truth and lets them ponder it for themselves. Changing our worldview takes time and intentionality. We are inundated with competing messages all around us and coming from inside us as well. We’ve been culturally conditioned and trained to think differently that what the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus – offers us. We spend an hour or two in worship each week, and perhaps an hour or two in study with others and a few minutes each day in prayer, compared to the hours and hours and hours each week we are conditioned by our culture. Just what is it we are missing out on?
Leaving them to ponder what he has said, Jesus waits until they get home to ask them what they’d been thinking. And again, they are afraid. Because once again, their cultural worldview has taken over: instead of talking with each other about how the Kingdom of God presents a completely different way of living, they try to fit Jesus’ words into their already existing worldview: one individual must be considered the greatest, people hold power over others, to be great I must make you weak.
And, so, again, Jesus reminds them what he’s shown them: power in God’s Kingdom isn’t domination but servitude. The Kingdom at hand doesn’t mean a reversal of power but a completely different way of seeing power.
Jesus uses a child as the point of his “greatness” message because children were the absolute lowest rank on their societal ladder. And yet, children hold great power: when they are hungry we feed them. When they are sick we care for them. We protect them with all that we have. We want the best for them, we want our children to have a better life than we do. We are delighted by their playfulness and kindness and amazed at how they learn by watching what we do.
And when we see everyone, including ourselves, as children of God, we come to understand this Kingdom power, we understand the power of love. We realize what we’ve been missing out on.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry, says that the opposite of love isn’t hate but self-centeredness. Love is other-focused. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to Love God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourself.
To be the greatest in God’s Kingdom requires that we set aside our cultural ideas of power and prestige. Power in God’s kingdom isn’t at all about being better that someone else but about each of us putting others first. It is in vulnerability and compassionate love that we find the power of God with us.
God’s love isn’t about getting. There isn’t anything we can do or give that God needs. God’s love is about giving. God gives his life for us so that we can have the life we were created for: life grounded in this self-giving love without competition or ladder climbing or having to prove ourselves. God loves us as we are with the invitation to follow Jesus as we help to bring about the Kingdom on earth as in heaven. This is the new life, the rising after dying, that Jesus teaches us, and that we so often miss.
In our second lesson, today, James helps us understand what it is to really FOLLOW Jesus.
“Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.” (James 3:13-18, Common English Bible)
Follow Jesus and you won’t miss out on anything that God has in store for you. Amen.