Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Disposable, or Indispensable?": a sermon

“Disposable or Indispensable?”
Year B Proper 20
St. Thomas’, Richmond

Taken from Mark 9:30-37
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

There they were, again, passing through Galilee. And Jesus, again, according to Mark, was asking everyone to keep it secret. He wanted to pass through unnoticed. The Messianic Secret as it is called by Mark scholars is one of the unique parts of this Gospel.

Once again, Jesus predicts his Betrayal, Death and Resurrection. This is the second of three in this section of Mark, where there is a prediction, followed by confusion, and then Jesus gives instruction to the disciples on being disciples.

Looking at Jesus’ Passion prediction, the emphasis is on his suffering and death, mentioning he will be killed two times. This is not a clever ruse. It is a demise. When we have loved ones who speak of their own death, we too dismiss it. We change the subject. We try to move on.

The disciples were in the same pickle.  “What is he talking about? Aren’t we building something here? Isn’t this a movement? Why did I leave everything behind if he is going to die? Maybe he is speaking metaphorically again.” And then I found it fascinating that they were afraid to ask.

I have spoken about this before, but think of all the times in Scripture we hear the words, “Be not afraid?” How many times from Jesus himself?

I think of all the times in my life when I was afraid to say the thing I needed to say, or ask the question I was afraid to ask. I think how some of the worst moments of my life could have been averted. Without the question, presumptions happen, and those presumptions tend to bring about self-fulfilling cycles downward. Next time you feel afraid to ask the question, stop, look at that fear, and if it is just your emotion holding you back, ask!

Our rector Susan, put out a very honest letter this week, naming where we are financially. It was not meant to frighten, because, as someone said, the truth sets us free. If you have questions, ask! Don’t assume. Don’t clam up. Be not afraid!

The disciples did something a lot of us do; it is human nature. I cannot control this situation over here which is scaring me, but I can control this little situation over here. Or, I can start a squabble to distract us all. And that is what all the disciples did with their fear. Talk about Jesus dying? Naaah! Let’s rank ourselves and position ourselves so I do not have to deal with our fear and pain and grief over here.

Jesus heard them. He put up with them. It was like my kids in the back seat arguing over who is a better wizard, Gandalf or Dumbledore, or what other superhero could beat Superman. The conversation is moot, and mostly a form of mental entertainment.

So when they were alone, Jesus spoke to the apostles. He gave them a concrete example of what he was saying. There in his arms, he took a baby. Now, I want you to go to your bulletin. Open up to the passage, and look at the pronoun used for the child. Go ahead.

The passage is too often rendered he. In the Greek, the baby is referred to as an “it.” Not a he. Not a she. An “it.” That is what these 12 smelly men who had just gotten off the road would have seen the baby as, not a male, not even a female. A something, an it. Perfectly disposable in their eyes.

The problem is, and Jesus is making a very clear point, that no one is Disposable. The disciples thought they could not go on without Jesus. But then Jesus does something crazy, in their context anyway. He says:
"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
In other Gospels this example comes with the language, “The Least of These.” Disposable people. The people that everyone looks down on. The people that are Disposable. When you welcome these, we welcome Jesus. Servants, Garbage Men, Homeless, Untouchables by any Name. Disposable.

Jesus is telling them, these who you see as Its, as Disposable, they are me. When you welcome them, you welcome me.

In God’s Kingdom, the Disposable are the Indispensable.

When we try to make ourselves Indispensable (thinking I am the greatest) we are doing the exact opposite, in God’s Kingdom. That thinking is Disposable.

However, when we approach the Disposable (by this world’s standards) and treat them as Indispensable, we are welcoming Christ.

This is a hard teaching. I have said it before and you will hear me say it again. From Mark Twain, rather than Mark: “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that I have a hard time with; it’s the parts of the Bible that I do.”

Jesus is calling for a drastic change in thinking. Even more he is calling for a drastic change in doing, how we act. And by doing so, we come to a whole new way of being. Our friends in 12 Steps have a wonderful phrase about changing behavior till we change ourselves: “Fake it till you make it.”

As we serve the Its of the World, they stop being a number or a statistic, an It. They become a name, and that name belongs to a person, and that person, no matter who they are, is a Beloved Child of God.

Two weeks we witnessed this in the news. A Syrian refugee child’s dead body washed up on the shore of Turkey. Drowned. Little red shirt. Little blue shorts. Sneakers that will never run across the floor again. Face down. It was and is horrific. Aylan Shenu stopped being a number amongst the faceless and nameless refugees. All of Europe saw him, and heard his name. They opened their borders, and opened their doors, for a while. All because of one of the least of these. When confronted with their lack of welcome, things changed.

"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

The Disposable become the Indispensable. In saving them, we save ourselves.

I find it fascinating that both in the Passion Prediction and in the Instruction, Jesus is telling this directly to the Twelve, no one else. He really needs them to get this. He really needs them to understand. I think it is the same for us. After two thousand years have we gotten it yet? How often do we think we have arrived, when we in fact have only just begun the journey. Someone has called Discipleship a “long obedience in the same direction.”

Jesus was on the way to the Cross, and he minced no words and made it clear to his disciples, even though they did not get it. And his words, then and now, “Come, follow me.” What will we do with his teaching? Smile and say we get the point he was trying to make, or go, and do likewise.

Jesus calls us to be Servants of the Lowly. Just as he did for us, he calls us to dispense ourselves, to give ourselves out. In trying to make ourselves Indispensable, we become truly Disposable. Even more than in Jesus day, we live in world where people are famous for just being famous. How sad. But even then, Jesus offers us hope.

"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."

May the Disposable become your Indispensable. And may what the world says is Indispensable, let us dispose of quickly.

Remember, Jesus was seen as Disposable, and became Indispensable.  In Psalm 118:22, and then echoed in Matthew:
“The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.”
May we follow him even there.

An apocryphal prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake:
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,

Who is Jesus Christ.

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Blessings, Rock