Saturday, October 21, 2006

In the seat of honor

Mark 10:35-45
The story in Mark is so very human. We want to be with Jesus in riches and pomp and don’t want to think about the rags and derision. But the point of this story in Mark is that we shouldn’t be looking for power and prestige but how we may serve each other. And this is the theme that runs through Mark. Matthew, Luke, and John focus on other aspects of Jesus’ ministry, but in Mark the widow, the orphan, the stranger – those who are weak and oppressed – are the important people for Jesus.

There have various attempts to conflate the four gospels. In fact at least one such conflation was discussed as being part of the greek or New Testament when it was being formed. But instead of one or ten pictures the decision was to have four pictures by four different authors. And they each, along with the epistles, present a different Jesus for us to know.

After my mother’s death what I missed was the chance to talk over meetings and conferences with her. But my twin’s moments came when he heard a story that might make our mother laugh. Was my mother as I saw her? Yes. Was my mother as my twin saw her? Also, yes. Was my mother more than either of us saw in her? Again yes, as one of my relatives says – my mother was one of the few people with whom she could talk about her husband’s family and his being a pastor. And my mother was more than all those pictures. And my father missed her in an entirely different way. Yet the separate pictures go to help people understand who my mother was. Just so we have more than one gospel about Jesus so we can understand more fully who is this Jesus that we worship and follow.

The gospels as we have them weren’t written until a number of years after the death of the Christ. And they weren’t collected together until a couple of centuries later. Congregations used a gospel or two that had come down to them for many years until their was a push to have a common source. That push came when Marcion, an early Christian, truncated some of Paul’s letters and dismissed most of the gospels. The church, then, began to discuss what writings really were most important to the church. Marcion wanted a pure gospel. The church ultimately came up with a Testament in Greek that has contradictions and flaws and differing views on some subjects.

Today we still have those who would conflate the gospel to make it pure or without error or some-such nonsense. The gospels are inspired by God, they are my authority, but they are written by humans and as fallible as any human writing. They send us towards God, which is whom we should worship rather than Scripture.

And in this story of James and John (as found in Mark) we see the reason behind most of our conflicts. We want to be the one in the control seat deciding what each other has to believe or understand in order to be saved. We want to be the ones whose names are plastered over the papers and who sit at the best tables even when we don’t have a reservation at the sold-out restaurant. But the call is for us to be somewhat different. We want everything to be cut and dried and labeled down to the last jot and tittle.

Our call is not to worry about who sits in the place of honor, but to honor all whom we meet. And when we are asking for the place of honor we should be looking at the requirements. To drink the drink that Jesus drank, to go to the depths of pain and degradation, to be despised and rejected by all, to be so worn and torn that people pass by on the other side of the road. We are called to be different with our different gifts and to look for the surprises in this world and welcome them. We look to one who came not as a ruler in power and pomp, but as a small child who needed care and diaper changes.

The seat of honor in the realm of God isn’t gained by sucking up to the rich and powerful (nor by ignoring them) but by looking for the human needs and desires, by reaching out to those who feel they are worthless and letting them know that they are worth something.

Now that doesn’t mean getting it right all the time. If we focus on whether we’re doing the thing perfectly, then we miss the point. Our focus is going to where there is need and showing compassion. Our focus is going where there is need and calling people to account. Our focus is on going where there is need and lending a hand. Our focus is walking hand in hand, working side by side, and welcoming those who have nothing as if they had everything.

There are still those in Christianity who want to sit at the right and left sides of Jesus. There are those who think that the honor and power are the place where they are called. But rather we should be those who instead of the pomp go for the poverty, instead of the rihes go for the weakness and instead of glory go to take up our cross daily.

One of the ex-presidents whom I admire, more as an ex-president than as a president does some of this. He taught and attended church school. But as an ex-president he also goes and helps to build houses for people. I suspect that the building houses is more help as a photo shoot and press release than as an actual carpenter, but even with that suspicion there’s a part of him going out and working.

If we are a Christian, then we are called to be more like a Mother Theresa or a Martin Luther King, Jr. rather than a president Bush – Sr. or Jr. (and if they weren’t president I’d mention whoever else was). We are asked to give up wealth and privilege. We are asked to give up our home for a life that is a journey towards something greater than home or family. We are to give up the divisions that keep us apart from other humans, even if it means separating mother from daughter, father from son and putting families against their own relatives. We are called to make sacrifices for our faith, rather than expecting our faith to make us comfortable in our lifestyle.

When I hear on the television preachers saying that Christians are called to glory or will be healed or will find success or any of another nonsensical statements I wonder which Bible they’re reading. Our savior is one who said it is harder for a camel to enter an eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the realm of heaven. (Two alternate explanations are that the particular passage means a rope and a needle or a small gate into the city where camels had to kneel to get through and they are but two examples of ways to make the story less difficult which even if correct correct, still mean that it is a difficult task)

When I see programs where people compete to give the best sweet sixteen party – as on MTV – I watch in fascination, but not admiration. I wonder when I hear, a very few, talk about going to church but also how many people they’re going to invite and about being the center of the celebration. And I think of someone I knew who celebrated his 17th birthday by giving blood for the first time. And I think of another person I knew celebrated a forty-something year by beginning to learn the cello – she’d never learned to read music, let alone an instrument.

We as Christians should be celebrating the changes in our lives by learning to help others. We shouldn’t be asking for the place of honor, the place of privilege. We who claim the name of Christian should be taking up our cross daily rather than placing burdens on another. We who say we’re following Jesus should be willing to walk into persecution and take our place on the left and right of the cross.

Are we willing to drink the cup that Christ drinks? Are we willing to be baptized in the way that Christ is baptized? Then we should look to be betrayed to the religious leaders and condemned to death, we should expect to be mocked, scourged, spat upon and killed. So I ask again. Do you, who claim the name of Christ, plan to drink the cup that Christ drinks? Do you, who use the name of Jesus in your prayers, plan to be baptized in the way of Christ?

The answer is up to each of us – each day – when we either ignore the cross before us or take up our cross and follow.

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