Sermon – October 18, 2015 – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Pentecost 21
The Message

Depending upon who you talk to, there are a couple of essential principles in marketing and communications that you must understand to get your message out, to convince people of your point of view, or to have them buy your product.

The first is the rule of 151. According to the rule of 151, the first 50 times that you convey your message they don’t hear you. The second 50 times, they don’t understand. The third 50 times they just don’t believe you.  But! That 151st time is the one!

So, as we are at the beginnings of a presidential campaign, steel yourselves to hear the same thing over and over and over again.

I think it may be easier with the second principle, and that is the rule of seven.   According to this, your message must be heard at least seven times before it sinks in. The reasons that it takes so many times under this principle is first, noise. We are bombarded daily with jillions of messages, so the competition is fierce.   It is simply hard to be heard. n The second challenge according to this principle is that the listener doesn’t need you… at least not yet. Either they have to be convinced of the need or recognize the need.   The third principle is not flattering; they don’t hear you because they don’t know you or like you or trust you. So, it takes multiple messages to overcome these obstacles.

It is hard to be heard.  It is hard to get our message out.

So maybe it should come to no surprise to us that the disciples had such a hard time hearing about the path that Jesus has taken and on which they will follow. The first time that Jesus announced that his journey would take him to Jerusalem, to suffering, and to death, Peter went a little nuts. “No way! You can’t be serious!” Peter had other and ideas about what a Messiah would look like, and it didn’t have anything to do with suffering or death but instead of strength and power. And Jesus had to give him a serious rebuke. The second time that Jesus made the same claim that he must suffer and die and be raised again, the disciples, confused, lapsed into a debate about who was the greatest. In this case, Jesus lifted up a little child and said “you want to talk about being great, being successful in the kingdom of God, then you must welcome this helpless and vulnerable child as a full partner, as a sister.” And this last time that Jesus spoke of this journey to suffering and death and resurrection, two of the disciples step aside and figure they better get their places established if things are going to come to this. “Jesus, promised to give us a place, one on your left and one on your right when you come into your glory. Assure us of a place. We’ve been working awful hard. Aren’t we special? If things go south, we want to know we’ve got a place.” And to this Jesus says, “you think you can do this… This thing that I am doing?  You think you can drink from this cup and be baptized by the baptism that awaits me? ” and the disciples respond, in their naïveté, “you bet!” And Jesus, knowingly, says yes… Yes some of this you will experience… But not as you think.  You see, your fulfillment as a disciple, a taste of glory, a sampling of your true self and your true relationship with me will be found in humility, service, self giving.”

Hard message considering their culture.  That is the message that Jesus continues to convey to the disciples, to those who come seeking for truth, for a place, for community… To us who gather with the same struggles to hear with the same challenges to believing. You will find yourselves and encounter God in your service to one another.  That’s the way of my kingdom.

Of course one of the principles of communication and marketing his consistency. This is the message that Jesus bore through his whole ministry.  He rubbed elbows with the outcasts, ate with sinners, embraced children, enlisted women as disciples and ministers, defied tradition, reinterpreted the law, with the purpose of drawing all people to himself, as Paul later writes. Jesus spoke this message of service anchored in love in all that he did… Love for the community that was building around him whom he came to serve, and love for God to whom his whole life pointed.  Service… Fueled by love. The way of the kingdom.

So how does this manifest itself in our time? Well, first our resistance to this message reveals itself in tons of ways. The noise that the marketers talk about is real. There are other messages out there on how we ought to live our lives. Self-sufficiency, autonomy, the accumulation of things, are recognized and pursued as desirable ends. That is the noise that deafens us to the cries of our neighbors. That leads us to believe, sometimes, that we just don’t need this Jesus or this way of life or this community or even the gifts of forgiveness and life. Let’s tell the truth. Sometimes the way of discipleship is at the very least inconvenient. It’s hard for the message to get through the noise, or to believe that we actually need this grace and community. And sometimes, because of our past experience or present confusion, we don’t like or trust this word. Sometimes it is too challenging and sometimes it is simply been misused.

But Jesus keeps speaking. Jesus keeps demonstrating through his love manifest in the community of believers that service is transformational. That Christ can be met in the stranger. That the needs of the world are part of our vocation. And that above all, this service to the other is the way of the kingdom, the path that Jesus has shown us, the path he pursued through all things even into the giving of his life.

The grace of this, the good news here, is that we are invited to step away from that grinding, grasping path which ends up in a dubious goal of self satisfaction measured in accolades, stuff, or power. This is the path that Jesus so lovingly tried to turn the rich young man away from. He recognized that the man was possessed by his possessions and invited him to a life of service, but it was too much.

Surely, this is what Jesus meant by new life. The new orientation, a new direction, a new community where we give ourselves away in service and love and discover a depth and quality of life we’ve never experienced before.

Now, we know this.  We have experienced this as individuals and as a community. This year we will do our 10th trip down to New Orleans in response to hurricane Katrina. The reason that we go back and back and back again is not because we like that drive, or that the New Orleans climate is so palatable, but it is because there that we discovered in faith who are neighbors were and have been called to serve. That is why we do these youth mission trips, so that they can experience their faith in the context of their neighbors, and particularly in the context of the needs of our neighbors. If you’ve ever accompanied the use of one of these trips, you will have experienced the enthusiasm that they experience and you’ll see a growing recognition of the path of discipleship that they are experiencing. It happens interpersonal relationships when we decide to forgive rather than to extract retribution. It happens in our community ministry where we drop off a measure of food for a hungry family, or where we give 30% of the production from the Farm to our hungry neighbors, or when we buy a Christmas gift for a kid who might not have Christmas without us but when we recognize that on account of our relationship with Christ this person whom we fear or who is a stranger to us may reveal to us something of the kingdom of God.  All of these things, and more response to the call to discipleship.

Because of the noise, because of our vanity and the other messages, because of our sometimes uncertainty or mistrust, Jesus needs to keep coming to us so that we may be changed and then the world changed though us.   So that his message of love, hope and new life can be expressed again and again. So that his community of seekers and believers and stumbling disciples can see the way, the path of discipleship and can experience for themselves again and again gift this loving grace.

Jesus apparently understands the rule of 151 or the rule of seven.  He just keeps coming to us so that he may be heard and that we may be brought two new life.

I don’t know how many times that you have heard this message, but I hope today is the one that embraces you and helps you to understand.  If not, keep listening, because he won’t give up.   You are on his mind and in his heart.

Thanks be to God.