Sermon – October 21, 2018 – Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost


The Message

So, this psychologist tells a story about coming home from work one day and having his car struck by lightning. He said it was bizarre and frightening experience and when he got home, he told his teenage son about it, expecting a little sympathy.   And his son said, “wow, dad, cool! Let’s go buy a lottery ticket. They say the chances of being hit by lightning are like the chances of hitting the lottery.”

nice. Dad wasn’t heard because the kid’s stuff got in the way.

So, the story is told of this wandering, miracle working, Sage who claims to usher in the kingdom of God.  Some say he is the Messiah.  He has gathered a band of disciples for this work and the crowds are large and the word of him has spread across the country. Some were enthusiastic, but others had no intention of allowing this guy to usurp their power and authority. And the guy knew what, so he told his followers three times, “when we get to Jerusalem I will be arrested, beaten, and put to death.” Like the kid of the psychologist, the disciples didn’t hear because their own stuff got in the way.

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 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, promise 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.”  They saw this relationship as transactional.  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.”  It won’t be like you think and it won’t be like the systems you see around you, “It is not so among you,” he said.

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, in your self-giving.  That’s the way of my kingdom, he continually communicates.

Of course, one of the principles of communication is 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 rattles our brains is real.  People are calling this ‘white noise’ like the background sounds of a TV that is not tuned in. More precisely, white noise is physics terminology to describe a noise containing many frequencies, a constant background noise that drowns out all other sounds. It can also be used to describe a meaningless or distracting commotion, hubbub or chatter.   I think the definition from music is even better, “white noise is used to describe music that is discordant, with no melody, disagreeable, harsh or dissonant.”

There are tons of messages out there crashing into each other on how we ought to live our lives, how we ought to vote in this season… And in an especially grievous development, many of these voices now tell us who we ought to hate. That is the noise that deafens us to the cries of our neighbors. That leads us to believe, sometimes, that this Jesus doesn’t get it, or that maybe this way of life or this community or even the gifts of forgiveness and life are a bit much for us.   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 over others. 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.  As we begin to look back over the past 75 years, we look mostly at mission.   This year marks our 13th 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 youth on 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 discovering. It happens in 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 25% 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.  It happens when we recognize that because our relationship with Christ those whom we fear or who are strangers to us may reveal to us something of the kingdom of God.  These things, and more are the 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.  He just keeps coming to us so that he may be heard and that we may be brought two new life.

It’s hard to be heard.  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 forever

Thanks be to God.