Sermon–September 20, 2015


17 Pentecost—Proper 20-B

September 20, 2015

William Bradbury

Proverbs 31:10-31, Psalm 1, James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a, Mark 9:30-37

Stephanie and I went to see the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” in Boston Friday night to celebrate her birthday. I am still processing my reaction to the show, which won 9 Tony awards a few years ago, but there was one song that pertains to our gospel reading today. Two 19 year old Mormon missionaries have just graduated from their training and are getting ready to ship out for a 2 year assignment—and Elder Kevin Price sings a song to and with his companion missionary, entitled “You and me, but mostly Me”. 

Now it’s our time to go out
(My best friend)
And set the world’s people free
And we can do it together, you and me
But mostly me

You and me, but mostly me
Are gonna change the world forever
‘Cause I can do most everything
(And I can stand next to you and watch)


These newly minted missionaries are bright, idealistic, and ego driven–just like the apostles.

I well remember being 19, idealistic and on fire for God, so I want to go easy on those young Mormons and on the apostles as they spend their time arguing with one another about who is the greatest.

They could be arguing which one is the Donald Trump of apostles: the one with the greatest prospects for success and fame.

But I think they are arguing who is the most helpful to Jesus and his mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God.

Andrew might say, “You remember I was the one who found the lad with the five loaves and two fish, which was the necessary prelude to Jesus feeding 5000.”

Peter might say, “Well, I was the first one to correctly name Jesus as the messiah, the Christ of God.”

Maybe Mary Magdalene reminds them that she is one of the few there who is bankrolling Jesus and his mission, as we are told in Luke 8.

These are not grandiose rants but nonetheless Jesus reminds them of his definition of being great—being a great lover, teacher, and healer—is upside down compared to the way the world understands greatness.

They just have to look at each other to remember that Jesus didn’t pick white collar bible scholars from Jerusalem but the blue collar uneducated fishermen from Galilee.

Paul put it this way in 1st Corinthians 1:26-29:

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters:[a] not many of you were wise by human standards,[b] not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,29 so that no one[c] might boast in the presence of God.”

This bears thinking about since most Episcopal Churches are filled mostly with the educated elite, not the high school drop-outs who say a 100 times a day, “Do you want fries with that?”

The disciples know from whence they have come so that none of them would be tempted to crash a wedding party of a Boston socialite. What they keep forgetting is that greatness in the Kingdom of God is not found in climbing up to find the highest paying job. The path to greatness is found in climbing down to serve everyone, including the marginal and unimportant.

This makes me think of Pope Francis who will be in our country this week. Some popes and cardinals in the past have climbed the ladder into having multi-million dollar pleasure palaces along the rivers of Europe, consorting with the rich and powerful. Pope Francis, on the contrary, moved out of the elegant papal apartment and lives in an ordinary set of rooms. By picking Francis of Assisi as his namesake, he has revealed not just the rhetoric, but also the heart, for paying attention to the marginalized.   We should look closely at who the Pope visits in addition to visiting the White House and addressing a joint session of Congress.

But we are not going deep enough if we think Jesus is simply calling us to take up a progressive social agenda of spending more time with the marginalized. Because Jesus not only tells us to serve the powerless, he also says that when you embrace this kid as my disciple, you are also embracing me—and more than this, you are actually embracing the Creator of the Universe.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

This too requires a lot of thought and prayer, because Jesus is inviting us to see the world from an unusual point of view.

The human default point of view is from that of the ego—that continually divides up the field of experience into 10,000 things and then judges those things as things I like and things that I don’t like.

The ego is continually making judging about what is going on, which means, it is no longer experiencing what is going on, because the human mind can judge or it can experience but it cannot do both at the same time.

Imagine taking a walk in the woods: the ego will want to keep a running monologue going: oh, I like those flowers, and big trees, but I don’t like the mosquitos and dead trees…I wish someone would smooth out this path and those lazy people would pick up the dog poop.

At the end of the walk we have a list of our likes and dislikes, but we haven’t deeply experienced anything.

My dog Charlie continues to teach me this because while I’m stuck in my head judging the outside of things, he’s experiencing the is-ness of things.

Even though I’m physically there, I’m often not emotionally or mentally there.

And that means I not only miss what is right in front of me–that flower, that mail box, that snake, but I also miss the deeper truth that when I welcome the “just this” of my life without judgment or complaint or thinking about something else, then I will notice that I am surrounded by and connected with the presence of God.

It can be a profound spiritual practice to walk up to a tree—any tree—and let yourself feel its presence and listen to it.

Or if that’s too weird practice this—as you go through your day and notice your monkey mind is bouncing from thought to thought, just take a breath and say “just this”…”just this” to what’s actually in front of you at that moment.

The rector of St Anne’s, Lincoln was giving me directions to her church last week and she said you’ll go right by Walden Pond, so be very careful because recently three people who were in such a rush to get into the park so they imitate Thoreau were not paying attention to the cars right in front of them in the here and now.

Of course the trees forgive us and are always ready to be present to us.

Spouses, however, are less forgiving when their partner moves from listening to judging, when their glaze over and they know they’ve been dismissed.

So in the scripture today we can judge the child and put her in categories—cute-ugly, smart-slow, clean-dirty, or we can experience this child by giving her our presence and meeting God.

So, we have a choice: we can see the whole field of this life, which means we not only serve the least and last, but that we actually see them and connect to them or we can cut the field up into 10,000 pieces, which means we miss the wholeness of life and the living God that is always present to us.

Remember: we’re not talking about doing things to get God to show up. We’re talking about how to live so we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the God who is already and always Present in Love.