October 18, 2015
Job 38:1-7, (34-41) / Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b/ Hebrews 5:1-10/ Mark 10:35-45
Many of you have told me that Tuesday night’s Celebration of New Ministry with our bishop was wonderful. I heartily agree and I am deeply grateful to the many of you who worked so hard to make the worship and the reception meaningful. We truly offered ourselves, rector and people, to be God’s church in this time and place. The question I want us to ponder this morning is what does it mean to be “God’s church”?
Something in us wants to automatically answer this question by making a long list of the things we do or think we should be doing as a church. And this could be a worthwhile exercise: I think it was our bishop who said he once gave everyone in his parish a sheet of paper and had them write on it everything they did in the ministry of the church and then he had them bring the papers to the altar and attached them into a long scroll that ran from the altar to the back of the church and out the front door.
But to do this first is to get the cart before the horse.
Our gospel today is more about how to be in the world than how to do in the world. I’ll never forget a seminary professor tell our class that if we don’t know who we are supposed to be as clergy, then we will go around doing all sorts of well-meaning things and end up with what he called ministerial “do, do”.
So how is the church supposed to be?
Our gospel reading today starts with James and John pulling Jesus aside to ask if they might BE his top two leaders when the Kingdom of God fully arrives. Can they sit, one on his right and one on his left, when Jesus reigns as King of the world?
This strikes us as an odd request, because we have so spiritualized the idea of the Kingdom of God that it is just another name for life in heaven after we die, where there would be no point in having power and being in charge, since we think all you do all is float around playing harps and singing with the saints.
But this is not at all what Jesus proclaimed: you remember that after his baptism he comes into Galilee announcing: “The time is fulfilled, God’s kingdom is arriving, turn back, and believe the good news.” The Kingdom New Testament by Nt. T. Wright
Then later he teaches his disciples to pray: Our Father in heaven,
Holy is your name; your kingdom come ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN….
All his healings are signs that the kingdom is in fact breaking into the here and now. Jesus said in Matthew 12:28: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons then, the kingdom has come to you.”
I like the way N. T. Wright, bishop and New Testament scholar puts it: in his healings and exorcisms Jesus is embodying Israel’s God who has come to save the people. Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God is nothing less than a new creation breaking into the old.
Paul writes in Romans 8: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; … the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
In the great last scene of the Bible in the Book of Revelation John tells us, “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home[a] of God is among mortals.
He will dwell[b] with them;
they will be his peoples,[c]
and God himself will be with them;[d]
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
We don’t float off to heaven, rather God comes down to us.
Every time Jesus has a meal with outcasts and sinners he is enacting God returning to set the people free from slavery to a human culture that organizes itself around keeping track of shame and guilt in order to keep some people down.
This is why the so-called impure people loved Jesus, and why the so-called holy people put him to death.
I heard a sermon by Timothy Keller, who is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, make the point that Jesus and those who serve like him are attracted to, and attractive to, people who are different from them. Jesus and his disciples were attracted to the poor, the sick, the broken sinners. And likewise Jesus and his disciples were attractive to the broken people who flocked to them.
So-called religious people think life is about circling up with other like-minded religious people want no part of the great unwashed. They may work at a soup kitchen, but only out of duty. They are doing it for themselves so they can show how holy they are. Of course those being served sense this immediately and want no part of it.
Jesus’ kingdom is a revolutionary way of being in the world, as salt and light, which savors, preserves, heals, and brightens everyone’s life.
But let’s not be naïve. Sometimes the Caesars of this world,“the powers that be”, don’t like to be reminded by the church that God is King, and so persecutions are inevitable for a servant church.
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas puts it this way:
“The disciples are not to try to take over and rule as the Gentiles do. Rather, they are to do something else. They are to be an alternative community to those who think that government depends on coercion and violence. By being a countersociety, moreover, the church offers the world a politics otherwise unavailable. Without the existence of a church so formed, there would be no one to challenge or even, recognize,” when a government was becoming evil. Page 179
As one church historian wrote:
“Almost immediately after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, [German] Protestant Christians faced pressure to “aryanize” the Church, expel Jewish Christians from the ordained ministry and adopt the Nazi “Führer Principle” as the organizing principle of church government. In general, the churches succumbed to these pressures, and many Christians embraced them willingly. The pro-Nazi “German Christian” movement became a force in the church. They glorified Adolf Hitler as a “German prophet” and preached that racial consciousness was a source of revelation alongside the Bible….“The 1934 Barmen Declaration written largely by theologian Karl Barth was a call to resistance against the theological claims of the Nazi state. “
Adapted from Robert McAfee Brown,Kairos: Three Prophetic Challenges to the Church, published in 199, cited in Erdmans.http://groups.csail.mit.edu/medg/people/doyle/personal/enters/hermann/declaration.html
This declaration cost its author, Karl Barth, his teaching job in Germany and he was forced to return to his native Switzerland. It would cost many others their lives, among them theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as they created the Confessing Church which was an underground church that resisted the theological claims of the Nazis.
Until the New Creation is fully here the church serves God and the world by living here and now as if Jesus is King and Caesar is not.
By the way, James and John did not get to sit at Jesus’ right and left when he ascended his throne. That honor was given to the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus on that horrific and salvific day when the power of Caesar thought it could kill the power of servant love.