When you go to see a play, usually you watch the whole play at once. It’s not usual to see a bit of it, then come back once each week to see a little bit more. But that’s the odd thing that’s happening as we read the gospel of Mark. It’s really much like a play, and intended to be read or performed all at once, and yet we hear just a very small portion of it each week. If you remember last spring, a group of people gathered on a Saturday to read the whole thing, as it was intended. And Marty tells me the Education for Ministry group will watch a telling of the Gospel of Mark at their Tuesday night meeting.
The challenge as we hear Mark, is to get ourselves back in the action. It’s like setting your novel down and when you come back to it you need to remind yourself of what you’ve already read. The writer of Mark is telling us a story about an event that radically changes the way we look at and experience the world; there is actually excitement in every word. The Good News that Mark is telling is that God is here right now, actively seeking to help us in the way we most need help.
This is Good News indeed, and it is not the experience of those who were the original hearers of the story. Those original hearers were well versed in the gods who fought one another for dominance, gods who were precocious and pernicious, gods who were at various stages of mortal trying to be immortal. This God of the Jews, who now is interested in being the God of everyone, was compassionate, and passionate to be in relationship with each and every one of us and all of creation. This story that Mark tells is told in a milieu of competing stories. A question brought to this gospel; is this story is sufficient to bear the weight of meaning?
We have heard the story of Jesus’ baptism, his sojourn in the wilderness as he was tested by Satan. We have listened to the testimony of Jesus’ public ministry, and the growth of the relationship between him and the disciples. Last week we heard about the rich young man who could not rise to the challenge of reorienting his life to the new kingdom, which brings us to where we find ourselves today, sandwiched between Jesus’ ministry and the passion to come. We are on our way to Jerusalem and the cross with Jesus. As you continue to listen to this story always remember that it is being told, as every story is told, after it has happened, and with the clear purpose of engendering change in the hearer.
James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to Jesus. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.” Jesus answers, “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.” And they respond, “Arrange it so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.” What arrogance, Jesus, just give us what we want, we’re better than all the rest anyway. James and John are not only full of themselves; they haven’t a clue what they’re asking. You and I know what’s next because we’ve heard the story before; we know that next Jesus will go to the cross. Jesus is asking James and John to accompany him on that journey, Jesus is asking us to accompany him on that journey. Jesus will suffer and die, again, it’s not about honor and status, it’s about something else entirely.
The question is is that something else sufficient to bear the meaning of our lives? Is that something else that Jesus is all about worth the change, the transformation that is effected in our lives when we give ourselves over to God’s abundant and amazing love, God’s grace. It is right here, “for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to live his life as a ransom for many.” This isn’t about morality, it isn’t about being right or being wrong, it isn’t about being favored or not favored. It is about God, it is about God’s grace, it is about God’s abundant and amazing love, it is about God’s compassion and passion that frees us to be lovers and to be loved. Is God’s love, grace, and therefore forgiveness sufficient to bear the meaning of our lives? I say it is.
You see, you and I have a choice. There are many stories that compete to order our lives. And we live ordered by many stories. As Americans, one story that orders us is capitalism, goods and services are traded and some make a profit, some don’t. There is the story that says, this is MY planet, and I can use it up in any way I like. And another one, I work hard for what I've got; I deserve it. There is the story of rugged individualism. There are stories that order us depending on gender, race, socio-economic status, family make up, and all these stories cooperate and compete for meaning in our lives, they are not necessarily good or bad stories, that’s not the question, the question is are any of these stories capable of bearing the weight of love, sin, sadness, tragedy, compassion and forgiveness.
This story that we have before us today, the Good News of Jesus Christ, can bear that weight. Jesus says, it’s not about you, it’s not about what you have, it’s not about your honor or status, it’s not about rulers or power; it’s not about any of that. It is about the reality of pain and suffering and tragedy. All of those other stories crumble under the weight of the reality of our lives. It is about a God who loves us, and is willing to be with us in the midst of the pain and suffering and tragedy. It is about reorienting our lives so that we no longer live as slaves to our hurts, our anger and resentment and pain, but instead we live in freedom to love as we have been loved. It is about a God by whom our pain and suffering can be transformed into compassion and love. It is about a God of healing and grace. It is about a God of joy and compassion.
This is a story that is about all of us. It is a story in which any one of us can and does participate.
When we live our lives according to this story, two things happen. We are transformed, and we become agents of transformation, one is not before the other, these things live in us at the same time. The reality of love, grace, and forgiveness transforms us and we become people of love, grace and forgiveness. As we are this people of love, grace, and forgiveness, others hear the story of our lives and the story of the Good News, as we become agents of God’s love in the world.
So what does it look like to live a transformed life and a transforming life, one that is empowered by this story of Jesus’ life, suffering and death, and resurrection, one that is empowered by this story of freedom to serve? It means that you are the one to look for healing and reconciliation in a family dissolved by each members need to be right instead of loving. It means that you are the one to look for respect and dignity in a work place that undervalues and disempowers the workers. It means that in a community that judges because of race or status, you are the one to look beyond hatefulness to healing and reconciliation. It means that in a church that professes love for God and for others, you are the one who actively seeks out your neighbor to say I’m sorry and make amends. It means that in a church that professes love for God and for others, you are the one who puts aside your need to be right, so that everyone can have a place at the table. The life of transformation looks like you.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.
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