21st Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 24 Oct 18 2014 audio
Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us. James and John ask Jesus. Arrange it, they said, 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. Jesus, I have something I want you to do for me. I want you to grant my wish for a better job, a bigger house, a wonderful spouse. I want you to get me out of this mess I'm in. I want you to make sure that with this investment, I make a lot of money. With this ticket, just make sure I win the lottery. Jesus, I know you can do this for me, and if you do, I will be a better person. I will give ten percent away. I will never again use your name in vain.
James and John, you and me, we get confused about who Jesus is. Sometimes we think Jesus is more like a genie in a lamp, instead of the one who walks this life with us and gives his life for us. James and John are confused, they think this is about seating order at a party, not life in God's kingdom. If Jesus were anything like me, and thank goodness he's not, Jesus would say to James and John, who in the heck do you think I am? But Jesus, in this story, is too polite to say to James and John, since when did you believe this is about you? And we need to hear that too, since when did you believe this is about you?
Jesus and the disciples are on the road to Jerusalem, the place where Jesus will be put to death. They all know this, but the disciples are unwilling to accept the inevitable death of their friend and teacher. Jesus says to them, if you want to be close to me, if you want me to be present with you, serve one another, serve your neighbor, serve those with whom you most vehemently disagree. This is the model of discipleship.
Jesus says it is not the order in which you sit at the table at the party. Dwight Zscheile, in a book titled People of the Way writes, "In the household of God, no one can claim privilege of place; we are all adopted children by our baptism." And this is the image Jesus invokes with James and John. It is all about diving into the water. "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized." We are baptized into Jesus' life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Taking Jesus' cup is about diving into the waters of our baptism, waters that bring the dead to life, waters that fill an empty soul, waters that give a heart the only thing worth living, and worth dying for. We get completely wet in these holy waters. We take each others hands and dive in.
Diving in to the waters of baptism is dangerous. We take the risk of dying. But you and I both know that death is necessary for resurrection. We must die to that which is killing us so that Jesus can raise us to new life. Right now, not later, not after you die, but right now Love wins. Jesus' work on the cross brings new life now. You see, what is true for each and every one of us is that there is that thing that is out there beyond us, that goal we construct our lives around, that dream that demands every ounce of our being, that job that demands all of our attention, all of our energy, or the revenge that consumes us, that is our idol. For James and John it was the prize of sitting next to Jesus at the banquet table. They couldn't see that the prize was an idol. They couldn't see that getting the prize would kill them. Or at least destroy everything they cared about and all their relationships.
What is it for you? What is that prize that you are willing to die for. Lay it down. Lay it down. And take up your most honest and authentic self. Be free. Be transformed, be changed. Because there is where you will find new life, resurrected life, there Jesus will find you. You see, the goal of life is not to have something, to posses something, or someone. Even if that someone may be God. The goal of life is not to gain the reward of an after life. Life is about living fully alive, now, in the midst of God's amazing and abundant love. That's what Jesus' work on the cross and in the resurrection is all about. Life is about living every present moment fully immersed in God's love, and showing forth God's love in your life.
The other part of the good news is that we don't do the work of letting go alone. We do this work in community. I spent a lot of my life by the side of a pool, or a lake, as a lifeguard. In lifeguard training one of the hardest exercises was to dive in and swim up to a person who is acting as if they are drowning, putting that person under control, and then swimming into the shore towing my own weight plus theirs. I truly hoped I would never have to do it for real. But that's actually what we're called to do as a follower of Jesus, as a person who is baptized into Jesus' baptism. You are called to dive into the water, sometimes you're the lifeguard, towing someone else to safety. Sometimes you're the one being saved, and you need to let someone else carry you to safety. But it's together we have a chance to receive the new life that Jesus has for us, together we know that Love wins.
And that's what this community of faith is all about. Diving in and swimming, or thrashing around, whichever it is, we do it together. And swimming takes practice, as does anything that is meaningful. The work of letting go of the idol, letting go of the prize that possesses our hearts and souls is so important, it matters so much, that we need to practice it together, we need each other, we can't do it on our own. We need to be in the company of others also on this path of transformation. We need to practice our prayer and praise together, not so that we make it perfect, but so that God may find us in and through and with one another. This is the body of christ. A whole lot of imperfect people in the presence of holiness and grace, encouraging, serving one another, in love.
And then, God calls us into the world, to feed and clothe, to love and serve others. Amen.