Sermon for Sunday October 11, 2015 Harmony and First Presbyterian Churches Johnson County Arkansas.
Text: Mark 19:32-45
I’ll never forget the day we were given a tour of an active Mountaintop removal site in Eastern Kentucky. We walked around and were given a driving tour of what used to be a beautiful mountain. There were sections where rock trucks bigger than any vehicle I have ever seen were carrying pieces of the mountain away. There was another section where elk were reintroduced to the mountains. There was a tree farm. There was something that looked like grass, which was also painted with fertilizer. And as we ended the tour we got back to the front of the site and I stood looking out over the destruction of the coal mining operation on one side and the beautiful Appalachian mountains on the other when our guide came up and said “Did you see the elk sitting over there? Beautiful reclamation site isn’t it?” It took every filter I had inserted for the entire trip for me to not say, “No, sir, actually this is obscene. We take apart mountains and attempt to put them back together, disturb the wildlife, and you want to call it beautiful?” But instead I shrugged my shoulders and said “yeah, beautiful.” As we headed to the car (most of us in tears) I took one last look at the destruction around me and thought to myself “We as Americans, as consumers of energy, as followers of Christ have missed the point of the creation story. We have failed to be good stewards of this earth.” I’ll never forget the feeling of emptiness that came with the feeling of missing the point, of failing to understand God’s plan for creation, of failing to have the courage to say something to our guide about how I really felt that day as I stood on the reclamation site.
As I read the texts for this morning I couldn’t help but come back time and time again to the disciples and their continued pattern of missing Jesus’ point. You see this is not the first or second time Jesus predicts his death. This is the third time he does so.
The first came after Peter’s Declaration that Jesus was the Messiah, when Jesus rebuked him and said, “Get behind me Satan!”
The second was after he healed a boy possessed with Spirits… and scripture says the disciples did not understand his predictions and were afraid to ask him any questions.
The text from this morning is the third and final prediction of Jesus death and resurrection.
The text tells us that they were already on the road to Jerusalem when Jesus took the twelve aside from the larger crowd to make this declaration, he tells them that he is going to be mocked, spat upon, flogged, and killed. And James and John respond by taking this as an opportunity to ask if they can sit at the right and left hand of Jesus. The conversation continues and the disciples get angry with one another and finally Jesus tells them it is not about who gets to sit on the right or the left it is about living a life of service. It is not about being the greatest; it is about becoming the lowest. It is not about having the answers or the solution it is about serving. It is about waiting on people, giving them the basic necessities to live, learning what their problems are, listening to them, loving them, and giving them all that they need.
Jesus predicts his death and resurrection and then tells the disciples that this life is not about being great. He has made it clear throughout the Gospel of Mark that this life-that is the life of following Christ-will be one of suffering, maybe even to the point of death. And after he is gone it will be a life of service, of putting the needs of others, even strangers before the needs and the desires of the self.
And Jesus didn’t just command his disciples or us to cast our needs and desires aside to serve others-Jesus did it. Jesus healed the blind, those with leprosy, and the hemorrhaging woman. All of these would have been considered unclean or deserving of their afflictions. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus didn’t look out for himself or put himself before the needs of others, he served. He served selflessly. Even to the point of death.
The disciples were on the road to Jerusalem. On the road to Jesus’ betrayal, death, and resurrection. The disciples knew they were following the messiah, the anointed one who would change the world they knew, but they couldn’t comprehend what Jesus was telling them. He was telling them he wasn’t the messiah they expected. He was telling them that sitting at his right and his left was not going to look the way they thought it would. He was not going to go out in a glorious reign of power that overthrew the oppressive systems of the time. There would be no end to war, no deliverance of God’s people from enemies, and no immediate divine intervention that turned the world as it was upside down.
No. Jesus was going to suffer at the hands of humans. He was going to be ridiculed, spat upon, beaten, and nailed to a cross. Jesus was going to die hanging on that cross with two criminals at his right and left hands. He was going to be buried in a tomb just like any other human being. But unlike any other he was going to rise from the dead, overcome death, and reconcile humanity to the One who created the universe.
John Calvin in a sermon during passion week said: "In truth, though death in itself was cursed in its nature, yet when the Son of God was put to death, the angels worshiped Him as their chief and sovereign prince. And if we consider the power of His death and the fruit that comes from it, we will find it not at all a curse, but it will be the fountain of justice, life, and salvation."
Christ’s death is the fountain of justice, life, and salvation because in his death we were given true life. Not a life seeking to be the greatest, not seeking to be at the right or left hand of the messiah, but one of service to humankind. One of being Christ in this world.
We reflect that service in the work we do here:
[Work of the Churches]
These are great ministries and do great work.
The questions we have to ask ourselves are: What is our motivation? Is it to feel good? Is it to seem good? Or is it pure self-sacrifice, putting the needs of others before ourselves?
What more can we do in our world? What more can we do in this place? How can we reach out to those who are unclean or afflicted? How can we serve those with addictions? How can we help those who have fallen on hard times?
How can we share the Gospel with those who haven’t heard it?
How can we as a church and individuals continue on-reminded of the death of Christ- living into that fountain of justice, life, and salvation?
I was speaking recently with a group about sharing the gospel with those who don’t know the story. It came up in our discussion that many of us didn’t know people who needed to hear the story of salvation in Jesus Christ. I think the same can be said of those who need to be served. We may not know them on a personal level, but are we willing to step out of our comfort zones to get to know them? To get to know their needs? To serve them as Christ would have? It is easy to sit back and send money or supplies but are we willing to build lasting relationships?
In my time in Eastern Kentucky we built some relationships with some wonderful people. We spent an entire week listening to stories and hearing how life and culture are in the mountains. We learned how coal mining is crucial to the survival of the people of the mountains in Eastern Kentucky and how more and more jobs were leaving because mountaintop removal was becoming the new way of doing things. What we found on our listening trip was a group of people who loved the mountains, they loved life in Appalachia, they had loved ones who worked in the mines, and to them life was indeed beautiful on that mountain.
At the surface beauty isn’t always what we expect. For the disciples beauty was not in sitting at the right and left of Jesus as they expected but it became caring for God’s people. The point was not to be the greatest but to humble oneself in service to the least. It is easy to miss the point in our world. It is easy to get caught up in the flashy ideas, new technology, and next greatest thing. But what if we decided to get caught up in the business of humility? What if we stepped out of our comfort zones and befriended the strangers who are different or “other than” us? What if we began to tell a story of a man who was so concerned with the lowest of the low that he followed a road into Jerusalem, onto a cross, and out of an empty tomb so that all the world might know and have an intimate relationship with the greatest of the great? What if we stopped missing the point and started seeing the beauty? What if we consider the power of Christ’s death and the fruit that comes to us from it-the justice, life, and salvation for all of God’s people.
From the strip mines of Appalachia to Ferguson, MO
From the delta to the lower ninth ward of New Orleans
From third world countries to war torn cities
From those ravaged by addiction to those stigmatized with intellectual or physical disabilities
From the rich to the poor
Whether black, white, brown, red or otherwise
What if all of God’s children were seen as people worthy of our reaching out to. Not as charity cases but as children of God who deserve authentic human relationships and the opportunity to learn about living in a relationship with the God who created them.
The disciples may have missed the point of discipleship but we don’t have to. Who are the “other than” people in our lives? Are we willing to step out of our comfort zones to truly serve God’s people?
May we be willing and able for the sake of Jesus Christ in our world.