Sermon at St. George's, Summerville
October 21, 2018; Proper 24
As a disciple of Jesus one of the things I like to do is look for how the truth of God breaks through and becomes manifest in the culture around us. Often it happens through music. If you are of my vintage, perhaps you will recognize the words of the prophet Marvin Gaye, Motown musician from 1971, when he asked in a song’s title, “What’s Goin’ On?” If you do not recall the lyrics, allow me to remind you:
There’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother
There’s too many of you dying.
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today.
We don’t need to escalate.
You see, war is not the answer.
For only love can conquer hate.
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today.”
What’s goin’ on is this: Our world is lost. It is lost in a worldview that seems to highly value expressions of human interaction that come from raw power or domination by who can shout the loudest, misrepresent the facts in the most clever way, or rattle the biggest sword. It cannot see beyond winning at all costs by seeking to vanquish our neighbor through extremism and demonization. The world’s lost-ness appears every day whether it be the recent events in Saudi Arabia or in refugees fleeing their countries in the attempt to find a place of safe haven for their families. You can name your own examples. Too many crying. Too many dying.
The Gospel on the other hand, calls forth a transformed humanity that seeks the good of every human being as made in the image of God. As disciples of Jesus we desire to see human beings fully alive, fully awakened to our humanity in the highest and best sense of what it means to be truly human. It was Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon who said way back in the second century: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” It is what our own hearts long for even when we don’t recognize it. It’s about finding a way “to bring some lovin’ here today.”
That was the mission of Jesus. It follows then that it is our mission – to become a people who embody ever more fully and radiate ever more clearly that pure and unbounded love who is God. Yet we often don’t get it just as James and John didn’t get it. The dust up in today’s Gospel is a very human account of two disciples, ordinary men after all, looking for validation and status. They are seeking advantage for themselves. Jesus sees what is going on as they ask for special seating in places of honor. Who doesn’t like to be noticed for one’s effort and receive validation for working hard and showing faithful effort? Yet even though ambition within a community, even a community gathered around Christ is not unknown, it is not Jesus’ way. James and John truly do not know the depth of that for which they are asking. Jesus challenges both of them with a question of his own: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They may say they are able, but truly they are not. We know this because this whole episode of status-seeking occurs after Jesus has presented to them, for the third time, the likelihood of his death. They can’t consider the possibility and so deflect from what they really must engage and miss Jesus’ whole point.
To be baptized into a Christian community, to dare to drink that cup (point to the altar), indeed to come forward today to reaffirm one’s baptism through Confirmation, Reception or Reaffirmation, is costly, if we are looking to live it deeply, faithfully. Too often we travel through life seeing too narrowly, thinking too small-mindedly, and loving with limitations. Jesus dared to see beyond himself as he put his faith in God into action for the deliverance of us all.
Study after study of modern American religion is telling us that the time for casual Christianity is over. From the report of “The Pew Research Center”: “Casual Christianity, the kind that is not lived deeply as a pattern of life, is losing legitimacy among young people because many Christians only speak the truth and fail to DO the truth.”
Jesus teaches James and John what relationships in him are to look like. We are to live on this planet with the attitude of a servant, “diakonos,” literally as “one who waits on tables.” Such an approach ushers in the possibility of a life lived as a self-offering. Being bound in service to one another is a paradox in that we find that the very thing of which we are afraid can set us free. “By his bruises we are healed,” Isaiah tells us today. This is amazing as we discover that entering into the pain of another can actually bring healing to us, and them.
All of us have been called in our baptism to be servant of one another. We have a mission to celebrate and a love to share. Every Eucharistic celebration reminds us that our life as a Christian community is not primarily about the maintenance of an institution, nor about the management of an organization. It is about the profound and challenging transformation of God’s people into the mystery of divine love as we are called out to be. It is what it is to be a part of the “Jesus movement.”
Go again into the neighborhood of Summerville, not “to be served but to serve.” Wherever we can bring forgiveness, justice, release and reconciliation, there is Christ and then we are being a people of God who God can use to bring about his Reign “on earth as it is in heaven.” For what was Jesus’ purpose? It was to bring some lovin’ here today.
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Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.