a priest's musings on the journey

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 24B - 22 October 2006

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant (Mark 10:35-45)

Humility is one of those virtues that one rarely finds among powerful people or people in leadership. So, we really shouldn't be too hard on the disciples and their argument about who would have the seats of power on Christ's kingdom. That's the way the world thinks- the strongest, most powerful rule, right?

Jesus, as usual, turns the world's values on their head. He doesn't decry power; instead, Jesus offers a leadership model that enables leaders to be good stewards of the power that they possess. Jesus says that a great leader is one who uses power in service to others. S/He does not lord his/her authority over others in an oppressive manner. Rather, authority is used for the welfare of others.

A good leader knows that every person is valuable and every person has gifts and wisdom to bring to the table. A good leader knows when to draw on those gifts and how to seek out the wisdom in others that s/he may not possess. S/he collaborates with others and trusts their abilities and discernment. Servant-leaders empower others to be disciples and guides their work to fulfill the mission of the Church.

Servant-leaders are compassionate and caring. They are concerned about the lives of those they lead. They work to keep all healty and whole and connected to the community. In a parish, this happens through the administration of the Sacraments, thorugh pastoral care, and by and through prayer. One of the most valuable gifts of a servant-leader is the gift of authentic presence; a listening, loving presence that becomes a conduit for the life-giving presence of Christ. A presence that takes time to listen to the concerns and problems of others. A presence that is willing to stop what one is doing and offer comfort to one who is distressed. A presence that shares the burden and helps another carry to the Cross of Christ for redemption. This listening presence is not limited to one on one communication. The servant-leader is intentionally listening to every member of the community, paying attention to what is being said- and what is not being said. S/he listens and enables the community to discern together what the Holy Spirit is saying and dreaming int the community. The servant leader includes every voice and every person: s/he insures that there is a seat for every baptized person at the table, and is ready to make room for the inquirer who is searching for a place of belonging in God's House.

Jesus knew that this type of leadership makes one vulnerable. It opens one up to the possibility of ridicule and persecution. It opens one up to the potential for suffering. For Jesus, servant-leadership meant the Cross of Calvary. It meant the complete self-giving of himself to and for us. That is also what is means for us: loving, self-giving sacrifices for the sake of others.

What might that look like in your life? One might be tempted to think this gospel reading and this leadership model is only for bishops and priests. I would challenge you to examine your own life. We all posess power over others in our world; perhaps in our professional lives; maybe in our families; maybe even in our circle of friends. How are you using or abusing the power and influence you have over others? How might Jesus' model for servant-leading change the way you interact with others in your life?

Take some time to reflect on your life and your situation. Make a covenant with God and yourself, to use power in service to all of your relationships; Ask God to transform you daily and enable you to serve in love for the transformation of the world, and for the reconciliation of all things and all people to God in Jesus Christ.

:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:37 AM | link | 0 comments |

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 23B - 15 October 2006

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus was walking, a rich young man ran up to him and asked him a question. Now, this was not a trick question, like the Scribes and Pharisees were inclined to ask. This man had a legitimate question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It was a question for which he wanted a answer. It was a question asked with humility and sincerity. Jesus was moved by this young man’s search for God. Mark writes that Jesus loved him.

Jesus begins to answer his question by telling him that he should keep the commandments. The young man admits that he has obeyed the commandments since youth. The implication of the young man’s quest is that he knows that there is something more that he must do. He has not stolen, or murdered, or blasphemed God. He has honored his parents and he was a man of honesty and integrity. Yet, he yearned for more; he longed to grow from a good place to a better place; from grace to grace. Jesus replied, “You have done well, but you lack one thing. Sell all that you have, give it to the poor and come, follow me.” This good, righteous man knew that Jesus was right. He knew that he ought to follow Jesus; indeed, he wanted to follow Jesus. But, he could not. It was a risk that he could not take; a cost he was not willing to pay. So, he left sorrowful, as the King James Version says, because he could not afford to live the Christian life.

Many want to make this story about money and about how hard it is for the rich to find a place in God’s kingdom. This is really about discipleship, though. Jesus was not asking him to abandon his wealth because it was evil or immoral for him to be rich. He was asking him to give them up because he was so attached and possessed by them that he could not become attached to Christ. Indeed, he was so attached to them that he could not forsake them in order to follow Christ when he was invited to do so.

What about us? Can we afford to live the Christian life? Have we forsaken the things of the world in order to follow Christ? Is there anything that possesses us and keeps us from growing from holiness to holiness and from grace to grace? Is there a good thing that God is asking us to give up for a better thing? Are we attached to things or ideas or values that dim the light of Christ in our heart?

Like the rich young man, we might feel sad because it IS hard to forsake the things to which we are attached. It IS difficult to trust God enough to walk away from a good thing in faith that God will replace it with a better thing. It seems impossible for us- indeed, if this is what we are called to do, will we indeed find eternal life? The answer, and the Gospel hope with which this reading ends, is that for us it might be impossible; but, with God, nothing is impossible. If we can only muster enough strength and faith to take the first step, then God will meet us and take us the rest of the way. God will bless the small thing that we ARE able to do, and the Holy Spirit will take us to that higher place and more intimate relationship with God and God’s people.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:31 AM | link | 0 comments |

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 21B - 01 October 2006

"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire." Mark 9:42-43

So, the annual lectionary sermon on hell. Granted it is not the main point of today's Gospel reaidng, but Jesus' words do get our attention, as I imagine they caught the attention of the 12. Let me back up a bit and put it in context. John had just complained to Jesus that someone was healing in Jesus' name who was not a member of thier group. Imagine it! A follower of Jesus complaining because someone different from them is also trying to follow Jesus by doing a good work. (I know you've never experienced that). Jesus' reply is that whoever is doing good in Jesus' name is really a part of his mission; they are all members of his team; "whoever is for us is not against us." Jesus said that all who are following him should be embraced and even rewarded for their acts.

Once again Mark is using a story to make the point that all are included in the household of God. No one is to be rejected or excluded. This time, however, Mark includes Jesus' teaching on the responsibilities that come with one's inclusion into God's family. Quite simply, because one has been loved and accepted, one is to accept and love others. Hatred, judgement and exclusion lead to serious consequences. Jesus said that would be better off for a person to hang a millstone around his neck and jump into the sea, than to cause another person to stumble- that is to hurt them or tempt them to sin (sin is, of course, the choices we make which lead us to reject God's inclusive love). Jesus goes on to say that if there are parts of oneself that place a stumbling block in one's own path- that disrupt your realtionships with God and others- then they should be dealt with, in order to save oneself from final torment in the fires of hell.

What exactly are the fires hell? The word translated hell here is actually the word Gehenna- that place in Ancient Israel where children were burnt on the altar in sacrifice. The unquenhable fire is the destructive fire that pride ignites in our soul, fueled by our sinful and selfish passions, that destroys our humanity, dignity, and connectedness to God and each other. The fires of hell are not torments that God creates to punish us; they are the torments that we create for ourselves when we reject God's Love, push others away, seek our own way and our own pleasures, and remove ourselves from the Source of Life and the Way of Love. The fires are hell are never quenched, because we have disconnected the conduit through which God's love and grace can flood our souls with the living water which nurtures our life in God.

This text concludes with a way to stay connected to God, and thus keep the fires of hell quenched. Jesus says that all "should have salt in themselves and be at peace with one another." Salt refers to the cultic sacrifice rituals. In Christ's community, we are called to sacrificial love and acceptance; we are called to season the life of the community by our own integrity and purity of heart; we are called to lives of unconditional love which embrace others, and lead to peace and goodwill.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:30 AM | link | 0 comments |