Sermons

 

Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

 

Sometimes the glory of the Kingdom of God looks messy.  Sometimes bringing it about is gut-wrenching and it is painful.  Sometimes it will mean doing things that kill us, or at least kill a version of ourselves that needs to die, so a version closer to the example we are given in Jesus might be born.

 

James and John are well-meaning and completely clueless in this morning’s gospel.  How immature and petty they seem. Like something ripped from an episode of “Survivor”, they form an alliance, just the two of them, and saddle up to Jesus to ask that the revered places on his right and left be reserved for them.

 

You want glory?  Jesus asks. Can you drink the cup I will need to drink?  Will you immerse yourself in the baptism in which I am immersed?  

 

“Sure,” They respond.  “How hard could it be,” they must be wondering.

 

In order to bring about the dream of God, we are asked to drink the cup Jesus drinks and to live into the transformative baptism Jesus models for us.  And we wonder, “how hard can it be?”

 

Well, my friends, take a look at the world around us.  That’s how hard it can be. That’s how hard it is. And it seems like it is only getting worse, day by day.

 

Someone recently commented to me that they didn’t think things were getting worse in the world.  They believed things were getting unveiled. Misogyny, racism, xenophobia; There is little in the dis-ease of this world that is new.  

 

What is new is the courage of the prophets of our day to stand up, to speak out and to say “this is not okay.”  “This is not how the world should be.” “We can do better.”

 

But that courage has made a lot of people uncomfortable.  For people of privilege, whatever the privilege be, the rules feel like they are changing halfway through the game.

 

And those whose unearned power is being challenged respond with fear, and dismiss the voices of the disenfranchised as just the latest wave of Politically-correct speak.

 

And the well-meaning struggle with their own stumbles, hoping against hope that their intent will always translate into the intended impact.  And when it doesn’t, it hurts and we respond “That’s not what I meant. You know that, right?”

 

I am one of those well-meaning people.  And Jesus calls to me out of today’s Gospel and says, “So, you want a world that is just, a world that is reconciled, a world that reflects the dream of God?”  And like James an John, I reply, “Oh, yes! I sure do!” And while I do not believe it will be easy, I do hope my desire covers my stumbles. But can I drink the cup?  Will I share in the baptism?

 

A few weeks ago, the clergy of the Diocese gathered together for our annual fall clergy day.  I am a co-signer of a resolution going before our Diocesan Convention in November asking the Diocese to support ballot initiative 3, which seeks to continue to protect the safety of transgender and gender nonconforming people in public spaces.  

 

As a co-signer, I was asked to make an announcement about it.  I spoke passionately about our call to respect the dignity of every human being.  I acknowledged that some of the language and discussion points might be new for a lot of folks in the room. And I encouraged them not to let their fear of saying the wrong thing or asking the wrong question silence them.  It’s okay to make mistakes, I said. Transformation can be painful. I ended my comments by asking everyone to support the initiative and to support our transgender brothers and sisters.

 

As I went back to my seat, the words “brothers and sisters” rang loud in my head.  Had I just ended an announcement about gender diversity by using the binary construction of gender?  I felt my face go red as I sat back down. “I’m so embarrassed” I said to a friend. “I should have known better than to speak in front of colleagues.”

 

“It was perfect,” my merciful colleague responded.  “You gave them a perfect example of not letting the fear of making mistakes get in the way of speaking truth.”

 

I was hoping for a seat in glory.  What I got was the cup Jesus offers and a cold splash in the waters of baptism.

 

Transformation brings new life, but it can be awfully painful.

 

Two Sundays ago, our choir offered a piece for the offertory that was based on an indigenous anthem called “Mi’Kmaq.”  It involved animal sounds and a gorgeous chant. Like any piece of music we choose, the piece was chosen with care and with the intent to lift up the fact that we were celebrating the feast of St. Francis, known for his love of the animal kingdom.

 

The readings that day were challenging; the story of Eve coming from Adam’s rib, and Jesus’ teaching on divorce.  In my sermon I argued that the way these readings have been interpreted over time has brought pain and oppression to half of humanity.

 

I left church that Sunday feeling really great, like I had a glimpse of the glory James and John were seeking.  We had done it. A complicated and difficult Sunday with hard readings, two baptisms, blessing of the animals and the day after a painful confirmation to the Supreme Court.  While the world was getting it wrong, we were getting it right!

 

It wasn’t until later Sunday evening I discovered why I was feeling so good.  Turns out I was feeling good because I could. As a male, my desire to empathize and name the pain of the scripture readings and Supreme Court confirmation was not enough to make the readings not sting.

 

And as a white person, my enjoyment of a piece of music, and my feeling encouraged that others cultures were being represented in our community in predominantly white Brookline was an enjoyment born of my ignorance of what it might feel like to be an indigenous person who shares in a long history of white immigrants taking one thing after the next from them; their land; their vote; their lives; their music.

 

Of course, I couldn’t know what it was like to be an indigenous person or a woman in church that morning.  But I wanted my desire to do the right thing to be enough. Like James and John, I wanted the glory of a glimpse of the kingdom.  In return, I was offered the cup to drink and the baptism to share.

 

How often do we want the glory, want to arrive at the kingdom of God, without having to share the cup of suffering, or the baptism of painful and ongoing transformation?

 

Maybe you were hurt that Sunday.  If so, I am sorry. Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about.  Maybe you are uncomfortable now. It’s okay, I am too. Talking about making mistakes is hard, conflict is hard, particularly in the church.

 

But silence is deadly.  Pretending everything is okay at the expense of the silenced is oppression.  

 

If we are to be a community dedicated to bringing about the Dream of God in the world, we have got to acknowledge that, along the way, we will make mistakes, however well-meaning and well-intentioned they might be.  We need to listen to the pain we unintentionally cause if we desire to be transformed.

 

Because we are church doesn’t mean we won’t stumble along the way to a just and reconciled world. Because we are church means we can love each other enough to desire one another’s transformation;  we can hold one another accountable; we can ask forgiveness when we err, we can forgive when we have been hurt, we can break bread when we disagree.

 

We seek the glory of the God’s dream for the world.  In return, Jesus offers us broken bread, a cup and a baptism to help us get there.

AMEN.  

 

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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