Sunday, 21 October 2012 ~ Be Careful What You Ask For”

Scripture:              Job 38:1-7, 34-41          Mark 10:35-45

 LET US PRAY:  Holy, still-seeking and still-speaking God: open our ears to hear Your Holy Word; open our hearts and minds to be open to live out Your message.  Amen.

Our Old Testament lesson picks up at the end of a wonderful ~ but little read ~ book: the book of Job.  Job was a well-respected man in his community.  He had considerable wealth … living in a nice home, lots of cattle and farm animals, lots of land, and plenty of children and their spouses.  Life was good for Job.

And, in one fell swoop ~ Job loses everything … his animals, his children and their spouses, his livelihood.  The only one left is his wife.  And, his 3 good friends.  Job was struck the hardest blow ever.  Yet, he never lost his faith in God.  Despite his wife’s and friend’s pleas to “curse God and die” … Job never gives up on God.

Job believed deeply in God … he lost everything … he still continued to believe … BUT: eventually all of the pleadings of his wife and friends got to him … and Job gave into a royal fit of negativity and anger.  He begins to question God about all that has happened to him … WHY him?  WHY his family?  WHAT did he do that was so wrong?  And what about all the bad things happening in the world around him?

Today, we enter the story as God is finally responding to Job.  And God’s reply is in the form of a series of questions … WHO CAN ~

  • Create the earth
  • Determine the size of the world
  • Establish the world foundations and cornerstone
  • Create stars and sunlight and darkness
  • Establish caves and deep oceans and every living creature
  • Give power to sustain all of creation

In essence:  as we hear God extolling everything that He has done, we get an amazing picture of how awe-inspiring and breath-taking our God truly is.  We are humbled to be in His presence.  Like the song says: Our God is an awesome God … He reigns from heaven above …

In God’s reply to Job, we are forced to focus on the presence of God in our lives … a presence that is incomprehensible, overwhelming, all-powerful, all-encompassing, all-mighty, and all-loving.

And, it is out of this immense love that God gave His greatest gift to the world … Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son … who came to earth to teach us, to guide us, to call disciples to take over for Him … in essence: to level the playing field.

In our Gospel lesson today, we find Jesus dealing with EGOs!  Two of His disciples, James and John, approach Him and ask Him to give them what they ask for:  that is: the prime seats … to sit on His right and left hand when He comes into His glory.

In today’s church, this is the equivalent of begging to be made President of Consistory … or Chair of an important Ministry Team … or even the Pastor!

And, understandably: the other disciples are not happy and argue with them … basically throwing a royal snit fit.

NOW: to be honest:  I believe that James and John have shown great faith in the midst of their uncertainty.  They don’t even question IF Jesus will achieve His glory.  They assume that what Jesus has predicted will come true.

THEIR concern and question here is for THEIR own future.  I can hear them saying: “We were busy with family, jobs and day-to-day living … and we left all of that to follow you.  It has been great … but we don’t want to waste our time.  Please reassure us that all of our work and efforts will be worthwhile.”

THIS particular conversation follows Jesus’ three predictions of His suffering, death, and resurrection.  An uncertain future!  So, I can’t blame James and John for making their request.  James and JohnMAYhave simply wanted reassurance that investing their time and energy into being a follower of Jesus was worth it.

But maybe they also recognized that being a follower of Jesus wasn’t going to be an EASY journey … or always EASY.

So Jesus questions them back:  Are you sure?  Absolutely sure that you want what you are asking for?

  • Can you drink from my cup?  My cup is a cup of blessing … it is a cup of covenant to be shared during the last super … it is a cup of suffering.
  • Can you be baptized with MY baptism?  REMEMBER: when Jesus was baptized, as He came up from the water, a dove hovered over His head and the voice of God spoke, proclaiming Jesus as God’s beloved Son in whom He was very pleased.
    • In our baptism ceremonies today, we ask families to covenant to weave their faith into the very fabric of their lives; to proclaim Jesus by the way they live.
    • On Confirmation retreats, I ask the kids to renew their Baptismal vows:  I am a child of God and I will act as one You are a child of God and I will treat you as one.

I believe what Jesus was really asking was:  Beware of what you ask for:  drinking from my cup and being baptized with my baptism will lead you to suffering and torture: both physical, emotional and spiritual.

Yet: James and John both respond:  SURE!  OF COURSE!  BRING IT ON!

Again Jesus presses the issue … you know, doing great things and being seen as great does NOT equal great leadership.  Today, we like to say:  With great power comes great responsibility.

But, let’s get real … with great power also comes a great head rush!  Who doesn’t want accolades and praise and glory heaped on them … especially after putting in a lot of time and effort in order to achieve a high level of success.

When I was an officer on the Auxiliary of North Penn Hospital, we did a lot of creative fund-raisers in order to raise money and purchase much needed equipment and improvements for the hospital.  One year, we conducted a raffle of a new home being built.  It was a tremendous success!  We had write-ups in the local papers.  It was SO successful that we were invited to present our idea to a gathering of Hospital Auxiliary workers inCalifornia!  I can tell you: we were flying high and full of our success!

Now contrast that to Jesus example of true leadership:

Benevolent waves from rooftops to adoring crowds.

  • Jesus walked among people who crowded Him and wore Him out

Benevolent sends servants to care for important guests.

  • Jesus invited everyone to a banquet, then washed their feet at the table.

Benevolent hopes people will be well fed.

  • Jesus broke enough bread and fish to feed a crowd.

Benevolent sees that laws are applied fairly to as many as possible.

  • Jesus taught about God’s love as the law by which we live.

Benevolent might give up something for others.

  • Jesus gave His life as ransom for many.

Jesus intent was that great leaders are those who can fully imitate Him ~ that is, be the greatest servant of others.  “I come to serve, not to be served” Jesus said.  And this is the key to today’s gospel:  Jesus came to minister to others.  This is who Jesus is … and His followers must be ready to be and do the same.

And the lift of a servant isn’t always pleasant.  Can’t you see the Job Description posted in the local paper:  WANTED: Servant: must be willing to go against popular culture, live a life of giving, let ridicule roll off your back; be willing to feel vulnerable.

AND REMEMBER:  true servanthood does NOT always make major headlines.  Rather: true servanthood is a 24/7 job that requires a heightened sense of awareness.

Now, I could give you the Triple L (Long Laundry List) ~ outlining specific things that you could to do serve others.  Sort of like entering a road rally and being handing a list of things to find … a list that you check off as you find each item.,  And first one to return to base is the winner.

Instead, I would like to tell you a story that models Jesus’ plan for a life of serving and imitating his own lifestyle:  (see attached)

Serving as Jesus did means never passing up an opportunity to conn3ect with others ia touch, voice, physical presence … as well as offering spiritual food via our words or being comfortable to just sit in silence with the other person.

I experienced some of this the other day at Pine Run in their Dimentia unit.  After leading worship, I went from person to person to share a quiet blessing with them.  And some just stared at me with longing in their eyes, some held tightly to my hand, some said Thank You … even though they couldn’t form all of the words.

Then later that morning, I stopped by the church and encountered the extended Huff family.  I had fun following Grandson Evan … who proudly proclaimed he knew the way from the nursery to the kitchen … and sharing cut bits of celery and carrot with Granddaughter Amelia.  As they left … both children came and gave me a hug, and Amelia ~ with wide eyes ~ leaned in to give me a kiss.

Opportunities to serve others happen every minute of every day … some are huge and obvious … and some are small and quiet and unobtrusive.  But, they are there!

Jesus inspires all of us to follow Him simply because He was willing to give up equality with God for a time ~ to become one of us.  He was willing to walk with us and to become vulnerable … just like us.  With Jesus as our leader and example: How far are we willing to go for Him?                                           Amen.



The Three Questions (from the Zen tradition)


          There was once a king who decided that if he knew who the most important people to be with were, and what the most important thing to do was, and when the best time to do each thing was ~ that he would certainly be the finest king ever to rule the land.  Although he had asked his advisers, none had been able to give him a good answer to these questions.

At last he decided to ask the advice of a wise hermit.  The king dressed in the clothes of a commoner and set out for the forest.  When he neared the hermit’s hut, he ordered his knights to stay back at a distance and he rode the last section of trail alone.

The king found the hermit digging in his garden.  The old man greeted him but continued digging.  The king told the hermit that he had come to fine answers to his three questions.  The hermit listened but gave no answer and continued working.  The king observed that the hermit was frail and elderly and that the work was very difficult for him.  The king offered to take over the digging, and the hermit allowed it.

The king dug for one hour.  Then he repeated the question, but the hermit did not answer.  He worked again for another hour, and then repeated his questions with the same results.  This continued for a few more hours until the sun began to sink low in the sky.  Finally the king got discouraged.  “I came to you for answers wise man.  If you have none, tell me and I will return home.

Just then someone came running up the path.  They turned to see a man with his hands pressed to his stomach and blood flowing from between them.  He dropped to the ground at the king’s feet.

The king and the hermit knelt down and began tending to the man.  The king washed and bandaged the man’s wounds.  The blood continued to flow so he kept having to change the bandages.  The king also helped the hermit to get fresh water, and to help the man to drink.

Finally the man slept and did not wake until the next morning.  The king too slept upon the ground, waking often to watch over the man.  In the morning the man woke up and looked at the king.

“Forgive me,” he said to the king.

“You have nothing to forgive me for,” the king answered.

“Oh, but I do,” the man said.  “You were my enemy, and I had sworn to take revenge on you for killing my brother and taking my land.  I knew that you were coming here today and I decided to kill you on the trail.  But when you did not return for many hours I left my hideout to find you.  Your guards recognized me and wounded me.  I escaped them but I would have bled to death if you had not cared for me.  I meant to kill you, but now you have saved my life.  If I live I shall gladly serve you for the rest of my days.”

The king was so happy to have been reconciled with an old enemy that he immediately forgave him and promised to return his land.  Then the king called for his knights to carry the man back to his castle to be cared for by his own doctor.

After the wounded man had gone, the king asked the hermit once more if he would not give him the answer to his question.

“Your questions have already been answered,” the hermit replied.

“But how?” the king answered, perplexed.

“How?” repeated the hermit.  “If you had not taken pity on my weakness yesterday and helped me instead of returning home, that man would have ambushed and killed you on the trail.  Therefore, the most important time was when you were digging my garden beds; and I was the most important person; and the most important thing to do was to do good for me.

Later, when the man came running to us, the most important thing to do was to care for him.  If you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without making peace with you.  Therefore, the most important person was that man, and what you did was the most important thing, and the right time was the time when you were doing it.

“You see, the most important time is always the present moment.  It is the only time that is important because it is the only time that we have control over.  The past we can only look back on and wish that we had done differently.  The future we can only imagine.  The most important person is always the one you are with in the present moment.  And the only important deed is the deed that does what is best for others.

At last the king understood.  He returned to rule wisely, one moment at a time.

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