Grace to you and peace from God who created us from the clay of the earth, from Jesus who brings us back from our sin and brokenness and into new life, and from the Holy Spirit who comforts and challenges us even now. AMEN.
First of all: You. Are. Here. For whatever reason — maybe you’re here because you’re a regular and you can’t imagine your week without coming to Bethlehem on Sunday, maybe you’re here because you haven’t been and you feel bad, maybe you’re here against your will and someone is making you come this morning, maybe you’re new here and found us by word-of-mouth, or internet, or just drove by...Whatever way got here this morning, friends, I believe that God has brought you to this place! In Exodus, when the Israelites are backed up to the Red Sea or wandering in the wilderness, time and time again, God is reminding the people, because they’re always forgetting -- especially when they panic, when they’re afraid, when they start to lose hope -- “Hey remember, I brought you this far, and I’ll bring you through!” That’s true for us all today too, even as we just begin to know each other, God has brought us to this place. And I give thanks that our paths have crossed this morning!
Our Good Word today comes from the Gospel of Mark, where the disciples are backed into a place of wanting-to-be-the-best (James and John) and then the others into a place of anger.
Sometimes, our need-to-be-the-best and our anger can lead to our demise, could be the death of us. And yet -- here’s what I love -- Jesus, just holds them through it, and calls them out of it. “Teacher,” they say, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Hey Jesus, make me the best one in this room. Make me the smartest, the most successful, the most holy, the most spiritual, the most humble (which is a little ironic -- but I think that’s the one us church folk can fall into the most). Anyway, Jesus make me the best! We all have that drive at some level, I think.
When pastors get together and share what’s up, I’ve always felt a little twinge of jealousy at all the cool things the other churches are doing (BLC is no exception—part of what drew me here). I can’t speak for the others, but I’ve got this internal voice that needs to be better, that needs to sit by Jesus and get glory. Maybe you too? James and John are not alone, they weren’t bad guys — but they wanted to be the best and they wanted to be known for it — “Teacher, give us whatever we want,” they demand.
Sometimes we talk to God like this too: “God give me whatever I want. Make me great. Make us great here at BLC!”
And here’s what I love -- Jesus just holds them/us through that demanding phase, like a child’s demanding phase. And what does he say, “You don’t know what you’re asking.” You don’t get it.
A few years ago, we caught Micah singing a song he had heard on the loud speaker at a Padres game: “I’m sexy and I know it.” When we asked him about it, it’s clear he just didn’t understand yet. “Daddy! You know, it means ‘you know it...it means you know something other people don’t know.’” Sexy = I know it. Innocent and sweet, right?
Sisters and brothers in Christ, our misunderstanding of Christ’s call is almost innocent and even sweet. Our wanting to be the best, our wanting to get the glory, our wanting to be seated in places of honor and respect, is like a child not getting it and being held anyway.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus holds us in our brokenness. “You do not know what you are asking,” he tells us too. “This isn’t about being the best, this isn’t about giving so that you get all the glory. This isn’t about getting what we want out of the church or the pastor or the council. This isn’t about pulling strings and being lord over others...
This is about being a servant. This is about making sacrifices. To use a great biblical image: this is about foot-washing. This is about giving ourselves away for the sake of the world.” That’s what it means to be Christ-ian. That’s what Christ has instructed us to do: wash each other’s feet, “just like I’ve done for you,” Jesus says. We do that with our money too.
And this is a gift! Jesus calls us to freedom through our percentage giving. Jesus invites us to joyfully release that with which we’ve been entrusted. It’s all God’s anyway. It’s just been entrusted to us for this short life. We joyfully release just a percentage of it, as a way of thanking God for bringing us through, holding us, loving us all along. Let it go. (Always thought that’d be a good song for a stewardship campaign.)
“When the disciples heard these things, they became angry.” They became jealous. Even scared. When we are invited to joyfully release just a portion, just a percentage of God’s gifts to us, we too can become angry and scared. Maybe some of you have gone through that in this or previous stewardship campaigns? I did a big campaign back in San Diego, a couple years ago...and it was such a joy, but it wasn’t without some struggle. I remember some of our members telling stories about their fears and even angers at being asked to participate. Asked to give to the church -- any church -- and we cry out: But I don’t like what the church is doing!! Every one of us can say that about something going on at church. I’m not giving to that!! I’m not voting for that with my money because I don’t like what they’re doing. Jesus holds us through this. “You don’t know what you are saying.” (Only place in the world...) Biblical stewardship -- i.e. first fruits, proportional, regular, sacrificial and yet joyful giving -- is not about others and who gets “your” money, it’s not about church budgets and deficits and bills and salaries, it’s about you. It’s an invitation to go deeper in your own faith. Jesus holds us through our fears and angers, through our concerns about the future and our bitterness about the past.
And when we’re finished with our rants, with our anger. When we’re finished trying to be the best all the time, promoting ourselves, having to have the last word, trying to always beat out the others and prove our righteousness next to Jesus...Jesus offers us the final word: “Dear ones,” he says to us even today, “It’s not about being the best. I’m about serving, friends. I’m about loving. I’m about giving.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, Jesus serves us, loves us, and gives himself away for us. To be at Jesus’ side, actually means to kneel at the feet of our neighbors and tend to their needs. Jesus turns everything on its head! There is no throne, disciples. There’s a wash basin and a towel. That’s where we find the real glory...and it makes no sense to the world. Being Christian is not about fighting for our own rights, for our own spot, the best spot….it’s about tending to the rights and needs of others, particularly those who are left out in the cold and the rain. To sit at Jesus’ side is to give yourself away. Not out of guilt or compulsion, but out of joy and thanksgiving for what God has first done for us. We get caught up in the current of grace.
We offer our gifts, not out of guilt or compulsion, but rather out of joy and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us: Christ has forgiven us, for all our anger and jealousy and need to be on top, especially at the expense of others. Done! Forgiven! And Christ now holds us/you in grace and peace. When we are taken with that kind of hope and redemption, we can’t help but respond with our time, talents and treasures, we can’t help but respond with our whole lives.
Let me conclude with an image:
When we were little -- I grew up in Houston, Texas -- we spent most of our childhood in swimming pools to survive the heat. And I remember how we used to create whirlpools in my friend’s backyard pool, going around and around in a circle in that small pool. Then we’d take turns hopping out, and then jumping back in, only to be caught in the current. It was so much fun, and we couldn’t help ourselves but to keep that current going so the next one could jump in and keep experiencing that joy of being carried by that same current.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, God creates the current. As we bring our gifts forward—our time our talents and our money—as we live this life of faith, as we participate with our church family in all the ways that we “discover, celebrate and share,” it’s like we’re caught in the current of God’s grace! And when we’re caught, we can’t help but continue to move, continue to give and grow, continue to participate, continue to go in peace and serve our Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.