Jesus tells us that our baptisms have given us power, 20 Pentecost, Proper 24 (B) – 2006

October 22, 2006

(RCL) Job 38:1-7, (34-41) or Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16 or 104:1-9, 25, 37c; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45 

Sounds like the office doesn’t it? Two up-and-coming members of the team take the boss aside and ask to be made vice presidents. Maybe they thought Jesus had an easy time talking, healing, and feeding. People often assume that a genius is someone who does things without much effort at all. It just happens. They forget that genius is “ten percent inspiration, and ninety percent perspiration.”

Following a great woman or man can be exhilarating. The roar of the crowd, preferential treatment, and adulation rubs off on those who walk in the shadow of the great. This even happens in the church. We’ve all met people who get their excitement and empowerment by being on the vestry or controlling a committee. They see themselves as special, licensed to get away with behavior that would not be tolerated at home or at work.

Jesus’ answer to these two disciples is ironic, perhaps even a little sarcastic. These brothers, nicknamed the “the sons of thunder,” were into power. They wanted Jesus to call down thunderbolts on a group of seemingly disrespectful people. Now they wanted a share of the power Jesus seemed to exercise.

Jesus assures them that they will share his ministry to the full. They will be baptized as he was baptized and drink of the cup from which he will drink.

When the other disciples hear of all this, they are annoyed. Whether their annoyance is at the brothers’ temerity, or whether they had hoped to make a similar request, we are not quite sure. In any event, Jesus goes on to give power a new meaning.

It is important for us all to remember that there is a Christian vocabulary suited for Christian living. More often than not we get into trouble when we give a word its secular meaning when we are supposed to be talking Kingdom language. “Power” is one of those words. Instinctively we translate the word “power” into “force,” or “dominance,” or “oppression.”

On the other hand, using the vocabulary of the world, we translate “servant” or “slave” as one who is oppressed and down-trodden. I’m sure the first Christians had the same trouble. But if we get the vocabulary wrong, we often find ourselves asking for the same sort of “justice” James and John sought. We seek empowerment.

Jesus tells us that our baptisms have given us power — dynamic power — power enough to lay down our lives, and if it is our lot, die for the Gospel and die for the Church. Jesus tells us that the cup we drink, the bread we consume, gives us the strength and fortitude to be servant-leaders, of which the diaconate is the example-ministry.

Surely that’s not the deal, is it? But Jesus tells us that servanthood, slavery, is exactly the deal.

Elsewhere Jesus tells us that if we want to save our lives, make something of our lives, exist to live, to be recognized, to succeed, we will die. Our only hope is to walk the way of the cross, dying in order that we may live. The strength of the church is in mutual self-offering in Christ for the life of the world.

The death of the church, at least from our point of view, is when we all seek the things we want — even if they are good, and caring, and virtuous, of great help to the boss — and thereby lose the courage to die, to let go, to offer up. Perhaps we need to re-learn that lesson; to offer up and let go of our most cherished passions and causes, trusting that God will see these things through the death of sacrifice, and restore them in his good time, and in his good way, shaped now into his will.

 

— The Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier, who has most recently served in France in the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, has returned to the United States and is interim rector of St. Thomas a Becket Episcopal Church in Morgantown, West Virginia. 

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