Lectionary blog for Oct. 18, 2015
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16;
Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
The story is, Sir Isaac Newton, the great scientist and mathematician, had a dog that he loved very much. Wherever Newton went, the dog went with him. One time he had worked for months and months on a theory about the nature of the universe, working late into the night by candlelight, his worktable covered with papers, which were in turn covered with formulas and theorems and conclusions. Late one night, Newton got up from the table to leave the room and the dog jumped up and bumped the table, turning over the candle, which set Newton’s papers on fire. Newton returned to the room to find years of work gone up in flames. He put out the fire, then sat on the floor and wept. The dog nuzzled up to him and licked his face and Newton hugged his dog and said, “You will never ever know what you have done.” (“Jesus Among Other Gods,” Ravi Zacharias p. 36)
The story is, when Eve took the fruit from the tree and when Adam took the fruit from Eve, things fell apart. And God looked at Adam and Eve with great sadness and said, “You will never ever know what you have done.”
The story is, what began in Adam and Eve keeps showing up in the Bible. Time and time again, God’s people play out a personal little Garden of Eden in which they discover their all too common capacity for doing things that tear God’s creation apart. And God kept on weeping and shaking his head and telling the people, “You have no idea what you have done.”
The story is, no matter how hard Jesus tried to explain that to follow him meant following the way of the cross somebody didn’t get it. Somebody’s personal little Garden of Eden came into play, and they began to look after only themselves and their needs and interests and pleasures and desires. This time it is the sons of Zebedee, who totally missed the message of servanthood and instead sought to establish themselves in positions of power and privilege. And God in Christ shook his head sadly, saying, “You have no idea what you are doing, do you?”
Back when I was young and knew everything and had neither the time nor inventiveness to really mess things up in life, I was really rough on James and John. In those days I didn’t worry too much about the sinfulness of humanity in general and my own sinfulness in particular. But I’m older now, and I don’t even like to think about the ways that I have been less than I meant or hoped to be.
I have not just failed to do good; I have on occasion done bad and knew I was doing bad when I did it, and I did it anyway. And I don’t know why. And I have no excuse other than the fact that I am human and that is what humans do sometimes. I don’t blame anyone or anything else – not my mama or my daddy or my environment or anything else. It was just me and my life and an occasional fit of general “sorry-ness.” And I’m sorry. And I’m sure that I have no idea how badly I have disappointed God and harmed others. I don’t even know what I have done.
Just like Adam and Eve, James and John, and millions of others, I have a deep, deep need for a voice from outside myself who will neither condone nor condemn but will rather love me and amend my life. And we meet that voice, that God, in Jesus, in the one who “in the days of his flesh … offered up supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission … he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:7-9).
My daddy’s sister, Aunt Mildred, never really threw anything away. When her nieces and nephews complained to her about this, she would say, “You just never know when you might need it.” Our protests that you had to be able to find “it” in order to use “it” when you needed “it,” fell on deaf ears. She was confident that she knew where all her “its” were. And I think she did. I would ask her about a bill or a letter or a magazine and she would say something like, “It’s in the back bedroom, in the left-hand corner of the closet, third shoebox from the bottom, in a plastic bag.” And she’d be right.
God is, I think, a bit like Aunt Mildred – if not Southern then at least eccentric. God shares her passion for saving everything and her awareness of everything she had saved. God doesn’t do the expected and normal thing and condemn useless and unholy trash to Gehenna, the fiery garbage heap outside the walls of Jerusalem. Instead, where others may see worthlessness, God sees something worth saving, something worth hanging on to, something worth taking a risk for, something worth making a great effort for, something worth dying for. And God knows where all that saved stuff is. God cares about what God has saved. And it is God’s will that it all be saved, because God made it all, and God loves it all, no matter what it has done.
The gospel is that it is because of our great need and God’s great sorrow and anguish over our great need that Christ came into the world. The words in our text from Isaiah were written many years before Christ. They were written about the suffering servant of God. After the suffering and death of Christ, the early Christians remembered these words from the Hebrew Scriptures and realized how perfectly they described what Jesus had suffered and what God had done through Jesus, for them and for the whole world: “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
The question of whether God loves us and cares about us has been answered once and for all by Christ upon the cross. A more important question is: Are we being obedient to our call to take up our cross and follow?
The Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville was for a long time the home of the Grand Ole Opry. It was originally a church, built as a preaching place for a famous evangelist named Sam Jones. The story is that Jones was holding what the holiness folks called a “quitting meeting,” during which people confessed their sins and swore off drinking, smoking, cussing and running around with people they weren’t married to and such like misbehavior. The meeting had reached an emotional high point when Jones called on one ultra-righteous woman in the congregation and asked her what she was going to quit. She said, “I ain’t been doing nothing, and I’m going to quit that too.”
God calls upon us today to “quit doing nothing” in response to the gospel. God calls upon us to stop seeking greatness and to start seeking to serve. We are called to give ourselves for others as Jesus gave himself for us. We are called to care about the hurts and pains of others as Jesus cared about our hurts and pains. We are called to live lives of obedience to Jesus’ call to us to take up a cross and follow him into the world with hope in our hearts, with acts of love in our hands and with words of grace and promise on our lips.
Amen and amen.