Keawalaʻi Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)
Twentieth-first Sunday After Pentecost
Laity Sunday & Children’s Sabbath
Sunday, October 21, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“A Life of Service”
Hebrews 5:1-10 & Mark 10:35-45
He told the story about the time that his car was struck by lightning while he was driving. Once he was safe at home, he shared the ordeal with his son, expecting a small degree of sympathy.
But instead of receiving a sympathetic response, his son said, “Dad, let’s go buy a lottery ticket. They say the chances of being hit by lightning are like the changes of winning the lottery.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 188)
To say that his son was self-absorbed would be a bit of an understatement. Was he not listening to his father? Did he not understand that his father could have died? Was he so afraid for himself that he was not able to understand what had just happened?
In some ways we may ask similar questions of the disciples James and John and their interaction with Jesus not long after he sought to tell them his own version of the “lightning” story. Were they not listening to Jesus? Did they not understand that his death was near? Were they so afraid that they choose to ignore what Jesus is saying to them and instead ask for seats beside Jesus after his death?
When Jesus first began to teach the disciples in Caesarea Philippi that he would undergo great suffering, rejection and death, it was Peter who took Jesus aside and rebuked him. (Mark 8:31-33) As they went on from there and passed through Galilee, he began teaching them again that he would be betrayed into human hands and killed. This time John complained to Jesus about someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name but that he was not a follower. (Mark 9:30-41) John seemed unable to comprehend what Jesus was saying.
As they continued on their way through Judea, beyond the Jordan and on to Jerusalem, Jesus took the disciples aside again for the third time. He began to tell them what was going to happen to him – that he would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, be condemned to death and killed. This time it was James and John, the sons of Zebedee who appeared to be unable to comprehend what Jesus was saying.
Each time Jesus told the disciples what was going to happen to him, he also reassured them that on the third day he would rise up from the dead. From our reading of all three stories it appears neither Peter, John or James and John were able to understand him.
However there was an indication as their journey comes to an end in Jerusalem that the disciples had become increasingly concerned about what he was saying. Those who were following him were afraid.
It may be that Jesus’ predictions of his suffering and death finally became clear to all of them. It may be that James and John understood what lay ahead and that they were seeking a promise of a secure future. It may be that James and John were asking to sit at his right hand and left hand not to secure any power or position for themselves but to seek Jesus’ reassurance that despite their fear they were going to be okay.
If that was the case then the connection between fear and the desire for security is one that we know well given the state of the world in which we live. Charles L. Campbell, a Professor of Homiletics at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina makes the following observation: “The fear of terrorism has led to all kinds of fateful actions, including government surveillance of its citizens and preemptive war – all in the name of security.” (Ibid., page 191)
We can only imagine how terrified the disciples must have felt once they realized what was going to happen to Jesus and how desperately they wanted to be reassured of their own safety and wellbeing. Jesus sought to comfort them by making the connection between baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the way of the cross as a model not of martyrdom but of servanthood.
“The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” (Mark 10:39) On the one hand, Jesus’ words may have been perceived by James and John and the others as a warning of what was to come – that they too would suffer, be rejected and killed. But on the other hand, Jesus’ words may also have been a source of comfort because he would be with them.
It is as though Jesus was saying to them, “You will not always be driven by your fears and your need for security. Rather, you will be empowered to take up your cross and follow me. You will be faithful disciples even to the end.” (Ibid., page 193)
Here then is the great promise to us: “Whenever suffering, pain, even death should come our way, we need not live in fear.” Whatever desire James and John may have had with regard to their power and position in relationship to the other disciples is put into perspective by Jesus.
Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to first among you must be slave to all.” (Mark 10:43-44) We know that the principal metaphors for discipleship in The Gospel According to Mark are diakonos or “servant” (Mark 10:43, 45) and doulos or “slave.” (Mark 10: 44)
What Jesus said becomes profoundly significant when he adds that he did not come “to be served, but to serve” and that by giving up his life, we have life. It is a life meant to be lived in service to others.
Mother Marianne Cope is being canonized in Rome today. But long before she was canonized as a saint, the people of Kalawao and Kalaupapa already knew her as a saint.
In 1883 she received a plea for help in caring for those who were stricken with leprosy from Kalakaua. More than 50 religious institutes had already declined the kings request for help. She responded.
She arrived in Kalaupapa in 1888, both to care for Father Damien who was dying and to assume his ministry. Like Damien, she offered the work of her hands to those who were sent to the Makanalua Peninsula.
Jesus said: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father (sic) and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Luke 28:18-20) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12-14)
So it must be with us as it was with Father Damien and Mother Marianne. We sang only a few moments ago:
Hana ē! hana ē! Nā kauwā a Iesū;
a mamuli no o nā e hahai a mau,
Me ka bana o kana ‘ōlelo maikaʻi
E loaʻa ka ikaika e hana mau ai
To work! To work! We are servants of God;
Let us follow the path that our Master has trod;
With the balm of his counsel and strength to renew,
Let us do with our might what our hands find to do.