Pentecost 22B October 21, 2018
Hope Lutheran Church~~~~Riverside CA
They say “third time’s a charm.” And yet, here we are with James and John and they don’t get it again. Our Gospel today begins with two of the church’s future saints treating the Son of Humanity like he was a holy ticket scalper.
Am I the only one who reads this with different voices or attitudes to see how it plays out? Do you hear the patient 2nd grade teacher voice from Jesus or do you hear the exasperated parent of a teenager? What about the curious professor eager to dismantle the eager student’s ironic optimism?
In the Princess Bride movie, now considered a cult classic, the disciples remind me of the character Vizzini, who keeps shouting, “Inconceivable!” Yet, the idea isn’t inconceivable, they just don’t get it. Their minds don’t think that way at all. And I keep waiting for Jesus to say, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” The disciples keep asking for glory, for power, for position, for recognition and they completely miss that the only glory will be in the glorious deaths they will die in service. They miss that this is not about lifting a single person up to glory, but about lifting humanity out of the mud.
The idea of serving is just not what they think it is, and neither is the idea of afterlife. In fact, this trying to secure the right or left chair is the complete opposite of their purpose. They don’t see it and they have no clue the cost for what they ask. Many scholars explore whom the two will be- many argue that one will be the sinner on the cross who died next to Jesus, seeking forgiveness in his last hours of torture. I don’t think the disciples meant that for themselves. It is just inconceivable to them.
There is a new sitcom, “The Good Place” and it is filled with fantastic fun making of religion while also discussing the idea of eternal life. In the sitcom, the characters are in the bad place, but they are told they are in the good place. They figure out that they aren’t because they realize they are miserable and are being tortured by the mundane things of life that irritated them most.
The show goes on to explore philosophical girding’s in the stead of religion and plays out the classic philosophers fundamentals for being a good or bad person. It boils down to one issue though: there is no formula for being good and there is no way to intentionally earn getting into the good place. You just have to be a good person- not for the sake of getting in, but because we are supposed to be good to one another.
We aren’t supposed to idealize the suffering servant of Job 38 or Isaiah 53. That is like choosing to live a Christian life because we want to cover all our bases. It doesn’t work to choose to be a martyr in order to secure a space. We can’t earn this because it isn’t a test where we get graded on the other side. We don’t get more points for being kinder or doing the right thing because God is up in the sky checking off a list. And there is no guarantee that what eternity looks like will be golden streets and angel wings. What if eternity looks like eternal service? Then what? What are we signing on for? What cup are we drinking with Jesus?
A character in the Good Place named Chidi makes the point clear: “If this isn’t a test then it’s something way worse: A choice! That we have to MAKE!”
When we choose to follow Christ it is regardless of what the outcome will look like. It isn’t about power or prestige or earning an eternal day off. Chidi posits the best response to this quandary we face: “So why do it then? Why choose to be good everyday, if there is no guaranteed reward we can count on now or in the afterlife? I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone. “
Christ is asking the disciples to give up the idea of glory and power forever; to be servants to humanity and God forever. He is asking them to be crushed and wounded and afflicted with him when he offers them a chance to follow him. He never promises them glory and power only that he will be with them til the end of days.
Maybe that is all we can ask for and maybe that is all we really need. Maybe we spend our days trying to create things and relationships around us so we don’t feel so alone. Maybe we are James and John and the other 10, vying for security and a place at the table because no one wants to be left out. No one wants to be alone.
The inconceivable part of this is that we aren’t alone. We never were alone. But we just couldn’t conceive of that. So God sent the son, Jesus to show us, to tell us, to be with us to prove we are not alone. To redeem us and remind us that we are not relegated to the bad place. So why choose to do good, to be good? Not to earn it, because it is freely given, but in response. Because God is that good and we are not alone. God is with us and we can celebrate this gift of life and accompaniment by living in a way that lets others know they are not alone either.
You don’t have to choose to feed the poor or clothe the naked for Jesus sake. But when you choose to live a life responsive to God’s gift by seeing others and letting them know they are not alone either, you will inevitably find yourself feeding a hungry and dirty soul. This is the high priest’s calling which we all can answer.
The choice is not to live a good life or be good. It is to offer ourselves up and simply thank God for being so generous and gracious and never leaving us alone.