Be Careful What You Ask For
You need to know from the get-go that if you don’t like my perspective on this morning’s scripture, it’s my wife’s fault. I’m absolving myself from all accountability here. I had been struggling with this scripture all week and, by Friday, crunch time, I was feeling really frustrated. So Nancy said to me, “Why don’t you just preach about what you want to!” So, because I always listen to my wife, and readily confess that she is infinitely wiser than I, I am following her counsel.
As I have told you folks before, I do some work with Conference around the education of candidates for ministry. Although, I have to admit, as Betty Lane would say, “I think I getting well beyond my best before date.” I have a sense that these candidates see this old relic as one likes to pour sour grapes into their communion cups.
For four years, the church has been flowing resources into these young candidates. They have had their education, their pastoral work, their learning sites and are constantly assessed to help refine their skills. I am fairly sure that if the same scrutiny was applied to my ministry today, that I would probably fail miserably. Especially when they talk about self-care. I hear them say that they are never going to work more than 40 hours a week, and how they are going to join an activity outside the church to keep their lives balanced; how they are going to establish a supportive community outside the church; and how they are going to ensure they continue their life long learning by attending conferences etc. All good things that no doubt I should probably pay closer attention to.
But… that might not be the reality of their lives. So you know that Mr. Grinch here, who has been sitting in the back row listening to all this, just has to pipe up and steal the joy from their ministry. I ask them, “What about service?” That is a question that can only be answered by defining your call to ministry.
Do you see your ministry as:
a calling to serve the church
a calling to serve Christ?
How you see your ministry will determine how you answer these next questions:
What do you do when you are ready to sit down to Christmas dinner and you receive a call from the hospital? Do you tell them you’ve clocked out or do you make your apologies to your family and go?
What do you do when someone is coming in the door of the church just when you are heading out? Do you tell them you’ve done your 40 hours, or sit down with them? Do you bank that time hoping to get it some other time? Good luck with that one.
What do you do when your bags are packed to go to a continuing education event and the funeral home calls and it is one of your stalwart members? Do you ask the funeral director to find someone else?
What do you do when your church’s garage sale is the same weekend as Conference every year? Do you leave everyone working in the church as you head to Conference or do you stay?
And then, just to because I can, I offer them this thought, “Where would we all be if Jesus decided that after 40 hours it was Millar time?” I’m really not picking on the candidates’ naiveté. I love their energy and desire and hope for the future. It is partly why I go to these gatherings. I need that infusion of spirit and energy. But we all know that none of our callings, whether it be working for Bell, or a Bank, or a technician in a plant, or a teacher or nurse, or an engineer, ever turn out quite as glossy as the recruitment folders that lured us to them in the first place.
I want to remind all of you this morning that everyone of you has been called into ministry, a ministry just as valid as any of these candidates. Otherwise, I assume you wouldn’t be sitting here. You have heard Jesus call your name. The key question is how you see this ministry. Now, not many of you will ever see your ministry as a career or a profession. Yet, seeing ministry as a career or profession describes clearly that ministry for you is more about what ministry may do for you than what you are prepared to do for it.
Let’s talk with John and James. We are still walking the same road with them as we have been walking for the past month. It is a long way to Jerusalem. We have all heard Jesus telling us what is going to happen to him in Jerusalem, which is what makes what happens next so incredulous. John and James come running up to Jesus and say, “Hey Jesus, we’ve got a favour to ask you. John and I want to sit on your right and left hand side in the kingdom of glory.” Excuse me???? Jesus has been talking about denial, betrayal, being scourged and beaten and hung on a cross and you want what?
Now, you can’t really blame them. You see, you and I know the end of the story. They don’t. All they see is that they want to be like Jesus standing on a hillside feeding 5,000. All they know is that Jesus can heal people and how happy that makes them and they want to do that, too. They want to be the ones holding the tether of the donkey as they march into Jerusalem under the waving palms. They want to stand before the Pharisees and confront tyranny and injustice. They want to feel they have done something good with their lives.
How many times have we heard it said, “We want to be like you Jesus!” which usually means that we want to share in this glory, we want from Jesus what we can get from him for our own lives. “Really?” is Jesus’ response. “You really think you can share in my baptism and drink from the same cup as I do?” “Yes!” cry John and James. “We are ready. We can do this!”
I hear in this cry, in the voices of all new and eager ordains, “Yes, Jesus, we are ready, willing and able, to follow in your glory!” I cry, I am sure, I once made myself. I cry you may have uttered yourselves. I can hear Jesus thinking, “My dear, sweet, naive friends. I treasure your enthusiasm but do you understand that standing on my right and left side in the kingdom of glory means hanging on the crosses on my right and left side on Calvary. Are you ready to sacrifice that?”
So here’s the rub, as they say. This glory Jesus calls us into is a glory of the suffering servant; of entering a life of service which always involves sacrifice. It is now that my last two questions take on some depth.
Is your ministry a calling to the church or a calling to Christ? The first is a viable calling if you understand the church is the body of Christ. If, however, you see the church as an institution to be served and preserved, then we might need to re-examine that. But if your ministry is in response to Christ’s calling, then we have to acknowledge that this is a calling of submission, of offering up your lives as Christ did to the understanding that glory is found in humbling oneself, of the willingness to become the last so you may serve the least. It is to accept that power is not found in power over but in the ability to serve and uplift, not as an act of sympathetic charity but as an act of empathy for those we are connected to, our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is to accept the fact that this world which lives by the directive that you should get your own piece of the pie, will mock you for your intent to become a servant, may even become threatening to you because your way of living dissipates their power base, may emotionally, spiritually or even physically try to beat you into submission and silence you with the threat of crucifixion.
So tell me, why would anyone want to be baptized with this baptism of Christ, or to drink of his cup when it may lead to such a life? Let me ask you another faith question. What do you ultimately believe your life is for? Why do you think that God placed you in this world at this particular place and time? What’s your destiny? Was your life simply an accident-a probability of a sperm and egg colliding and your simply being spewed out into the world to make the best of it you can? Like our new, young candidates, is life about getting your share of the glory? What you can get from life? OR could it be that God, plucked your soul from the realm of eternity and placed you on this world for such an incredibly short time to help save God’s creation?
In faith, I believe God has shown us that there is only one way to bring salvation to this great gift of creation. Jesus said, “There is no greater love than the willingness of one to lay down their life for another.” Jesus also said, “There is nothing in this world greater than love, not even death.” Today Jesus said, “I shall drink from this cup and lay down my life for all of God’s creation so it may be redeemed.”
When we answer the call of Jesus, it is with the willingness to indeed be on Jesus’ right or left side even if that means hanging on a cross beside him for the sake of bring salvation to the world. There’s real glory and power. That the last is willing to become the least and the servant of all that salvation may come to this world.
The salvation of this world will not be found in sending troops to protect borders to keep out caravans of immigrants. Redemption will not be found in the patriot view of America First. The kingdom of God will never be attained by self protectionism or the lording of power over another.
Are you willing to be baptized in Christ’s baptism and drink the same cup as Jesus did? Sacrifice, any sacrifice you make whether it be of your time or resources, your emotional, spiritual or physical energies; any sacrifice you make that brings hope to the least of these that uplifts the soul of another, brings this world one step closer to salvation.
And remember, if you have any issues with my perspective this morning, the complaint department is sitting right over there.