The Sunday Sermon: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 22, 2019
Scripture: Mark 10:35-44
Last week we were “gathered in.” Odd as it’s always is after September starts, we began a new ministry year just a few weeks ago on Rally Day. We’ve let summer go as Sunday School classes begin again and we set our sights on the Fall. The days are growing shorter and (will be soon be growing) cooler. We’re setting our sights on some of the most important seasons and events in our lives together as we move toward Advent and another new Church Year. So, “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” we gathered in last week.
This morning, we’re “ordering up.” And, no, this sermon message will have nothing to do with brunch. You’ll have to wait a few more minutes for that “ordering up” if you’re headed there. This morning, we’re “ordering up” our lives. Given who we are, given whose we are, given who we’ve accepted into our hearts, we have some “ordering up” to do.
Pray with me …
Again, last week … I shared a personal story about my being “gathered in” by a ten year old, still my dear friend from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – Matt Re. I want to share another personal story with you this morning about my “ordering up,” about a lazy afternoon in the summer of 1976 when, though I really had no idea, I submitted to something profoundly counter-cultural. We all have a story like this, whether we know it or not. We have a story like this, because we’re all here, in the church, professing a Christian faith. Whether we’ve ordered our lives according or not, we all have this story, or will have it. Here’s mine …
When I finished the fifth grade, helped along by my buddy Matt, I spent a week at a summer church camp in Northwest Pennsylvania. It was a United church of Christ camp in Milford, Pennsylvania called Hartman Center. Now, I believe I mentioned last week that I was a shy, sensitive boy. And as my parents and brothers drove away on this June Sunday afternoon, I started to get very homesick. (And Matt wasn’t’ around!). I don’t remember much about the late afternoon, our first meal on the Slab or Opening night campfire Vespers, but as we all made our way back to the canvas Hogans that would house us that week, I was crying. Not sobbing, but I was teary, missing my parents and even my older brother. (It was that bad.)
And that evening two more people came into my life in a deep way. My counselor, Kerry Lieb, who I had met at check in, of course, came over and sat on my bed with me and the boy who was sleeping closest to me, his head and mine pushed up together on the Hogan wall, sat up and joined us. His name was Buddy. I can’t remember his last name, and Buddy was probably not his first, but that’s what he went by. Kerry had his bible and offered a prayer. And it turns our Buddy and I both played Little League baseball and we talked about that until I fell asleep that first night.
Now, that’s the set-up to the real story I want to share. I don’t remember the next few days to much, though they were full of swimming, arts and crafts, field games, meals, and nightly Vespers. But my deeper memory picks up again on Thursday. You see, among the many activities for us campers in a very full week was a raft ride down the (mostly) lazy Juniata River. I found out later his happened every week, every camp, every year, but this was my first experience. We took about a forty-five minute bus ride up the river, stopped, had lunch, inflated the rafts, were assigned a group, and put in.
Turns out I was in a raft with five other 5th and 6th graders, including Buddy, and our adult was my Hogan counselor, Kerry. Just downriver from where we put in was a train bridge that crossed the river and all the counselors knew that the only rapids on any sort on this trip was under one of the arches closer to the far shoreline. So everyone headed for that pass through and there was a flurry of paddling some yelling back and forth. We got through it, under the bridge, not first, but not last, bunched up with the other rafts, everybody laughing. And soon enough, as the river slowed down, the rafts separated from each other and we let the slow current do most of the work.
On a particularly lazy bend in our course, with the excitement of our launch and the faster rapids behind us, Kerry, starting talking about Jesus and our relationship with God. Could we talk about it in any way? Could we share it, if someone asked? I don’t remember much about our responses, probably because as fifth and sixth graders we didn’t have much of a verbal response. I do remember we talked a bit with one another, and I remember how we ended our “deep” discussion, how Kerry ended it. He asked us if we had invited Christ “into our hearts.” And then we prayed in a formal “head’s bowed, hands folded, eyes closed” way, we prayed. I peeked and very distinctively remember all other heads, five of them, lowered.
The raft ride ended, the last full day at camp happened on Friday and on Saturday when my parents and brothers picked me up I didn’t want to say a word to any them. Every question seemed to put me further away from a week I wanted to keep living, including that prayer on the river.
That’s my story. In the summer after my fifth grade year, nineteen seventy-six, largely unbeknownst to me, I ordered, or re-ordered, my life in a profoundly counter-cultural way. The truth is, I had no idea about any of that. But, that doesn’t make it any less true.
Listen for the Word of God. Read Mark 10:35-45. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
In the summer of my tenth year, I re-ordered my life in a profoundly counter-cultural way. This reading, this text, suggests the shape of the life we are to lead once we pray a prayer like the one I prayed on the Juniata River in nineteen seventy-six. We begin to embody an alternative to what most of the world around us offers.
The way of the cross, Jesus affirms in this reading, is the way of resistance to a “Domination System,” a system which is characterized by power exercised over other, by control of others, by ranking as the primary principle of social organization, by hierarchies of dominant and subordinate, winners and losers, insiders and outsiders, honored and shamed. Jesus calls us, individually and as a community of faith, in our life together, to offer an alternative to those ways of (the world) and to bear the suffering that comes as a result. We are set free (ransomed Mark says in verse forty-five), from the world then, so we might become faithful disciples and take up this way of resistance. (Feasting on the Word, year B vol. 4, 193).
Is that what Kerry asked us to do as we floated down the Juniata that summer? Not exactly. Again, the truth is, sitting in the raft on that river praying as I peeked out, I had little or no idea about any of that ordering and re-ordering of my life, about what was ahead. But, that doesn’t make my commitment any less genuine. Or any of yours, either …
Here we sit with one another, week after week, only one congregation of hundreds in Oldham County, thousands in Kentucky, tens of thousands in our country, and who knows how many around the world – here we sit as different and disparate as a small group of boys and girls in a raft in my memory with only one definite thing in common: Some sense of the “ordering of life” according to the life and teachings of a human we call Christ. We are Republicans and Democrats, political liberals and conservatives, religious traditionalists and progressives, wealthy and not-so wealthy, educated and not-as educated, white collar, blue collar, urban, suburban, and rural all gathered in one place because at some point or another, whether we remember it or knew what it meant when we said it, we asked Jesus’ Way to be our Way, we asked to be saved – to be ransomed – from the ways of a world that could otherwise destroy us. We ordered up our lives in a profoundly counter-cultural way.
I wasn’t here on Labor Day Sunday, but I understand our dear friend Wayne Willis preached a sermon, in part, about how this disparate group and ones like it around the world gather at the Communion Table whenever we do with all our differences overcome by the one thing we all have in common: the “ordering up” of our lives to God’s Will in Jesus of Nazareth. We try to remember that order every time we have Communion together – take eat and remember, take drink and remember. And we try to remember on mid-September Sunday morning when a preacher tells us a story and we read scripture like Mark 10. Oh, we may forget in the times in-between. We grouse about what others have said or how they’ve behaved, what they’ve done or not done, but … we’re here again, sitting next to or two seats over or three pews behind those who we don’t know as well as we could, or understand fully, or even agree with on many issues. We’re here again “ordering up.”
Jesus’ response to James and John in our reading is consistent with his response at all other times to those who follow him and it should be the way we respond to one another and the wider world whenever any of us get a little of track. Despite the inappropriateness of their question, Jesus does not rebuke James and John. He accepts their words, that they can drink his cup and be baptized with his baptism, but points them in a new direction. The disciple’s relationship to Jesus is imperfect. Our relationship to one another is no less flawed. But though we all may be slow learners, ambitious, and selfish, we nevertheless continue to follow. Our relationship is imperfect but it is also unbroken.
We criticize and chastise the imperfections of Jesus’ first century disciples as we read about them, especially in Mark. But at least they were perceptive enough to be alarmed about what they were being asked to do, who they were being asked to become. We should be, too. The lazy river raft rides are only one small part of the life we are supposed to live. Getting right with God by coming to Jesus is not simply a basic factor in an orderly life. It is ordered life. Life ordered up by Love incarnate. Asking Christ into our hearts is, or will be, disruptive, and will lead to a life of a costly outpouring of our life for one another – no matter how different we are; a life of sacrifice and a care not for the self, but for the “other” and the larger community. Pray again with me …
God – come into our hearts again through Christ and make us aware of your presence so our lives may be ordered up to meet your lofty will and the Way of our Lord.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / September 22, 2019