Proper 25B, October 18, 2015

October 19, 2015

Living Large
Mark 10:35-45

35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

I have had the good fortune of not having to deal with an overabundance of success in my life. This probably isn’t what you are hoping to hear from the pastor of a church that’s currently experiencing some significant financial strain, but it’s true. I’m not a professional failure – in fact I feel pretty good about what I’ve been able to do in the various places to which I’ve been appointed, but I’ve never performed in a manner that has been overly impressive to our institutional leaders.

I say I’m fortunate in that way because I’ve never really had to struggle with an over-inflated sense of self-importance. I’ve never been lead to believe that I was God’s gift to the United Methodist Church and had to deal with the egotistical demons that come with that territory. It could still happen. The Newport Miracle may take place in 2016, and if it does I’m sure I’ll become overly impressed with the role I’ve played and it may be that I’ll have to learn how to deal with some new types of sin.

It’s not that I don’t have any demons to wrestle with, but I just don’t have that variety of demons that comes with massive adoration.You might say I understand the sin of envy more than the sin of pride, but I’m sure I could go there, and I’m willing to deal with a new set of sins. Arrogance isn’t my default fault, but if our attendance were to double I’m sure my ego would readjust to a higher sense of self-importance. Like James and John, I’d be wanting to have that conversation with Jesus about where I might best fit in the kingdom of God.

So that’s why I think of myself as being blessed with moderate success in ministry and in life. Now I’ve had a taste of lime-light, and I’ve had some nice photo-opportunities with some A-list people, but I’ve never had trouble keeping myself in perspective. Maybe God has been watching out for me in that way, but in all honestly, I think I can take most of the credit for that myself.

For example, a few years ago Sharla and I went to Boston for a vacation, and before we went I was telling my cousin and her husband about our trip, and they said, oh, you’ve got to go to a Red Sox game and have some clam-chowder at Fenway Park. This wasn’t on our list of things to do, but they said they knew someone with the organization and that they could get us some tickets. It sounded great to me, and I talked Sharla in to going, so they lined it up for us.

My cousin told us to go to the VIP window to pick up our tickets, which felt a little out of place for us, but we did, and sure enough there were tickets waiting for us. We went where we were told, and in order to get to our seats we went through this nice club room, and we emerged into the stadium in this elevated and canopied area that was directly behind home plate. After finding our seats we actually went back down in to the more public area of the ball-park to get something to eat and drink because we didn’t want to pay the prices of the club menu.

When we got back to our seats we noticed that our area was serviced by a waiter, and before long he came and asked if we wanted anything. We didn’t want to be too cheap so we ordered something to drink and some clam chowder, and when I gave him my credit card he said he didn’t need it because the seats we were in were covered by Larry Lucchino.

We didn’t know who Larry Lucchino was, but we were grateful, and soon our neighbor asked us how we knew Larry. We explained how we got the tickets and that we had no idea who Larry Lucchino was, and he explained to us that Larry Lucchino was the CEO and General Manager of the team. And that sort of changed everything for us. I was already having a good time, but I began to have an even better time. I probably shouldn’t own up to this, but I have clear memory that the price of a beer was $8.50, which was a very moderating factor for me, but that suddenly went away.

By the middle of the game I had become great friends with many of the people sitting around us, and I’m sure our conversation was filled with impressive details of our lives in Arkansas. I was living large. The waiter came out at the beginning of the 8th inning and announced that the restaurant and bar was closing, but he leaned down and said that didn’t apply to us, so I took full advantage of that by buying a final beer for a couple of people sitting around us.

Soon after that Larry Lucchino, himself, came out and sat down with us. I felt like I was in the presence of baseball royalty, but that didn’t keep me from talking. I began talking to him like we were old friends at a reunion until all of a sudden a batter hit a hot foul ball that went straight from the bat to Larry Lucchino’s forehead.

I don’t know if he could have dodged or stopped the ball if he had been paying attention to the game – I never saw the ball until it hit him in the head. But I instantly felt like I had been a huge distraction to him. I certainly hadn’t helped protect him from the ball. A couple of guys suddenly appeared and ushered him away for medical attention, and I felt horrible about the situation. I was haunted by the thought of how much better it would have been if I had reached over and saved the CEO and General Manager of the Boston Red Sox from that blow instead of contributing to the circumstances that lead to his injury.

I left Fenway Park with a terrible sense of regret. I had an opportunity to be the hero, and I felt like the goat. He had provided us with this tremendous sense of hospitality, and I had caused him to go home with what the news reported as a detached retina. I texted my cousin about what had happened and they thought I was joking until they had the story confirmed by Larry Lucchino’s wife.

That really was an unfortunate turn of events, and I hate that he got hurt in the way he did. I still wish I could have been the hero, but what I also know is that it’s not the great successes we have in life that put us in touch with the source of true life.

I’m currently reading a book called Falling Upward, by a man named Richard Rohr. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan monk, and he is in high demand as a speaker and teacher. He has what many consider to be a profound understanding of spiritual truth, and in particular of how Jesus taught us to live in relationship with God. I’m oversimplifying his message when I say this, but Richard Rohr believes that its our failures and our various forms of inner restlessness that motivate us to seek understanding, and often it’s our outward successes that cause us to remain distracted from that which is deeply real.

Rohr believes that God hides in the depths, and that we will never find true comfort and satisfaction if we remain on the surface of life. In this book I’m reading he talks a lot about the first half of our lives as compared to the second half of our lives. On some level that breaks down in to the early part of our lives and the later years of our lives, but I don’t think he would describe these two halves of our lives as being strictly chronological. He knows we all have to spend a good amount of our time seeking to establish and maintain our physical lives, but that it’s often when our outward lives are disrupted that we begin to seek an inner life, and that it’s the inner life that provides us with the greatest satisfaction.

James and John weren’t yet full of understand of how God’s kingdom is structured when they began asking Jesus for places of honor in his kingdom. They were thinking that God’s kingdom is like every other kingdom on earth, where there is clear ranking about who is most important and who is of the least consequence, but that isn’t how it works in the kingdom of God.

In the kingdom of God, it’s the people who are the least regarded on earth that have the easiest access to the deepest truth. Now nobody has automatic access. People can remain ignorant of the way God operates in our lives regardless of their station in life, but Jesus didn’t want us to be confused about who is greatest in the Kingdom of God. He didn’t want us to think that God rewards us in the same way that the world rewards us.

This isn’t easy territory to navigate. The desire to be successful in life is not a bad thing. We all enjoy a higher quality of life because there are people who are driven to do things well, but success in life has a cost, and failure has it’s rewards.

Jesus wants us to live large in a truly grand way. He wants us to find our way in to the kingdom of God and to experience the true richness of life. James and John weren’t wrong to want to abide in important places in the kingdom of God – but they didn’t know what they were asking.

I hope to be a success as the pastor of this church. I hope we experience the kind of growth we need that will enable us to pay all of our bills and to expand our work in the community. But I hope we will never be so impressed with what we do that we forget to go where God abides – which is not in the numbers or in the headlines – it’s in the depths. God’s kingdom isn’t like any other kingdom. It doesn’t shine on the surface, but it provides us with nourishment from the deep, and it’s only by the grace of of God that we find it.

It’s hard not to seek success in conventional ways, but its often when we stumble that we connect with that which is most real, most lasting, and most satisfying. The Kingdom of God is beautiful in that way.
Thanks be to God. Amen.DSC00169


2 Responses to “Proper 25B, October 18, 2015”

  1. Earl Jones Says:

    We so look forward to your posts of your weekly sermon, but nearly not as much as we miss not seeing you in the pulpit.

  2. twmurray Says:

    Thanks Earl!
    I’ll be joining Jack and other family members in Fayetteville this weekend, so you won’t find a sermon next week, but I’ll get back to work soon. Thanks for your kind words!

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