Sermons from St. Martin-in-the-Fields:
Sep 19, 2021 |
Struggle and Sacrifice| The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel
Struggle and Sacrifice
Sermon by the Rev. Jarrett Kerbel for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20. Today's readings are:
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Readings may be found on LectionaryPage.net: https://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost...
Please join me in the spirit of prayer.
Lord God, draw near to us as we draw near to you. Lord God, grant us the gift of your saving wisdom once again, so that we may know the gentleness and kindness of your word in our hearts. In Christ’s Name we pray, Amen.
Please be seated.
We have been in a stretch of the Gospel of Mark that’s raw and hard. Two weeks ago we had the Syrophoenician woman and the horrible words Jesus exchanged with her, and her subtle words that cracked open the good news for all gentiles. Last week we had the ferocious exchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus revealed who he was: the messiah who would suffer, die, and rise, and there was all that rebuking back and forth in the community, which helps us understand why we are scared to ask questions. This week we have this next raw passage where the disciples, the founding generation of our faith, are caught out looking embarrassed, looking and actually missing the point. And I always ask myself when I’m in this raw section of work “what’s going on?”
One thing that’s going on is the cross has been revealed, and when the cross is revealed, the tension goes up. The story becomes unsettling: this is life and death now. The other thing that’s so interesting to me is where’s the editor? You would think that someone would edit this story. What movement leaves in these kinds of stories about the founding generation? You would think there would be an editor with a public relations point of view. There is none, and all the embarrassing stuff stay in. The embarrassing stories stay in. The struggle stays in the story. And we can imagine that in all these decades when the stories were passed around in the budding community of the early church, the subjects of those stories were there. Peter, John and Andrew got to hear these stories about themselves, and their relatives and friends got to hear them. “Oh, there’s Uncle Peter being dense again.” “There goes Cousin Andrew, boy did he get that wrong.” I think in this lies the hint in why these stories are included.
Remember in the beginning of the gospel Jesus is only teaching his disciples. He’s only in a community with his disciples when he teaches. What does that tell you? It tells you that this embarrassing story was passed on by the disciples. They told this story among themselves, and that fact is crucial. That means that these disciples understood finally what Jesus was teaching at some point, because they were able to accept the sacrifice of embarrassment, the sacrifice of a little humility, for the good of the community, who needed to hear these stories. Because the struggle of the early church is the same struggle of our discipleship now. The struggle to understand what is hard to understand. The struggle to enter this way of Jesus that’s hard to understand in the actual practice of our lives. So the disciples gave us a gift in their sacrifice. “Yes, tell these embarrassing stories about me, because it will help the community. It’s going to help the community that’s learning to sacrifice and learning to struggle.”
We continue down that path of struggle and sacrifice, learning how to live this path that Jesus has offered us as the path of life, and we see both points in this gospel. They didn’t ask Jesus after his second revelation of his death and resurrection because they were scared to bring up their ignorance. And then, as if proving that they aren’t getting what Jesus is teaching by arguing on the way about who will be greatest, and who is going to be the top of the heap in the new kingdom, Jesus very gently calls them out and corrects them. He calls them to lives of service first. – “where the first be the last and the last be the first” - and then pushes them even further by picking up a child, and showing the child as a lesson to them about how to be in the community.
See, the disciples are struggling to take an order, fully knowing that that’s the mystery from death to life: that there is a demotion involved here; that we are called to lives out of glory of service; not of status but of dependence. And I want to be clear with this point that for Jesus, service is not servility. Service is not servility, and sacrifice is not self-hatred. These are common misconceptions promoted oftentimes by the church, but service is not servility and sacrifice is not self-hate. Quite the opposite: both are participation in the goodness of Christ. Both are participation in the way of Jesus and they bring out the good in us that is good for others, and the awareness that what’s good for others is what’s good for us. It’s only when we drop our ego-centric notion of ourselves as the center and begin to live for others that we fully understand that what is good is shared; what is good for me is what is good for you. And so in that understanding servility and self-hatred are not part of the story, rather a liberation is part of the story. A liberation into the story of Christ himself, who gives all in service, to reveal the goodness in the love of God for us.
I believe this teaching is utterly crucial to us. The simple act of asking people to sacrifice by putting on a mask, the simple act of asking people to sacrifice to take the vaccine, has proven so challenging to so many people that we are living with Covid long past when perhaps we should have, and many tens of thousands of people have died, because of a deep unwillingness to sacrifice and to serve the other. This is a humbling and sobering moment in our National life where many of us are standing back and saying “what is missing, that we can’t take such simple measures for the common good?”
Just as an aside I want to say that I’m so proud of St. Martin because our community has shown that willingness to make those small sacrifices for the common good, and that inspired me as a Christ-like work by everyone here during the last 18 months, and you need to be given thanks for that. But the larger issue still remains. Why can’t we understand sacrifice? Why have we lost that virtue? And it haunts me even more because more sacrifice is to be required. It is the calling of communities like us to witness and lead and teach that sacrifice, because the world will need more.
When we think about climate change, we can think and hope that technology will bail us out. There’s one scenario where if we have enough Teslas, we can take the superhighways and we’ll all be happy. I would love that to be true. I really hope that’s how it goes. But all indications are to me that we will need some level of sacrifice to save the planet and save humanity, and our communities have a special role to tell that story, because that story that Jesus told about being betrayed, handed over, killed and risen is not just an alternative story. It’s not just another way of thinking. It’s not just a counter-narrative. It is the event that changed reality itself, and set us free to be a different kind of person, to be a different kind of community, that can make startling choices to serve and to sacrifice and to struggle together because we know through faith that we are part of this new world that Christ is creating, and that that world serves the good of all. Amen.
Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained from One License with license #A-701187. All rights reserved.
Video, photographs, and graphics by the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Episcopal Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, 8000 St. Martin's Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19118. 215.247.7466. https://www.stmartinec.org