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Left, Right, All In.

Pentecost 22, Common Lectionary Year B

Mark 10:32-45

©2018 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Ruth Jones

Sermon audio file

Scripture audio file


For about four years now I’ve been niggled
by a valid question,
“What’s the ask?”
It pops up every year at this time as we prepare
the annual “Stewardship Packet.”
My job in this process is to write
a short, sweet, suitably inspiring message
that some of you may even read,
that “makes the case”
for why each one of us should choose
to spend an iota of our time,
a tenth of our talent,
a percentage of our income, or pension,
on Cedar Park United Church.

I’ve come up with a number of answers over the years I’ve been your Minister:
“making the ask” to create a more solid fiscal foundation for ministry
to address the deferred maintenance of our building through the Five Year Plan,
to make the case for funding part-time staff positions for Families and Youth,
and for Seniors.
Those are tangible, quantifiable, real,
and we all know what a difference they’ve made
in how we’ve been able
to live more fully into the Dream of God.

But every year the question niggles,
because I simply can’t imagine Jesus
writing or saying any of that.

This year, that’s clearer still,
with the blunt Gospel of Mark,
and this passage, right on cue, where
two of Jesus’ closest disciples get it hopelessly wrong in their attempt to get it right. Ouch!

Jesus’ answer to the brothers and the rest of the disciples gets me right in the heart.

I imagine myself,
a child of Zebedee, sibling of James and John,
taking Jesus aside, and saying
“Jesus, I don’t want to sit at your right or your left in glory, truly,
but what you can do for me, us,
is you write the stewardship letter this year,….. please?
Tell me, “what’s the ask” for this coming year?

The eye roll, the deep breath, the sigh, the turn towards me.
“You really have no idea?
You know the answer, Jones!
First, no I won’t write your letter, do it yourself,
and second, don’t beat about the bush,
I didn’t, and don’t you dare!”

I stare at the blank screen,
and I can hear that Jesus whisper,
slightly louder than my own doubt:

“You know it’s not about Cedar Park being successful, (whatever that means)
it’s not about how hard or easily you all
can pay for your staff,
or how quickly you repay the Trust Fund loan,
it’s not even about counting the number of people you will feed with your new kitchen,
nor how many receive healing treatments on a given Monday…
It’s not about these…. things, this stuff, the tangible, marketable programmes,
about data, and pie charts,
it’s not even about bubbles!
Don’t, Jones, get suckered by the wrong question!
Tell them what you know, in your heart.
That’s all you’ve got.”

Okay, here goes.

I know this.
Jesus, the Human One, came
“not to be served, but to serve,
and to give his life, totally, for the sake of the world.”
I know that in my heart,
it’s taken over my life, my commitments,
and I’m all in with that.
That’s the only Christ I know or can follow.

That’s why I’m here at Cedar Park, with you,
living this call,
this life of service
to the Dream of God
with you.

That’s why we’re here.
Who knows what brought us here,
habit, longing, decision, curiosity, need,
because our parents sat here before us,
or because we’re brand new and searching for a place to belong. It doesn’t matter.
We’re here to be the people of God
who follow the Way of Jesus, the Human One,
who came not to be served, but to serve.

We’re here not to be served,
not to be convinced by a good advertising campaign,
not to be seduced by the promise
of what’s in it for us to the right or the left
of glory and expectation.

We are here to serve,
for as much
and as long as it takes
for the world to be healed,
for the little ones to be loved,
the lost ones to be found,
for the broken to be mended,
for the hungry to be fed,
for the homeless to be given home and hope,
for the jobless to be given a future with dignity,
for the Dream of God to come true for people other than us.
That’s it.
There’s no bigger “ask” than that, is there?!

“Tell them what you know in your heart, Jones”
I know this, we’re up for it, Cedar Park United,
all of us ordinary Marys and Pats and Douglases,
and Gails, and Jeannies, and Charlies,
being called by this life-giving Jesus
to serve with all that we’ve been given.
With every single breath,
every talent we have,
with every fibre of our being,
and with what wealth of heart, soul,
body, mind and pocket we may possess.
We’re good for it. I know we are.
To be not right, not left, but all in.

For us ordinary folk to take on this extraordinary
call and vision of God,
I’m inviting you to take time between now and November 11
to look deeply at the world’s needs through the eyes and heart of God?
Will you take time to see what you,
each one of you in your households,
feel most passionately called to be and do
to meet the world’s deep need with
your own deep gladness? [1]
your own talents, and passions,
your own un-scratchable itch
to make a world of difference?

There are two forms in your packet,
take them, and write your life
and heart and soul onto them,
for the sake of this aching, hurting world.

In the weeks to come,
as you return your forms,
I, or one of the Stewardship response team
will get to have a holy conversation with you,
so that we can
deeply, and faithfully,
discern the call of God to Cedar Park United,
not to be served, but to serve the world,
going into 2019 and towards 2020.

I’m all in, I hope you’ll be too,
as God gifts and enables you.

[1] “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.

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