Loving it All

Public domain

Synopsis: What does it mean to have eternal hope? It means to know who we are and to unconditionally love ourselves, others, and all of the wonderful challenges life brings to help our souls grow.

Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Our epistle reading for today comes from Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians. Paul wrote this after he heard from Chloe’s people that there were problems in the church. In it, he addresses challenges to his authority, divisions within the church, unethical behavior, and issues regarding spiritual gifts.

In our selected reading, he is dealing with a doctrine issue. Some believers in the Corinthian church questioned the resurrection. Some of the believers were Jewish, and not all Jews believed in the resurrection. It was a major bone of contention between the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Other believers were Greek, and they were strongly influenced by Plato’s teachings which separated the human being into two parts: body and soul. Plato taught that the body is merely an imperfect copy of a perfect form which has always existed.

So, the Greeks tended to view the body with some degree of negativity, ranging from unimportant to evil. The idea of the resurrection of the body was not-so-appealing to them since their attitude was basically, “I can’t wait to die and be rid of this thing.”

The Jews, however, didn’t like separating people into parts. They emphasized the wholeness of who we are, and that viewpoint carried over into the Christian church. So, in this chapter, Paul discusses the doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection as well as the resurrection of all believers on the last day.

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” By making this statement, Paul begins to clarify his claim that through Christ, our hope extends into all eternity. First, he has us consider what hope we would have if it were true that Jesus was not raised from the dead.

I was taught by the church of my youth that only Jesus is the Christ and that we have only this life to believe in Jesus the right way if we want a chance to get into heaven when we die. Luckily, I was a member of the only church that had it right.

I didn’t find that very comforting because I kept thinking, “How do I know for sure that my church has it right? What about all of those other churches in the world that think they have it right? How can we know for sure who is right? Why would God make something so important so confusing?”

Those who believe that only Jesus is the Christ believe only for this life, hoping to gain reward and avoid punishment in the hereafter. It’s no wonder they so zealously protect the beliefs they think are their “ticket to heaven.” I would have to agree with Paul that their state is indeed pitiable.

It is pitiable because they are living in fear! They are already in hell because they don’t understand that belief in Christ isn’t about believing in who the man Jesus was; it’s about believing in who we ALL are now and for all eternity.

If Jesus did not resurrect, then Christ is dead, and so are we. Fortunately, that is impossible, and that’s a fact of life. As Paul writes, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” Life can’t die and still be Life because Life is by definition alive. As Martin Luther has stated, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in the books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”

God as pure Being has always existed. Life as His Expression has also always existed. Christ is the Soul of Life. It follows then that if we are alive, then Christ is alive within us. Our soul is One with Christ. This knowledge makes us aware of our eternal life and gives us eternal hope.

Paul compares believers in Christ who have died to the first fruits of the crop after a long, hard winter. The choicest first fruits were offered to God to be blessed, but they were just the beginning of the abundance to come. All who place their faith in Christ from the time of Jesus’ resurrection until the time of his return are part of this abundance – the harvest of God’s Kingdom.

In verses 21-23, Paul writes, “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”

Death came through a human being. We all know that Paul is referring to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 1. Unfortunately, the literal interpretation of that Bible story has left many with the mistaken idea that we separated from God in actuality, and a woman is to blame.

We can interpret this story another way – though the lens of the evolution of human consciousness. Everything in life must evolve in order for life to continue, and Life provides whatever is needed for this evolution to occur. It’s a perfect, self-sustaining system.

Our human consciousness must evolve just like everything else in Life. Before the development of the cerebral cortex part of the brain, humans were not capable of saying to themselves, “Hey! I exist!” They had no self-awareness – no sense of “self” to worry about. That was the bliss of the Garden of Eden.

But over time, the cerebral cortex developed, and human beings became self-aware, symbolized by Adam and Eve taking a bite of the apple and suddenly becoming aware of their nakedness. God asks in verse 11, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” Now, I’m sure God, in his omniscience, didn’t really need to ask.

Since Life must evolve, human development of self-awareness wasn’t a surprise or a mistake. It’s just a troublesome stage in consciousness development – like when babies become toddlers. Suddenly, they know just enough to get themselves into big trouble but not nearly enough to stay out of it. They have no wisdom, and the only way to gain wisdom is through experience – and experience is often painful.

Parents can’t stop their children from growing up, and they can’t protect their children from all the painful experiences they need to grow in wisdom. If you’ve had children, you knew your little baby boy or girl was eventually going take those first steps. When it happened, you were overjoyed, but at the same time you probably felt like, “Uh-oh. Now we are in trouble.” I think that’s the sentiment behind God’s question.

In ancient Greek mythology, the Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail, is the symbol for eternity, rebirth, and the unity of everything. It’s a symbol for the Cycle of Life. So, Eve did not sin when she listened to the serpent. The serpent was simply the Cycle of Life within her moving her evolution forward into the next stage – the development of a personal self.

You see, in the Garden of Eden, All is One. Adam and Eve experienced the bliss of this Unity, but they didn’t experience it knowingly. They were blissfully ignorant. Our task is to become blissfully knowing – to both experience and know this Oneness. We can’t know oneness without also knowing separation – just like we can’t know “hot” without “cold.” So, it was necessary to leave the Garden and enter into a world where we can experience separation.

When I was struggling with severe anxiety, I saw a picture of myself as a baby playing with a little tug-boat with an expression of complete joy on my face. I was in a state of total bliss! I wondered, “What happened to me? Where did all that joy go? Why am I so miserable now?”

Now, I know why. I had not yet developed a sense of self to worry about. Then at some point in childhood, we all begin to realize that we have a private inner world of thoughts and feelings. As we grow up, we take on beliefs about ourselves regarding our gender, nationality, race, religion, social status, occupation, and many more burdens.

We start out as infants having only a few demands from life – food, milk, warmth, and a clean diaper. But as we grow older, we place more and more demands on life. Our false beliefs about ourselves and the many demands we place on life cause us suffering. Yet, this suffering is what wakes us up! It’s the grist for our spiritual mill.

The Lord, through his great love for all humanity, willingly sacrificed himself to show us the way out. He loved us so much that he wanted to be the last human being on this planet to ever experience suffering. Since his loving sacrifice, many have followed him – a harvest of ripe souls.

Paul writes in verses 24-26, “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Once we have transcended the mind of me and enter into the Mind of Christ, we can no longer sin because we know that we are One. We know that whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves. That awareness destroys sin. Love is only true ruler, authority, and power. When Love rules, no other ruler, authority, or power will exist. And when Love rules, the idea of “the enemy” will be destroyed because there is no such thing.

Death is real only to those who believe that they are nothing more than human. Birth is just as much an illusion as death. The forms coming into and going out of the physical realm is not birth and death. It is simply the snake eating its tail – the Cycle of Eternal Life.

We are triune beings of body-mind-soul. All three parts are eternally united in Christ. But what about the body? Don’t we shed the body when we leave this physical world?

Well, after Jesus resurrected, he had a body, but it wasn’t like the body he had before. It was different. He could instantly change his appearance if he wanted to disguise or reveal himself. He could appear or disappear at will. But remember there was a time before his death when his body was different: on the day of his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in the presence of Peter, James, and John.

Does that mean that this body is an imperfect copy of a perfect form? Perhaps. But I don’t agree with the Greek Corinthians that this imperfect body isn’t important or that it is evil. It’s like looking at your reflection in the mirror. If you hate your reflection, how can you not hate yourself? Hatred corrodes the quantity and quality of life, so we must unconditionally love the whole package of who we are.

What does this mean for us in these times? We must leave behind all thoughts of separation – of you and me – and begin thinking only in terms of “us” – “us” meaning all humanity. What we need most today is compassion – compassion for ourselves and for others – because we’re all in this mess together.

Life is wonderful! And it’s messy. It’s a wonderful mess! It’s wonderful because we are magnificent, eternal beings who cannot ultimately be harmed by anything that happens to us here. It’s all good because it’s all opportunities for the soul to learn and grow. Our souls are in very good hands.

It’s messy because we’re all in different places on the path to Christ Consciousness. Some of us are further along than others. Our different beliefs and values can be far more accurately blamed on this than on anything else – like race, religion, or politics.

We cut young people slack when they do stupid things because we can see that they are young. We can easily forgive them because we understand that they don’t have the wisdom to act differently. But we can’t see where anyone’s soul is on the ages-long path to Christ consciousness.

Just because someone is old doesn’t mean he or she has an old soul, and a young person doesn’t necessarily have a young soul. We can all probably think of a child who seems wise beyond his or her years and a grown-up who we think should be old enough to know better.

So, when we hear someone spewing negativity, fear, or hatred or we see him or her acting in hurtful ways, instead of entertaining judgmental thoughts, we can think to ourselves, “It must feel awful to be so unhappy all the time.” Or “It must be really painful to be haunted by all that fear.” Or “It must really hurt to constantly burn with hatred like that.”

There is nothing we can do to change them. Suffering will wake them up. When they can’t stand the suffering anymore, they may then come to us seeking to know the secret to our peace and joy. Until then, any attempt to change them will only add more suffering to the world.

So, we can cut everyone slack, including ourselves, because we all are all suffering – more or less. And it’s not entirely our fault; it’s by design. Everyone truly is doing the best they can at every moment with the level of wisdom at their disposal. The only choice we have is to be willing to learn whatever WE need to learn to stop causing ourselves and others suffering.

We must also change how we relate to others and life itself by transforming our demands into preferences. When we demand to get what we want or to not get what we don’t want, when we don’t get what we want or get what we don’t want, we get mad. When we don’t get what we simply prefer, we don’t suffer. But when we do get it, we are delighted!

When I demand that someone treat me nicely, when he or she does not, I get mad. But when I simply prefer to be treated nicely, I don’t get mad when he or she doesn’t treat me nicely. But when he or she does treat me nicely, I am delighted!

When I demand that I don’t get stuck in traffic, when I get stuck in traffic. I get mad. But when I simply prefer not to get stuck in traffic, I don’t get mad when I get stuck in traffic. But when I am not stuck in traffic, I am delighted!

You see, having preferences instead of demands makes it so much easier to unconditionally love others and the whole of life because then all people and life can really do to us is delight us! Nothing makes us mad. Then it’s easy to remain united with All of Life because we’re not pushing pieces of it outside ourselves in order to make them objects of manipulation – to get what we demand.

If we believe that we are One in Christ, then we believe that we are One with all of Life – eternally joined with everything else that is alive, and there is no separation. Then we unconditionally love it all: ourselves, others, and all of the challenges life brings to us to help our souls grow.

So, in every moment of our lives, let us do our best not to choose separation. If we do at times, it’s okay. We’re only human. But let us grow more fully into the awareness of what we are choosing. We are choosing suffering. Thanks be to the Lord; we now know that have another choice.

We can think about love, and talk about love, and preach about love all we want. But peace will come to earth only when we all choose to live love.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to enter into the Mind of Christ. We are willing to release our mistaken ideas about ourselves and our insatiable demands on life and to unconditionally love ourselves, others, and the whole of life. We are willing to experience all our soul has designed for us so that we can turn away from all that keeps us from experiencing the peace and joy of our True Nature. We know that you are always with us, Lord, so we cannot fail. AMEN.

Resources

Carlson, Richard. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:19-26.” Workingpreacher.org, 27 Mar. 2016, www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/resurrection-of-our-lord-3/commentary-on-1-corinthians-1519-26

Donovan, Richard N. “Biblical Commentary (Bible study) 1 Corinthians 15:19-26.” Sermonwriter.org, sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/new-testament-1-corinthians-1519-26/

Keyes, Ken Jr. Handbook to Higher Consciousness. 5th ed. Living Love Center, 1975.

Lake, Gina. “Cycles of the Soul: Life, Death, and Beyond.” Kindle ed.

Moore, J. Daniel. “The Real Meaning of the Garden of Eden — it’s Not at All What You Think.” Medium.com, 6 Nov. 2017, medium.com/the-worldview-of-a-millennial-eccentric/the-real-meaning-of-the-garden-of-eden-72f3292924bc

Ringe, Sharon H. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:19-26.” Workingpreacher.org, 4 Apr. 2010. www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/resurrection-of-our-lord-3/commentary-on-1-corinthians-1519-26-2

Social Media and the Power of No Response

Image attribution: Blogtrepreneur at howtostartablogonline.net

As spiritual people who want to change the world for the better, we may feel emotionally distressed by some of the hurtful posts and comments we see on social media. We may feel an overwhelming urge to respond to them.

We may even feel duty-bound to “set these people straight.”

I admit that on more than one occasion, I have gotten riled up and sucked into conversations with people on social media. Each time, the conversation consumed my energy, destroyed my peace, and didn’t do much at all to set them straight. Now, I believe the best way to respond to a post or comment that upsets us is to not respond at all – to pretend that it isn’t even there.

There is great power in not responding. You see, on social media, people get a high from reactions and comments. Many enjoy a power trip from making people angry. Some may not even believe the stuff they are spewing. They just want a reaction. If we don’t give them what they want, they go away.

I’ve seen many positive, peaceful conversations with a negative or snide comment in the feed, and I absolutely love it when that comment is completely ignored by everyone involved in the conversation like it wasn’t even there. The remark isn’t even given the dignity of a reaction emoji.

That is the most powerful troll repellant there is.

If someone you care about was the target of an offensive post or comment, just post a comment to your friend loaded with lots of unconditional love and support. Don’t make any references to the offensive post; remember, it’s invisible!

We must be very careful not to be deceived by the ego. We are not being loving to ourselves or anyone else by trying to force our point of view on people before they are willing to consider it; we are unwittingly playing the “power game” just like they are. And since we are nicer people, we will probably lose.

It’s best to save our “pearls of wisdom” for those who actively seek them out. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.”

If we feel upset about a post or comment directed toward us, it’s best to go within and ask ourselves what it is about the post or comment that is upsetting us. If it has struck a nerve in us, then there is a belief within us that needs to be healed. The post or comment may have triggered the thought, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” or “You’re not good enough,” or “Your feelings aren’t important.”

Thoughts like these and the strong feelings they generate are usually not about the perfect stranger who made the post or comment. They are reminders of messages we have gotten from someone from our past, and they were not true about us. They were lies then, and they are lies now.

Rather than trying to “set straight” the individual who made the hurtful post or comment, we can use it as a wonderful opportunity to go within, become aware of the old programming that has triggered pain within us, and give ourselves lots of unconditional love and support.

We might say to ourselves, “I am safe and loved,” or “I am good enough just as I am,” or “I am allowed to feel whatever I feel, and it’s always important.” In this way, we set ourselves straight and deepen our own peace of mind and heart in the process.

That is a far wiser and more productive use of our time and energy.

Redeeming the Law of Attraction

“There are those who are now saying that the way Personal Creation is currently being taught has taken a wonderful gift out of a sacred treasure chest and placed it in a store window.”

Walsch, Neale Donald. Happier than God (p. 47). Hay House. Kindle Edition.

Many have become critical of the Law of Attraction because of its association with churches that teach the “Prosperity Gospel” – what critics call the “Gospel of Bling.” I have been among the ones who have been leery of the Law of Attraction for this reason. However, I now believe the Law of Attraction is a God-given tool that we were meant to use even though some unfortunately choose to misuse it.

How can we redeem the Law of Attraction from the Gospel of Bling? Let’s consider why the Law of Attraction works. It works because we all have a spark of the Creator within us, and we share the Creator’s power. Individually, we can’t claim to be the totality of God, just as a drop of water can’t claim to be the entire ocean.

God created us as part of Creation – of All That Is – so everything that exists is already a part of us. It already exists within us, but since we can’t experience all of Creation at once with these limited bodies and minds, we can “attract” what we want to experience through desire.

When we think about what we want and feel what it would be like to have it, we are using the Law of Attraction to draw that experience to ourselves. The opposite is also true. When we think about what we do not want and what it would be like to have that, we are drawing that experience to ourselves.

The Universe doesn’t understand fear, so if we nurture negative thoughts and feelings, the Universe assumes that is what we desire to experience.

The Law of Attraction always works. People who draw to themselves negative experiences aren’t necessarily miscreating. Sometimes, we draw to ourselves the experience of what we DON’T want to bring to ourselves more clarity about what we DO want. This happens a lot with relationships. We draw to ourselves the kinds of relationships we don’t want, clarifying what we do want along the way, and eventually, we attract the kind of relationships we want.

 So, we don’t have to feel bad about attracting the things we don’t want. We can simply bless the experience and use it to fine-tune what we do what.

God created the Law of Attraction so that we could create with Him/Her, but there are those who use it apart from God to serve only themselves. They view God as a genie in a bottle whom they can command. When they do this, they are using God’s gift to serve an idol – their small, personal selves.

They are separating themselves from God because they want things only for themselves without concern for others or even at the expense of others. They can do that if they wish, and they may become rich, but the price is spiritual bankruptcy.

We can redeem the Law of Attraction from the Gospel of Bling by properly using it. To properly use the Law of Attraction, when we desire something, we must desire it not only for ourselves, but also for everyone who needs it. We must also be willing to not receive it if it is not for the good of all. In this way, we are using the power of the entire ocean instead of arrogantly choosing to believe that the little drop that we are is all there is and all that matters.

There is so much needed in our world right now: global access to food and clean water, affordable housing, adequate healthcare, suitable education, good-paying jobs, a COVID-free world, racial justice, national and international peace and harmony, etc. Let us begin to desire what is needed for everyone to thrive in this world and imagine what it would be like if we all had these things. If we do, the world could change very quickly for the better.

Fear Not!

Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Child (1622)

Synopsis: God holds the REAL power, and God reaches out not to the rich and powerful, but to the meek and lowly. Unlike worldly rulers, God seeks not to intimidate, but to offer us comfort and reassurance. We need not fear because God is with us. Like Mary, we have said “YES” to being a vessel through which God’s promises come to fulfillment.

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

“In that region, there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” This is the part of the Christmas story that speaks most to our hearts – that God would choose lowly shepherds to herald the news of Jesus’ coming.

God also chose Mary, a young girl, a handmaiden, to be the vessel through which the Savior would come into this world, and our Lord Jesus would choose poor men from Galilee to be his disciples.

It’s comforting to know that God reaches out not to the rich and powerful, but to the poor and humble. And when God reaches out, the display of his power is awe-inspiring. There were the lowly shepherds in the fields with their flocks in the dark of night, and suddenly the glory of the Lord shone all around them. That same display of glory was seen by Mary when the angel Gabriel visited her, and it would be seen by Jesus’ disciples when he is transfigured.

This is real power – power beyond anything they had seen on earth – so surely, they were afraid. But each time, the response to their fear was the same. The angel who appeared to Mary said to her, “Do not be afraid.” The angel who appeared to the shepherds said to them, “Do not be afraid.” The Lord said to his disciples who had fallen face-down on the ground, “Get up. Do not be afraid.”

The moment fear arose in the presence of God’s power, they were all immediately offered comfort and reassurance. Unlike those with worldly power, God does not wish to intimidate us; God seeks only to love us. Remarkably, the Bible tells us in some way, shape, or form not to be afraid a total of 365 times. I guess you could consider that God’s way of giving us a daily reminder.

We fear people with worldly power – especially those who use it to serve themselves. These people often seek honor and glory, but their fame does not last if God is not with them.

Gaius Octavius succeeded Julius Caesar as the ruler of Rome in 44 B.C. He brought peace to all of Rome by uniting warring factions. To honor this achievement, the Roman Senate conferred on him the title of “Augustus,” which means “great” or “awe-inspiring.” The Roman Empire was born with Augustus crowned its first Emperor.

The “Pax Romana” (or Roman time of peace) lasted from 27 B.C. until Augustus’ death in 14 A.D. It was right in the middle of this period of time that Jesus was born. Yet today, most people wouldn’t be able to tell you who Augustus is. Some might say, “Hmm … that name does ring a bell.”

It rings a bell only because of a single sentence. And that sentence is, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” It’s the first sentence of the greatest story ever told. What’s superbly ironic is that this story is not at all about this worldly ruler who was supposed to be so “great” and “awe-inspiring.”

Augustus and Jesus couldn’t have been more different. One lived in splendor in the capital of the world while the other was born in a stable in a minor colony. Yet 2,000 years later, the world remembers not this eminent Roman Emperor; they remember the lowly child in the manger.

Because you see, after Augustus’ death, other men would assume power – men like Nero and Caligula – men whose names will be synonymous with treachery and cruelty – and the Pax Romana would quickly crumble. The angels introduced the Prince of Peace, the one who brings peace everlasting, a Savior who will continue his saving work throughout human history.

When God is with us – the one who holds the real power – we need not fear. Mary, the most fearless one of all in the nativity story, knew this. When she conceived by the Holy Spirit, she was betrothed to Joseph. Joseph could have refused to take her as his wife in her condition. Then, she could have been not only shamed but also stoned to death by the religious authorities.

She was a woman in a society where men held all the power, but their power was nothing compared to the One who held the real power. So, instead of giving in to her fear, she said “YES.” She fully trusted in God to protect her and to provide for her. She saw herself not as a victim of life, but as a vessel through which God’s promises would come to fulfillment.

When the shepherds came to see the newborn baby, they reported everything the angel had told them, and everyone was amazed. Mary was amazed too. We read in verse 19, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

Mary didn’t know the specifics of God’s plan for her Son. All she knew was that there, lying in that manger, was the Savior of the World, and she would take that journey with him one day at a time.

And here, within our hearts, lies the Savior of the World. God is with us because God is within us. We may feel frustrated with ourselves at times for what we perceive to be our lack of spiritual growth, and we may look at others out there in the world and shake our heads.

But the time of the Christ’s arrival into our hearts and into the hearts of others isn’t up to us. The time is up to God, and we can trust that until then, God will protect us and provide for us because, like Mary, we have said “YES” to being a vessel through which God’s promise of salvation comes to fulfillment.

The rose doesn’t know when it will bloom, but it will indeed bloom when its time has come if it has been fed and pruned, and then it will bless the world with its magnificent beauty and fragrance. In the same way, we don’t know when the Christ will bloom within our hearts or within the hearts of others, but we know it will happen when the time has come according to God’s plan.

We have all come to this place, here and now, at this time in history, for this purpose, and we will be remembered for all time as envoys of the Prince of Peace. So, let us patiently but expectantly take the journey with one another one day at a time without fear because God is far more than just with us; he is within us.

Let’s pray together: Father, we have said “YES” to being the vessel through which your promise of salvation comes to fulfillment. Help us to trust you and be patient with one another as we wait expectantly for the Christ rose to bloom within our hearts and the hearts of all. AMEN.

Resources

“Biblical Commentary (Bible study) Luke 2:1-20.” Sermonwriter.com, sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary-old/luke-21-20/.

Reese, Ruth Ann. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14 [15-20].”WorkingPreacher.org, 24 Dec. 2012, workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/nativity/commentary-on-luke-21-14-or-21-20-2

Blessed Like Mary

Leonardo da Vinci, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: When we ask people, “How are you?” we might hear them respond, “I’m blessed.” Hashtag (#) blessed has become a meme, and “feeling blessed” shows up in many Facebook posts. But is our cultural idea of being blessed so fragile that it is easily shattered by tough times? If so, then perhaps it is a false idea. We can learn from Mary what it truly means to be blessed.

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:46-55

Click here to listen to an audio of this sermon.

When we ask people, “How are you?” we might hear them respond, “I’m blessed.” Hashtag (#) blessed has become a meme, and “feeling blessed” shows up in many Facebook posts. People love to share posts of themselves enjoying exotic vacations or eating delicious-looking food. It’s a thing these days.

There’s nothing wrong with feeling grateful when things are going well – at least in our little corner of the world. But what about when things aren’t going so well? Do we still consider ourselves blessed, or is our idea of being blessed so fragile that it is easily shattered by tough times?

If so, then perhaps it is a false idea. Today, we will learn from Mary what it truly means to be blessed.

Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, who informed her that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, whom she was to name “Jesus.” During this angelic visitation, Mary was also informed that her cousin Elizabeth, who was both elderly and barren, would give birth to a son in only a few months’ time.

Mary immediately traveled to the hill country to visit with Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child in her womb leaped. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she basically told Mary, “You are blessed above all women because of the holy child in your womb.”

Elizabeth also expressed wonder as to why “the mother of my Lord” would come to visit her, making the child in her womb leap for joy. Just as her son John would later humble himself before Jesus, Elizabeth humbled herself before Mary because Mary was carrying the Lord. She equated Jesus’ Lordship with Yahweh’s.

Finally, Elizabeth blessed Mary because Mary believed the word of the Lord unlike her mute husband. Her husband, Zechariah, was much older than Mary, and he was a priest. Yet his last words before he was struck mute were, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” How will I know that this is so? He required proof. Perhaps that’s why his tongue wasn’t loosened until the child was born and named. That was God’s way of saying, “Do you believe me now?”

Mary was truly blessed because she had confidence in the awesome power of God. You see, she didn’t ask the angel, “How will I know that this is so?” She didn’t require proof. She asked the angel, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” Now, these words might be mistaken for words of doubt, but she was simply expressing her awe of God’s power. She fully expected that she would soon be expecting.

We can be blessed like Mary by not doubting the awesome power of God to make things happen even when it seems impossible. If it’s God’s will, it will happen. If it’s God’s will for someone to fully recover from a terminal illness or debilitating injury, it will happen. If it’s God’s will for humanity to recover from its insanity, enthrone the Christ within their hearts, and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, it will happen.

As Jesus promised in John 20: 20-21: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

We might be asking, “How can this be since … we are all so divided?” It’s okay to wonder how in the world God is going to pull it off. Be blessed like Mary. Have complete confidence in the awesome power of God, and do not doubt that he will indeed pull it off. 

After Elizabeth blesses Mary, Mary sings a song of praise known as the “Magnificat” – our scripture reading for today. It is known as the Magnificat because that is the first word in the Latin translation of this verse.

Mary begins her song by praising God that she has been given the honor of bringing God’s Son into the world, the greatest honor ever bestowed upon a human being. She occupies a humble station in life: a woman in a patriarchal society and a young person in a society that venerated age.

As a Jewish woman, she can look back into history and remember the great women whom God called into service: Sarah, Rebecca, Deborah, Esther. Every child knows their names and their stories. Now her name will join theirs. God has reached down to her, a simple girl, and elevated her to a place of greatness. But isn’t that like our wonderful God: to exalt the lowly and make the proud eat humble pie?

Mary was truly blessed because she trusted God to dispense justice and mercy. The knowledge of God’s saving grace gives comfort to those like Mary, those who are poor and marginalized, but it is no comfort to the wealthy and powerful.

Those enslaved by the mind of me seek to establish their worth through the attainment of wealth and power at the expense of others. They create unjust social structures to preserve their false sense of superiority, and they use religion to justify them.

We can get so angry that we are tempted to take justice into our own hands. Liberation theologians have indeed used this verse to justify violent revolutionary action, but Mary’s intent here was to focus not on man’s action, but on God’s action – on God’s saving grace.

God is unfailingly just and merciful. Human beings are not. God knows how to compassionately teach people the lessons they need to learn. Human beings do not. God’s truth always prevails over men’s lies. God’s truth is that all are equally worthy, and those who refuse to accept this truth will eat humble pie.

As Jesus said in Matthew 20:16, “the last will be first and the first will be last.” Those who choose worldly power over spiritual power, man’s rule over God’s rule, conflict over peace, are the last to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven because they are the last to discover the key to the door. So, my friends, do not envy or hate these enslaved people. Simply trust that God will mercifully heal their minds in His Time and be grateful that your mind is being healed now.

Those ruled by the Mind of Christ seek ways to redeem and include others in the embrace of God’s love. To remind them of immeasurable worth. Rather than fighting against those who perpetuate injustice, our focus should be on giving aid to those who suffer from it. Our work is to take advantage of every opportunity to let people know that they are loved and cared for – and that they deserve to be just as much as everyone else.

We might not consider ourselves rich and powerful, but let us not forget our neighbors in need. There are many simple ways to help. As John said in Luke 3:11, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Let us not forget also that we are citizens of a rich and powerful nation. Many poorer nations struggle to provide its people with enough food, clean water, and proper medical care, including vaccinations.

This need not be so. There are enough resources on this planet to go around. If we, both as individuals and as nations, would be more willing to share, everyone on this planet would have the resources they need to not only survive, but to thrive. Be blessed like Mary. Be grateful for all you have and willing to share the extras, trusting that God, in due time, will make the Scrooges eat humble pie.

Mary concludes her song of praise with the words, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Mary was truly blessed because she had faith in God to save her and her nation as he promised. She viewed her pregnancy through the perspective that it is part of God’s remembrance of his people and his promise of salvation.

She could have had a very different perspective. It didn’t make her life easy. If her betrothed, Joseph, had not taken her to be his wife in spite of her condition, she could have been not only shamed but also stoned for adultery. Even though Joseph did not reject her, she may at least have had to deal with people pointing at her and gossiping to others about her. And ultimately, her heart would be pierced at the foot of her son’s cross.

But rather than viewing her pregnancy through the lens of inconvenience to the personal self, she viewed her pregnancy though the lens of God’s promises coming to fulfillment through her. She would face tough circumstances, yes, but she saw herself not as a victim, but as a servant of the Lord.

How often do we, when we are faced with tough circumstances, both personally and nationally, look at our situation through the lens of inconvenience to the personal self? If we want to see ourselves as a victim, then that is the perfect short-sighted lens to use.

If we would rather see ourselves as servants of the Lord, then we need to look at tough circumstances through the broader lens of God’s promise of salvation. Everything that happens in our personal and collective human life is moving us toward its realization. Be blessed like Mary. Expect to be expecting – even you guys out there. God’s promises are coming to fulfillment – this time, through all of us.

If we were to take all of these things that truly made Mary blessed – her confidence in God’s awesome power, her trust in God to dispense mercy and justice, and her faith in God to save her and her nation, and combine them all into one statement, we could say that Mary was truly blessed because she truly loved the Lord her God with all her heart, with all her soul, and with all her strength.

Mary’s love of God enabled her to love life – to say “YES” to it all. And that is indeed the only way to truly open ourselves to love and to be at peace. We don’t have much control over what happens in life, but we do have control over our perspective. If we adopt the limited perspective of the personal self, we will always be at odds with life, and we will never be happy.

Mary was blessed at that young age to be able to perceive life through the wiser part of herself that exists beyond the human mind. She let everything be as it is, trusting in God’s grand design. Now, does that mean that we do nothing? No, it simply means that we do not react to life’s challenges.

Reaction is resistance. Instead, we accept what is, and then respond as we are guided by the wiser part of ourselves. That is a far more functional way to live. Really, how can deal with any situation when we are refusing to accept that it is happening in the here and now? When we are resisting the truth of it?

Be blessed like Mary. We can say to ourselves, “All is well and unfolding as it needs to.” Now, the mind will quickly dismiss that idea with something like, “Yeah, right!” But the heart knows the truth, and the heart knows how to skillfully deal with all of life’s challenges if we would only listen to it.

No wonder Mary found such favor with God as to be selected to be the mother of the Savior of the world. Her parting words to the angel demonstrate why she was the perfect choice. She said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Let us pray: Lord, we are willing to be blessed like Mary by loving You with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength. Help us to embrace life as Your servants. AMEN.

Resources

“Biblical Commentary (Bible study) Luke 1:39-55.” Sermonwriter.com, sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary-old/luke-139-55/

Jones, Judith. “Commentary on Luke 1:46-35.” Workingpreacher.org, 20 Dec. 2015,www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-146-55

The Peace of Zechariah

Luca Giordano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: During turbulent times, it is tempting to believe that God is no longer in control and that our dreams are lost. Zechariah believed his dream of having a son was lost, but he ultimately learned to be at peace by trusting God no matter how impossible things may appear. How can we learn his lesson and enjoy the peace of Zechariah?

Scripture: Luke 1:68-79

When we look out there at what’s going on in our country and in our world today, we can understand why many people are embracing a variety of doomsday scenarios. Even for us Christians, it is difficult to remain calm, keep the faith, and trust that God is in control. The coming of the Christ into the hearts of all seems to be an impossible dream in stormy times like this.

How do find peace in these times? That’s what our scripture reading is all about. It’s about a man who found peace after he experienced firsthand the awesome power God to make what he thought was impossible, not only possible, but real. In his arms, he was holding his “impossible son.”

Let’s review the story leading up to our scripture reading for today – a story I’m sure many of you know well. The gospel writer Luke tells us Zechariah was a priest and his wife, Elizabeth, was a descendent of Aaron, the brother of Moses and founder of the priesthood. They were both righteous in the eyes of God, but they had no children because Elizabeth was barren.

One day when Zechariah was offering incense to the Lord in the sanctuary, he saw a vision of an angel, who told him that Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and he was to be called John. The angel told Zechariah many wonderful things about his future son – that he would be great in the Lord’s sight, filled with the Holy Spirit from conception, and turn many back to God with the spirit and power of Elijah.

Zechariah questioned the angel’s news because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both elderly. The angel introduced himself as Gabriel, a messenger sent from God. Then he tells Zechariah that, because he did not believe the Lord’s words, he will be mute until they are fulfilled. Shortly thereafter, Elizabeth conceived and spent five months in seclusion.

Then Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit her. Mary had also been visited by an angel, who told her that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God, whom she was to name “Jesus.” The child in Elizabeth’s womb jumped at the sound of Mary’s greeting.

Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaimed a blessing over Mary and the child in her womb and also wonder as to why the mother of the Lord would visit her and make the child within her womb leap for joy. Mary stayed with Elizabeth until she gave birth, then she returned to her home in Galilee.

After eight days, it was time for the child to be circumcised. People thought the parents would name the child after his father, Zechariah, but Elizabeth said, “No, he is to be named John.” The relatives couldn’t figure out where the name John came from since no one in the family was named John.

So, they asked Zechariah what he wanted to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” At that moment, his tongue was loosened, and he began to prophesize. And that brings us to our scripture reading for today, known as Zechariah’s song.

Zechariah first praises God for being faithful to his covenant with the people of Israel. He is looking back into history – a long history of subjugation and slavery. The people languished in Egypt under the heavy yoke of slavery for over 400 years. God sent Moses to free them, and he led them to the Promised Land, the land of Canaan.

But once they were in Canaan, they often sinned against the Lord. The Lord warned them to repent through many prophets, but they ignored the prophet’s warnings and persecuted the prophets. As a result, Israel was defeated in turn by the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans.

Their glory days under King David and King Solomon were short-lived, but now, God was promising them a Savior from on high who would set them free from their enemies once and for all and whose kingdom would have no end. Zechariah professes that he can see through his prophetic eyes this Savior coming out of the house of David. The time was coming when the people of God would be able to live in peace.

Zechariah ends his song by praising God that his “impossible son” John would be the one to prepare the way for God’s promised Savior.

I think it is safe to say that Zechariah learned an important lesson – a tough one, but a very good one, because in the end, he found peace. How can we learn from his lesson and enjoy the peace of Zechariah?

Well, first of all, an angel of the Lord announced that his wife Elizabeth would give birth to a son, and Zechariah responded by speaking words of doubt. We can’t blame him. The observable facts made it appear to be impossible indeed. Not only were they both quite advanced in age, but Elizabeth had always been barren. A double-whammy!

The angel’s response to Zechariah’s doubt was basically, “Look dude, I’m coming to you with a message straight from God Almighty and telling you that you’re going to have a son, okay?” At that point, Zechariah would no longer speak words of doubt – because he couldn’t speak at all. He was struck mute.

Doug and I were talking a few weeks ago about how today’s video games are a good metaphor for life – especially the open world role-playing ones. I enjoy playing a game called Skyrim: The Elder Scrolls. In this game, I can create my character down to the slightest detail – such as the thickness and placement of the eyebrows – or eyebrow. Yes, you can even create a character with a unibrow! My current character’s name is Xena. She does not have a unibrow, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, this game takes place in a world called Skyrim on a continent called Tamriel. Through Xena’s travels and interactions, I can experience the many different regions and cities in Tamriel, and I can interact with its many different citizens – characters of different races, religions, political affiliations – and some with very strange personalities.

Through Xena, I can make all kinds of choices throughout the game, for good or evil, and experience the consequences of each choice. But no matter what, I can’t make a choice that would alter the basic plot. For example, there are certain characters in the game that never die no matter how much they are attacked because they are an important part of the story. They are called “essential characters.”

So, while players of these games enjoy a great deal of free will, they can’t do anything to alter the basic plot or destroy the game itself. That’s smart, right? How foolish it would be for the game designers to create a game that allowed players to either mess-up the plot or destroy the game itself?

I think we can trust that God is at least as intelligent as these game designers. He designed Life in such a way that gave his created characters a great deal of free will, but he did not give them the power to mess up his plan or destroy Life itself.

I think that’s what the angel was trying to explain to Zechariah. John was an essential character in God’s plan, so John was going to show up at the appointed time – no matter how impossible it seemed. God, in his infinite mercy, put a lid on Zechariah’s words of doubt because he didn’t want John’s pure soul to hear them or subject Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, to hearing them.

You know how painful it is to be around negative Ned’s and Nancy’s. Whenever they speak their negative thoughts, you get a sinking feeling in your gut. That sinking feeling is literally your soul recoiling from the doubtful words because it knows that nothing is impossible with God.

To have the peace of Zechariah, we need to strike mute any words of doubt. Don’t give voice to them. Now, it’s natural to have thoughts of doubt. We can’t control the thoughts we have. But we can choose not to give them a second thought, and we can certainly control whether they come out of our mouths.

Zechariah began his song by reviewing the times God saved Israel from their enemies and his trust in God to save them from all their enemies. The Jews of his time believed that their foreign enemies were the Romans, the Samaritans, and the gentiles. Domestically, the Pharisees might have viewed the Sadducees as their enemies, and the Zealots, of course, were radical terrorists who believed that anyone who didn’t support their cause was the enemy.

Who are our enemies? If we were to go to the Stroud mall or the Crossings to ask people this question, they might say our foreign enemies are China, North Korea, and Al-Quaeda, and our domestic enemies are home-grown terrorists, and depending on who you talk to, Democrats or Republicans. We’re not much different today from the Jews of Zechariah’s time. They believed their enemies were “out there” – just as many do today. We have always been wrong about this. Our true enemy has never been “out there.” It has always been “up here.” (point to the head)

We truly do have a split mind – the Mind of Christ and the mind of me – the angel on the sitting on the right shoulder, and the devil on the left. The mind of me is our true enemy because it contains all of the false ideas we have about who we really are. Our Lord drove a stake right into the heart of the mind of me through his death and resurrection. Because of our Lord’s brave and loving sacrifice, the mind of me has been slowly losing its domination of the human mind.

The mind of me clings to its false identities and to the same-old-same-old. It hates change of any kind because it is afraid of the unknown. It’s afraid of the unknown because it doesn’t trust life. It doesn’t trust life because life doesn’t cater to it. Life doesn’t cater to it because Life caters to the soul. But the mind of me has no clue that the soul even exists. What a quandary! No wonder it’s always so frustrated!

The Mind of Christ knows who we really are and the true purpose of Life: the growth of the soul. Now, the soul can feel enslaved under certain conditions – a job we hate, a bad relationship, or even a false notion we might hold about ourselves. We might hear the cry of the soul for change, but the mind of me will convince us to ignore it – usually by filling us with fear – or shame.

If we ignore the soul’s cry for too long, the soul will find a way to forcibly liberate us from the situation. Something unexpected will happen, and we’ll be forced out. It’s usually a painful experience for the personal self, but we often realize later down the road of life, perhaps even many years later, that it was the best thing that ever happened to us. It set us free in some way so that we could continue to grow.

Can you remember a time in your life when you were stuck? Maybe you didn’t even know you were stuck at the time. But then something out-of-the-blue happened, and you were set free? And then later down the road, you realized that you ended up in a far better place in life because of it? That was God keeping his promise to save us from our enemies.

Now I want you to enlarge that experience beyond the individual soul and realize this same experience can happen to the collective soul of humanity. The soul of humanity is enslaved in many ways. The soul of humanity is stuck in many places that are not good for the collective whole. For starters, we are stuck when it comes to getting along with one another, and we are stuck when it comes to ensuring that everyone’s basic needs are met.

The soul of humanity has been crying out for a long time, and I believe that God’s answer to that cry is now moving quickly toward fulfillment. The old systems that have enslaved us – that have kept us stuck in these harmful places – are crumbling. This process is very frightening and painful for the personal self – especially those who are enslaved by the mind of me. Things will eventually change for the better for everyone, but in the process, we may experience some turbulence.

To have the peace of Zechariah, we must trust that God will save us and ultimately all of humanity from our true enemy. We are all in a good place for these stormy times. We are becoming more and more aware the mind of me and the true purpose of life. But most people have no idea that they are enslaved by the mind of me, so life is very frustrating – perhaps even meaningless – to them.

Can you imagine how difficult their lives must be? Let us have compassion for them and forgive them instead of judging them to be the enemy. We can also have compassion for ourselves and forgive ourselves in our struggles with the enemy too.

Zechariah ends his song with the words, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” God’s way is the way of peace. The enemy’s way is the way of conflict. We can’t have both. That was John’s message. He prepared the way by saying to people, “It’s time to make a choice. Which way do you choose?”

Those who came to John to be baptized had not only chosen God’s way of peace but also were already living that way for some time. They had made a commitment, and they convincingly demonstrated to John that their commitment wasn’t just words. Otherwise, John would not have baptized them.

We must be willing to make the same commitment – to “turn the other cheek,” a teaching which really means to listen to the voice of peace, not the other voice, the voice of conflict, that devil that wants you to strike out at life. Turn the other cheek and listen to the angel, the voice inside your heart.

To have the peace of Zechariah, we must have unwavering commitment to God’s path of peace. We must have peace with life by accepting the fact that life always goes our way – always – it always grows the soul. The mind of me will grumble. Just notice the grumbling with the understanding that the mind of me will never get it. Don’t agree with it, and don’t disagree with it. Just don’t give it a second thought.

To walk God’s way of peace, we must love the Mind of Christ more than the mind of me. We must be willing to sacrifice the desires of personal self for the desires of the soul – for the desires of the soul of Life. And we must have unwavering trust that no matter how things appear, God is in control.

When we can live this way 100% of the time, we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is much closer than we think. Yes, we don’t have to wait until we die to experience heaven or wait for all of humanity to accept the Christ into their hearts. We can experience the bliss of heaven now because it is within us. The door is waiting to be unlocked, and the key is peace.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to walk God’s way of peace. We desire the key to the Kingdom of Heaven. Be with us in our struggles with the enemy. Fill us with unwavering trust that God is in control and moving us ever closer to freedom.

Resources

McLarty, Philip. “Sermon| Luke 1:68-79| Zechariah’s Song.” Sermonwriter.com,  sermonwriter.com/sermons/luke-168-79-zechariahs-song-mclarty/

West, Audrey. “Commentary on Luke 1:68-79.” Workingpreacher.org, 6 Dec. 2009, www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-3/commentary-on-luke-168-79-2

Drinking the Father’s Cup in Peace

Mihály Munkácsy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: Humanity is facing many changes – personally and collectively – and some of these changes have been very challenging. How can we learn to accept what life brings our way with composure and peace? Jesus shows us how in his response to his arrest.

Scripture: John 18:33-37

There are many changes going on in our lives today – both personally and collectively – and some of these changes have posed serious challenges for many. People are feeling a great deal of fear and the result is bad behavior and much suffering. How can humanity learn to respond to life’s changes, especially the challenging ones, more calmly?

How Jesus responds to his arrest provides the perfect example of how not only to navigate life’s changes with composure but also how to face a very weighty challenge with peace.

John chapter 18 opens with Jesus being arrested in a garden outside the city, during which Peter cuts off the high priest’s slave’s ear. Jesus tells Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Jesus was initially questioned by Annas, the former high priest, who still held people’s respect. While Jesus was inside, Peter was outside at the gate, standing around a charcoal fire with court slaves and police. Three times they asked Peter, “Hey, aren’t you one of his disciples?” Peter denied it each time.

Annas questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teachings. Jesus responded that he has done everything out in the open, so why does he need to ask? One of the police struck him across the face for being snarky, but Jesus objected saying, “Why do you strike me for telling the truth?”

Annas then sent Jesus to be questioned by the reigning high priest, Caiaphas. John’s gospel doesn’t tell us how Jesus’ meeting with Caiaphas went, but we know from Matthew’s gospel that Caiaphas found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, so they took him to Pilate.

The Jews refused to enter Pilate’s headquarters so that they would not become ritually defiled before the Passover. So, Pilate came out to them. Pilate asked them of what they were accusing Jesus. They had no real charge to present to Pilate. Instead, they insisted that they wouldn’t be bringing Jesus to him if he wasn’t a lawbreaker.

Pilate encouraged them to judge Jesus according to their laws, but didn’t Caiaphas already take care of that? Yes, Jesus was found guilty and had been sentenced to death. But the Romans didn’t allow Jews to carry out death sentences, so they brought Jesus to Pilate, hoping he would carry it out for them.

Do you catch the irony in this? They didn’t want to enter into Pilate’s court because they didn’t want to become defiled before the Passover. Yet, here they were, seeking to put an innocent man to death. That’s why Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs.” (Matthew 23: 27-28).

And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. Pilate is scuttling back and forth between the accusers and the accused. He’s trying to figure out what to do with Jesus since his accusers aren’t helping him much with their extremely vague accusations.

He has gone back inside his headquarters to question Jesus. He asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” That’s a legitimate question. Since Caesar is technically the ruler of the Jews, for Jesus to call himself king would be treason, punishable by death. I’m sure that Pilate, looking at this man so humbly standing before him, seriously doubted that he had such ambitions, but he had to ask.

Not surprisingly, Jesus responds to the questioner with a question: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” He wasn’t being snarky here. Since Jesus never called himself King of the Jews, he needed to know where Pilate was coming from. Did Pilate wonder if Jesus believed himself to be a king, or did he simply hear others call him one?

It is clear from Pilate’s response that he is frustrated. We can’t blame him. He still doesn’t understand why the Jews have brought Jesus before him in the wee hours of the morning. He replies, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus sorts out what Pilate is worried about, so he explains that if he were a political king, his followers would be defending him. If he had wanted to start a rebellion, he certainly could have. Although he had only a small band of disciples, he had many followers.

His instructing Peter to put away his sword at his arrest should have made it clear to all witnesses that he did not condone violence and had no intention to lead a rebellion. His kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, one not of this world, and thus no threat to Rome. Pilate responds, “So you are a king then?” Since Jesus didn’t deny being some sort of king, Pilate is seeking additional assurances.

In the synoptic gospels, Jesus simply responds, “So you say.” Here in John’s gospel, Jesus says this also, followed by an explanation of the meaning of his kingship, which makes sense since John’s gospel is more concerned with theology and philosophy than with history.

What follows is the theological and philosophical meaning of Jesus’ kingdom as John understood it. Jesus responds, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

What “truth” is Jesus referring to? Well, humanity has been trying to figure that out for a couple thousand years now. I’ve been trying to figure it out my whole life, and I’ve pondered it many different points of view. Along the way, I’ve been sharing my journey with you. I call it a journey because it is evolving. I am not your authority on this. You are your authority. You are on a journey also.

So, having said that, here is where I’m at currently on my journey. I believe Jesus was born into this world to testify to the Truth that we are not only these bodies. We are a three-part being consisting of body, mind, and soul. The body and mind make up the personal self. The personal self is temporary.

The soul is the part of us that is connected to God and all of Life. God is Pure Being, and Life is God’s expression through the Christ, who is the very soul of Life. Our soul is part of the Christ and is therefore forever joined with the Christ. This part is eternal just as Life is eternal.

Because Life is eternal, it is always changing – always evolving into higher, more functional levels. Life informs itself about what it needs to continue to evolve from the process of life. It is a perfect system: Life informs and sustains Life through Life.

The soul knows everything that Life needs to continue evolving. When we understand this, then we can drink the Father’s cup in peace. We can respond to life’s changes – especially the challenging ones – with more composure in three key ways.

First, we accept ourselves as we are and where we are at all times. Like Jesus, we were born into this world for a life-enhancing purpose, and we were flawlessly created for that purpose. When we understand this, we stop trying to “fix” ourselves because we trust that we are exactly who and where Life needs us to be at every moment. Life brings us exactly what we need to guide us toward the achievement of our purpose.

If we’re not where we need to be, we need not worry. Life will nudge us back in sync quickly and painlessly as long as we know how to go with the flow. But that is the challenge. The personal self isn’t so good at “going with the flow.” That’s because it has no idea of the soul and its purpose. All it cares about is how things affect its own little world. That’s why we hear it up here in our heads constantly grumbling about life. Listening to that voice is the main cause of human pain and suffering, not change.

We have free will, so we are allowed listen to that voice and go rogue – to choose to go against the purpose for which we were created. But when we go against life’s plan, we experience pain and suffering – and not just us, but all of life. We are each cells in the Body of Christ, so when one cell goes rogue, it negatively impacts the whole body in some way – until it is healed.

We are working on raising our level of consciousness, becoming more aware of who we are, so that, by tuning into the Voice of Christ in our hearts and tuning out that other voice in our heads, we can live our lives with more peace and joy and less anger and fear. We may think we are doing this work to heal only ourselves. But in reality, our work helps to heal the collective human mind. So, if that’s all we’re doing, that is enough to change the world for the better.

Next, we accept others as they are and where they are at all times. If we were brought into this world for a life-enhancing purpose, then so was everyone else. Then everyone else is exactly who and where they need to be at every moment. And they are also allowed to go rogue if they choose to. When we accept this truth, we stop judging others, and we don’t feel as threatened by people.

You see, when we know who we really are, we no longer feel the need to protect ourselves psychologically – to protect the personal self’s temporary stash of worldly identities established though things like wealth, status, culture, religion, etc. People who don’t know who they really are feel the need to protect these identities at all costs because they have no other identity – as far as they know.

For this reason, the personal self is very paranoid, and we can clearly see its paranoia playing out in this story. Jesus was no real threat to anyone, but he was crucified because his teachings posed a psychological threat to powerful people. To this very day, his teachings cause us to question the justice of social hierarchies and to recognize the corruption at the top levels.

If Annas and Caiaphas had taken the time to follow Jesus, to actually get to know him and his ministry by first-hand experience, they could have discovered the Truth and found peace. They could have been healed. They could have lived under God’s rule instead of men’s. Instead, they chose to believe what they wanted to believe, and they viciously protected their small selves. That’s how people get “crucified” every day.

When we are aware of the human mind’s tendency to protect the personal self’s illusory identities, we are far less likely to view everyone as a villain involved in some conspiracy against us. We become more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and to take the time to actually get to know them instead of believing everything we hear.

Finally, and most importantly, we accept that no matter what happens, everything works for good. Every event in life must somehow elevate life – even events that seem horrible from our limited human perspective.

You see, we tend to judge the events of life as “bad” or “good” depending on how they affect the personal self. We don’t have the perspective or wisdom to see how life’s events ultimately serve all of Life – and that is by design.

For that reason, we shouldn’t judge anything that happens. When we can approach the events of life non-judgmentally, then we can be at peace with whatever happens to us, as Jesus was: non-resistant, allowing life to proceed as life must, even when facing the worst scenario imaginable.

Some Christians have pointed their fingers at Jews calling them “Christ killers,” and others have defended the Jews saying the Romans killed Jesus, not the Jews. But I believe the truth is that it was nobody’s fault. It was Jesus’ decision to drink the Father’s cup, and all of the events of the day were arranged by Life to support that decision.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus faced the personal self’s fear of annihilation. If I could summarize the gist of Jesus’ prayer, it would be this: “Father, if Life can still be elevated without my personal self being elevated on a cross, then please save me now!”

But there in the garden, Jesus came to full acceptance of what life needed from him in order to evolve. That was the cup the Father was giving him. Jesus had free will just like all of us. He could have gone rogue. Who would have blamed him? But instead, he said, “Ok, I’m willing to drink it.”

That is why after telling Peter to put away his sword, he commented, “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” He understood that in order for all of life to evolve, humanity’s level of self-awareness needed to rise. Humanity needed to become aware of its unity with Christ, the Soul of Life.

And Jesus, our beautiful Savior, would bring that awareness to humanity. It would be an absolutely grueling experience for his personal self – for his body and mind, but the soul – the soul of Life, which includes the soul of all humanity, would be enormously served.

Indeed, what a friend we have in Jesus. Our beautiful Savior would make the greatest sacrifice for others the world has ever seen – and in making that sacrifice he would demonstrate the greatest outpouring of the Father’s love the world has ever seen. His monumental sacrifice in loving service to all of Life is why Jesus Christ is King.

So, this advent, as we reflect on the birth of our beautiful savior, his purpose for coming into this world, and his choice to drink the Father’s cup in peace – a heroic decision born out of pure love for all humanity – let us also be willing to drink the Father’s cup in peace as we await for the promised arrival of Christ the King into the hearts of all.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we can’t thank you enough for the tremendous sacrifice you made to bring to humanity the awareness of its unity in Christ. In appreciation for this monumental act of love, we are willing to lovingly accept ourselves, one another, and the events life brings. We open our hearts to love. Amen.

Resources

Donovan, R. “Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) John 18:33-37.” John 18:33-37 – Sermon Writer.

Lake, Gina. “How to Heal Humanity and Transform the World – Gina Lake Channeling Jesus.” YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-05btloovyA&list=WL&index=3&t=760s

Marsh, M. “The Truth Does Not Belong to Us – a Sermon on John 18:33-37.” 22 Nov. 2015, The Truth Does Not Belong to Us – A Sermon on John 18:33-37 – Interrupting the Silence.

A Time to Mourn – with Hope

Josef August Untersberger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: How can we bear witness to all the sins of our society and still have hope? We can do it by following the example of Our Lord, who bore witness to the corruption in his society yet maintained his trust in God ‘s promise that despite all the pain and suffering we may face, there will be a happy ending.

Scripture: Mark 13:1-8

One of the most well-known passages in the Bible is the one from Ecclesiastes 3, known as “A Time for Everything.” It’s so well-known because in the 50’s Pete Seeger turned it into a song called “Turn, Turn, Turn.” In verse 4, the song goes, “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

In our scripture reading for today, Jesus had borne witness to the ills of his society, and he sensed destruction coming. So, he said to his disciples, “Sorry guys, it’s not time to smile; it’s not time to cheer. It’s time to weep; it’s time to mourn.”

It’s becoming impossible for us today not to bear witness to the sins of our society. Advances in media technology have made us privy to everything that is wrong with America. It’s like a voice constantly screaming in our faces. Many of us can probably sense some form of destruction coming as much as we don’t like to think about it.

So perhaps, like Jesus, it would be helpful to all of us to find a way to name and grieve the wrongs to which we bear witness. Terri Wilkins from Red Letter Christians has done just that by writing an article called “A Time to Mourn.” I would like to read some of it to you as a present-day example. (Click link to article listed under “Resources”)

I know we don’t like grief. We don’t like to be sad. But as much as we dislike grief, grief is transformative. We must grieve before anything can change, but let us not become so mired in grief that we forget that there is hope.

That’s what today’s scripture reading is all about.

Jesus entered Jerusalem and immediately had several negative encounters with the religious leaders in the city. He cursed a fig tree as a form of commentary on the unproductive Jewish religious system of his day, which largely failed to inspire the growth of spiritual fruit within its adherents.

He cleanses the temple, calling it a “den of thieves,” full of moneychangers and merchants who in essence robbed travelers coming from outside Jerusalem through low currency exchange rates and high prices for “temple-approved” sacrificial animals.

He recounts Israel’s rejection of the prophets and the Son in the Parable of the Wicked Tenets, predicting that Israel, like the wicked tenets, will lose the vineyard to others. Then, in a shocking statement, he declares that by rejecting him, they are foolishly rejecting the very cornerstone upon which faith is built.

What Jesus says so clearly denounces the religious leaders that they want to kill him, but they are afraid to attempt it because of his popularity with the crowd. So, they try to whittle away at his credibility, first by questioning his authority and then by asking a variety of questions intended to trap him.

As always, Jesus cleverly evades their efforts to trap him and once again clearly denounces them at the end of chapter 12 stating, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. As Jesus is leaving the Temple with his disciples, one of them comments on the massive stones and magnificent buildings. It appears that it is this particular disciple’s first time visiting Jerusalem, and according to the synoptic gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem only once during his year-long ministry.

It’s not surprising that this disciple was impressed by the massive Temple complex. It was the glory of the Jewish people. Located at the top of a mountain, it was as big as a stadium and as tall as a modern 15-story building. Its huge marble stones weighed as much as 500 tons each. The stones were adorned with gold on the outside, so the Temple shone brilliantly in the sun.

Notice the contrast between this disciple’s comments about the Temple’s lovely exterior and Jesus’ comments about the corruption within. That golden glory was maintained by not only the exploitation of worshippers taking place in the Temple courts, but also by offerings from people like the poor widow, who gave everything she had to live on.

Jesus predicts that very soon every one of those gold-adorned stones will be thrown down, but there is hope: the Son of Man will come and put all things right. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the Temple isn’t the first. Jeremiah made the same prediction six centuries earlier, and it happened! The entire city was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria in 587 B.C.

Jesus’ prediction will come true in 70 A.D. In response to a Jewish rebellion, the Romans will build great fires at the base of the walls, and the intense heat will cause those huge golden-marble stones to crumble and collapse under their own weight. The entire city will be destroyed.

When people in powerful positions don’t like a message, they often shoot the messenger. So just as Jeremiah was persecuted for making his ominous prediction, Jesus’ prediction will be shared with the religious authorities and used as evidence to prove that he is a dangerous subversive who needs to die.

Certainly, Jesus’ prediction makes the disciples nervous, so they ask the Lord what signs to look for, so they can be prepared. Instead of giving them actual signs, Jesus names events that we must endure before the end comes – trials like wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines.

He can’t be more specific because only the Father, the author of this play called “Life,” knows when the Son of Man arrives in the script.

Can Jesus’ words to his disciples be comforting to us today when many are wondering, “Is this it? Is this the end times?” Well, I like to think of it this way. When we’re in the middle of watching a TV series or reading a book, it’s really annoying when someone who has seen the whole series or read the whole book tells us how it ends, right? We call them “spoilers.” Well, God is not a spoiler! He’s not telling anyone how his play will end.

Imagine being an actor in a play where you don’t know what the next line is going to be, or even the next scene, and you really have no idea what the next act will contain and no clue how it’s going to end. There’s no human-authored play in the world like that! Only God can create a play like that. And he has! It’s called “Life,” and guess what? We’re all actors in it! What fun!

Whether we find it fun or terrifying depends on how much we trust the playwright. Jesus is giving us a very cryptic preview of the end. It’s like those “final episode” previews we see on TV; it’s just enough to keep us in suspense without giving away the ending. Jesus is saying, “Look, the ending might feel scary and painful, but don’t worry. There will be a happy ending.” If we trust the Lord’s words here, then we can relax and enjoy the play a lot more, right?

What we experience in the midst of the play, what happens in the scenes and in the acts, might be scary and painful, but Jesus instructs us to think of them as “birth pangs.” Just as a mother suffers from fear and pain before the birth of the new life she will bring forth, there will be fear and pain before the happy ending, before the coming of the Son of Man, and the new life all of humanity will bring forth.

In verse 5 where Jesus says, “Beware that no one leads you astray,” the word “beware” is from the Greek word “blepete” (bleh-pet-teh), which means to be carefully discerning. Jesus is urging his disciples to be on the lookout for false prophets and messiahs. We know from the historian Josephus that many messianic pretenders arose in the first century after Jesus’ death.

Is Jesus’ warning useful to us today? I believe it is. There have certainly been modern-day religious leaders who have claimed to be the messiah and have led people astray, such as Jim Jones and David Koresh. But more recently, there have emerged entire Christian movements who, like the Zealots of Jesus’ day, seek to turn Jesus into a political messiah who applauds their sacrificing of others to serve their political agendas.

And there are Christian movements who, like the moneychangers and merchants at the Temple, seek to make Jesus a messiah of consumerism who encourages acquiring more and more wealth while shouldering no obligation to help those in need.

You see, if people don’t like who Jesus really was, they will turn him into someone more to their liking – someone who conveniently endorse their corrupt values.

It is so easy to be led astray this way, and many have been. That is why we struggle with so much divisiveness even within families. Jesus himself was estranged from his family. They thought he was crazy. Perhaps that’s one reason he chose Capernaum as the home base for his ministry, not his hometown of Nazareth.

This potential for family estrangement for the sake of the gospel is why Jesus said to his disciples in Mark chapter 10:29-30, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”

So, no matter what we see happening, we must say to ourselves, “the end is not yet.” We must not try to figure out when the end is. That’s yet another way many are led astray. We must remain calm and keep the faith, knowing that the end will come in God’s perfect timing. The Christ will come into the hearts of all, and great change will occur, but until then, I believe we must wait until all the things in which we have misplaced our faith fail utterly and completely.

Just as the people of Jesus’ time misplaced their faith in people and buildings to lead them back to God – such as religious authorities and the Temple – events of recent times have made it clear we, too, have misplaced our faith in many of our religious authorities and institutions. They have failed to lead us back to God.

Just as the people of Jesus’ time placed their faith in a political Messiah to bring Israel back to God through the defeat of the Romans, hoping that Jesus would fulfill that role, events of recent times have made it clear that we have misplaced our faith in many of our elected leaders. They have failed to lead us back to God.

Who or what will lead us back to God? Nothing out there. No people or institutions. Jesus demonstrated what will lead us back to God by sacrificing his personal self for the sake of others. He showed us who we really are when the personal self is stripped away – the Christ – who has never left God. We return to God and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven when we return to our Self (with a capital “S”) and do what comes naturally and effortlessly in that state: loving one another.

Yes, the labor of giving birth to the Christ within our hearts is scary and painful, just as going through physical labor can be. Watching the events of today happening scene-by-scene in the news can lead us to despair when we forget to think of them as birth pangs heralding the happy ending. However terrible, the events of the day are not the final act! The Christ will arrive! The time to laugh and dance is coming!

Let’s pray together: Lord, like you we grieve the sins of our society and sense destruction coming. Give us the courage to mourn with hope – to stand firm in the faith, trusting God’s promise of a happy ending: the coming of the Christ into the hearts of all, and the birth of a new way of life. Amen.

Resources

Donovan, R. “Biblical Commentary (Bible Study) Mark 13:1-8.” sermonwriter.com, Mark 13:1-8 – Sermon Writer.

Powery, Emerson. “Commentary on Mark 13:1-8.” workingpreacher.org, 15 Nov. 2015, Commentary on Mark 13:1-8 – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary.

Wilkins, Terri. “A Time to Grieve.” redletterchristians.org, 18 Oct. 2021, A Time to Grieve – Red Letter Christians.

Ransomed into the New

Josef August Untersberger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Synopsis: How do Christians experience the peace of the Lord in a world gone mad? Jesus addresses this issue when he discusses with his disciples the spiritual perils of seeking worldly power and prestige. He compares this turbulent way of life under human rule to a peaceful way of life under God’s rule, where the greatest are the humblest servants of all.

Scripture: Mark 10: 35-45

If I were to conduct a one-question poll of a random group of Christians, the question would be, “What is the one burning question on your mind related to the Christian life today? I wouldn’t be surprised if the response was something like, “How is it possible to experience the peace of the Lord in a world gone mad?” So, if that’s the burning question on your mind, you’re in luck, because that’s what our scripture reading for today is all about.

As always, let’s review the context. Jesus was making his way toward Jerusalem for the final stage of his selfless ministry to humanity. Along the way, he was doing his best to prepare the disciples for what would happen to him there. In verse 33, Jesus tells his disciples for the third time about his upcoming arrest, death, and resurrection.

He says, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

The disciples struggled to understand the kind of Savior Jesus is and the kind of kingdom he would set-up. They, like many Jews of Jesus’ time, wanted Jesus to be a political savior who would save them from the tyranny of the Romans. They had their hearts set on Jesus’ setting-up a worldly kingdom that would allow them to occupy positions of worldly power and influence.

They had their hearts set on the wrong idea. Jesus was doing his best to teach them that his kingdom was not a political, worldly one. In his kingdom, the greatest is the exact opposite of the kind of person considered the greatest by the standards of this world. In his kingdom, the greatest is the humble servant who welcomes the lowly, not the arrogant big shot who scoffs them.

And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approach Jesus requesting positions of power and prestige in his kingdom. They knew that glorification awaited Jesus because they had witnessed his transfiguration; they wanted some of that glory for themselves.

Jesus responds, “You do not know what you are asking.” He responds this way for two reasons. First, he knows that they don’t understand the kind of savior he is and the kind of kingdom he would set-up. He asks them if they are willing to drink the cup that he is about to drink and receive the baptism that he is about to receive.

What cup was he referring to? In the gospel of Luke 22:42, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

He was referring to the cup of suffering that he would drink before his baptism by fire – a permanent transfiguration through the death of his personal self. He was asking James and John if they were willing to sacrifice their personal selves for the sake of others.

This is the level of selfless, loving service the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom possesses. At this point in time, James and John were not able. We know this because all the disciples would flee and hide after Jesus is arrested. Jesus would be crucified between two bandits, not two disciples. James and John would not get the true meaning of Jesus’ mission and what his kingdom was all about until after his resurrection.

Yet both claim that they are able, and Jesus predicts, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” James would eventually be martyred, and John would be exiled to the Island of Patmos – both persecuted for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom. Curiously, James would be the first disciple to die, and John the last.  

What did Jesus mean when he said, “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.” Jesus is saying that God is the playwright, and Christ is the actor. When it comes to the casting the actors in this play called Life, God makes the decisions. In fact, God has already made those decisions.

Apparently the other ten disciples were furious with James and John for vying for positions of power over them. So, Jesus calls the disciples together because it was clear that none of them realized the spiritual perils of the human drive for worldly power and prestige.

This is the second reason why Jesus responded, “You do not know what you are asking.” Many who are in positions of power and prestige “sell their soul to the devil” to protect their positions and privileges. They use any means necessary – including violent means.

Soon, the disciples will witness the violence unleashed by those seeking to protect themselves from the implications of Jesus’ ministry. The Sadducees feared that Jesus’ ministry would inspire an uprising, potentially triggering the Romans to destroy the Temple, which would completely destroy the role of the Sadducees since their job was to direct Temple activities.

Pontius Pilate feared that he too might lose his job if he could not keep things under control in his district. So, he ruled through intimidation by dealing very violently with any and all troublemakers. Jesus might inspire an uprising. That’s all he needed to know. As with John the Baptist’s death, whether Jesus’ death was fair didn’t matter to these worldly rulers.

While they killed others to save themselves, Jesus would – in direct contrast – willingly sacrifice his life to save others. He would forgo any attempts to control his fate or to prevail over others. He was willing to be powerless and vulnerable (like a child) to demonstrate the true meaning of power – the immense spiritual power that lies within each and every one of us – and how that incredible power is unleashed.

Jesus explains to his disciples that they will not occupy positions of worldly power and prestige. If they wish to be the greatest in his kingdom, they must resolve to be the greatest servant of all and the humblest of all.

Our scripture reading ends with Jesus saying in verse 45, For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” This statement gives us a glimpse into the purpose of Jesus’ ministry as the gospel writer Mark sees it. Remember that Mark’s gospel is the oldest gospel and was used as a source by all the other gospel writers.

The word translated as “ransom” is the Greek word lytron (LEE-tron). The Old Testament’s use of a related word sometimes refers to a redemption or purchased freedom, but also often refers to God’s acting to deliver people.

When we hear the word “ransom,” we think of someone who has been taken against his or her will, and the bad guys are demanding cash from the family to get their loved one back. The person who has been taken is innocent. They haven’t done anything wrong.

Many pastors argue that Jesus is talking about a ransom for sin here, but Jesus isn’t talking about sin. He’s comparing worldly leaders to spiritual leaders. He comparing those who sacrifice others for their own sake to those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.

He’s comparing an old way of life ruled by men to an entirely new way of life. Jesus is suggesting that his death will free people from oppression and captivity to another power, restoring them to membership in the community that is ruled by God.

Jesus’ death will be a ransom from human rule for the many who recognize that they are enslaved by this old way of life – a way of life that revolves around violently protecting the personal self where those with the most worldly power always prevail over those with the least.

But we can live an entirely different way once we remember who we are. Once we remember whose we are. Once we chose spiritual power over worldly power. Once we no longer feel the need to protect an illusion. Jesus endured crucifixion to demonstrate to all humanity the truth that who we really are cannot die and needs no protection.

What does this scripture reading have to say to us today? It has much to say to us today. If anyone thinks that only the political leaders of Jesus’ time were driven insane by worldly power and prestige, they haven’t watched the news lately.

We see the same strong-armed political theater happening today – men and women who engage in blatantly unjust and tyrannical deeds just to remain in their positions of power and enjoy their privileges even though it’s at others’ expense. There’s not so much physical brutality as in Jesus’ day, but there is a great deal of mental and emotional brutality going on.

Not only do we see this behavior in political leaders seeking to maintain their elected positions, we also see this in members of the general public who wish to maintain their positions of power and privilege over others on the basis of their gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc.

I believe their tactic has become quite clear: to sow seeds of hatred by spreading misinformation and lies. If we all hate each other, we won’t join together and fight for one another because we’ll be far too busy fighting against one another to have the time to challenge the legitimacy of their privileges.

Why do they seem so desperate? Because their privileges are not legitimate, and they are spotting the fact that more and more people are figuring that out. Jesus taught his disciples that the gentiles and the Samaritans were just as worthy as they to receive God’s blessing, and he is telling us today that no one is unworthy because the truth is that on the fundamental level, we are all nothing less than a sunbeam of God.

The things that make us appear different – things like positions, genders, races, religions, socioeconomic statuses, sexual orientations, etc. are just that – appearances – temporary appearances. They are illusions that all pass away with the personal self.

So, the question Jesus is asking his disciples, including us, is this: Do we want to live under human rule with worldly power and privileges and the stormy, complicated, perilous life that comes with it?  Or do we want to live under God’s rule – with the immense spiritual power of childlike humility – and enjoy the privileges of unwavering peace and an elegantly simple life of extending the Love of God to all?

If we say we do, then we must not allow ourselves to get caught up in the drama of those who still chose to live under human rule. It’s easy to get caught up in all the fear-mongering and intimidation when we forget that we are not ultimately ruled by these insane people, and they can’t do a thing to harm who we really are.

They have no power over us except for the power we chose to give them. When we allow their words and deeds to trouble us, then we are giving them power over our thoughts and feelings. We can choose not to do that either by tuning them out or by observing their words and deeds without getting upset. Hey, it can be a form of entertainment for us. That way, we keep our power, demonstrate our faith in who we are and whose we are, and keep our sense of humor.

We can do that because we live according to God’s Will, and we trust God’s Will for our lives. We trust that nothing can happen to us that is not God’s Will for us, that does not have some loving purpose for our spiritual growth. That goes not only for us individually but for humanity as a whole.

What will our lives be like if we no longer feel the need to protect our bodies, our stuff, our statuses, our lifestyle – the “story” of our lives? We would have the peace that Jesus left with us – peace that nothing in this world could take away from us.

If we say we want this indestructible peace under God’s rule, then we must commit to it by watching out for the temptations of power and privilege that can so easily pull us back into human rule.

There’s nothing wrong with having power as long as we don’t lord it over others and demand that they kowtow to us. And there’s nothing wrong with privilege as long as we don’t attempt to block others from access to the same privileges. Because when we lord our power over others or attempt to block others from the privileges we enjoy, then a very relevant question is, “Who do we think we are?”

Because when we lord our power over others or try to block others from the privileges we enjoy then we are doing nothing less than protecting the personal self and its “story” of superiority. In that moment, we are making a very clear statement about who we really think we are and the kind of rule we prefer.  

But when we are humble servants, we do whatever we can to help others without strings – without any demands or expectation of reward or even thanks. We are willing to sacrifice the personal self’s need for kudos because we recognize the truth that it’s just the personal self’s attempt to steal the glory that belongs to God. That is the kind of servitude Jesus is talking about – a greatness in servitude that is reflected in the apostle Peter’s first letter, chapter 5:1-4.

He writes, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

We serve others by correcting the misinformation that inspires discord. We serve others by rebuking the lies that sow hatred. We serve others by ignoring the mind, tuning into the heart, and responding to God’s call – each instance of inspiration to extend love to someone in need. Not because we’ll feel guilty if we don’t. Not because we want people to think we’re a good person. But just because we are willing to allow God to use us in this way.

This is how we accept the ransom Jesus paid for us – by our commitment to step out of the old turbulent way of life under human rule and into a new peaceful way of life under God’s rule. Let us aspire to be no one – no one but who we really are in Christ, and let our only ambition be to express the love of God through selfless service to all of humanity.

Let’s pray together: Lord, we are willing to accept the ransom you paid for us and to live in a new world ruled by God. We accept the peace you leave with us by letting go of the heavy burden of protecting the personal self. We are ready and willing to be used by God to serve others in need and to let all the glory be reserved for God alone. AMEN.

Resources

Life Application Study Bible.

Skinner, Matt. “Commentary on Mark 10:35-45.” Workingpreacher.org, 18 Oct. 2009, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-2/commentary-on-mark-1035-45-2

Vitalis Hoffman, Mark G. “Commentary on Mark 10:35-45.” Workingpreacher.org, 18 Oct. 2015, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-29-2/commentary-on-mark-1035-45-3