The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s141g06 Sunday 29 22/10/06
'Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you'. Mark 10.35
Well there's nothing like wanting everything!
I often have cause to think how Jesus must have been a very quiet person. Peter has no difficulty in making suggestions about Jesus' future, no doubt trying to be helpful. (Mk 8.32) The disciples tell Jesus to send the crowds away so that the crowds can find some food for an evening meal, no doubt prompted by concern for them. (Mk 6.35) John wanted to stop someone who wasn't following Jesus from casting out demons in Jesus' name. (Mk 9.38) The disciples want to stop parents from bringing their children for Jesus to bless (Mk 10.13). And today's gospel reading has James and John seeing Jesus as their own personal Father Christmass.
And I have sometimes wondered, as I have been a parish priest, how parishioners look at the priest in not so different terms. They see the priest as someone there to do for them whatever they ask! I reflect that perhaps our prayers are not all that dissimilar to this request of James and John. We look at God as someone who can do anything and therefore will do anything, provided we follow, or pray hard enough or whatever.
And Jesus did say that he came not to be served but to serve, and someone who serves does what they are asked to do.
There is a dynamic here that deserves our attention and thought.
I have occasionally thought that God does not want the kingdom extended by Christians becoming the doormats for all and sundry, manipulating the faithful into doing whatever they want. If this were the case it would be hardly 'good news' for the Christians and those who do the manipulating are never likely to want to emulate this sort of Christianity. They know only too well on which side the bread is buttered, and it is not in becoming a Christian like this. And I suggest that both Christians and non-Christians can manipulate and dominate others.
People are not going to willingly take on following Jesus it this means that they are at the beck and call of every demand made on them. Every act of charity must have a kingdom aspect to it. When I used to be living in a Rectory next to the Church, I quickly realised that if I gave out money at the front door, I would soon enough have a queue down the street, and I would be penniless. Simply satisfying each and every request was not going to help others, it was going to bankrupt me and the world would remain essentially unchanged. When people were turned away disappointed, they often made disparaging remarks about my faith and charity.
There is a case that people need to be helped to help themselves and often rescuing them means that they can put off making changes in their lives.
How quickly all this turns personal, as if the world's problems will be solved if everyone was charitable like us. But our Lord tells us that the poor will always be with us, so actually we have no assurance that there will ever be an end to calls on our personal charity.
Perhaps it is worthwhile thinking about the sort of charity that doesn't cost us anything. The sort of charity that I am thinking about is extending dignity towards others. It might be a recognition and acknowledgment that women are equally made in the image of God as men (supposedly) are. It might well be a recognition and acknowledgment that the love that gay and lesbian people have for one another is as real as that which exists between straight persons. It might be a recognition and acknowledgement that people who worship the divine under the tenets of another faith system are as devout as any Christian. It might be a recognition and acknowledgement that people of good will are worshipping God through their acceptance of other people.
But something baulks in us when we think this way. It is all right for our religion to ask us to be charitable towards others in a personal way. But these cut to the heart of the uniqueness of Christianity itself. Does this mean that we are called to be more charitable than our faith? Does this mean that we are called to be more charitable than God?
I have often wondered at the Book of Common Prayer Collect for Good Friday:
O MERCIFUL God, who hast made all people, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that all should be converted and live; Have mercy upon thine ancient people the Jews, and upon all who have not known thee, or who deny the faith of Christ crucified; and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
I suspect it is much more important for US to have mercy on the ancient people the Jews, and Moslems and Buddhists and New Age people, and feminists and gays .. It is blasphemous to suggest that we have to ask God to be merciful towards these people as if we are more merciful than God! This makes a mockery of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Saviour and on the very day we are bidden to pray this prayer!
Jesus' reply to the request of James and John is not couched in terms of a personal ethic of charity that they would need to undergo before they would inevitably miss out on attaining what they wanted anyway, but in terms of Jesus own death the cup and the baptism. It is the destruction of each and every 'successful' or 'correct' religion that guarantees a position for faithful adherents and a place elsewhere for everyone else. It is the destruction of every successful religion that asserts we will get our way if we faithfully follow that we will be able to manipulate God. Our faith is one that offers to each and every person a place; and it is up to us to accept that this is how it really is.
The people who refuse to come to the marriage feast are those who make excuses that they have better things to do, but the real reason for their unwillingness is because OTHERS are there. (Matthew 22.1-14)
You see, I suspect that Christians often believe that our faith is that Jesus' final words mean that he came to be the slave of Christians, and that he gave his life for Christians alone. Actually Jesus came to be slave of all, and he gave his life as a ransom for all not just us who come to church.
In recent times I have been looking at the words of the Communion service as I've been celebrating. The words of the 'Gloria' stand out: 'Glory to God in the highest and peace to God's people on earth' And I want to know why the word 'all' should not replace 'God's'? (APBA p 121)
In the first Thanksgiving prayer the priest says 'and obtained an eternal deliverance for his people' and again, why only 'his' and not 'all'. Later he says 'bring us with all your people into the joy of your eternal kingdom' why do we add the word 'your' and not include all people? (APBA p 128,129)
I've always been impressed with the words of institution used in the Roman Catholic Mass: 'Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.' and later 'Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all .. so that sins may be forgiven.' (Glenstal Missal p626).
If this is the quality of Jesus' love for all, then it ought to be a mark of the quality of our love for all not just those who think like us, believe like us, worship like us, and live like us. Far from Christians being able to manipulate God, we, like our teacher, are to be servants to all - not manipulated by one or two.
Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"