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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Matters of Perspective

Jesus is a new kind of king who gives us a new perspective to see the world.  He walks the path to Jerusalem towards the cross, something we would never expect our king to do.  Through this unexpected journey, Jesus changes how we view God, the world, and our identity.  

Vicar Neal Cannon, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 29, year B; text: Isaiah 53:1-12, Hebrews: 5:1-10, Mark 10:32-45

As many of you may have heard, I spent these last few days out in Bismarck, visiting my grandmother who is in the last days of her life.  Much of my family was there, and when we weren’t sharing a tear or two together, we were telling stories.  So I was sitting there, sandwiched between my two uncles, who are the greatest “story” tellers of the bunch, and they start telling me stories of all the characters in North Dakota that they had gotten to know over the years.  Some were more memorable than others, and some were more repeatable than others. One in particular stands out that I wanted to share with you all today.

They were telling me a story of two family friends.  They were an older couple who had passed away within a short time frame of one another.  And after they passed away the sheriff came in along with some family and friends, and started to kind of go through their things, as people do when somebody passes away.  These people didn’t have much.  In fact they had hardly anything.  They lived on a farm and between them shared an old beater pickup truck.  They had no TV, and only had space heaters to heat their home in the winter.  They didn’t have particularly fancy clothes, and they were living in a very modest home, so much so that their floors were basically nothing more than floorboards on top of leveled dirt.

When they were going through their things, one of the family members remembered that they hid some of their savings under the floor, and when they found it, they found $90,000 in cash that had been tucked away underneath those floorboards.  And I think this gets us all wondering, what in the world were they doing storing $90,000 in the floorboards?!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I could find a lot of things to do with $90,000 in cash.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I could burn through 90,000 dollars pretty quickly.  I’d probably go out right away and buy a new car, get myself some new clothes, and probably go on a vacation or two before the year was over.

I got to thinking about this and I realized that this must have been a matter of perspective.  From an outsider’s perspective, they were poor.  This couple hardly had any nice things.  They didn’t have enough.  But to them, and perhaps a few people who were closest to them, they had plenty. They had a roof over their heads, a bed to sleep on, family, friends, and everything they needed in life.

Oh yeah, and $90,000 tucked underneath the floorboards that they apparently they couldn’t think of a way to use.

Our Isaiah text today is all about perspective as well.  The text starts out as a confession.  The author of Isaiah introduces a servant to us, and he admits, he’s overlooked this figure.  The servant is not rich, tall, or exceptionally attractive.  In fact, the servant wasn’t well received by those around him and so he was persecuted and rejected.  Then the author goes on and describes this person.

Tell me which person in the Bible this sounds like.  Verse 5 says this person was wounded for our sins.  Who in the Bible was wounded for our sins?  Verse 6 describes us as sheep?  Who in the Bible is our shepherd?  Verse 9 tells us that they killed the servant alongside wicked people?  Sounds a little bit like the crucifixion, doesn’t it?

Some of my professors at the seminary and most of the scholars I have read would probably take some issue with what I’m about to say next, but this is one time where the Sunday school answer is OK.  These lines make us think of Jesus.  As a Christian, I can’t help but see anything but Jesus in this verse.  It looks and smells and tastes like Jesus to me.

And I find it really interesting and helpful to us that our author admits that this servant of God just doesn’t look like much of anything at all.  The servant doesn’t look like the arm of God, but yet by the end of it all the author admits that there is something special about this character.  Something that changes the way he sees the servant.  The servant gives our writer a new perspective, a new lens to see God and the world.

And when I was reading this, I began to wonder if we would have the right lens to see Jesus today.  I mean, if you’ve been a Christian for a long time you’ve heard a lot about Jesus, what he was like, the things he taught, and if you put it together that Jesus was Middle-Eastern, you might have an idea of what he could look like, and what kind of things he might say, but what if he was in the back of the room?

Would we be able to pick him out? Would we welcome him right away?  Or would we be suspicious and unsure of him because he’s a stranger?

I think this comes down to what we’re looking for.  Sometimes when we think of Jesus we think of the divine Jesus, with light coming from his body, clothed in splendor and majesty, just like the songs, because, after all, Jesus is our king and lord.  But if Jesus came to us, as he was when he lived on Earth, he might just look like an ordinary guy.  And I wonder if we would notice him.

In our gospel lesson today, the disciples James and John have seen a whole lot of things from Jesus already.  Jesus, just a few short chapters before, gives a blind man sight.  He has performed a number of miracles and people are wondering who he is.  Who is this guy?  And the disciples think they have a pretty good answer.  He is the Christ.  The son of God.  He is given miraculous abilities and is clearly being lifted up by God.  Peter affirms this in the previous chapter when he calls Jesus the Messiah.

But James and John recognize this too because they have seen the things that Peter has seen.  And they start thinking to themselves that Jesus is more than an ordinary guy, Jesus is a king.  And what are kings good for?  Well, kings have power and authority, and so kings are good for asking favors.  So James and John go to the king and they ask him for a favor.

But here’s the problem.  Jesus is not the kind of king they are expecting.  Their minds are stuck on human kings.  But Jesus is a new kind of king.  Jesus is a servant king. And the disciples still don’t get it even though Jesus, for the third time in Mark, shows them where he is going, and he points to Jerusalem, and says there the Son of Man is going to die.

This changes the way that we see things.  When Jesus becomes a servant, this changes the way that we see God.  Before, God was on high, a cloud on a mountain, he was distant and over there sitting on a throne.  But what happens when God puts on flesh and looks like a person?

I think this is what is so moving about our text in Hebrews today.  The text tells us that Jesus went through everything that we go through as humans, all of our pain and suffering, and hardship, and God heard Jesus’ cries and tears. But what does it mean when Jesus cries?  We don’t want a Jesus who cries because to cry means too close to the human heart.  Sometimes I think we are a little more comfortable with a God that is far away.  To cry also means to be human, to some it even means to be frail, but we want our God to be untouchable.  But the problem is that when Jesus puts on flesh, he is frail.  He hurts, the same way we hurt.

This is what James and John are having trouble with in our text today.  They want Jesus to be their kind of king, but Jesus shows them that in his kingdom, influence comes through service, not power.  So when Jesus gives sight to the blind, heals the sick, and walks on water, they see his power, but they can’t comprehend his service.

So James and John approach Jesus to sit at his right and his left, Jesus says, you don’t know what you’re asking.  Do you see where I am going?  I am going to Jerusalem to serve the world.  And do you know what’s going to happen there?  I am going to be killed. And then he goes on and says that they have to drink this same cup and be baptized with the same water.  James and John, say they can drink from the same cup, but it’s clear here that Jesus is trying to flip their perspective.  Jesus is trying to show them that being his follower is not a road for self-glory.  This is a servant’s road.

And this changes how we see ourselves doesn’t it?  Because following Jesus cracks us open and makes us look at ourselves.  When we get a little too full of ourselves, Jesus brings us back to earth.  It reveals our flaws but at the same time it reveals our worth.  It tells us that God values humanity enough to be with us.

Following Jesus means that we see our communities and neighborhoods differently, because when we see how much the Triune God values the world and chooses to be in the world, it helps us to see the value of our neighbor more fully.  By asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left, James and John seek to be above their peers and their neighbors.  So Jesus changes their perspective, and tells them to be last.

Think the different ways we treat our neighbors here at Mount Olive.  What is the community meal about if not a new way of seeing our neighbors?  The community meal is not only a way to serve this community, but it’s also a new way of being with the people in this neighborhood and valuing the people here.  If you have not been I encourage you to go sometime and get to know some of the people and their stories.  Some are homeless, some are down on their luck, some are families struggling to make it.  And in following Jesus we choose to be with them and for them in loving service.

My friends, let us walk the path to Jerusalem with Jesus.  Let us see the world through this lens.  Because when we do we see everything differently and we see Christ more clearly.  Christ shows us that authority comes from service, not power.  That love comes from being with our neighbors, not above them.  Let us gain a new perspective.

Thanks be to God.

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