Sermon for Year B, Proper 24
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
October 21, 2012
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Boy, we all want to be great, don’t we!? We all want the glory.
It’s only natural. Who doesn’t?
Honestly. Who doesn’t want the big corner office and the thick, plush carpeting
And someone to bring in the coffee and some bigshot title hanging on the wall,
And none of the responsibility that comes with it? Right?
Who wouldn’t want to fly around the world, gathering up neat stories
About exotic locations and dangerous situations and fascinating people?
Hey, I’ll be great – pick me! Give me the glory!
When I was a kid I wanted to be Super-Man. Then I figured out people don’t fly.
Now, it seems, I’d settle for the intellect of a super-genius
Or the looks of a super-model
Or the esteem and privilege of winning the Super Bowl
Or the power granted a select few on Super Tuesday.
Just pick your thing, whatever it is. Whatever …
… Clear skin and popularity and a cool car? Greatness!
… A position of power in your family that can’t be shaken? Glorious!
… A first-place ribbon on that scrapbook? Great!
… Someone to sit up and finally take notice,
And buckets and buckets of romantic love?
… More money than you can count?
… More piety than you can pray?
… The biggest largemouth bass in the lake? The buck with the most points?
… The ability to just make justice occur in a situation where it never did before?
Perhaps you’d like to be considered a saint some day,
And you’re currently working up to Martyr status in your family or church!
Perhaps your goal is to be the most humble person who ever lived. (…!)
Maybe all you really want is some peace and quiet,
In which case greatness consists of never being bothered again.
See, whatever it is – whatever vision of glory and greatness drives you …
When you shut your eyes tight
And you see yourself holding your own personalized brass ring,
Without a peer in sight or a flaw upon your brow,
In your world, in your mind, in your place and time …
The first thing you have to do is admit it: What is the glory that you seek?
… Well, who wouldn’t want that? To be great!? Of course.
I do. And I’d love it, too – I’d love every second of it.
I usually tell myself that I would only use that greatness and power for good
And for the sake of others, to help the plight of the poor,
And, I tell myself, that’s just the price you pay for being so great.
What a terrible lot of bunk, Jesus says. Get over yourself, Jesus says.
Get out of your little fantasy world, he says. And it isn’t merely a suggestion.
God made us, after all,
So I suspect God understands our unhealthy ambition and our desire to overreach.
The longer I live and the more I spend time in contemplation and prayer,
With a Bible in front of me, and usually open to a Gospel at that, …
The easier it’s become for me to be able to see
This little sham fantasy of glory that I’m perpetrating upon myself.
Man. I want to be great and I want the glory so bad I can just taste it.
And Jesus says,
Cut that out, right now; it’s not helping;
It is not serving the Lord your God;
It is certainly not advancing the cause of the Kingdom of Heaven for which I died.
In fact, he says,
I only have one kind of glory on offer today, or ever, and it’s the kind you get
When you follow me a l l the way down
To that place where the only thing in abundant supply is poverty of spirit
And one’s only possession is naked suffering.
When you find yourself nailed up and hanging between inglorious thieves
With your own mother sobbing in front of you,
And with your life draining out of you – and why?
Because you told the truth and someone needed a scapegoat.
He says, Can you drink this cup of suffering and death?
We humans are funny. We’re so fixated on the glory part –
The part we just know is sure to come after –
That we, just like James and John, sons and daughters of Zebedee that we are –
We most happily concur, in our ignorance, with the plan!
“Sure, Jesus, whatever you think.
Only let us sit right next to you later on
So that we can have just a slightly bigger piece of the pie than the other ten guys.
Because you know, Jesus, a pie cut into twelve slices
Doesn’t give any one person very much pie. And we Zebedees, we like pie.
So fudge it for us. Do us a favor.
Let us have, say, just five percent more of your kingdom than the other fellas.”
Now this, clearly, is Us!
This is human nature writ large onto sacred pages so no one will miss it.
And it begs a question:
What kind of God, you may ask, abides in such love
So as to come and abide with us,
A people so driven by our own quests and causes for glory
That we just can’t bring ourselves to understand what the deal is really all about?
Clearly, we lack understanding; we have far to go before we learn true servanthood.
Yet we pray for insight, and in our better moments,
We might even think to pray for humility. OR, have humility suggested for us.
Like Job. Poor Job.
For pages and pages now, Job has been complaining about his lot in life.
He didn’t want to be great or glorious;
His life was already pretty good, and then it got afflicted.
His friends have come in and they’ve tried to help manage the anxiety,
But what they’ve offered have been flimsy theological answers
To questions he isn’t even asking,
When all that time, he just wanted someone to come and sit with him in the pain.
Now, at last, God speaks, and God makes that suggestion for humility.
God says, Job, you have no idea what you’re talking about.
Where were you when the universe was measured and poured out and formed?
Job wanted his glory back. Wanted it badly. Wouldn’t curse God for it, though.
God needed to hold on to it a while longer.
In the same way, Jesus calls for a little humility among James and John,
And all the disciples. And us. You. Me. The Zebedee family.
He says, Don’t do this to each other.
This isn’t a contest; and anyway, the glory isn’t mine to dish out; it’s my Father’s.
Instead, just concentrate on serving one another,
And stop thinking about the reward.
Give of yourself waay beyond what you think possible,
And – who knows – the world may change just a little. For the better. Just that much.
So might you.
Oh, and one other thing.
When Jesus asks whether we can endure suffering and death,
He is not saying that it is acceptable
To willingly or habitually suffer the abuse of others
So that they can feel good about themselves.
Jesus is not saying that it is acceptable to suffer or die at the hands of those
To whom we may have become strangely, codependently addicted.
In fact, he’s saying in part that those of us seeing situations of abuse –
Physical, psychological, sexual, emotional, financial, and so on –
That those of us witnessing situations of chronic abuse
Need to get out from under the idea
That remaining with an abuser is really just a scheme to get some sort of deferred glory.
“Can you drink of this cup?” is not a call to just buck up
And go on living in fear for our lives or the lives of our children.
In the same way, this sermon is not just about why we need to practice genuine humility.
When we plumb the depths of this teaching, we find a call to action.
On Friday, we in our part of the state were visted
By the Iowa Attorney General’s Office for Crime Victim Services.
Deacon Pat sent out an invitation earlier this week.
You may have seen it on the news.
Long and short of it is, pretty soon Crime Victim Services won’t have $2 million it needs
To operate the way it has been.
Their office has seen this coming, so they’re preparing to trim and consolidate operations
In a way that will effectively gut agencies’ ability to address victims
Of domestic violence, sexual violence, and sexual assault –
Especially in rural areas,
Where services will be severely compromised.
Some shelters will go away; some forms of advocacy will go away,
And I believe we will see recurrence of violent crime,
Reported and unreported, even as the agencies that are still around are overrun.
In other words, no matter where you stand politically,
This program of the state looks to be setting people up for a pretty grim failure
Because it’s just not going to have the same amount of money to work with.
Now, this is all being announced at the same time as is another curious fact:
That our state currently carries a surplus of $668 million,
And it’s projected that that surplus will be worth around $800 million
Right around the same time that Victim Services will be implementing its changes.
Two million measly dollars … just to keep things the way they are …
Over and against an $800 million surplus that our government wants to give back.
Now, I’m not schooled in Iowa politics yet –
That takes a while, and maybe I’d best not anyway –
But it seems to me something is very wrong
When we can’t figure out how to take even $2 million out of $800 million
When the subject at hand is aiding victims of
Domestic violence and sexual violence and abuse.
Or as Jesus seems to be asking, have we not yet learned
That whoever would be great must be servant of all?
Is our state willing to give up the glory and the greatness of its AAA bond rating
And its swelling coffers and its rank of having the 47th lowest debt in the nation
In order to help victims of violent crime and their families
To be safe and to remain in an environment
Where they can live their lives with some amount of peace?
I figured I’d hear a presentation Friday from some folks at the state
Who already had things figured out and who needed people at the local level
To apply pressure to help them get the money they needed.
What I hadn’t figured on was hearing the genuine desperation in their voices
And seeing the panic and fear in their eyes.
You may say this is simply all a part of the political process,
That you have to have these high-stakes games and conversations
And push-pull and give-and-take
Before you can get anything done
And when the dice are already loaded.
My only response:
Are we really so unconscionable and do we really lack that much compassion
That we’d be willing to use those people
Who find themselves in these terrible situations as pawns in any political process?
Can’t we at least agree that there are some kinds of situations that should be off limits
In our quest for glory?
Can’t we look at how Jesus lived his life, always reaching out to the margins,
And agree that as we have treated the least, so we have treated him?
Or if not, then what have we learned?
Even so. God, through Jesus, loves us boldly, recklessly, and deeply,
And nothing will ever change that.
He just wants us to do better by each other.
Jesus on the cross is the only image you really need
To see that whoever would be great must be servant of all.
Come, sovereign Lord Christ. Amen.