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Pentecost 22

To be an agent of God’s grace, one must possess at least three things: mercy, faithfulness and righteousness. Jesus surpasses all priestly requirements as the true King of Peace. Unlike other priests, he never committed violence, and never spoke deceitfully. Before he sacrificed himself on the altar, he wanted his disciples to consider what it means to become great.

In the Greek Bible, the word simply means “large.” That idea of greatness fits mostly into our idea of value, great savings for your money. Most people see being great as being ranked number one, like Super Bowl champions. Every president aspires to be a great world leader. We think of political office as a power trip, but honestly, I would feel powerless if I had to watch C-Span, take notes and try to remember all those speeches. We hope every politician remembers that they are public servants. In theory, they probably understand the Christian concept of servanthood. But in reality, all of us struggle to consistently practice serving others, in government, in business and in our homes. It’s hard to balance servanthood with power. We tend to be either dominant or subservient partners.

The idea of a country becoming a servant to others seems absurd and weak. Jesus can’t explain it well enough for us to completely commit and prove whether it’s true. During my lifetime, America has tried to hold power and self-sacrifice in balance. We use our economic resources and sacrifice many lives to fight evil and rebuild after wars. Our best intentions are goals of justice and peace. Our government has been generous with foreign aid and in humanitarian relief, slow to sanction and slow to impose barriers to trade.

Jesus suggests that there is still a better godly way to rule that contrasts with human nature. Great doesn’t mean dominate. Jesus warns against hungering to wield power, including legislative authority. To be servant of all, means all races, genders and nationalities. At its core, in the hearts of ordinary people, I believe America wants this type of greatness.

Jesus calls every person today, as he did James and John, to reassess what great means. Great in God’s kingdom looks different. God’s will done on earth, looks as it does in heaven, not as we define it.

I used to pour over every word and photo in a magazine called Reminiscence. That’s where I read stories of Americans working together, lending a hand or handout to a neighbor in need, offering food, shelter and work to the homeless. But, times have changed. The world isn’t as safe as we thought it once was.

In Reminiscence magazine, electric washing machines and kitchen stoves were advertised as revolutionary. Jesus was revolutionary, too. Never before had a high priest offered himself on the altar as the sacrifice. Never had a priest been willing to carry the sins of the people on himself. Jesus was killed for being a political threat, a subversive, an agitator. We sling those words like ugly nicknames. Should Christians rightly label the author and perfecter of our faith, as revolutionary?

Yes, because revolutionaries stand in opposition to dominating powers that rule unjustly. Jesus’ ways differ from the ways of humans. We turn our own way. We get led astray. Too many times, people focus on God, the mighty warrior. The language of victory on our tongues wants to win battles of strength. We want to count the spoils of war. Positions of power and material goods like land and resources ought to be split and controlled among the winners, right? When people start revolutions, they always end in violence and death. Power may pass from one party to another, but, when all the losers are either out of office or dead, greed, cruelty, ambition and hypocrisy survive.

The situations that come to be don’t look much different than the ones before. A minority of the strongest have power and exploit the rest. America’s dream of controlling powers that threaten to be greater than our own, sometimes lacks mercy, faithfulness and righteousness, the three elements necessary to serve as agents of God’s grace. Like the rich man, we worked hard to get what we have. We’re not ready to make the necessary sacrifices to more equitably distribute wealth. We’d rather keep things the way they are, fight hard and enjoy the spoils.

It’s easy to say that a Christian revolution only requires the death of one man, Jesus. It’s easy to embrace his death on the cross, die with him, and enter the priesthood of believers. But, unless we possess the qualities of mercy, faithfulness and righteousness, we don’t really qualify as priests.

Priests don’t constantly declare war on their enemies, they offer sacrifices. It’s hard not to be consumed with our enemies since everything is declared as such. Our enemy is debt, addiction, or God forbid, looking your age. Enemies in God’s kingdom are poverty, welfare and incarceration. To prosper, we champion self-sustaining enterprise. Who doesn’t love to exploit opportunity? Where would we be without dividends, coupons, or stores offering great deals for less? God in the flesh says, “No. I’m not the revolutionary for selfish causes.”

We’d rather agree with the psalmist who argues that being abased and suffering is beneath what we deserve. Like him, we seek reward with exaltation. Psalm 91 plainly describes our reward for placing trust in God. We will be elevated such that no evil or disease will befall us. We’ll be placed in a superior position, able to tread, trample and overcome dangerous things. We supposedly won’t even stub our toes, with God protecting us.

James and John needed protection from what they were asking. They were like two little kids wanting to drive the family car. When Jesus asked, “Can you drink the cup or be baptized the same, he’s was saying, “Are you sure you’re tall enough to see through the windshield, or reach the pedals?” Out of love and mercy, God doesn’t hand over whatever we ask for.

How the Kingdom of God presents itself comes as a surprise. It resembles God shaking a giant snow globe. As circumstances turn our lives upside down, we are about to discover hidden beauty. Like elements of the Kingdom of God, a snow globe lets us experience the joy of simplicity. It offers the chance to experience life at a smooth gentle pace. It transforms our view of a scene we thought was fixed. Suddenly, what we focus on seems surrounded by a fluid type of peace.

A snow globe looks nice on the mantle, pretty enough, as it is. But, God has another surprise in store. There is music to be heard. When we build relationships of mutual support, we create harmony. We will make music like fancy snow globes.

Imagine, you’ve never seen one. I tell you to close your eyes and open your hand. You see it’s a music box, turn the key and prepare to listen. You know the sound, you’ve heard something similar before. Maybe it’ll be one of your favorite tunes, but you’re not really excited.

Kind of like when you hear that greatness means becoming a servant. God will prompt you to change your orientation. The first time you realize that you’ve done something of eternal value, you experience a child’s delight. You’ll see snowflakes fall right before your eyes. They’ll gently drift until they stop, and you’ll notice that some have landed softly on objects in the scene.

There you are. You’ve gotten a glimpse of the view from both sides of God’s kingdom. The here and now, and the hereafter. Like a snowglobe, God offers ways to recreate a feeling that things are going to be okay. We’ll have other chances to to experience delight in our souls. Remember what that was like?

Once you know how God’s kingdom works, you get too excited to not do what it takes to experience the full effect. You feel compelled to turn something you know is wrong upside down. Then you get to relive the memory of delight and participate again in something great.

Snow globes sure feel heavy. Since they are generally expensive, one assumes they make the glass nice and thick. Having broken one, I couldn’t believe glass the thickness of eggshells could bear all that weight and withstand all that shaking. Must be a God thing.

We contain ourselves in spheres we think are thick and protective, too. In reality, our defenses are fragile. God miraculously holds all the heavy stuff. When we get shaken, surprise elements of beauty are revealed. Do you think our first snow globe could have been the womb? We were surrounded by all that fluid.

The whole world is a great globe, surrounded by God’s pure love and unlimited grace. There are no leaks and no evaporation to compensate for. The globe remains full. Good things will float gently above and around you again, even if it looks like they’ve stopped for now. God has something planned to add sparkle and beauty to your life. Our greatness can lie dormant where we can’t see it, but God’s is always there. Amen.

 

 

 

Vicar Nancy Brody

Vicar Nancy Brody

Vicar, 2018-2019

Nancy Brody was called to serve as pastor of Messiah Parish in Halifax, PA. Her congregations are named Messiah Lutheran Church (Fisherville) and St. Peter (Fetterhoff’s).

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