Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A holy disruption

Mark 10: 32-45 
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE 
October 18, 2015

            A spiritual discipline that I have struggled to apply over the years of my adulthood, especially as a pastor and mother, is the acceptance of disruptions. A disruption is any change in the status quo. It can be welcome or unwelcome, expected or unexpected. Many a time I have welcomed a disruption, even planned for a few of them, such as moving here from Connecticut, resigning from full-time ministry, and picking it up again. Some of these planned disruptions of ‘the way things are’ were of the most positive kind, like getting married or having children or returning to work, yet each also came with its own challenges as well.

            Most of the time I try to welcome disruptions into my status quo.  Erma Bombeck once said that we have to learn the difference between a lump in the oatmeal and a lump in the breast—most disruptions are a lump in the oatmeal.  And usually they are an opening for ministry.

            In fact, ministry is comprised mainly of disruptions to the status quo, the way things are in our lives.  Someone loses a job or needs some help paying the bills or is homeless or hungry or just moved into town or was in an accident or has just quit smoking or is in recovery or needs to be in recovery or received disturbing news from a lab report or a relationship has ended or a loved one or friend has passed away—and they need to talk, they need community, they need help. 

            Jesus lived his life in service to disruption.  Often he would try to get away by himself and pray but more often than not, folks who were sick or hurting or lonely would find him, and Jesus would give them what they needed most: healing, forgiveness, love, and a changed life.

            In this morning’s scripture lesson Jesus and the disciples are headed for the biggest, most traumatic disruption of their life together.  For the third time Jesus has told his closest friends what will happen to him when they reach Jerusalem.  He goes into great detail—betrayal, torture, then death, and at the last, resurrection. 

            Two of the disciples, James and John, have the strangest reaction to this disruption, this oncoming train wreck:  they ask to be at the right and left of Jesus when he comes into his glory.  The author of Mark does nothing to gloss over their request or to make them appear less connected to this impudent demand, as does Matthew by having their mother ask Jesus for them.  Mark presents the disciples as very human.  It would not be the last time that when a leader’s death or leave-taking is imminent, even one as beloved as Jesus, someone would make a power grab.  This does not beg for judgment but rather understanding.  By asking for seats of glory, they betray their fear at losing Jesus and the uncertain future of this intimate community from which they have received a new life.

            Nevertheless, Jesus is as cool as a cucumber.  As the ultimate transition man, he exudes an ideal non-anxious presence.  He does not judge them for asking something from him, even as he is about to enter the city where he will meet his death.  He gently responds to the ignorance that is masking their fear, as though they are young students lacking certain life experience.

            What the disciples do not understand is that disruptions can also be deep sources of transformation, especially the ones that cause a great deal of pain.  Like birth and death, painful disruptions have within them the gift of transformation, of birthing us from one life into another.  It is how we lean into these disruptions and the pain that comes with them that determines what shape this transformed, changed life will take.

            Jesus warns James and John that indeed they will drink from the same cup and share the same baptism, but who will be at his right and his left has already been prepared.  I have often wondered if the two thieves who were crucified on the right and left side of Jesus were representative of these two disciples, showing us the truth that on the path to glory there is no escaping pain and disruption, but that there is also transformation of the highest order.

            You’d think that if the other disciples were listening in, they would have heard Jesus’ warning and heeded it, but no.  Thankfully these other disciples are just as wonderfully human as we are.  They become angry at James and John, perhaps because they made the request before any of the rest of them could.

            Jesus then reminds them of the worldly powers that be, that there is a certain pecking order to be observed and obeyed, but as usual with Jesus, it is turned upside down.  Eugene Peterson puts it this way in his paraphrase The Message:  “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” Jesus said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”  And in so doing, Jesus has set the disciples and us free from any humiliation from the powers that be, by commanding that we be humble instead, by living as servants and slaves.

            Servanthood is a life lived in the service of disruption.  The master calls, the servant responds, disrupting whatever task or chore they were currently doing or few minutes of peace they were enjoying.  The servant is willing to disrupt his or her life for the sake of the master.

            A few years ago I was a part of a group of clergy friends who met for spiritual nourishment.  Each month we would take turns leading the group through a discussion, some prayer and singing, and sharing Communion.  One particular occasion we shared Communion quite differently.  We were instructed to take a sizeable chunk of bread and then to feed each member of the group with a small morsel of it, saying each person’s name with the words “I am willing to disrupt my life for you.”  Communion reminds us that Jesus was willing to disrupt his life, even lay down his life, for friends.

We can’t live a life with Jesus and think we’ll remain the same as we’ve always been.  We can’t be the Body of Christ and not change, not be transformed.

I’ve said once, I’ll say it a hundred times:  a life with Jesus is no rose garden.  The only thing we’re truly promised is that Jesus will be with us to the end of the age; that God will unconditionally love and forgive us; that the Holy Spirit will continue to comfort and agitate, inspire and afflict us.  There are no guarantees that we’ll be successful at this thing called community.

I’ve shared with you before this quote by one of my favorite authors, Samir Selmanovic.  He grew up in what was Yugoslavia, the son of a Muslim father and a Christian mother.  He was raised culturally Muslim but as for religion he was raised as an atheist.  At 18 he began his compulsory service in the army and it was through a friendship there that he converted to Christianity.  His family disowned him, throwing him out of the house, and it was years later before he was able to reconcile with them.  He is now a Christian pastor and the founder of an interfaith community called Faith House Manhattan.  He says this about what is promised in following Jesus:

“Jesus offered a single incentive to follow him…to summarize his selling point: ‘Follow me, and you might be happy—or you might not. Follow me, and you might be empowered—or you might not. Follow me, and you might have more friends—or you might not. Follow me, and you might have the answers—or you might not. Follow me, and you might be better off—or you might not. If you follow me, you may be worse off in every way you use to measure life. Follow me nevertheless. Because I have an offer that is worth giving up everything you have: you will learn to love well.’”

Love is a holy disruption.  Grace given freely to all is holy disruption.  God’s generosity is a holy disruption.  #OccupyWallStreet, #BlackLivesMatter, street protests of any kind are holy disruptions.  Injustice is a holy disruption.  God’s justice rather than human fairness is a holy disruption.  God’s mercy rather than human merit is a holy disruption. 

When was the last time the Church, this church was a disruptor of the status quo?  Where are we bugged, irritated, frustrated, pained, provoked?  Could that be the gospel disrupting our status quo to get our attention?  And if the gospel isn’t disturbing our status quo, what are we not paying attention to?

How willing are we to disrupt our lives for each other, disrupt our life together for the sake of our communities, for the sake of the gospel?  Are we sure we want to be a servant and a slave of all?  Are we ready to learn to love well?  Do the words of Jesus challenge us, provoke us?  His words were intended to poke holes in our arguments, our resistance, in our status quo, to change our lives and our life together.  For through those holes, through those holy disruptions will come shafts of light, to illumine our way to true servanthood, to glory, to transformation.  Thanks be to God.

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