22 Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24
21 Oct 2018
I am writing this, 20 minutes remain before the drawing of numbers for the Mega Millions, or rather billion, jackpot. $600 million in cash. Will there be a winner tonight? The odds for each ticket are overwhelmingly small, yet the hope people have that they will pull the winning numbers is high.
Tickets were bought at our house. If we beat the 1/202 million odds we would all be quite wealthy. I admit I have not been immune to the fantasy of what I would do with that amount of money. I am not sure what I would do other that setting up a foundation. I cannot conceive of what it would be like to have that kind of wealth nor what on earth I would personally do with it. But I still fantasize.
James and John were having their own fantasies as they walked with Jesus. I suspect they thought they might have winning lottery tickets. We have made it all the way to Chapter 10, 2/3 of the way through the Gospel of Mark and they still don’t get it, any more than the rest of us. We only have until the end of November to get it figured out. I would like to think we are further along than some of the repressive leaders we read about in our history books.
Stalin used the Russian Revolution to establish a brutal dictatorship. Today Daniel Ortega, who fought against the abuses of the Nicaraguan government has himself become the oppressor. English monarchs brutally destroyed all of those who stood in their way of power and control, often using the divine right of kings as their mantra. In our own nation, founded by people of a variety of beliefs, including deists and atheists, we seem more than ever enamored of the idea we are favored by and doing the work of God. Most of the home school texts on US history tout the vision of Manifest Destiny and Divine Providence. With the #MeToo movement the gender-based oppression and violence in this nation has been exposed like a rotting corpse for all to see. I suspect every female who reads this or hears this has been a victim of sexual harassment or much, much worse. Do we really want to sit at the right hand of God and wield power in the name of God? I hope and pray that we do not, or it means we have missed the very heart of what Jesus was saying 2000 years ago. The Gospel is hidden in plain sight.
Last year I had the chance to walk part of El Camino. I have had opportunities to backpack in some of the most incredible places in this country and have walked and day hiked very close to home. Walking alone or in the company of friends, is an experience that compares with nothing else. No, I was not walking with Jesus and healing the sick or feeding the multitudes or listening to his teaching. But I was walking with the Holy One. Even as a kid, when I was out on my little kid walks in the woods or the park or even walking to school, I was walking with God.
There was a time I was hiking on Isle Royale, which is a very isolated national park situated on a large island in Lake Superior, with my cousin and our two daughters, then aged 17 and 16, when we told them they could go ahead as they were full of teenage energy. We lost them on the trail and my cousin was almost in a panic. But somehow I knew, not just intuited but knew, that our daughters were just fine. I had to tell my cousin over and over that it would be ok, that the girls would be ahead of us and that they knew exactly what they were doing. Why did I know this? It wasn’t just hope or wishful thinking, it was knowledge. God was with us.
Job, after all his complaining about being unable to find God, met God. And he may be thinking that perhaps his wish should not have come true!! Who created the earth and all that is in it? Who set the forces of nature into play?
Now God is doing something new: restoring the justice that was intended when the world was created. And, alas, James nor John, nor any of the rest of the twelve, understood at all what Jesus meant by restoration. They could not fathom a world that was not set up with winners and losers, with rich and poor, with those on top and those down under.
Neither can most of us living today believe in a world where there is no top to bottom hierarchy, where the one who is “greatest” is the one who is servant to all. It is also the one who comes to liberate. Our version uses the work “ransom” but suppose we change that to “liberate?” How does that make you feel? Did Jesus come to bail you out or to set you free. They are not the same thing!! Bill Early is a magistrate and almost every Sunday he leaves the church to go to the county jail and talk with the inmates and figure out what is the best course. Many times, there is no good reason for them to be in jail, but once they are out they are no freer than when they were behind bars. They are imprisoned by anger, poverty, drugs, hopelessness. The don’t need to be ransomed, that is bailed out, they need to be freed, really freed.
What about you? Do you on the one hand look for a place in the commonwealth as something that brings you security or wealth or power? Does it make you better than others? Do you look at it as salvation from personal sin? I believe power and wealth are completely counter to what Jesus was saying. Yes, I do believe he was offering us a way to personal salvation but that was to be a result of becoming a servant leader. Ironically, we are liberated by becoming a servant!!
God is with us, but not in the way we expected.
If you want to get the whole picture I suggest you read the entire Gospel of Mark, start to finish, in one sitting. Better yet, read it out loud as it was originally intended or have someone read it to you. Listen to what Mark is saying about Jesus and about God.
Author Mark Allen Powell says this Gospel, with no stories of Jesus’ birth, is a Gospel that talks of “frailty, suffering, failure, and ambiguity.”  In a time when the church seems less and less relevant to the world in which we live, we know it is just as relevant, if not more so, than it was 2000 years ago.
Do you choose to walk the way of the cross? Are you willing to let love embody your life? If you do, you enter into the kindom, not kingdom, of God and it enters into you. Amen.
 Powell, Mark. Introducing the New Testament, 2nd edition 2018, Grand Rapids, Baker. P 141