Island Lagoon, SA 2016

What does it cost to win?

Week of Sunday 21 October - Pentecost 21: 
Gospel: Mark 10:35-45 

You can listen to the readings, and the sermon draft here. (12 minutes) 

We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
Where the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always-
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
and the fire and the rose are one.

T. S. Eliot.

 Acts 4:32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). 37He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

 5:1 But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us* but to God!’ 5Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6The young men came and wrapped up his body,* then carried him out and buried him.

The Gospel: Mark 10:35-45 
32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid..... 35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’36And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 38But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 39They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ 

I live with three cats which constantly size each other up. Each one wants at the top of the scratchy pole; the penthouse, we call it. They lurk, they stalk, they ambush. They steal each other’s food. Sometimes we are wakened by violent screeching brawls, and in the morning, find fur and blood spread across the kitchen floor.

It’s just like parliament; with its occasional bursts of outright savagery, and that perpetual plotting which perverts the good it desires.

Parliament has been a stunning achievement. It separates us from the animals! It protects us from the tyrants, and holds back at least some of the excesses of the rich. Homo sapiens has grown. We have come closer to that humanity God desires for us, where our joy will be made full.

But all this is constantly undermined by our lust for power, our desire for greatness. People of high ideal are corrupted and compromised. Or go nowhere. A friend said of a politician we both admire, “He is too honest to be promoted.”

There is a deep weariness and disillusionment about the processes of our society. It is dangerous and destructive; in our exhaustion we give up.

It is the same in the church. For all its great hopes, lying and self aggrandisement soon sour the story of the early community. Ananias and Sapphira begin to lie. They cease trusting the good news of service in love. It is only chapter 5.

It is not that they do not give everything. They succumb to the short cut; the lie that to get ahead you cut corners, as the world does:   make yourself look good.

Jesus says it must not be so among you. To be great means to serve all the sisters and brothers of the community. And to be great means to serve all people, not just church.

This is because the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many. This One we follow is not on some naive utopian trip. He knows the cost.

We are invited; we are called, to be part of an evolutionary leap. We are called into Kingdom where the world is turned upside down, and we homo sapiens move closer to becoming fully human.

We do not answer this calling by simply saying Jesus is Lord:  You are the Messiah. That is only the beginning. We answer the call by entering a new reality, by committing to a conversion of our very being, by trusting God that there is a better way of being human.

In faith, we will trust that the good will, and justice... the safety, and the hope of heaven for which all folk long comes only when our lust for power is abandoned; turned over upside down... when life  is safe because people are not out to steal a march on each other, or stab each other in the back.

But we’ll all get ripped off!

True.

We must be wise as serpents, as well as innocent as doves. Especially since snakes will find our openness and trust a delicious temptation. We have some hard lessons to learn about power; lessons we have avoided all our lives.

Despite this, we are called to be a deep still pool of trust; an oasis among all the mis-trust, in which a new humanity is growing. This is the call, and it will be ‘costing not less than everything.’

TS Eliot used those words. Costing not less than everything is also what Jesus said. Those who save their life will lose it. Eliot imagined

A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well...

He is quoting Dame Julian... who is faithfully representing to us the hope of the kingdom of heaven, where our joy will be made full, and life will be complete.

Would we live for that... or are we just content to win?

Amen.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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