Are You Ready for a Rainy Season?
22ndafter Pentecost; October 21, 2018
Text: Mark 10:35-45
35James 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.”41When 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 begin with a story. A well-known psychotherapist Donald Meichenbaum who taught at Waterloo University told of the time his car was struck by lightning while he was driving. Once he was safe at home, he began to share his ordeal with his teenage son, expecting at least some degree of sympathy. Instead his son interrupted, “Dad, let’s go buy a lottery ticket. They say the chances of being hit by lightning are like the chances of winning the lottery.”
I thought about this story while I was looking for a place to live in Vancouver. There is the implication that one needed to be struck by lightning to gain a winning ticket or vice versa. Contrary to anyone’s wishes to become a millionaire, recently the weather in Vancouver has been good, too good for a chance of being hit by lightning. In the meantime during my search for a house, the song, “If I had a million dollars,” became my theme song. While I was singing the song, I realized that even if I had a million dollars, I couldn’t buy a house in Vancouver.
Let’s turn our focus to today’s gospel reading. In a way I am with James and John, the sons of Zebedee. I also have a bit of Meichenbaum’s self-absorbed teenage son who often thinks only of his own perspective of wishes and stories. According to the story in the bible James and John say to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” In return Jesus politely asks, “What is it you want me to do for you?” They respond, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” At this point we should recognize the need to know the context of the story. A month ago, we thought about Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am” (Mark 8: 29). This is the context in which Jesus started his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem where the crucifixion is waiting for him.
At that time Jesus said to his disciples: “I must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). But the disciples wished Jesus to be a Messiah who destroys all their enemies.
Now, in today’s scripture James and John ask for the best seats beside Jesus in his coming glory. Had they not been listening and learning? Actually, today’s encounter is yet another episode in Jesus’s ongoing struggle to teach disciples about building the kin-dom of God in their midst. To the disciples misunderstanding about the kin-dom of God, Jesus expresses his frustration: “You do not know what you are asking.” He continues, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (38) Here again Jesus predicts his passion in a metaphor related to the last supper: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus invites his disciples back then and us now to join his ministry through the sacrament of Communion. To the request about the best seats, Jesus asks them whether they would “be baptised with the baptism that he is baptised with.” Jesus talks about two sacraments meaning God’s free given gifts - in Protestant traditions, the sacraments of Baptism and Communion.
Living in Vancouver I am often surprised to see trees making green canopies around our church. Roadside tree branches from both sides of the street meet in midair and form a big canopy or tunnel. This is not that common in Ontario, but in Vancouver everywhere we can see these green canopies. In fact, according to Treepedia, “a project based out of MIT and in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, Vancouver holds the highest Green View Index compared to other major cities across the world at 25.9%.” We should be proud of this encouraging news. http://senseable.mit.edu/news/pdfs/20170104_MetroNews-Vancouver.pdf
I am wondering why Vancouver is such a blessed place that we can see green canopies everywhere? My guess is rain. What do you think? Vancouver is called a rainforest. I haven’t experienced a rainy season yet but I am preparing for it. The reason I am talking about rain is that the main element of baptism is water, the source of life that nourishes all living creatures. In this regard, the Psalmist says, “Beside still waters, God restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2-3).
In the creation story, in the beginning of time as we know it, God made all creation with water and the water nourished the land to bear fruit. God led Israel out of slavery through the waters into the freedom of the Promised Land. In the life of Jesus, he was nurtured in the waters of Mary’s womb and baptized by John in the River Jordan. Jesus lived the life of waters permeating all living beings to give life.
Here we again come across Jesus’ shocking therapy to disciples requesting the best seats when Jesus holds power; he reminds them about the symbol of water in baptism. Water flows always to lower places gives itself to nurture all living beings. Many of us are baptised but we find ourselves often coveting the best of the lot, the top spot, the elite place recognized by society as the best. Indeed this is part of the human condition. We attempt to explain our wishes for the best in number of ways. We make outlandish demands. In a way we human beings seem to have James and John in our genes. We are sisters and brothers of James and John.
We know now who our mayor and councillors, commissioners for parks and recreation and school trustees in our city are after yesterday’s municipal election. I hope they heed Jesus’ wisdom: “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” Jesus may say to them, “Look at the trees how they grow.” “Look at the water; it finds always the lower places.”
As we look at ourselves, we may see ourselves as James and John; we may often think only of our own perspective on stories. We live in this human condition. In this context, the wisdom of Henri Nouwen, founder of L’Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill, Ontario, may be helpful, “Only those who face their wounded condition can be available for healing and so enter a new way of living.” Even though we live with limitations, when we are honest with ourselves about our condition, we can begin the journey toward healing and wholeness. We are becoming whole as we remember our baptism and share Jesus’ cup through Communion. In remembering that water permeates our being to give life and that, like Jesus, we can be in a position to serve at least some of the time and not be served all the time, we will become whole: We are not far from salvation. Now I think I am ready for embracing a rainy season. How about you? Thanks be to God for the wisdom. Amen.
West Point Grey United Church