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This Week's Sermon !

October 21, 2018

Job 38: 1-7
Psalm 104
Mark 10: 35-45
Slide 7

“When will they ever learn?”

There was once a couple who went to the minister because they were having marital troubles. The minister was a no-nonsense kind of guy and said, “but, you promised to take each other for better or for worse.”

The husband responded, “but she’s worse than I took her for!”

Of course no one getting married knows what they are in for when they walk down the aisle. Even couples who live together for a number of years find there are surprises in store for them.

We are approaching the 100th Anniversary of the end of what we now call WW1. At 11:00 am on Nov 11, 1918 the guns fell silent and the world breathed a sigh of relief. Approximately 10 million military personnel and 10 million civilians died in that conflict. Just 2 minutes before 11, Pte George Lawrence Price, formerly from Falmouth, was killed by a sniper’s bullet. He is widely regarded as the last British casualty of that war.

One of the great things about the modern age is the fact that you can find almost anything on the internet; much of it is not worth looking for! One of the amazing things you can find are the “Attestation Papers” of Canadians who volunteered or were drafted into the Canadian Expeditionary Force. One of the questions asked of the volunteers was “do you understand the nature and terms of your engagement”? Interestingly, those who were drafted did not have to answer this question, at least not on the documents I have seen!

What does that question mean? I suppose, on the surface, it would mean, “do you realize that you might not come back?” Yet, there is much to war that cannot be anticipated. Were any of those young men really prepared for the trenches, the mud, the bullets, the hand to hand combat, the boredom, the fear, the loss of friends in an instant, and the years of reliving it in their dreams.

I suspect that most soldiers, if they were asked the same question on their return, would say, “I had no idea what it would really be like.”

Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, as he addressed the British House of Commons in the early days of WW11 said, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." He did not coin the phrase himself though. These words, or ones very similar, were used by Theodore Roosevelt about 50 years before and Giuseppe Garibaldi, 50 years before that. In all honesty though - what else can you promise a nation after a declaration of war. If we are honest we all know that there is a lot more gory than glory in war!

In today’s gospel passage we have two of Jesus’ disciples coming to him on the ‘QT’ and asking for a favour. James and John were brothers, sons of Zebedee. Jesus nicknamed them, the “Sons of Thunder”. We actually don’t know why.

We all know how wary a wise parent is when a child asks for a ‘yes’ to an as yet unasked question. We’ve all heard stories of parents who promised their child anything at all their little hearts desired, and lived to regret it! King Herod promised his daughter that and John the Baptier lost his head. I preached a sermon on that passage.

In the gospel of Matthew this account of this event states that the brother’s mom asks for the favour on behalf of her sons. Perhaps Matthew did not like the picture Mark painted of two of Jesus’ closest followers. It’s hard to say what the motivation behind these differences was. I don’t think it matters much. The other disciples were not much different! They were upset when they found out what their friends had asked. The gospel seems to imply that they too wanted the honour that James and John sought. Perhaps they were waiting for the right moment to ask themselves! Perhaps they too wanted honour and glory out of their little adventure with Jesus. It took Jesus his entire ministry to get them to change their attitudes about what he came to do and what they would “get out of it”. Perhaps he wondered if they would ever learn!

For his entire ministry a great many people were asking, over and over, ‘who is this guy, anyway?’ Slide 8

Let us just say, for sake of argument, that you can all draw or paint expertly. You have the skill to form a picture in your head and then you can paint or draw it precisely as you want to.

If you lived in Japan, Slide 9 or Korea Slide 10 or Ethiopia Slide 11 you might come up with something like this. If you were from India Slide 12, Cuba and Spain Slide 13, or Egypt Slide 14 your Jesus art would show that heritage. Coming from Russia Slide 15, Nigeria Slide 16, or a North American indigenous tribe Slide 17 would produce different depictions. You may have once wondered if the image on the famous Slide 18 “Shroud of Turin’ was “real”. We probably all think that this is close to what we have imagined since childhood Slide 19. A United Church artist drew four pictures of Jesus. Slide 20. Originally called, Jesus Christ, Liberator, the one in the top right corner, now widely known as the “Laughing Jesus” is on my office wall. I can imagine this Jesus laughing at a good joke or celebrating when one person finally realizes the kind of abundant life he came to give. This image may be disturbing; Slide 21 here Jesus is portrayed as a crucified woman, perhaps because so many women suffer and die at hands of the men who had promised to love and care for them. Despite all of our depictions, Jesus was a middle eastern male and probably looked more like this one Slide 22 that any of the others I have shown.

Why is this important? There was a university professor who gave two tests to his incoming students in New Testament. The main theme of the first test was “What was Jesus like?” The second test was designed to find out what each student was like. It was discovered that the students, in general, envisioned a Jesus who was just like them, or just like someone they wanted to be when they grew up and graduated university.!

In our culture we value success and that is measured in terms of wealth, power, and fame. Successful people are “listened to.” Slide 23. Weakness and vulnerability are to be hidden or downplayed.

I spoke of the work of Jean Vanier a few weeksago. Slide 24 I could also refer to the work of Mother Teresa Slide 25 who each found (or find) the face of Christ in those in need.

Among other things the cross is the symbol of ultimate vulnerability. Essentially, this passage asks us if we are prepared to be vulnerable in our service of the gospel. Vulnerability is not valued in our culture; strength is. You have to be the best: whether that is the strongest, the richest, the fastest, the “best-est”. Yet we know that life is not the Olympics, or pro sports, which are, only for the few and for those few, only for a few years.

When we look at the life of following in the way of Jesus we are looking at a lifetime of modelling our lives after the way of Jesus. We don’t retire and get pensioned off at 65, or 70, or even 99!

I began my sermon with a “funny” illustration of a couple having problems. Actually, it was a joke my dad loved to tell. Marriage is a relationship that requires a certain amount of vulnerability in order for it to be successful. To be vulnerable is to admit that you need something or someone as well as having something to give; good relationships need both.

A good friend is a teacher who has spent most of her career teaching 5 year olds. I don’t think she has any trouble asserting her authority, but she is also prepared to show her vulnerable side. How best do you reach a child who is feeling afraid and overwhelmed, except to show that adults are sometimes afraid and overwhelmed as well!

In researching the graphics for this sermon I found a great many regal looking Jesus pictures. He is the picture of health and power - even if he could use a haircut and a shave. He looks like a king. There are many verses that refer to Jesus sitting on the throne, in glory! There are many pictures of Jesus with a crown!

Of course, because it’s the way the internet works; I also found a number of pictures of and stories about “our Royal Family.” I was surprised to find out that Princess Eugenie, married a week ago, chose a wedding dress that revealed a long scar, from a scoliosis surgery she had when she was age 12. Shw wanted to connect with those who had medical issues and children undergoing surgery as she had. This pleasantly surprised me; I guess I had long thought of her as an “entitled and spoiled Royal”.

How do we gauge success? How do we measure faithfulness? As the JNAC does its work, you, the congregation, will be called to reflect on the question, ‘what is our mission?’ Is Avon United Church here ‘just to keep the doors open’ or is there more? We need to ask the question, “Why do we want to keep these doors open? How are these communities and the world a better place because of Avon United Church? How do we best serve this community of which we are a part?

The short answer is that we are supporters of the local food bank, the local schools breakfast programs, two local agencies that help homeless and hungry people, an outreach mission in Halifax, a foster child, the Mission and Service Fund, an ecumenical prayer shawl ministry, visits to shut-ins, provide space to 2 AA groups and a TOPS group and more. These are the kind of things we should be doing.

Some people come to church to be fed spiritually, (hey, we even have physical food downstairs after the service today, as a bonus); some come to see their friends; some come to be seen by the important people; some wish to get away from whatever is bothering them; some come to hear the word preached; some come to take part in a community of faith; some come out of habit! Hey, not all habits are all bad - like brushing our teeth or driving on the right side of the road - “it’s a good thing”.

There must be a balance between what we can hope to “receive” and what we can “give or offer” when it comes to faith or community. It’s not just “about us”.

Following Jesus is not meant as a plank of our platform to worldly success. Faith is seen by Jesus as a way of serving others, of showing by word and deed that God wishes the fullness of life for all people and indeed for all of creation.

Our future depends on our ability to realize that its not about what we can get, gain or keep for ourselves but about the abundance for ALL that was offered in Jesus.


1995- 2018 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!

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