Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lectionary 29
Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Could you be a secret service agent protecting an important person? Could you commit your life to a job that requires willingness to the ultimate sacrifice? If facing the possibility of death, could you literally take a bullet for your charge? What if that person is someone who has hurt you in some way? What if your job required that you protect someone with whom you disagree? Could you take a bullet to save his or her life? What if the attacker held the same beliefs as you? Could you stand in their way? Would you accept their wrath for the sake of someone else’s life?

This may seem like an outrageous hypothetical. Which of us will ever really be in that situation: thank God. How do you make the decision to die when everything seems to be more right to do the opposite? Look at Jesus. Really look at Jesus. He took our bullet, the bullet shot by the One with whom He not only agrees, but with whom He is in an absolutely perfect relationship. He took the wrath of God for us, who not only do specific things that are wrong, but who are separated from God by our very nature. No matter how hard we try or how good we are, we are broken and in need of mercy.

And Christ died for us. Each of us. All of us. Isn’t it amazing how two Christians can be completely opposite in their beliefs in ideology and philosophy, and yet still be equally freed by the blood of Christ? We can be on opposite political sides, each believing firmly that we believe as God would have us believe, and yet Christ took the bullet for our opponent, accepting the wrath that comes from our own selfish and self-centered position. He also took the bullet cast by our enemies for us. It doesn’t matter on which side of a modern issue we fall, Jesus died for us all. Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

His suffering has become our refuge. Four years ago I wrote about a story of a woman who’d been abducted by a rapist and murderer. He had escaped from police custody by stealing a deputy’s weapon, killed several people, beat a reporter and stole a car. As police searched for him, he abducted the woman and forced her to take him to her apartment. He tied her up and warned her that she would be dead if the police found him. It must have been a frightening experience, and unfortunately too many people experience the violence of crime in our world.

What makes this story incredible, however, is the faith of the woman who was abducted. Though she was afraid, she trusted in God’s good word and she remained calm through the ordeal. She treated him with mercy, spoke quietly will grace and compassion. They talked through the night, watched television together and she made him pancakes. They talked about God and he admitted that he did not want to hurt any one else. The man wanted to stay at the apartment for a few more days, but he let the woman go to see her daughter. Whether or not he expected her to return is not known. When she left, she called the police and they came prepared to take the man by force. It was not necessary, he was ready to surrender and he went with them peacefully.

Instead of hatred, the woman treated him with compassion and love. He was overwhelmed by her kindness. Though we do not know exactly what she said to him about the bible, something obviously touched his heart. Though he was terrifying in the beginning, willingly killing those who stood in his way, something about the woman’s trust in God transformed him. The woman told the man that she thought God brought him to her door, and she took the opportunity to talk to him about the love and mercy of God. Her compassion helped to calm him and it brought an end to the violent episode, thus saving her own and perhaps more lives. We can’t assume that her faith made her any more worthy of life than those who perished in the gunfire earlier in the day. No matter how much we trust in God, we might find ourselves in a similar situation and we might not be so blessed to survive.

Whatever the circumstances, the woman trusted in God and dwelled in His promises. She didn’t know whether or not she’d live through the day, but she didn’t react to the fear of the situation. She met the man in the refuge of God her protector. Even if she’d died, she knew that He would be waiting to take her into eternal life. She willingly accepted the possibility that she might die and tried to bring a sense of calm and reality to the world of someone who’d lost touch with the creation and the Creator. Could we have done the same? Would we have stayed or would we have tried to escape? Would we have been so gracious to our abductor for the sake of people we would never know? Would we have risked taking the bullet to save the lives of those who might next be found in this man’s path?

We can’t be Jesus. We know that. Jesus was perfect, and what He did for us was beyond the ability of any human being. We can’t die for the sake of the world. We might be able to save a life or two by standing in a bullet’s path, and we might be able to help a few people see the grace and mercy of God, but we can’t be Jesus. Neither could the priests who were given the task to offer the sacrifices for God’s people in the Temple. But the atonement that Israel received at the hands of human priests was limited and temporary. But what Jesus did for you and I was permanent. The writer of the lesson from Hebrews says, “…though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation…” We have a refuge thanks to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James and John were ready to stand with Jesus in the heights of the kingdom that would come by His power. They didn’t understand that He came not to be elevated to a position of royalty in this world, but to stand as the sacrifice and to receive God’s wrath in our stead. He came to die. Both the Old Testament and Epistle lessons for today give us a very clear picture of the will and purpose of God for Jesus. He was not to be a king who would sit on a throne in Jerusalem. He was both a suffering servant and a great high priest. He was called to serve others, many others. His service would not be to rule but to die. This is the task to which He was called and sent. He would be beaten and cut down not because of anything He did wrong, but for the sake of the world. He took upon Himself the sins of the world. As priest He presented Himself for sacrifice for the atonement of His people. His rule would not be for a brief moment on a throne, but for all eternity.

James and John may seem egotistical and overconfident in the gospel passage, but I imagine they were also uncertain and afraid. They were being thrust into a position they were not ready to take, one that they did not know that they could handle. They were being called to something much different than they expected. Jesus rejected their request and addressed their arrogance as well as their fears. He told them that He could not grant them their request because it was not for Him to give. Our calling, our vocation, our role in God’s kingdom comes from God. He will call and He will provide all we need to perform our duties. We simply respond with humility and God will see to the rest. And we do so trusting that we dwell in God our protector by virtue of the work Jesus Christ did on the cross.

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