and were afraid to ask him.”
Mark 9:30-37 – XVI Pentecost
September 20, 2009
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
Have you ever looked at a situation and known exactly how it was going to end? You don’t need to be clairvoyant. There are just some things – some situations, some human behaviors, some human relationships – that are as predictable as rain.
It’s easy when you know how the story is going to end.
This morning’s gospel is a bit like that. Jesus is passing through Galilee, making a ‘stealth visit’ and trying to remain under the radar so no one from his old stomping ground will know he’s in the area and he can teach his disciples.
He begins to teach them, saying, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again. But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him."
We know what Jesus is saying is absolutely right. We know the story. That IS exactly what is going to happen. Furthermore, we know how the story ends. We know that yes, Jesus will be betrayed and he will die on the cross and then there will be the resurrection.
But, the disciples did not know that. Couldn’t get their heads wrapped around such thoughts. So, they started playing the Mohammad Ali game among themselves, and argued about ‘Who was the greatest.” I suppose that was predictable.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Amused, perhaps, but not surprised. Some things about human nature are, if not predictable, then certainly not an unexpected surprise.
Let me exaggerate to make a point. Jesus does this all the time – takes stuff from the culture of his day and time and exaggerates just a bit to catch our attention.
I don’t think you have to be too old to remember either Barry Manilow or some of his songs. So there was this one song which told a story that is as old as ‘David and Bathsheba’, but this one is set at a night club.
It’s the Copa. You may know it as the Copacabana. Why, it’s just the hottest spot north of Havana.
There was a woman who worked there. Her name was Lola / she was a showgirl/ With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there. . . .And while she tried to be a star, (her boyfriend) Tony always tended bar / Across a crowded floor / they worked from 8 till 4/ They were young and they had each other / Who could ask for more?
Well, when you are in a place where “music and passion are always in fashion,” are we really surprised by what happens next?
As my sainted grandmother advised, “Nothing good ever happens after midnight."
His name was Rico, he wore a diamond / He was escorted to his chair, he saw Lola dancin' there /And when she finished, he called her over /But Rico went a bit too far, Tony sailed across the bar /And then the punches flew and chairs were smashed in two /There was blood and a single gun shot / But just who shot who?
Right. Even if you’ve never heard the song, you could finish this song, couldn’t you? In fact, you could write the songs that make the whole world sing . . . .
Um. . . Er. . . Sorry, but you get my point, right? Part of the ‘fun’ of the song is that it is so predictable. A few variations here and there, but we know how the story is going to end. Human behavior in certain situations is often so very predictable.
Which is why, I think, Jesus is always so full of surprises. Scripture tells us that he asked the disciples, “What were you all talking about on the way? But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.”
So, Jesus “sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'"
Human behavior in some circumstances may be highly predictable, but God as revealed in Jesus is full of surprises. In the Realm of God, it’s not about being the greatest of all, but the least of all and the servant of all.
Furthermore, when you do an act of kindness to “the least of these” – in this case, Jesus took a little child, certainly one considered of no real value in that ancient culture – and picked her up into his arms and said, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
I suspect you could have blown them all over with a feather. Suffice it to say, the disciples were certainly not expecting either that behavior or that response.
Let me give you another example – one that is not an exaggeration and certainly one that would never make it into a song, much less the Top 40 Countdown of Greatest Hits – but it is one that is just being written.
No one will be surprised to hear me say that these are tough economic times. We should all be hunkering down and preparing for the worst, right? Because as bad as things are, they are probably going to get worse before they get better.
The Wardens and Vestry and I have been cooking up a little scheme. We’ve been wanting to have a series of dinners at the Rectory – small gatherings once a month for fun, food and fellowship.
The problem was that entertaining like that is expensive and we just couldn’t get the budget numbers to crunch. The end of the story might be predictable. We’d just wring our hands, say, “Oh woe,” and write this off to the place where all good intentions eventually lead.
Except . . . . we’ve decided to do it anyway. But, we’ll be having a ‘covered dish supper’. Each month, a Vestry person will take responsibility for coordinating the meal and someone will provide the Main Dish, and others will be asked to bring the Appetizer, Wine or Dessert. You’ll be hearing more about this during the Announcements.
In the Realm of God, all things are possible, especially when we share what we have.
Let me say that again because it's very important: In the Realm of God, all things are possible, especially when we share what we have.
You simply have to think like a child and we all know that children think all things are possible – even when the adults think they are not.
If we are going to get through these difficult times, we need to stop thinking of the predictable and thinking more of the possible. That is the basis of the economy in the Realm of God. Not predictable. Possible.
We need to have hearts and minds as wide open as little children. God chose Jeremiah, who was just a young lad, to be a prophet. St. James reminds us that “You do not have because you do not ask.”
We know the story. The story of God’s relationship with humankind begins in the Garden and ends in The Garden. We’re all going to get to heaven. That’s the promise of the Gospel.
That’s God’s love song to us, which is still being composed.
Our work, our mission, our ministry, is to do the very best we can with what we’ve been given. And the truth of the matter is that we’ve all been given a great deal.
I know this much to be true: Mission and Ministry happen when you say ‘yes’ unless there’s a good reason to say ‘no.’
Even though we know how the story ends, the truth is that it has not ended. God’s relationship with us is still being revealed, still being written.
We would do well to remember the words of St. James, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.”
And then, expect the unexpected.