Sunday, October 18, 2015

True Leadership, True Success

True Leadership, True Success Mark 10:35-44 Upper Rogue UMC October 18, 2012 It's a common story that crops up in many cultures: The monarch is challenged to consider the poor in the kingdom who have sometimes been forgotten. So one day the monarch decides to see what it is like to live as a poor commoner. In disguise, he spends time walking among the poor, seeing what it is like to live under the sometimes oppressive laws of the government. Returning to the palace, the king is changed by the experience, and the state becomes more friendly to those under its rule. Why has this tale been so popular in so many places for so long? I guess people just want those in authority to know what it's like to live under that authority; an understanding we don't see very often; whether it's at home, at work, in politics, or even in the church. Two brothers, followers of Jesus, came to him to ask a question. Mark puts this story in an interesting place - after a couple of chapters in which Jesus has predicted his passion three times and has set a child in front of these same followers as an example of humility. Perhaps we're to see the brothers as waiting, biding their time to ask Jesus this question. They are so interested in what they want to ask of Jesus that they have failed to listen to what he's been saying. "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you . . . Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory" (Mk 10:35, 37). They had in mind, of course, some earthly or heavenly palace, a throne, a couple of extra scepters, a great deal of authority where they would reign as benevolent yet firm co-leaders with their Lord. They would be sitting at the head table, the seats of honor. They would be the center of attention. They would be celebrities. Not exactly in line with Jesus' idea of fame and celebrity; Jesus echoes Cato the Elder, who, upon observing statues being set up in honor of others, remarked: "I would rather have people ask 'Why isn't there a statue to Cato? than 'Why is there one?'" Of course the other ten followers, who had been watching and listening to this conversation, became angry with the two brothers, and Mark, who was writing a gospel of hope to a persecuted church, almost certainly chose this moment to insert Jesus' teachings about leadership and authority. Don't be like those worldly rulers you see around you, Jesus told them, and thy knew what he meant. They could see Herod's palace, the governors, and even the priests who did not consider those over whom they had authority. I'm sure that every one of the Twelve, like every one of the Republican or Democratic presidential candidates, honestly believed they could be better rulers than those they saw in power. If they had authority, they'd use it wisely, take care of people; they'd be benevolent rulers. But for Jesus, leading goes far beyond benevolence, and success goes far beyond wealth. A benevolent ruler waves from the rooftop to adoring crowds. A benevolent ruler sends servants to care for important invited guests. A benevolent ruler hopes that people will be fed. A benevolent ruler sees that laws are applied as fairly as possible to as many as possible. A benevolent ruler may even give up something for others. But a benevolent ruler is no closer to Jesus' ideals than the conductor on a train about to leave a large railroad station. As the conductor began to take tickets, looking at the ticket of the first passenger he remarked, "Friend, I think you're on the wrong train!" "But," replied the man, "the ticket agent told me this was my train." After a little discussion, the conductor decided to check with the ticket agent. Before long, it became clear that the conductor, like the would be benevolent rulers, was on the wrong train! For Jesus, leadership is not about authority and success is not about money, but both are about service and sacrifice. Rather than wave to the crowds from the rooftop, Jesus was in their midst, where a hemorrhaging woman touched him and he felt the healing power leaving him to change her life. Instead of sending servants to care for important guests, Jesus invites in the poor, the oppressed, and the powerless; and washes their feet himself! Instead of hoping the people will find food, Jesus feeds the crowd with a young boy's lunch. Instead of enforcing the law for as many as possible, Jesus fulfills the law, bringing grace and mercy to those who have never known them. Instead of giving up some of his wealth and power for others, Jesus gave his very life. Not what we think of when we think of leaders. Jesus calls us to be servant-leaders, but what does that mean, and what does it look like? In 1878, when William Booth’s Salvation Army was beginning to make its mark, men and women from all over the world began to enlist. One man, who had once dreamed of becoming a bishop, crossed the Atlantic from America to England to enlist. Samuel Brengle left a fine pastorate to join Booth’s Army. But at first General Booth accepted his services reluctantly and grudgingly. Booth said to Brengle, “You’ve been your own boss too long.” And in order to instill humility in Brengle, he set him to work cleaning the boots of other trainees. Discouraged, Brengle said to himself, “Have I followed my own fancy across the Atlantic in order to black boots?” And then, as in a vision, he saw Jesus bending over the feet of rough, unlettered fishermen. “Lord,” he whispered, “you washed their feet; I will black their shoes.”(K Hughes, Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome, Tyndale, 1988, p. 45.) Jesus gives us the key to true esteem, true success, and true leadership. Don't act like them the rich and powerful you see in the world. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. (44) And if you want to be first, you must be everyone's slave. It's a rough road, but it can be walked. A young man who had been reared on a farm decided to be a doctor in order that he might be of greater service to mankind. He felt that he could do more good and help more of his fellow men if he practiced medicine, than if he stayed on the farm. The years in medical school were strenuous ones. There were many sacrifices on his part, and plenty of work and study. His father and mother entered into the sacrifice, too. They went without many things in order that the boy might stay in school. Finally he was graduated and served an internship, then went into a large city and began his chosen work. Things did not go too well. He didn't have many patients, and his income was not all he had expected. Evidence of his discouragement must have crept into his letters to his parents, for his father decided to go to the city to see his son. His visit was a pleasant surprise. "Well, son," he asked, "how are you getting along? How is your courage?""I'm not getting along at all, dad. I am not doing a thing. Maybe I made a mistake." The father tried to say something which would encourage the young doctor. He had helped him before, maybe he could do something now. So he did his best. Later in the day the father went with his son to a free clinic, where the young man spent several hours each day without any remuneration. Twenty-five suffering patients were cared for as carefully as if the doctor were to receive a large check from each one. He spoke words of cheer, and left each one feeling better. When they were alone again, the old gentleman said, "I thought you told me you were not doing anything. If I had given as much help to as many persons in a month as you have in a few hours this morning, I would thank God that I was good for something." "But there isn't any money in it, dad," the boy replied "Money!" the old man said, with a tone of scorn in his voice. "What is money in comparison with being a help and a blessing to your fellow men? Forget the money. Don't let it worry you. I will go back to the farm and work the rest of my life to help support you, for in that way I shall be a blessing, too. I shall be happy by day and sleep soundly at night in the thought that I have helped you to help your fellow men." C. L. Paddock. Source: Signs of the Times, Copyright (c) January 30, 1951, Pacific Press, With permission from Dale Galusha . Following Christ is not about fame or fortune, it's about service and sacrifice. It's about being first by being last, and being the master by being the servant. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it's what he said. He said in in Mat 20:26 “But don't act like them. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others.” again in Mat 23:11 “Whoever is the greatest should be the servant of the others.” He said it in today's reading from Mark: But Jesus called the disciples together and said: You know that those foreigners who call themselves kings like to order their people around. And their great leaders have full power over the people they rule. (43) But don't act like them. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. (44) And if you want to be first, you must be everyone's slave. And he said it again in Luk 22:26 But don't be like them. The most important one of you should be like the least important, and your leader should be like a servant. That's really all there is to it. AMEN.

Monday, October 12, 2015

What's It All About, Job?

Job 23:1-9 10 11 15
Upper Rogue UMC
October 11. 2015

I remember the first time I had to prepare a sermon for a child's funeral. “Read Job” my friends told me. “Job explains why bad things happen to good people.” So I read Job, and it didn't help at all. All Job says about the existence of evil is that God's ways are different from ours. So, tell me something I didn't know.

Truth is, Job is not about why evil things happen at all, although a lot of bad things happen to Job. No. Job is a counter-argument to a theology prevalent in ancient Israel, prevalent at the time of Jesus, and still with us today. It's the theology Jesus faced in the Rich Young man who ran up to him. He knelt down, and asked, "Good teacher, what can I do to have eternal life?" (18) Jesus replied, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good. (19) You know the commandments. 'Do not murder. Be faithful in marriage. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Do not cheat. Respect your father and mother.' " (20) The man answered, "Teacher, I have obeyed all these commandments since I was a young man." This young man, we learn, was very rich, and like many Jews of Jesus' time probably believed that his wealth was a reward for his good living. It's what I call the “health and wealth” gospel. This theology, present in many churches, and across the landscape of religious broadcasting, teaches that if you are faithful enough—often defined as sending me enough money--God rewards you with health and prosperity....on the other hand, if bad things are happening to you, it is because you simply do not have enough faith and do not live righteously. It is this teaching that led the disciples to ask in John 9, “Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it because he or his parents sinned?"

This teaching finds its source in passages such as Psa 58:11 Everyone will say, "It's true! Good people are rewarded. God does rule the earth with justice." Pro 13:13 “Whoever despises God's words will pay the penalty, but the one who fears God's commands will be rewarded.” And Isa 3:10 “The righteous will be happy, and things will go well for them. They will get to enjoy what they have worked for.”
But the teaching twisted the scriptures and taught: Only good people get good things, and bad people only have bad rewards. If you are healthy and wealthy you are a good person; if you are unhealthy or poor, it is obvious that you are a bad person.

The writer of Job realized from experience that not only do good things happen to bad people, but bad things also happen to good people. Good and evil are part and parcel of our lives, regardless of our righteousness. How many multimillionaires have garnered their riches at the pain and expense of others? CEO's outsource jobs, destroy viable companies, and exit with million dollar golden-parachute benefits.
Millions lose their homes to predatory mortgage purveyors who not only escape jail, but keep the millions they've bilked. Meanwhile good people labor 12 hours a day just to keep their families fed, only to be diagnoses with debilitating and deadly diseases.

The story of Job opens with: Job 1:1-3 “Many years ago, a man named Job lived in the land of Uz. He was a truly good person, who respected God and refused to do evil. (2) Job had seven sons and three daughters. (3) He owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred pair of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and a large number of servants. He was the richest person in the East.” It would be perfectly clear to the purveyors of the health and wealth theology that only good things will follow Job. But then the writers of Job begin their attack.
Job 1:6-11 One day, when the angels had gathered around the LORD, and Satan was there with them, (7) the LORD asked, "Satan, where have you been?" Satan replied, "I have been going all over the earth." (8) Then the LORD asked, "What do you think of my servant Job? No one on earth is like him--he is a truly good person, who respects me and refuses to do evil." (9) "Why shouldn't he respect you?" Satan remarked. (10) "You are like a wall protecting not only him, but his entire family and all his property. You make him successful in whatever he does, and his flocks and herds are everywhere. (11) Try taking away everything he owns, and he will curse you to your face."

It is important to realize that “Satan,” as used here is not Satan, The Devil, the Evil One, as we use the name. Satan simply means “adversary, and the Satan was a member of the heavenly court whose function was to identify evil persons and accuse them before god. He was, in a sense, the prosecuting attorney. And here, he accuses Job of not being as good a person as God may think...that his righteousness is merely a shallow response to the good things he has received. “Take away what you've given him ans see what he does?” the prosecutor challenges.

And so he does. As more and more suffering is dumped upon poor Job, his friends come to “comfort” him. Beginning with his wife, they all tell him to confess his sin and die with a clean conscience. “But I have done no wrong!” Job replies over and over again. Perhaps his most contemporary plea comes from chapter 19:
Job 19:7-14 Though I pray to be rescued from this torment, no whisper of justice answers me. (8) God has me trapped with a wall of darkness (9) and stripped of respect. (10) God rips me apart, uproots my hopes, (11) and attacks with fierce anger, as though I were his enemy. (12) His entire army advances, then surrounds my tent. (13) God has turned relatives and friends against me, (14) and I am forgotten. But even from the pit of his suffering Job realizes: Job 19:25-27 I know that my Savior lives, and at the end he will stand on this earth. (26) My flesh may be destroyed, yet from this body I will see God. (27) Yes, I will see him for myself, and I long for that moment.

“Of course you have sinned. Why else would all these bad things happen if you were truly righteous?” they respond, spewing out the teachings of the health and wealth movement.

And so it goes, back and forth for 30 some chapters until God speaks from out of the storm:
Job 38:2-6 Why do you talk so much when you know so little? (3) Now get ready to face me! Can you answer the questions I ask? (4) How did I lay the foundation for the earth? Were you there? (5) Doubtless you know who decided its length and width. (6) What supports the foundation? Who placed the cornerstone,
Job 38:12 Did you ever tell the sun to rise? And did it obey?Job 38:28-35 Who is the father of the dew and of the rain? (29) Who gives birth to the sleet and the frost (30) that fall in winter, when streams and lakes freeze solid as a rock? (31) Can you arrange stars in groups such as Orion and the Pleiades? (32) Do you control the stars or set in place the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper? (33) Do you know the laws that govern the heavens, and can you make them rule the earth? (34) Can you order the clouds to send a downpour, (35) or will lightning flash at your command?

In times like this, with the images of Roseburg still haunting us, we cannot help but ask, as did Job: “Why?” Job 21:7-10 Why do evil people live so long and gain such power? (8) Why are they allowed to see their children grow up? (9) They have no worries at home, and God never punishes them. (10) Their cattle have lots of calves without ever losing one;” and, like Job, we seemingly face only silence from God.

If Job doesn't tell us why there is evil, who does? I wish I knew. The only answer we have from scriptures is from Isaiah who tells us: Isa 55:8 "My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways," declares the LORD.

The truth is, all our righteousness, all our good works, all our ritual cannot and doe not protect us from the attacks of evil. Like the rain, good and evil fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike. There is evil in the world because the world is not, and never has been perfect. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, .
Gen 1:31”... God saw everything that he had made and that it was very good.” Not perfect, but very good.(the words translated good and perfect are from two different Hebrew words.) Now God could have created a perfect world, one where there is no pain or evil (and, in fact he has, but it isn't this world) but in so doing we would have been robbed of free will...we would be simply automatons worshiping and serving God not from choice, but from genetic demand. In short, like good, evil is part and parcel of our lives, and ourselves. We cannot eliminate evil and violence from our world, but we can, and must, eliminate it from ourselves...and when we eliminate evil and violence from ourselves we weaken the hold of the evil one and strengthen the grip of God. Proverbs reminds us: Pro 25:21-22 If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. (22) This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads. And the LORD will reward you. A verse cited by Paul when he tells the Romans: Rom 12:19 Dear friends, don't try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, "I am the one to take revenge and pay them back."

When faced by seemingly insurmountable evil, the Biblical admonition is to cling to your faith and stand firm...holding tight the promise that in the kingdom to come Rev 21:4 He will wipe all tears from our eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.

Peace be with you.