May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
There is an old Swedish proverb that says “Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.” Well I think that is sometimes true. At times I worry about little things that seem to grow and become like a small light casting a huge shadow. So that tiny little thing I am worrying about becomes enormous, like the magnified shadow. For example, with my upcoming ordination there is a lot to plan and some of my family is coming from out of town. So my sister and her husband are coming up from Philly, my other sister might be coming with her little boy and maybe her husband. And then my aunt and uncle from Nashville, Tennessee are looking into coming up. Well I, of course, would love to have them all here and for them to all stay with Tracy and me. I am worrying about trying to make it all work, thinking “well we can put so and so on an air mattress and these people can stay in this room” etc, etc. Because I am worried about making it all as easy for them as possible. But luckily I have Tracy to take a step back with me and look at the realistic picture. We have one full bathroom and only two real beds; it is okay if not everyone stays with us. In fact, they might be more comfortable elsewhere!
Worry -- it can get the best of us.
The disciples are great examples of worriers. Last week we encountered the disciples worrying about “who can be saved?” with Peter saying to Jesus “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” (Mark 10:26,28) To which Jesus replies, “but, many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (v. 31). Our Gospel of Mark was written at an attempt to unify various Christian churches and their traditions, likely because they were worrying or arguing over many different things.
The passage for today begins right after Jesus tells the disciples “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” (Mark 10:33-34). This is the third time Jesus foretells his death and resurrection.
Now we catch up with the disciples as they are walking down the dusty road towards Jerusalem. The disciples, even though Jesus has told them three times now what will happen, still do not get it. James and John are at the center of the discussion. These two men are brothers and were the two fishermen Jesus called to leave their father, Zebedee, and come off the boat to follow him (Mark 1:19-20).
So here we are with James and John when they remark: “Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” and Jesus says, okay what is it you want? The two men reply “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and the one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:35-37). Jesus responds and basically says, “are you willing to follow my footsteps and are you ready to be handed over and possibly die for your faith?” They believe they are, but Jesus rejects their requests as presumptuous (Horsley, p. 1811). Although we later learn that James does die a martyr’s death at the hands of King Herod as told in Acts 12:1-2.
Now the disciples are once again squabbling about James and John’s request for positions of power and privilege. Perhaps the rest are worried they are losing their position on the depth chart. It is like in football or other sports where there is a depth chart and the first string player is the best; then you have the second string, who is second best on down the line. Are the disciples jockeying for position maybe saying, “Look at me Jesus I am willing to die, I should get bonus points! No, no, Jesus look at me I am even better.”
Jesus is getting tired of the one-upping and the keeping score. He is walking towards Jerusalem where he realizes he will be sacrificed. So what does Jesus do? He calls them over and says to the disciples, “whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). He is reiterating yet again the same thing he said to the disciples just a short time ago “but many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mark 10:31).
The disciples are like us, worrying and trying to keep score. They are trying to quantify their work, yet there is Jesus reminding them that he is not about the numbers, rather he is about serving others.
It is easy for us to fall into this trap of counting and thinking if we have numbers or the results to show from our work then it must matter. I like the quote that I put on the front of your bulletin today which says “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” This quote is often
attributed to Albert Einstein but it really is believed to have been written by sociologist William Bruce Cameron. I believe this directly applies to what Jesus is saying, that we are called to serve.
In churches these days we hear about shrinking numbers and communities worrying about how to attract more people back into the pews. Or, in other words, we are counting instead of serving. Nowhere in scripture does Jesus say, “go out and count or quantify your service by the number of people you have in the pews.” No, Jesus simple calls us to serve.
I believe there are 3 areas of serving: 1) ourselves 2) others and 3) God.
We have to take care of ourselves first in order to accomplish the other two. Jesus did this by walking in the wilderness and by being alone and praying. I have a friend whose stepson is in recovery for drug addiction. She keeps me up-to-date on his progress and often asks me to pray for him. Through this friend I have learned more about the Twelve Step program. Maybe some of you already know that the Twelve Step Program is all about taking care of one’s self and connecting with God and giving back. This program recognizes that health is connected to giving to others and that there is something that feds us energy in giving. That energy is what I call
the Holy Spirit.
You see, God is working through us and with us. As a faith community I don’t want us to get preoccupied and worried about the numbers. If we do that then we are following James and John and saying “Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” (v. 35), aka teacher we want you to help us grow our numbers. Rather let us worry about how we can serve ourselves, other people and God.
Serving ourselves might sound selfish, but that is not what I mean. I mean we have to take care of ourselves first so we can be whole. If you are like me, you think you can add just one more thing to your to-do list, or we believe, if I do not do it then it will not get done. Well the truth is, we have to step back and realize when our own plates are full and then ask each other for help. Only when we take a moment to take care of ourselves and do not run ourselves into the ground, can we then truly serve others.
We are here to serve. This week I want you to notice where you see God working in the community and think how can we join in the work God is doing. Also, when you find yourself serving other people or God, I want you to pause and take in that feeling.
Notice what it feels like and acknowledge it as the Holy Spirit working through you.
Let us not worry and cast a large shadow on our little worries because you know a shadow is created by light, and if you remember, Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). Let us think about that Swedish proverb, “Worry gives a small thing a big shadow”, in a difference sense, as Christ’s light shining down on us and that it is always with us. So we can either choose to see the shadow (the darkside) or acknowledge the light (the Christ-side).
If we focus our energy and light on serving then we are doing the work of Christ and the Church will grow in actions and in the expression of God. For “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”