In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus predicts his suffering and death three times as he heads towards Jerusalem. Each time, the disciples don’t get it, and he has the chance to teach what is important all over again.
The first time that he describes how he will suffer and die, so Peter tells him not to go. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach them what he sees as important. “If anyone wants to become my follower, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever will save his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life for my sake, will save it.”
The second time, Jesus told how he would be betrayed, killed, and rise again, and the disciples ‘didn’t understand, and were afraid to ask him about it’. Instead, they began to argue over who was the greatest. Again, Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last, and the servant of all.”
Then, in today’s reading, (or just before) Jesus spoke about his suffering and death even more specifically. “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.” (10: 33-34)
Then James and John say what might be the stupidest thing ever. They asked, “Will you give us whatever we ask you for?” Really? That’s the best they could come up with? When Jesus doesn’t even yell at them, but instead patiently asks, ‘What do you want?’ they ask to be sitting on either side of him when he comes into his glory. They still don’t get it. Jesus repeats again, for at least the third time, “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be the slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.”
I get together with the N. Mpls. Ministers to study the Sunday readings and discuss sermon ideas. This week, someone asked, “Didn’t we just hear this? Didn’t we have this last week?” Someone else answered, “Yes, we had almost the same story in September.” That’s right. Three times. And it’s almost the same lesson. Which leads me to conclude that for Jesus,( or at least for Mark), it was important. It was important for his followers to know.
Following Jesus may lead to suffering or death. Following Jesus may lead to giving up a lot of what we want for something that is ultimately, greater. Following Jesus means letting go.
Many of you know that I used to be Catholic, and when I was 25, I joined the Franciscans. I liked the Franciscans. (But then I realized that I liked Carol better)! St. Francis (and the Franciscans) emphasized simplicity, all of creation being related, and non-violence. Letting down your defenses. The month after I joined them, my 21 year old brother joined the Army. He began as a mortar man, then moved into becoming a jump master, and eventually served in Afghanistan during the Gulf War, and then later in the war with Iraq. He just retired yesterday as a Sergeant Major.
At some point, I realized that even though we might look like we had very different jobs, we were both following the same set of values. We wanted to serve for the greater good. We want the world to be a better place, and we’re doing what we can with our lives to help that happen.
Following Jesus is like that. Within a generation or two of Jesus’ time, the Bible mentions Simon the leather tanner, Lydia the seller of purple cloth, Phoebe the minister (Romans 16:1-2), and Priscilla, her husband Aquila, and St. Paul who were all tentmakers (Acts. 18:6). We also hear of writers, farmers, soldiers, business people, fishermen, carpenters, servants, and slaves. It’s the same way today with followers of Jesus. We are all followers: computer techs., police officers, barbers, homemakers, teachers, students, construction workers, and people who are retired. Sometimes, a lot of times, following Jesus involves suffering, pain, and letting go. Sometimes, a lot of times, following Jesus involves happiness, love, and appreciation. We do this as individuals, and as a church.
Parkway is a ‘follower of Jesus.” We are a community of disciples. As we move further towards consolidation, we can experience all of these emotions. We can be proud of ourselves that we looked long and hard at our options. Our Church Planning team studied, visited, attended conferences, and discussed options, and our congregation listened, questioned, prayed, and voted. We made faithful decision. We discerned what we believe is the guidance of God, the Voice of Discernment and Wisdom.
Robbinsdale has done the same. We will both keep moving forward on this path, following the Jesus’ invitation to ‘fullness of life’ as best we can. And it will lead to fullness of life. Before the vote at Robbinsdale, one of the members asked after giving up our building, our space which we have called home for so long, how welcome we would feel? An older member replied, “That will depend upon how well we welcome them.” Another curmudgeonly man said, “When they have their last service in their church, I think we should all join them, so that we can see all of what they are giving up.”
This is death and resurrection. This is our (RUCC and Parkway together) responding to Jesus’ statement, “For whoever will save his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life for my sake, will save it.”
We are not a people who seek power and prestige. Even in churches. Or congregations. We seek to do our best with what we’ve been given, and to follow the way we’re shown. In our service of welcoming a new member, we pray:
As we walk together in the way of faith, we pledge to each other our prayers, friendship, and support. May God help us to teach and learn, trust and be trustworthy, forgive and be forgiven, serve and be served, and to share love and be loved.
This could be a thumbnail sketch of the Gospel itself. It would be a worthy prayer for our union with our brothers and sisters at Robbinsdale.