St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-21-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-21-2018

Social Security Vulnerability

Job 38:1-7, Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen.

Biblically, it starts all the way back in the fourth chapter of Genesis when Cain and Abel made sacrifices to the Lord. Abel’s sacrifice of lamb got God’s attention but Cain’s sacrifice of the fruit of the land did not. Without God’s favor, Cain felt insecure and, to put himself one step up, lashed out at his brother; killing him in the field.

From that day on, throughout all human history, the sense of vulnerability has led humanity into an eternal quest for security by whatever means the human mind could imagine regardless of the expense to creation, their fellow man, and even family members.

Just look at all the stories, from the bible, and from other ancient historical records, where conflict, death, and destruction resulted from one person or one group seeking to gain security in this fragile life by conquering others thought to be a threat or simply perceived to have more of something desired.

It didn’t take long for the leaders of each group to get caught up in the ever widening spiral of attempting to gain security forcefully; first with armies that could pillage the wealth of others, then the wealth that could recruit larger armies to do more pillaging. Around and around it goes; larger armies equal more money, more money equals larger armies; all in the name of gaining and maintaining economic and ethnic security. Yet, all the while, they neglect to calculate the true cost to security when plowshares are beaten into swords and pruning hooks beaten into spears.

And then the spiraling spreads. As one group or one nation gains more, at the expense of others, the others resist by building up their own armies to take back what they have lost and, when they’re successful, spend even more resources in order to gain even more resources. And where does it get us? Perhaps we can look at World Wars I and II to find that answer; the “war to end all wars… followed by yet another war.

Of course, sadly I’ll add, the lesson hasn’t been learned, and the practice continues today as nations spend more money on lethal ways of protecting their wealth than on finding ways to lift the poor out of their plight or providing health care for the disenfranchised sick much less promoting peace throughout the world. Even now, at this very time right here in our own nation, there is discussion of increasing our defense budget at the expense of the Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare programs the most vulnerable rely on.

Some will tell you that this is just the way it is in the world; that we have to be prepared to defend ourselves; that we need wealth and power in order to have security be it nationally or personally. Yet history shows us that the system of power and wealth does nothing to support security. In fact, if you look at any of the great powers of the ancient world, none are still standing in their once known glory; Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome just to name a few. Even those of more recent centuries like Spain, Nazi Germany, and Imperial England no longer hold the extreme wealth and power they once did.

It seems we mortals just can’t get it into our brains that the system of wealth and power does not work; temporarily perhaps, in the here and now, but not in the long run. God knows this, and God looks beyond the here and now; God is in it for the long run.

When God took favor with Abraham he promised him descendants outnumbering the grains of sand. God was looking way ahead. When God brought Israel out of Egypt he promised to be with them, not just until they got away from Pharaoh, but forever. When they still couldn’t get it right he sent Prophets to rein them back in. And thousands of years later, when the people fall astray yet again, God sends his own Son to pull them back in.

God sends his own Son into the world with all the authority and power of God himself… and look at what he does with all that power. Does he preach the word to enrich himself? NO. Does he use his power to subdue his enemies? NO. Does he use his popularity to raise an army to exact revenge on Herod or to drive Rome out of the country? NO.

Jesus the Christ enters the world just as vulnerable as you and I; he lives his life and serves his Father being just as vulnerable as you and I; and he leaves his earthly life through horrid suffering because he was just as vulnerable as you and I.

That part of Jesus’ exemplary life is just as much a part of his teaching as any words he spoke about love and hate, war and peace, or heaven and hell. Jesus, with the complete knowledge and full authority of God himself, knew that power does not give us security, that wealth does not give us security, and that prestige does not give us security. Jesus fully understood that the only security to be found in this life, full of vulnerabilities, is the faith in, and the faithfulness of, the Father in heaven.

In today’s Gospel reading the sons of Zebedee, James and John, are wrestling with their own insecurity and vulnerability as they come to Jesus with their special request. Jesus, in the two verses immediately preceding today’s reading, has spoken for the third time of his impending doom. Maybe the disciples are beginning to understand or maybe not, either way, James and John are fearful while simultaneously being amazed that Jesus is walking boldly toward Jerusalem where the awful things he has been predicting will take place. Yet, when Jesus asks them if they are willing to go through the same torment that he faces they answer affirmatively.

Their request then, for seats of honor at his side, shows not their boldness but their insecurity. Their affirmation of bearing the cost shows that they know things are going to get worse before they get better; perhaps even get really bad; but they’re willing to endure it all… if they have the security of knowing it will be worth it in the end; if they are promised a special place with Jesus when they come out the other side. In true human form, they perceive the expense to be worth the reward.

But Jesus pulls them back in to his reality once more as he says “but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared”. In Jesus’ ideal world the things we can earn; power wealth, and prestige; are worthless. And, in Jesus’ ideal world the one thing we cannot earn, eternal security, is already prepared for us by the Father; not with a special place for a few, but a special place for all.

 

We all would like to feel safer and more secure in this earthly life; and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to do so. But as we do, God and Christ call us to be mindful of the bigger picture and the long term; not just the here-and-now.

First, to be mindful of how our gain affects the rest of the world; to look at how it affects creation and all people who live within it. Then, to be aware of the cost to ourselves in terms of defending what we have gained. And, finally, to be ever conscious of the fact that, no matter how well we do, it’s only temporary as all things in this life are; that no amount of wealth, power, or prestige will save us from the inevitable vulnerability of death nor purchase our eternal life at the side of our Savior; that is already prepared for us!

There is our ultimate security! There is our wealth! There is our power within our vulnerability!

Amen.

 

Job 38:1-7
38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
38:2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
38:3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
38:4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
38:5 Who determined its measurements–surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
38:6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone
38:7 when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

 

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
104:1 Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty,
104:2 wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
104:3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind,
104:4 you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.
104:5 You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.
104:6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
104:7 At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
104:8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.
104:9 You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.
104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
104:35c Praise the LORD!

 

Hebrews 5:1-10
5:1 Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
5:2 He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness;
5:3 and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.
5:4 And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5:5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
5:6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”
5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
5:8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;
5:9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,
5:10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Mark 10:35-45
10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
10:36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”
10:37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
10:39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
10:41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.
10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”