When I read the scripture lesson for today I admit that the first things that popped into my head was the lyrics from a Spice Girls’ song.
The Spice Girls, if you don’t know them, were (and I guess still are) a British all-women pop singing group. The Spice Girls included “Sporty Spice,” “Naughty Spice,” “Posh Spice,” and there were a couple of others as well, I believe. Posh Spice is actually Victoria Beckham, the wife of the famous soccer player David Beckham. You see her all the time on magazines that grace the check-out lines at grocery stores.
Please don’t ask me why I know the names and the music of the Spice Girls. I wish I could blame my daughters, but I can’t, because the Spice Girls were before their time. I promise I do not have a Spice Girls poster on my bedroom wall… well, not any more. But I digress. Lets just say I am a student of popular culture!
The lyrics of the song that came to mind are these: “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” The reply is: “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want.” And the song is about what you think it is about. It continues along the lines of: “If you want to be my lover, first you have to be my friend.” Well, I guess that’s a start.
In our culture today everybody is looking for something, something that they want. We know that sex sells, it is the thing that most of us are told that we really, really want and it is just this selling of cheap intimacy that causes so many of us to cringe – for what we really, really want, I would argue, is more than a hook-up, more than a one-night stand.
What we really, really want is something more akin to deep intimacy, deep knowledge, deep relationship, deep friendship that calls to a profound understanding, a self-understanding, as well as a knowledge of the other that draws us to compassion, and love, and service, and yes, justice – for how can we mistreat someone else, or demean someone else, or use someone else, or abuse someone else when we have the privilege of knowing more deeply what is really desired, really yearned for, really, really wanted.
This is the question of today’s lesson. A question posed to the disciples and absolutely posed to you and me, modern day disciples. What do you, really, really want?
You may not think of yourself as a disciple: not good enough, not enough faith, far too many doubts, far too many questions – “don’t hang that label on me.” But, really then, what are you doing here if you are not seeking something, wanting something that is more profound, wanting to learn and grow and bump into holiness, find some meaning, follow the teachings of Jesus? That is what disciple means – not that you know it, or have it – but that you seek after it – whatever that IT is to you.
Compared to the first disciples you and I actually fare pretty well. Their questions are often far stupider than ours, their doubts just as pronounced, their failings legion. They got to hang with Jesus and seemed not to have a clue. They didn’t seem to get “it,” get him, any less than we don’t get it. That actually brings me some peace and confidence.
Nevertheless the first disciples found something compelling about Jesus that caused them to drop their nets, caused them to form community, caused them to risk seeing the world in a new counter-culture way, caused them to ask lots and lots of dumb questions and hang in there for the hard answers. Really, there isn’t much of a difference at all between us and them.
James and John ask: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Wow, that’s pretty demanding but honest.
And Jesus responds: “What is it you want me to do for you?”
Can you imagine the son of God asking you that question: “John, what is it you want me to do for you?” What would I ask for? To win the lottery? Make the ache go away? Let the Browns score a touchdown? Get my kids into college with LARGE scholarships? Don’t let my friend die? Please let the diagnosis be negative? Double the membership of Forest Hill? Let me have three more hours in a day and one more day a week? Make the health bill pass? Bring world peace? Make my love handles disappear? Destroy Al-Qaeda? Tickets to the Springsteen concert?
Actually, it would be a pretty good prayer practice this week to imagine yourself being asked that question by Jesus: “What is it you want me to do for you?” How would you answer?
Of all the things that could have been requested, the disciples ask for the best seats in heaven – or at least status in the future. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory.”
Think of that, the first disciples make the same damn mistake that most modern day disciples make, thinking that following Jesus is about where you are going to spend eternity; what cloud you are going to be on, what status you are going to have to lord over others.
Jesus responds: “You do not know what you are asking.”
Being with Jesus is not about the next life. It is all about what you are doing in this one, with your life – sharing the sacrament of breathing and eating and bathing and being and living and suffering, and going through stuff – faith and salvation is not about then, it is about now, it is not about them, it is about you – it is all about location – but not in the by and by ..that will take care of itself, that is in God’s hands completely. He says; “it is not mine to grant.”
There is a lot of double meaning here, lots of irony. For you and for me, and for the first reader of this gospel – we assume that when Jesus mentions his baptism and “drinking his cup” that he means his crucifixion and death – it means hardship and suffering. And for most of us those are two things that we don’t want any part of.
In fact, faith for many Christians mean that Jesus is going to protect us from suffering. Well it won’t. You and I may not be crucified, but who of us haven’t suffering, struggled, lost? Our faith didn’t save us from that, did it? But faith (the trust that there may be a tomorrow worth living) does bring us through sometimes.
Faith is not about being removed from life – faith is plunging yourself right in the middle of it and taking it all on. Faith is cultivating a living relationship, growing in a profound relationship with God, with others and with self that allows you to be wide open in wonder at just about everything – that nothing is over till its over. Faith, you see, is a dogged trust that a powerful current of love runs wider and deeper and more powerfully than any other current.
What I really, really want, is to dip my finger in that water, to be completely immersed in that current. So whether I live or die, or suffer or triumph, or come or go, whether I am in pain or in bliss – it is all centered, all grounded in the love of Christ. And Jesus says – yes, you will live life, that’s a given – you can drink that cup and be baptized in that baptism for sure.
It may not be safe (in fact it probably won’t be) but it will be an adventure. Or as Diane Ackerman has written about the adventure of living: “It began as mystery and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between” (A Natural History of the Senses)
The other 10 disciples roll their eyes in judgement embarrassed at their friends request: “How could they ask such a dumb question? How could they bother the Lord with such pablum?”
But not Jesus. Jesus does not condemn them. Jesus does not kick them out of the club. Jesus doesn’t even disparage or make fun of them.
So many judge others by the questions they raise. Churches split apart like amoebas over questions and judgment of their worthiness. People are driven out of the church all the time. Ask gay Christians how it feels! We drive our own selves in paroxysms of guilt because we are so insecure with our own queries, thinking of them as unworthy and so we shut down and get cynical. And the outside demons feed the inside demons and we don’t know what the hell to do; some times even, we take pride in our humiliation and burrow down into our denial.
If only you would ask, question, doubt faithfully, be open to wonder, get outside of yourself for just a moment and let yourself stand before Jesus, even if you don’t think you believe in him – just for the sake of trying – and let the question be posed to you: “What is it you want me to do for you?” REALLY.
And we are told that the answer to the mystery is not in clarity but in getting down and getting real and getting dirty in service, finding our self interest truly as a beloved child of God – one among many. A servant to all with the ability to BE served as well – free flow of services one to another, not based on any hierarchy, not based on any worth other than human worth, not based on any status other then our beloved status. The formation of the beloved community; e pluribus unum – out of many one – a complete turnover of how we do things, a radical transformation of usual life and culture – an invitation to become that which we most deeply yearn to be and become – to offer our own lives to others and in so offering find ourselves. Isn’t that often what you really want? I presume this because it is what I think I really want – to find myself, to be myself, to be comfortable in my own skin. To be and not be so self-conscious of my lacks, my doubts. And I actually get this on occasion and it is empowering.
There was a woman who shared with me the story of her upbringing. She was raised in Roanoke, Va. in the 50’s. Her mother was maybe the only African American teacher in the whole public school system. It was written in her contract that she couldn’t be a member of the NAACP. This was still the old south and it was dangerous. Jesus, I want you to solve ignorance, hate and racism.
This mother though witnessed anyway and helped people register to vote BEFORE it became a national concern. What did she really, really want? Dignity for herself and dignity for others and she put her life on the line for it. This is the work of disciples, this is the work of angels.
And just this week, within this community I have heard of stories – I won’t embarrass anyone, but just know that Clover and I find out these things, that some in our midst have been called angels – have been servants, been disciples even if they would refuse the title – showing the love of Christ to others in need, offering their lives for the sake of community. This is where you are going to find yourself bumping into heaven, catching a glimpse of holiness, rubbing elbows with the savior – as you serve and are served, as you welcome and are welcomed.
Tell me what you want, what you really, really want? Oh Jesus, I really, really want to know that my life has some meaning, that I am loved by something larger than myself, that I am living this life NOT under divine judgement, not under the wrath of my own making, but that I am under grace, love, power… that I can give my heart to some mystery that gets me out of myself and yet puts me more at home in my own body. I want to know who you are, I want to know who I am. I really want to be known. I want to offer my gift to others…. I want to take a risk to ask my question and be embarrassed and find your love anyway.
I think that Jesus has really already answered the request of what you really want and has answered it with an invitation: “Come, you are already in the kingdom, you are already at my left and right hand – just start acting like you believe it.”
It will be enough.