I entitled my sermon for this morning “Roadside Conversations” for two reasons. First, because of what takes place in this morning’s Scripture reading – Jesus is on the road, heading to Jerusalem. But second is because I’ve always found that traveling from point A to point B, whether from Cleveland to Washington DC to visit my side of the family, or driving from Cleveland to Minnesota where Deanne’s family is from, to be a very special time. I find it to be holy time, because it creates space and time and location to talk about things.
Often times in the busyness of life, we’re scurrying around and we don’t say what we need to say to one another. But there’s something about being on the road, being in a car, that allows you to talk.
It’s a marvelous, marvelous gift. In fact, sometimes I have found that if you have something hard to say, whether to your children, your spouse, or a good friend, get in a car and drive. Perhaps there’s something about not having to look each other in the eye that makes it easier to say things that matter when you’re traveling in a car. I don’t know.
Last September, Deanne and I met friends in Ohio Pyle, Pa. for an overnight of camping and hiking. After getting in the rhythm of the climb, putting one foot in front of the other, finding our way along the path, Larry and I began to talk. Deanne and Rossi, of course, they’d been talking for hours. But for several hours Larry and I also talked about life and children and hopes and dreams and retirement.
So I understand that Jesus is revealing things to his disciples on the road – he’s talking and he’s sharing stuff with them.
These roadside conversations are important – we have to pay attention – and we are invited to listen into this one described in Mark.
However.…while it is true that traveling can lead to deep conversation about important things, there is another reality. Just because you’re talking with other people on your journey together, doesn’t mean that anyone is listening! I remember driving with the kids in back and I was going on about something that was, of course, very profound. And I looked in the rear view mirror and saw that they had tuned me out many miles before. They hadn’t heard a word I said.
So, Jesus and his disciples are on the road, going up to Jerusalem, having this roadside conversation. And the first thing we read is that they were amazed and frightened. Those are interesting words – amazed and frightened – they caught my eye. I didn’t expect them. But then again I do think that as we travel the roads of our lives most of it is in amazement or fright. In light of the shootings in Chardon last Monday, how can we not be frightened as we stumble along the roads of our lives in dazed amazement of the thin line between life and death, and the fear that the unimaginable will happen?
“Frightened.” I think that is a word that sums up a lot of life. As the candidates attempt to lay out their message of a way forward for our country, most of the talk has to do with stirring up our fears, mistrust, cynicism. I am amazed sometimes how we respond immediately to fear. It’s no wonder candidates drop to the lowest common denominator of fear to get elected. I am not listening any more. And please if you listen to Rush Limbaugh – turn him off!
So we are walking the road with Jesus in amazement and fear – but perhaps that is the right way to feel walking behind God; fear – maybe not the horror kind of fear like Jesus is going to turn around and be some criminal or zombie or slasher from some horror movie – perhaps more like awe. Awe and fear are of course very similar. I differentiate them in this way: Fear is that which drives you away from the source. Awe draws you closer to it. Whichever – fear or awe and amazement keep you aware that you are in the presence of something larger, something you can’t control.
Anyway, Jesus is talking to his disciples, telling them (and us) again about what is going to happen to him in Jerusalem – and it isn’t very pretty. He tells them he’s going to be handed over to the chief priests, condemned to death, handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, spit upon, flogged and killed. And of course Jesus ends his monologue with “and after three day he will rise again.”
Then, what really surprises me – but I guess it shouldn’t – we discover that nobody was listening to this roadside conversation. Jesus has just laid it all out – Jesus got very vulnerable, sharing what was no doubt horrifying to him – and nobody was paying attention.
It is almost comic if it were not so pathetic. Jesus has just bared his soul and I picture the disciples, particularly James and John, chewing gum, listening to their iPods, biting their nails, distractedly looking around, receiving what Jesus had to say as so much “blah, blah, blah!” “I have to go to the bathroom. How much longer? I’m hungry!”
“And, by the way, can you do something for us, Jesus? Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we want.” And these are the disciples? My, my, Jesus could have done much better!
But in a way, it’s not really that surprising, I guess. Most Christians think of Jesus as Santa Claus, or the tooth fairy or a fairy godmother in robe and sandals. Or Jimmy Dimora. I want him to do things for me; deliver what I want. Protect my children from some gun-toting child. I want some payback for being faithful – why else follow Jesus, if I don’t get a cut? There is something about this that reminds me of the Jimmy Dimora trial – “When you get to your glory, remember us – let us sit at your right hand and left. And, while you are at it – a Nature Stone deck by my pool!”
But even in the face of our shallowest needs, our desires, which reflect original sin: that the world revolves around ME and my needs and plans… Jesus says: “What is it you want me to do for you?”
What a profound question. Jesus really cares. Jesus really wants to hear. He is poised to listen to what they have to say – which is completely opposite of what the disciples do – they don’t listen at all. Jesus says, “What is it that you want me to do for you?”
Think about that. Put yourself into this story. Place yourself right before Jesus. Imagine Jesus walking with you this week and asking, “What is it that you want me to do for you?” What would you say? Try this imaginary conversation sometime and journal about it – I think you will find it very interesting if you are really being honest.
James and John, they think it is all about glory. Jesus knows it’s all about life.
They want to be above it all. Jesus knows it’s all about going through.
They want to know the endgame, the conclusion, the “happily ever after.” Jesus knows it’s all about the process, the journey, the processional of day after day – being in the midst, taking it all on – the good and the bad.
It is not about results. It is about faithfulness in the ruts. It is about getting up in the morning and proceeding through your day.
“Are you going to drink the cup that I must drink from and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” James and John: “Sure! But let me get a good courtside seat when Jeremy Linn comes to town!”
Of course, the other disciples are disgusted with James and John – this was their chance to belittle, to judge, to put down such shallowness. But of course they don’t get it either. Based on what happens to Peter and to Judas – it’s clear that at least a quarter of Jesus’ disciples, his closest friends, weren’t listening to him.
Jesus again shows such patience, compassion, does not respond in kind – in the face of stupidity and self-righteousness – he sees a teaching moment. It is not about who ends on top, who wins, who gets the recognition – it is about who serves, about who is the slave.
Let that sink in. Because this is really radical stuff. Jesus has just flipped over the tables of all our expectation, how the world works. He completely disabuses us that getting ahead, of achieving, of “making it,” has any value at all. That amazes me and scares me – because it is so contrary to the way we live life, and the priorities that our culture has set: wealth, status, achievement, success – it is the American way – upward mobility.
It is really agitating. I feel like just sitting down because I don’t know what to say. I am defined by such a system of privilege and expectation, and set asides, and entitlements and so are you. We are highly entitled. And I am fearful that it can be taken away from me. I am fearful that someone else might get what I deserve. I am quick to judge and fast to grasp. And I am scared that I can’t change my behavior or if I can, not radically enough. Where do you even begin?
So I travel in the tension of the journey in fear and amazement. But thankfully – and here comes grace, so pay attention – thankfully, I stumble behind a Savior who does not judge, but loves; a Lord who does not condemn but seeks to go deeper with me. “John, what is it you want me to do for you?” It is not a zero sum game, or a dog-eat-dog world of competition, so don’t believe it. Real life is about service and life-long learning – about the journey with Jesus. Even if amazed and frightened – just keep on the road, just keep one foot in front of the other. Keep asking your questions, even if they seem dumb, or misguided, or self-serving, or shallow – keep going!
Jesus gives his life for a ransom for many – it is an emancipation proclamation. We’re free! It is no longer about guilt, but freedom; not judgment, but service.
To serve our guests through Family Promise – even if we don’t get thanked, or it wasn’t fun for us; to travel to Haiti and place ourselves in the way of transformation, listening and observing – not doing; to be in proximity to the poorest – and not judge them for their poverty. To love those whom we do not like, and trying to be as civil as we can be to those with whom we disagree.
And hear this: Jesus invites you to drink his cup (it is right here). He wants you to be baptized. Even if those are images of death – it is true we are, like Jesus, going to die. And, we are promised, like Jesus to be raised again.
But in the meantime, Jesus calls you to serve, and to remember, and most of all, to follow, to go for a relationship. He wants to listen to what you have to say. Perhaps you and I need to pay a bit more attention to the roadside conversations – and the words that linger in the air – on the way to Jerusalem.