September 21, 2009

Sermon for Proper 20, Year B

This afternoon at 4:30 fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students from around Foley will gather to form a new community. This new group, an ecumenical youth ministry between St. Paul's, Foley United Methodist Church, and 1st Presbyterian Church in Foley is called 3by3. I can't remember why we decided on that name, all I know is I prayed long and hard that another name would arise from the imaginations of the leadership team, but alas 3by3 stuck. And the more I think about it, the more I like the name. Three churches working together to reach kids who so often fall through the programming cracks. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, but we need more help than that so we're going 3by3. Anyway, this evening event is called The Great Foley Road Trip.
Kids and drivers will load into vans and suvs and cars and leave their home churches to experience a new place, to meet new people, to find out that classmates of theirs are Christians too. They will, we hope, see that being a Christian can be cool at a time in their lives when cool is so very important. On a much more figurative level, we're hoping that these kids will join us adults on the journey of faith. We hope that in the Great Foley Road Trip they will begin to see that faith is a journey that we do not walk alone. It is a trip that should only be taken with friends who will care for each other along the road.
And as much as that meaning is important for our kids to come to know, it is vitally important that we know it too. We can't share a message that we don't know ourselves. And it just so happens that this morning we join up with Jesus and his disciples on what will be, for us, a six week, round-about journey to Jerusalem. What happens over the next six Sundays will be our own Great Road Trip as we walk together, eavesdropping on Jesus and his friends. We will walk where they walked, hear what they heard, see what they saw, and hopefully learn some profound truths while we're at it. And so, I invite you to join me and Keith over the next six weeks as we pack our bags and begin our journey along The Way. Before we get going, however, we need to lay out just a couple Rules of the Road.
Rule #1 - Don't be afraid to ask questions. As Jesus and his disciples begin this leg of their journey, they leave behind the mountain of the Transfiguration. Taking what was most likely a rather circuitous route, the group passed through the region of Galilee without, if at all possible, anyone knowing. Along the way Jesus told them again what being the Messiah, the chosen one of God, really meant. "The Son of Man," that is to say, Jesus, "is going to be betrayed into human hands, and be killed, and three days after they kill him, he will rise again." It had been about a week since the first time Jesus had talked like this. Last time, Peter had tried to talk Jesus out of it. And he got called Satan. This time the disciples are still clueless. Betrayed? Killed? Rise Again? None it makes any sense. But they were afraid to ask.
Have you ever been afraid to ask a question? Sure you have. It is one of those universals. Life, death, taxes, and the fear of asking a question. Why? Why were you afraid to ask a question? Were you afraid of what the answer might be? Were you afraid you might look stupid in front of a group of people? Were you afraid to get out of your car in that particular neighborhood to ask for directions?
On this trip, there are no stupid questions. On this trip, there is no poking fun at someone's inability to understand. On this trip, all the neighborhoods are safe. So ask questions. As Keith so wisely reminded us last week, we learn by asking questions. What is that? How does it work? Why do you do it that way? This journey is all about discipleship, all about learning from The Teacher, so ask questions. Maybe if the disciples hadn't been afraid to ask questions we wouldn't need rule #2.
Rule #2 - There will be no competition. No greatest. No worst. If the disciples had engaged their teacher along the way on what he meant by "be betrayed, killed, and in three days rise again" they probably wouldn't have had time to argue amongst themselves about who was the greatest. Not that we can't understand their debate. Peter, James, and John had been the only ones allowed to see Jesus transfigured on the mountain. Surely they were number 1, 2 and 3. Numbers 4 through 12 had been unable to cast out a demon while the others were away. Maybe they could do something to make up for that mistake. What could they do to crush fingers as they climbed up the corporate ladder?
How much of your life is spent in pursuit of "the greatest" status? From grades to first string linebacker to the right college to the right job to the right title to the right car to the right house to the right beer to the right retirement portfolio to the right vacation spot to the right headstone on the right plot under the right tree. Whether we know it or not, the pursuit of the American Dream often means we spend the majority of our lives on the pathway toward "the greatest." But this way, this journey with Jesus is different. This way has but one "greatest" and that is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The rest of us - well we will be sorted out on a reverse scale. Which brings me to our last rule.
Rule #3 - Serve one another. Upon entering a house in Capernaum, Jesus sat down and said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." He took a little child - the very least in 1st century Palestine, (the rule wasn't women and children first here - no it was eldest to youngest and men first ). Jesus embraced this nothing of a person, this little child and said, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
On this journey, the last, you will be first. The first, well just be ready to wait. If there were a greatest on this journey, and I remind you there is not, well he or she would be the servant. I think most of us have filled that role at one time or another. Breakfast chef. Elementary tutor. Altar guild trainee. Sunday school teacher. Yard mower. Junior Warden. Youth ministry volunteer. Lay reader. Acolyte. Torch Bearer. Servants. Hospitality workers. Caretakers. They who are never first. They who might not even think of themselves of worthy to be first. They... they will be first.
That's all. Three simple rules. #1 - don't be afraid to ask questions. #2 - There will be no competition. #3 - Serve one another. Taking a trip with Jesus is light on rules, but heavy on commitment. It is not a journey to be undertaken alone. Jesus knew that, so he found himself a group of 12 guys to walk with him, and when he sent them out, he sent them in pairs, and when he left them he told them to wait until somebody else, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, came to walk with them. There is not such thing as a lone ranger Christian. This journey is tough and so we do not walk it alone. At the very least, we gather here each week to commiserate, to share stories, and to be nourished at the table so that we can leave here prepared for another week of asking God questions, staying out of the world's competitions, and serving one another.
As we embark on this six week journey called "The Great Discipleship Road Trip" I encourage you to follow the rules. I hope that you will encourage one another. Call. Check-in. Send notes. Let your St. Paul's family members know that you are praying for them, and know that they are praying for you. Together, as disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as servants of one another, we will come to know what it feels like to be first, to walk beside Jesus, knowing that it will only last a moment, for as soon as we get there, the work begins again.
May God give us strength for the journey ahead. May we strive to be first by being last of all and servant of all. Amen.

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