“A Christian Forever”  Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45.  Donald W. Dotterer, PhD, 10/21/18.

 

        The newspaper this week reported that for the first and probably the only time ever, ordinary people will have the opportunity to see, handle, and even try on some of Marie Antoinette’s jewelry.  This jewelry has never been displayed before in the United States.

        To refresh your European history, Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution in the 18th century.  According to legend, she uttered what have become

some of the most famous words in history,“Let them eat cake.” 

        She allegedly said that when told that French peasants

were rioting because they had no bread, the point being that aristocrats had no knowledge of the fact that their subjects were not only hungry but were starving to death.  Historians doubt that she actually said that, but no matter.  It makes a good story.

        The jewels on display were wrapped up and sneakily sent to her home country of Austria when she was sent to prison

and then beheaded by guillotine in 1793.  Family members have kept the jewels private until now.

        The display will be at Sotheby’s in New York City before the jewels are auctioned off next month in Switzerland. It is open to the public, and believe it or not, anyone can try on the jewelry.  It’s like walking into a store.  Ordinary people will be able to try on a diamond ring with the queen’s initials that contains a lock of the queen’s hair.vVisitors can try on a stunning diamond pendant that holds a natural pearl so large that it pulls down clothing.  Estimated value:  1-2 million dollars.  There is a necklace with 331 pearls and a diamond clasp.

Anyone can put the jewelry on and imagine herself as queen for a day.  One can imagine one’s self as being rich and famous and in glory.   One can dream about being great.vFrank Everett, who is sales director of Sotheby’s Luxury and Lifestyle Division says of Americans who have been fascinated with French royal jewelry over the years, Americans have had an appetite for anything royal.  They wanted the titles, they wanted the jewels.[i]

        Well, it’s not just the Americans, of course.  This is what we see in our gospel lesson for this morning, the story of James and John’s request of Jesus to sit in glory with him on his right and left hands in Jesus’ new kingdom.

        James and John imagined themselves as chief advisors to the new King Jesus.  They wanted to be part of the new king’s inner circle.  This story has been famously thought of as an example of blind ambition by two disciples who were among the very first disciples called by Jesus.  It is an example of how people actively pursue power, position and privilege in society.

        The reformer John Calvin said that lesson reveals “the bright mirror of human vanity.”  This is just another example of how the Bible still speaks to the modern world, an ancient witness to present-day truth.

        The story is clear and straightforward.  It’s about something we know about and understand very well.  We’ve all known people like James and John.  They are at work, at school, even in our families.  They are the ones who think that they deserve special consideration in the things of the world that they want.

        This is not the first time this issue has come up.  Just a little earlier in the gospel we are told that the disciples get caught by Jesus arguing about which one of them would be the greatest of them all.

        James and John come up to Jesus and boldly ask him, “Teacher, we have something that we want you to do for us.”

        Jesus answers, “What is it?  I’ll see what I can do.”

Jesus is obviously thinking that the two brothers have a reasonable request.

        James and John ask, “Well Jesus, can you arrange it so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory, one on your right hand, the other on your left?”

        Jesus answers, “You have no idea what you are asking.  Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink?”  By that Jesus means, are you ready to do what I need to do?  Are you ready to take the punishment I am going to take?  Jesus asks, “Are you capable of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?”[ii]

        That is, are they willing to make the sacrifice that he will make, which of course was to go to his death.  James and John Answer, “Sure.   Why not?  Which, of course, as we know, they could not.  They and all the rest of the disciples ran and hid

when Jesus went to the cross.

        So.  What’s all this mean for us today?  Well, if we take this reading seriously, it really can’t help but make us feel uncomfortable.  It makes us uncomfortable because we can see ourselves in James and John.

We see this first in their impertinent question to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  We are like James and John because sometimes that’s how we talk to God.  We may not even be aware that we are doing it.

We ask God, “What can you do for me?’

        When actually, the whole thrust of the Bible is that we should be asking God, “What can we do for you?”  Because it is through servanthood that we receive the gift of eternal life.     The way to eternal life is through faith, humility, service and love, not seeking power and position, glory and status.  This and so many other passages in the Bible teach us that.vSo like James and John we get it backwards.  We get mixed up as to what is really important in life.  We are like James and John more than we know.  We are infected with the diseases of vanity and ambition.

        For example, I was quite proud when the mail delivery lady told me one day that I had the best lawn on the street.  She asked me what I was putting on my grass to make it so lush and green.  I felt pretty good about that, that I had better grass than my neighbors who fuss with it.  Talk about vanity.

        But seriously, most of us want the best of everything for ourselves and for our loved ones.  For us, it’s the best or nothing. 

We want our children to be the A students, the ones who are at the top of the class.  But not everyone can get an A.  We may covet other people’s jobs or higher salaries.  But not everyone can have the top job.  When someone gets a promotion or special recognition we wonder why it wasn’t us instead of them.

        Fussing and fretting about what we don’t have can make us angry and bitter, and it doesn’t change anything.  But that’s just part of the human condition, and it as old as the Bible itself.    

We remember how right at the very beginning Adam and Eve got into trouble because they wanted something better than what God had already blessed them with. And he had given them Paradise!

        But Jesus makes it clear here that that is not the way to the kingdom.  That is not the way of God.

        Okay. That’s the story of James and John and how their ambition went awry. The bottom line is this—James and John are lacking in humility.  If you were here last week you will remember that that’s what we talked about.  We talked about how what the rich man whom Jesus asked to give up his possessions really needed was humility.

        The point is that we cannot do what we need to do on our own.  We cannot conquer our pride, our selfishness, our vanity, our ambition, our lack of humility on our own.  This is the human condition, and we need to be rescued from it.  Only God can do that.  We need the touch of a mighty hand.  And that is what the lesson from Hebrews is about.vSo let’s take a look now at our reading from Hebrews.  It starts off by talking about a high priest.  We get here a text-book definition of what a high priest does. 

The preacher first talks about what a human priest is supposed to do.  In our Protestant tradition we don’t normally speak of our ministers as priests, so we could substitute the word “pastor” I suppose.

        A high priest or pastor is first of all “chosen,” chosen of course by God.  He or she is “put in charge of things pertaining to God.”  In charge of things pertaining to God.  That’s what church and the ministry are all about, isn’t it?  Worship, baptism, communion, studying scripture, helping the less fortunate through mission work and caring for one another.

        These are “the things of God.”  Sometimes we lose sight of that.  What we do here in church are “things that pertain to God.”  That’s why church work is so very important.  It’s about something bigger than us.

        The preacher in Hebrews goes on to say that the priest or pastor is human.  There are two sides to that of course.  Because priests and pastors are human, they are weak and make mistakes like everyone else.

        Ministers are not perfect.  Tell me about it.  People often do.  And they are right.  According to the preacher in Hebrews, the good side about that is that a human priest or pastor can identify with the people, who also make mistakes and need guidance and support from their pastor.

But the other side of that is this--something more is needed.  We need a priest, a pastor, a shepherd who is more than human, one who really is perfect.  We need a priest that is higher than them all, a high priest who is without sin, indeed, a high priest who can actually forgive our sins.  We need a high priest who can help us to be what God created us to be, one who can, yes, even save us.  A high priest who is there with us and for us forever.

There is a sign in the yard of one the Catholic churches

that I drive by to come here.  The sign says, “Thanks Father Joe.”     

The reason for that sign is that the popular Father Joe

is being reassigned to another ministry setting in the big reorganization and consolidation program in the Catholic Church.  Father Joe soon will not be there to care for his flock.

It’s his time to move on.  He cannot be the priest in that church forever.

The preacher in Hebrews is telling us that there is a solution to that dilemma.  He tells us that Jesus  is our high priest “forever.”  This makes Jesus different from any other priest.  Jesus is the high priest who has sacrificed himself, a priest who has himself paid the ultimate price for his people.  Jesus’s priesthood, you see, is eternal.  It is forever.

        And that’s good news for us.  What that means is that we have a Friend and an Advocate in life, in death, and in life beyond death.  Jesus will always be there for us.  And because of that we there is no need for us to fear anything in life or death.

        Jesus as the highest priest is there to give us strength and hope no matter what our circumstances may be.  We can live because he died for us.  And he is there forever.

        And that is why we should always be Christians, always be people of faith in what we do and say.  Jesus is always there for us.  May we always be there for him.

        The past couple of weeks we’ve been hearing about the devastation that Hurricane Michael has caused in Florida and other places.  People in the South who live on the coasts are used to hurricanes.  That’s why so many of them refuse to evacuate their homes before the storms hit.

But Hurricane Michael was different.  Forecasters watching Hurricane Michael barrel toward the Gulf coast of Florida saw the storm do something "most unusual."

The hurricane intensified despite encountering wind shear —a change in wind speed or direction at different levels in the atmosphere—that might have normally weakened the storm. Hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart wrote, "Michael's steady intensification over the past 48 hours in the face of 33 mph westerly shear defies traditional logic[1][iii]

So it was bad.  Its intensity and destruction were not expected.  At least 29 people were killed.

You may have seen the picture of a lone house that was left almost untouched on Mexico Beach in Florida.  One of the owners, Lebron Lackey, was watching 400 miles away from his home in Tennessee through a security camera as the storm hit his beach house, which was named “The Sand Palace.”

Dr. Lackey said, the roof on the house would “buck like an airplane wing.  I kept expecting to see it tear off.”  But it didn’t

        Dr. Lackey explained how he had built the house.  He said, “We wanted to build it for the big one.  We just never knew we’d find the big one so soon.”

        Patricia Mazzei writes that the story of how the Sand Palace made it through Michael while most of its neighbors collapsed is a story about building in hurricane-prone Florida.

        It’s all about how the house was built.  The owners built the house to withstand 250 mph winds, far more than minimum wind resistance requirements of the county building code.  The walls of the house were built of reinforced concrete.  The space under the roof was minimized so wind couldn’t get underneath it and lift it off.  The house was elevated on high pilings to keep it

above the surge of sea water that usually accompanies powerful hurricanes.

        Dr. Lackey said, “We were thinking that we need to build a house that would survive for generations.”[iv]   And so they did.     

Friends, there is a lesson in this for us.  And it comes from the Letter to the Hebrews.  That lesson is that we need to build our lives on that which is strong enough to withstand any storm.  We need to build our lives on that which is eternal, that which lasts forever.

        There is only one way to do that.  People and things come and go.  They are blown away like the hurricanes blow away houses that are not built to withstand the storms that inevitably come.

        But God is forever.  His son Jesus is as priest forever.  That is why we need to put our faith and trust in the one who is eternal, the one who really can save us.

        Thanks be to God, Amen.

 

 

 

[i] New York Times 10/15/18, A19.

[ii] Dialogue adapted from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, 2012, p.1562.

[iii]www Live Science , October 10, 2018 

[iv] New York Times, 10/15/18,  A-1.

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