Below is posted my message delivered on Sunday, February 18.
2018 02 18 “Ego, Service, and the Kingdom of God” Mark 1:9-15
Story: Water-Softening bricks
I worked several summers for Magnachem in the warehouse: a great job where I used a forklift, mixed 2000 gallon batches of chemicals, prepared orders for shipping, and move drums of chemicals that weighed up to 900 pounds by hand. One tedious job was making water softener bricks. One summer, while the foreman was on holidays, I used spare time to do him a favour by making up several extra boxes of these bricks. One problem was that a box of them got light over time as the water in them evaporated. The next summer I learned they had to throw out many boxes of them when Canada’s Weights and Measures agent checked out the validity of the measures of various things in the warehouse. My ego was gratified by the great thing I had done, but it was not a good thing in the long run, due to my ignorance.
Message: “Ego, Service, and the Kingdom of God”
At the time I chose the theme for my message, I had not reread the passage from Mark, and thought the temptations that were in Matthew and Luke were also in this passage. The three temptations (feed people, have power over people, and fame) appealed to ego, but would not have succeeded in his mission to restore the relationship between people and God.
Simply providing people with what they want does not grow healthy relationships, though it does stroke egos.
Using power over people grows resentment, not love, for the one with power.
Fame might gain worship and does much for ego, but it does not develop love.
Enough said about a reading that was not there. Mark’s reading raises different issues, issues close to us and far from us.
A far issue is that it was important to Mark, Matthew and Luke to establish that Jesus was the Messiah that Jews were expecting, In this passage, Mark introduces Jesus to the reader and hints of his connection to the story of the Jewish people. His baptism in the desert parallels the crossing of the sea in the desert by the Israelites. His forty days in the wilderness with testing by Satan, the wild beasts, and ministry by the angels parallels the forty years in the wilderness in which the Israelites were continually tempted, and yielded often, complaining many times about the folly of trusting Moses and God, as they dealt with hardships in the desert including poisonous snakes, and were ministered to by God with manna and quail when they were hungry, water from a rock when they were thirsty, and the bronze serpent on a pole when they were bitten by poisonous snakes. We are probably less concerned about the relationship between Jesus and Jewish history.
The part that is close to us is the connection between what Jesus saw and heard when he was baptized and his going into the wilderness.
Imagine you are a 30 year old man with a name given to more boys than any other name, many who are hoping they might be the Messiah for whom the community was hoping and praying. You have a feeling you might be the Messiah, but you are not sure. In your quest for understanding, you choose to be like many other people, and go out to be baptised by John, a person recognized by most people as being very spiritual. When you come out from under the water, you see something like a dove descending on you and you hear these words from the sky: “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
If that happened to me, I would need time alone to understand what just happened and what it means to me. And I would have questions like this. “How can I be certain that I experienced what I just did?” “Am I really fit to be God’s son?” “Am I up to what is needed of me?” Have you ever been totally preoccupied with some questions or problems, and suddenly realized someone or something had to have been looking after you, saving you from great harm while you were preoccupied? Jesus is out in the wilderness, a place with wolves, lions and poisonous snakes, but somehow avoids running into any of them while he is tested and tests his belief in himself. After forty days, he is certain of himself and his mssion.
When he heard John has been arrested, he saw this as a sign that the establishment knew it is in a battle with the Spirit blowing through the Jewish people, and that was the time to begin his ministry. And his ministry was quite simple, sort of, to preach the Good News, the Kingdom of God was close by and God loved them. God was not holding the sins of the people against them. God was like a daddy, an intimate, caring parent, not a vindictive, demanding ruler.
Of course, his message contradicted the preaching and teaching of the religious leaders, preaching and teaching that supported the status quo.
When we get the message that we are special, we too can have doubts, and our doubts can drive us to test whether we are special. I had just finished a short term teaching job in a difficult situation where my most important contribution was bringing a sense of stability and calm after they had been through a very disruptive 6 weeks which included three other teachers going through the position I had. I was looking forward to just doing ministry again when I got a call from the director of the upgrading school. I reluctantly agreed to meet with her and she asked me to teach computers and social studies, neither of which were part of my training. When I told her I was not really trained for these, she told me that she was told I could do anything. To prove to myself that I was worth such praise, I ended up teaching 33 social studies students and 51 computer students at the same time.
I needed to get the curricula, text books and the computers, set up the computers and create a timetable in which I rotated students 17 at a time through the computer lab while teaching social studies 10, 20 and 30. We can do crazy things sometimes to prove our worth, and that is what Jesus did. I pushed myself to the limits of my ability; Jesus put his life on the line as he challenged both religious and secular authorities.
Each of us is God’s beloved child.
Each of us pleases God in our acts of love and trust.
Each of us is capable of amazing feats.
Each of us encounters wonder and doubt.
Each of us has times when we need to test ourselves or our relationships with others.
In all of this, God is with us.
In a world of rapid change, many conflicts and threats, challenges of discerning what our mission is now and in this place, we are not alone. Thanks be to God. Amen.
My teaching story involved a year when I went from full-time ministry to half-time ministry for 3 months so I could do the full-time teaching position at a reserve school, then to 3/4 time when I accepted the 1/3 time teaching position in the upgrading school. I was also serving on the transition team for Alberta and Northwest Conference as the conference was preparing to change its structure. And for one month, while driving back and forth, I was practicing my Junior Warden’s speech for an initiation ceremony for the Masonic Lodge where I was Junior Warden.
I failed to include the following statement in my message. Everyone is God’s beloved child, including the annoying relative, the nasty neighbour, political leaders, “those people” who might frighten some of us or disgust some of us. God’s love includes people in prison, soldiers in various armies, members of other faiths, atheists, and anyone else you might think of.