Preached by Reverend Mark D. Sluss
Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday October 18, 2009
“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”
I learned a very important lesson these past few weeks. Many of you know that I was permanently laid off from my job.
And to be honest for the past year, I was not very happy with the company that I was working for.
We received a new director, who really did not understand what the function of our department was, or what each of us did.
But he demanded an accounting of our time. I remember one big organization meeting where we had to give a presentation on our function to the senior management of the company.
The one thing that I came away with was that they still did not understand what it was our function did for the company.
We used to comment, that if we weren’t there to do the job then they would understand.
Over the last 4 years working at that position with the company, we survived, 4 different Reductions in Force (layoffs).
We weren’t touched, because enough middle management people understood that our function was needed.
We had built ourselves up, to think that our position was entirely too important for the company to survive without it.
Then September 3rd came, and I lost my job. The perceived importance, meant nothing, when it came down to numbers and dollars.
What was even more shocking was realizing that how much stock I had put in the power that I thought came from what I did for a living, it’s quite common in western society, we define ourselves by what we do, and we attribute a power system a social status to that.
I think it is a human condition to try to evaluate how important we are, in most venues of our life.
We compare ourselves to those around us. We try to determine a person’s station in life by their clothes, their car, their homes, and in St. Louis, “where did you go to High School?”
There is an odd desire, almost a need to want to be in a position of power.
This is not a modern day social dynamic, for we hear in the Gospel reading today, how the disciples are arguing over the places of power between them.
The disciples never seem to quite get it do they?
You see in their mind, they are still relating to the phenomena of Jesus and his teaching about the coming kingdom in terms that they understand.
Their society was a patronistic society, those with little power, had to petition those with greater power for favors, whether in business, or government (sounds a bit like lobbying).
Even their Passover rituals at the temple were a practice in patronism.
A sacrifice, is given to garner favor from the divine, in hopes that the favor will be granted.
James and John even petition Jesus for a favor, they want him to grant them each a seat at his side in the coming kingdom.
It’s like they didn’t’ even hear him say that he was to be killed, in the previous passages. “oh yeah, after all that’s over, can you do US a favor, give us seats of power?” If I were Jesus I’d be tempted to give them both an Eye Roll and say “sure I’ll get right on that you two”.
But Jesus uses this as a continued opportunity to again teach the disciples.
If they are ones who will remain loyal to Jesus, they will be treated by the Romans the same as Jesus.
And as with any group, the disciples don’t really consider themselves each equals and a family of believers, you see they are connected to Jesus the central figure, not to each other, with the exception of James and John who are connected to each other as brothers.
They disregard the others and ask their favor for seats of power. The other disciples were of course angry.
Jesus quiets this by stating that “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you will be slave of all” that most certainly would be a shock to them.
They had expected to ride along with Jesus and climb that social ladder, but Jesus goes and defines his mission not with the priests in the temple, or the elite of Judea, but lower than that, with the servants, and slaves.
Since servants and slaves would have worked in the family households, the disciples would have known that they performed the needs of the family who owned them without concerns or expectation to be paid back.
The disciples were to behave that way, as a part of the household, but not expecting payback. AND that is the way that we are to live, as servants of each other, performing the needs of the family and not for any type of payback.
When we offer our gifts and our sacrifices of support for the Cathedral, we should change our expectations, we shouldn’t give expecting to get a favor, or expecting some sort of recognition or payback.
That is still living into the patronistic society. We should approach this as slaves, or the way that Jesus told them, as a RANSOM.
That word just jumped out at me in the gospel this week. It constantly was the one word that caught my eye and my pondering.
A Ransom is an economic exchange that pays for the release of hostages. A sacrifice is a ritual to facilitate the transfer of a favor from God to the person giving the sacrifice.
A sacrifice is selfish, a ransom is not. For a Ransom pays for the release of hostages, persons who have no power, from one who holds power over them.
Jesus’ death is not a sacrifice for us, Jesus is a RANSOM. Think of it this way. When Jesus as the last supper describes the cup as being his blood “poured out for many” it does NOT refer to the sacrifice of forgiveness of sins that was made at the temple.
It refers to the Passover lamb, whose blood protected the households of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, and facilitated their release from bondage.
The Passover lamb gives its life as a Ransom for many. Now some might say that I am just splitting hairs here, no matter what lamb is referenced, the sacrifice or the ransom, the ultimate goal is the forgiveness of our sins right? Well yes and no.
The ultimate goal is the release from the bondage of poverty, sickness, loneliness (which are all symptoms of the separation from god), of our COMMUNITY, and I don’t mean the community of the Cathedral, but our City, and the world.
This naturally begs the question then “if we are the body of Christ, in the world today, how then do make our talents and gifts, to be a ransom?”
First off, we need to change our focus, like the disciples, we cannot give, and expect something in return, we are to be slaves.
We are to give ourselves as a ransom, to release a soul in our community.
Our giving should be not just a handout. Because that is a sacrifice. An offering to gain a particular outcome, most likely to get the person to move away from you. Give them a dollar so they’ll leave us alone!
No! our giving should be for ransom, we should give to those programs and services which release our neighbors from bondage, we should give to agencies that offer assistance for mental health, for addiction issues, for hunger issues.
We need to make our payment to release God’s people from those things that enslave them. We do good things here at the Cathedral.
But we have fallen into the trap of a quid pro quo, we give hoping for some favor to befall us or some particular outcome to come to fruition.
We give to assuage some guilt we have, over how much we have.
Our focus needs to be to give our gifts away. Give it all away to save even just one person, from the power that holds them. That holds them in the darkness of their captivity, we must purchase their release.
I am going to be working with the Justice and Mercy committee of the Cathedral to identify those services we can support that will bring about the release of our sisters and brothers who are in bondage.
And I am going to need your help to do this, if anyone has recommendations of those groups that we can reach out to in support, please forward those names to me.
I have already met with other clergy of the 6th ward, and we are developing a list of service providers, so that we do not duplicate efforts, and so that we can support each other.
Each of the Christian congregations of the ward are all working as servants, all slaves to release our friends from captivity, and to welcome them into the household of believers, out of their bondage, out of the dark.