God, the All-Vulnerable
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, April 2, 2017
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (10:32-45)
James and John desired power. They wanted to sit at the right and left hands of the All-Powerful God, the Imperial Majesty on High, the Divine Potentate, the Inescapable and Invulnerable Judge. Jesus corrects them by asking a question. You may note in reading the Gospels that Jesus is much more into asking questions than he is in giving answers.
“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink…?” We all know what he meant. Are you prepared to take up the Cross for that is what it means to sit on his right and left hand? Its not about getting power, it’s about giving it up. It’s about Extreme Humility.
Jesus explains things more clearly.
“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them and their great exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; for whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be servant of all. For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Brian McLaren puts a comment into the mouth of one of his protagonists in A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIAN that I think puts a fine point on it. It is this. “But I am saying that truth means more than factual accuracy. It means being in sync with God.” Theological accuracy, my friends, doesn’t ensure that we are in sync with God.
The triumphalism that often afflicts us Orthodox, which is all about lording it over the other who is so obviously wrong, is a betrayal of Christ. We pride ourselves for getting all things right and this does not make us disciples of the Lord . Triumphalism makes us Pharisees. About this, about us, Jesus proclaims, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
The wife of my Old Testament professor at Oral Roberts University seminary did not like the Orthodox Church. At this time a group of us were preparing for or considering becoming Orthodox and we were puzzled by her hatred. We were afraid to ask her why until one day I gathered the courage to ask. This is the tragic story she told us. She was raised as a Protestant in Eastern Europe where the majority of the people were Orthodox. One day, as she was walking in her village, she watched as a mob of Orthodox Christians grabbed a couple of innocent Jewish children, beat them and hanged them from a tree. She was traumatized and after that she had a visceral hatred of all things Orthodox. We were stunned.
One has to wonder. All the right doctrine, all the right worship, all the right everything; years of liturgies, Lents, Paschas and prayers, the very things that are supposed to make us to be “in sync with God” did not make it so on that day in that village in that crowd. To be able to justify such cruelty in the name of Christ is utterly intolerable. It wasn’t Jesus who taught them to hate.
This confirms the wise saying of a great teacher, “There are no enlightened people, only enlightened actions.” If we do not act like Christians, then we are not Christians. We can believe all the right things and still not be “in sync with God.” As St. James writes, “Even the demons believe and tremble.”
We must make sure that we are in sync with God. How can we know this? By consciously choosing the path of kindness. “All values in this world are more or less questionable,” writes the Russian poet Yevtushenko, “but the most important thing in life is human kindness.” We must always be kind. Kindness is the Way of God.
Do you remember the story I read to you a few weeks ago about the woman who adopted her son’s murderer? That was an act of fierce and radical kindness. Here is another story for you.
There was a policeman who began to see himself not only as an office of the law, but primarily as an office of peace: a Peace Officer. One day he had to arrest a man who became violent and resisted arrest, throwing a chair at him, among other things. After the man was restrained in handcuffs, the officer looked him in the eye and said with great sincerity, “I am so sorry if I offended you in some way.” The prisoner just looked at him in surprise. The next day the officer took a chance. When leading him to his court appearance as an act of trust, compassion and kindness, he decided not to handcuff him. On the way the man turned to him and said, “I want to apologize to you for the way I treated you yesterday.”
Go, as Jesus says, and do likewise. Take the risk of kindness and bring heaven into this world.
You see, we always have choices and we can always choose kindness. And this means we choose to be vulnerable. Such goodness is risky. Of course, we are not in control of how people will respond. And yet, if we are willing to take the risk, we will find we will discover what it means to be “in sync with God.”. Kindness is always the perfect and godly choice.
Jesus reveals the God to be kind and caring. Not the Imperial Almighty God who reigns on high, but the All-Vulnerable One who dwells among us. He is the one who chooses humility over power and weakness over strength. He is the God of absolute accessibility and fierce compassion. Those who choose to make these same choices and his way of being theirs are those who worship in spirit and in truth. They already dwell in heavenly places.