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October 22, 2006 (Sunday 29 • Time after Pentecost)

The Rev. Daniel Leatherman

Mark 10:35–45

Webmaster’s Note: The Rev. Dan Leatherman is the Chaplin of ‘Iolani School in Honolulu.

Traveling anywhere by plane is no longer the adventure that it once was. Our world has sadly been changed by the threats of violence that seems to pervade every aspect of normal life. It used to be that I looked forward to getting on a plane, watching the ground crew load baggage, fuel, and pre-flight the aircraft. Once on board and then on the runway, hearing the various mechanical noises, of flap adjustments, engine throttle, landing gear, and if you were lucky, the cockpit communications on one of the on-board audio channels. Oh yeah, there was one more thing, you got fed.

But now there is the line at the TSA baggage screening machine, the even longer line at the security checkpoint at which you need to be stripped down to your underwear in order to get through, and even then you get the looks. So you go from one queue to another, waiting. And then you see them: the beautiful people; the velvet rope is removed and these people who are unknown to you have now, in the blink of an eye, taken their place at X-ray machine a good 15 people ahead of you. Why? Oh. Excuse me! First Class passenger.

And then I have to admit, that I too am among those who pay for the privilege of being a Premier Member at Hawaiian Airlines. What does that get me? Express Check-in, a special security screening line at Honolulu, access to the lounges, priority boarding, and free headphones on mainland flights. You should see the looks I get at the inter-island terminal when I fly out of Honolulu and I go immediately to the head of the line.

In other words, I’m special. But that is us, isn’t it? We are marketed to that way—VIP service. Don’t want to stand in line at the rental car counter? Become a Preferred member; you get points and increasing benefits for being a Silver, Gold, or Platinum member. They cost us a little money, but after all we are worth it right? We want to be special, we want to be a part of something that sets us—not just apart from the others, but above.

Such attitudes translate into every aspect of our lives.

James and John are no different. Remember that these two were sitting down with their dad, mending their fishing nets, when Jesus, I imagine, walks by and says to them as he did to Andrew and Simon Peter, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And because this is Mark’s gospel and everything happens immediately, “Immediately,” it says, “they left their father Zebedee in the boat and followed him.”

That was sometime back. Now they have a favor to ask; in fact, it is posed as a little more than just a favor. In the verses just previous to today’s chosen readings, Jesus has just finished telling the disciples of his future demise. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

Now James and John, ask if they could sit on the right and left hand of Jesus. Even after explicit and repeated instructions, the disciples still don’t understand what it means to follow Jesus. James and John still imagine that somehow this journey will end in glory and they want to sit at the right and left of Jesus. As that journey in fact ends, those to the right and left of Jesus are those who are crucified with him!

Jesus, using the images of “drink the cup” and sharing in Jesus’ own “baptism,” again instructs them that to share Jesus’ glory, they must first share his suffering. Truly, “you do not know what you are asking”!

But James and John aren’t alone in their misunderstanding: the rest of the Twelve become indignant, fearing that the best seats have been taken. Jesus must repeat the teaching he had given earlier. But here Jesus goes further in summarizing his entire ministry: he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” and adds to that the admonishment that in order to become great, they must follow his example and become a servant.

It was printed in yesterday’s paper, but in case you were not aware, the Episcopal Diocese of Hawai‘i yesterday at St. Andrew’s cathedral elected the Rev. Canon Robert Fitzpatrick as the 5th bishop of the diocese. This was done over the course of nine separate ballots until the required number of votes in the Diocesan Convention was received. Nine ballots is a lot. And in between ballots we sang hymns, read scripture, and prayed. What was key for me was not that we were electing a leader for the Diocese who will help us shape the Diocese well into the third millennium. We were calling a servant. A servant to the clergy, and to the people. Following the election, there was the feeling of relief on the part of some, sadness and disappointment for others, uncertainly for others still as to how Bob will lead us.

As followers of Christ, as disciples, Our Lord calls us from our everyday tasks, from the mending of our nets, to follow him and to fish for people.

We now come to this altar, as individuals and as a community, to join in the Eucharistic feast—feeding our bodies and our souls with the food and drink from the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.

In the baptismal service for Episcopalians there is not simply the powerful symbol of water, but also the powerful words of the Baptismal Covenant. James and John want it the easy way. Jesus challenges that; he asks us are we ready for it all? Are we willing to share in that ministry, to take up our cross and follow?

I submit to you that we are.

And of course I am not talking about simply doing good works as if God will somehow take notice of how good we are. We do such things because it is a natural extension of who we are as people of faith of those whose joy it is to follow the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We are special not because we have Premier mileage status, but because we are called to be servants of the most high, and as such we are servants to all of humanity.

Our faith and our Lord Christ call us into the service of others, especially, the poor and the oppressed, the sick and the lonely. We are called to be servants of justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being.

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