5th Sunday in Lent B St. John, Galveston 3/25/12
+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Perhaps you have heard of the ancient Greek legend of Narcissus. He was supposedly the son of a river god. A seer had told his mother that her son must never see his reflection if he was to mature into manhood. For that reason everything that threw off an image, such as metal, was removed from her son's grasp. But one day Narcissus found a spring that formed a pool filled with crystal-clear water. As he stooped down to take a drink from the pool, he saw his reflection on the surface of the pool. He fell desperately in love with himself, and seeking to embrace himself, he fell into the water and he drowned.
We don't speak much anymore of the legend of Narcissus. We do, however, use his name to describe those who are hopelessly self-centered and self-absorbed. In fact, narcissism is now identified and catalogued as an official personality disorder by the medical profession.
In a broader sense, we use the name to describe one of the great maladies of our 21st century American culture. Ours, in many ways, is a narcissistic culture. We live in an age of entitlement. In fact, about 10 years ago there was book written on the subject. It was titled "The Narcissism Epidemic…Living in an age of entitlement." The authors give us a few examples of how our culture has turned in on itself.
They write, "On a reality TV show, a girl planning her Sweet Sixteen party wants a major road blocked off so a marching band can precede her grand entrance on a red carpet. They add, five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures as ten years ago, and ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous. High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention. And for the past several years, Americans have been buying McMansions and expensive cars on credit they can't afford."
None of this, of course, should surprise us. After-all, God told us long ago, through the Apostle Paul, that "in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God."
Does all this mean then that Jesus is coming soon? Well, maybe, but, maybe not. The malady of self-centeredness is nothing new to our culture. As to our contemporary situation, I suppose we could argue degrees and how pervasive the problem is, but, as Solomon said, there is "nothing new under the sun."
Consider the contrast set before us this morning in the Gospel reading from Mark 10. James and John versus Jesus--selfish ambition versus self-sacrifice; wanting to be a lord over others versus being Lord of all, and yet, desiring only to serve. These are two completely different ways of life, two opposing mindsets, two contradictory purposes, even, for life itself.
James and John, in asking for seats of honor in Jesus' kingdom, demonstrate the essential selfishness of our fallen nature. Lest we point the proverbial finger of pride, or, fail to see ourselves in James and John, it's important to realize that they aren't by any means unique in their ambition. In fact, the other disciples, we are told, were angry when James and John asked for the two seats of honor in the kingdom. We might wonder, were the rest of the disciples angry with the two brothers because they should have never asked Jesus such a selfish question? Or, were they angry because they failed to ask for the seats of honor before James and John?
Jesus' way of thinking is always counter to our way of thinking. We see success and fulfillment in life in what we attain and in the power we command. Jesus says we gain our lives, in other words, we find significance, purpose and meaning in our lives, by giving them away. We see greatness in the number of people over whom we exercise power. Jesus says we find greatness in service to others. We strive in all sorts of different ways to learn to love ourselves, as if that were some laudable goal. Jesus releases us to love others by showing us a world of hurting, dying sinners who are in need of our compassion and care.
Perhaps though the greatest counterintuitive aspect of Jesus' ministry among us and for us is that, He came into the world "not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom."
James and John, who wanted the highest seats when Jesus came in His glory, and, all of us gathered here this morning, for that matter, see Jesus anguish over the prospect of drinking the cup of suffering that lay before Him. We are humbled by the Servant of servants, this One who "was rich, yet for our sakes became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich." We contemplate what it means for God to become flesh. We struggle to grasp the humility of His servant heart laid open for all to see in the suffering and shame of His passion and cross. When we finally come to see just how much we love ourselves over God and over everyone else, we hold ourselves in contempt and plead God to have mercy on our souls. Indeed…
"When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride."
It is in just such a state of turmoil, when we've come to see that we don't deserve any seat in the Kingdom, when Jesus comes in His glory, much less the highest, that Jesus says, "look at Me!" "Look at Me!" See My body and blood laid out before you at this altar! Look at his fount! At the fount I gave you new life! I made you an heir of My kingdom! Look at Me! On the cross I became what I was not, to make you what you were not! I became your sin and made you My righteousness! The Father turned His back on Me! He will never turn His back on you!
The mythical figure Narcissus saw his reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with himself. Subsequently he died in his own embrace. Our culture may never have even heard of the legend of Narcissus. We are, however, all too familiar with the perversion of the heart that is described by his name.
In was into just such a world that Christ came to serve, to bear our scars, to suffer the consequence of our guilt! And though we hid, as it were, our faces from Him, He sought us out, He claimed us in our baptisms, and He seated us in places of glory. It is into just such a world, a world that perplexes us and even seeks to draw us away that He continues to serve you to set you free from yourself that you might live and love and serve others. Yes…
"Forbid it Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood."
In Jesus' name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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