Sermon – 10-17-21 – Proper 24 – Cycle B
Scripture – Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Sermon Title: “Giving Our All at the Back of the Line”
Does anyone here like to be at the back of any line? Most lines form for things we want or need. Some lines are not so bad. They are for fun things. But if we think of history and awful events that are happening recently and on this very day, there are lines leading to death or torture. Think if we were standing in line in Afghanistan waiting our turn to get on a plane leaving Afghanistan. Think of the lines of the Holocaust.
Jesus says that we should humble ourselves and head for the back of the line. Then, we will be invited to the front of the line or the head of the table.
Thinking of lines brings us to the lines that thread through history and ancestry. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – all three – began our history. The Father had plans for the Son. The Father planned the line of ancestors leading to the Son’s appearance on earth for 33 years. Some of these ancestors were kings – some good, some bad. Some of these ancestors were ordinary people – some good, some seemingly bad.
The line includes a priest that comes and goes. This priest’s name is Melchizedek. He is a high priest. Melchizedek is not a blood relative. He is a figure in scripture which prepares people for the appearance of Jesus as our high priest. Melchizedek first appeared to Abraham to minister to Abraham after Abraham won a battle ordained by God. Reference is made to this High Priest, Melchizedek, throughout scripture, especially with King David.
David is caught between Jesus as one of the persons of God – present from the very beginning of creation, before David – with Jesus who also appears on earth after David. David is in the middle as an heir and as an ancestor at the same time. In this line Jesus becomes the ultimate High Priest. Hebrews 5:5 and 6 have the words of God saying, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you. You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” These words are found in Psalm 110 where David is writing, “The Lord said to my Lord . . .” which means “the Father said to Jesus . . .” David is in the middle passing on this Melchizedek thing for history.
When I say “Melchizedek thing” it is the line of a new order. It is different from the line of Aaron which is the line of law from Moses. The law did not change people’s behavior. But Jesus, coming from the line of Melchizedek, does change people’s behavior. Jesus brings forgiveness and love. Changing people’s lives happens through love and attention and positive action.
Let’s think about our lives and our lines. As I am writing this sermon about lines, I get a text from one of our members which says, “I am second in line.” Of course, this is puzzling. So I replied that this could be a text from God since I am writing a sermon on “lines” at the moment. I wondered what God could be telling me. Then the reply came. The wife was telling the husband where she was in the line at the drug store. So my soul was lightened. However, I continue to wonder if God is revealing something profound to me. “Second in line.” Always Vice president, never president. The second child in the family is believed to be effected by that position.
Have you thought about your own tendencies? Are you inclined to always want the front seat? That can’t be true because it is very hard to find church-goers who rush for the front seats. But, do you like certain seats in a restaurant because you think they are better is some way? Do you pay more for sports tickets because you want the best seats? Do I buy more items than I need at the grocery store because I can afford them and because I am afraid they will not be there the next time I go to the store? Do I think about the people after me really needing the items I over-bought?
I am not supposed to be judging other people and their habits because I may have a log in my own eye about my own behavior. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. One time, I did take a seat at the most distant table from the head table at a wedding. Humility on display. Well, in this case, the bride’s mother came to me and informed me that the bride would like for me to sit at the head table beside a beloved grandmother. Do you know why this bride did this? She had been in my confirmation class for two years. Totally quiet. I thought she needed to be dragged to those classes. Would you believe that while she was being humbly quiet, she was being lifted by God through me? God was bringing her to the first place all through those sessions.
When I speak about Aaron’s line of law – the Ten Commandments – in comparison with Melchizedek’s line of ministering in love and compassion, it is not to downplay the law. Can you imagine a lawless society? No need to imagine. We are living in a lawless society. People are forgetting that law is necessary. But we have the law. In order to protect innocent people, we need to enforce the law. How do we do that? Our current methods do not seem to have the effect we want. How do we reach the hearts of lawbreakers to transform them? This is the question of life!
On the other hand, if love and respect and wanting the best for each other were our nature, we would not need the law. We would naturally be living according to the Ten Commandments.
I am impressed with organizations formed of individuals who believe that love and care and action are the way to overcome our increasing disobedience to the law. I have been participating in the four sessions at Immanuel UCC in Shillington, called “Brave Space 4 Connections.” This past Sunday, we were privileged to learn very first-hand about the organization in Berks County called Berks Connections/Pretrial Services (BCPS). The people in this group reach to people who are repeatedly incarcerated because of drug and alcohol addictions. The BCPS people meet the “people who are last” while in prison. They stay by their sides to have these persons who have found themselves at the bottom of the barrel raised to a working, productive, happy life. We met and listened to the stories of three of these people. The last shall be first.
We have these words from Psalm 91: “For God will give the angels charge over you, to guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” The angels. These BCPS people are angels to the people who have become the last. They bear the weight of life until those of us who have wandered have been lifted by the mercy of Almighty, but loving, God. Do these angels think of themselves as being leaders from the top or servants from the bottom. What are we doing wherever we are on the line? Are we the helping angels or are we the persons who need help to move from the “last” position into the “first” position? We are both. Amen