A sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Mark 10:35-45
Jesus gives his life as a ransom for ours.
How can our lives possibly be that valuable?
How is it that one man can sacrifice himself in place of us, and not just us, but all of us?
How is it that this act of self-sacrifice stands in for our sins, our wrongdoing, our rejection of God, our failings, our brokenness?
How great a cost that must have been, and yet it was assumed by just one man.
Does this leave us in debt to Christ? Does this leave us indebted to God for the salvation of our lives? What is our share of that ransom paid that surely we must be expected to pay back? And, how can we pay it back?
Well, we can’t, really. Because, we’re not indebted to Christ, to God, that wasn’t the point. But, it’s also not a bad thing to feel a sense of debt for what has been done for us. Christ performs the ultimate self-sacrifice, giving himself for others, giving his life so that we may have life. It’s natural to feel a sense of obligation when we accept this as reality. It’s natural to want to do something to pay even a fraction of this ransom back, if we can. And, that’s great. It’s what drives us to seek out the other and help them have life. It’s what drives us to come here and seek a connection to Christ, to God, to our neighbor, and to be filled with the knowledge that the gift we receive in eternal life is both ours no matter what and we can do everything in our power to celebrate that gift and spread the Good News of its offering to us, to many.
I’ll admit this is a somewhat abstract thought. To think of our lives as a tiny fraction of a huge ransom paid, when that tiny fraction is greater than we could ever hope to pay back, if it were even possible. But, I think there is something in the line that Christ offers before this proclamation that speaks to how we can acknowledge the ransom paid, offer our thanks, and create new life with the life we have been gifted.
Jesus states: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”
Where have you experienced this in your life? Where have you gone to serve not be served?
I think many of you are aware that Episcopal summer camp was a very influential piece of my upbringing in the church, shaping how I understood not just my faith, but myself as an individual, my role in community with others, my responsibility to and for others in ministry. As a kid you go to summer camp to be served. You don’t really know anything else. The well-meaning staff, counselors, volunteers are there to teach you about what it means to serve, but ultimately the camp experience is about being served. But, it didn’t stay that way for me.
The first time I realized that my experience at camp was shifting was when I was a freshman in high school. Our camp had undergone a radical leadership change and shift in philosophy, and many of my peers rebelled against the new policies and procedures for “ruining” the camp experience and “taking all the fun out of things.” I joined with my peers who formed a band of rebels monikered OSCAR: Old School Campers Are Revolting. And yes, we were aware of the double meaning. Even as fun as having secret meetings of the OSCAR organization were, I realized that my heart wasn’t in revolting. I didn’t realize it then but I would eventually realize that I didn’t care about being served at camp anymore. I kept coming back to camp because it was an opportunity to serve. To serve as a leader for the children who were experiencing camp for the first time. To serve my fellow campers as a true friend and confidant. To serve that place by understanding the immense work that went into creating each summer and being eternally grateful for that work (and contributing to it when I could).
And this is why I have stayed involved with that camp, why I encourage all people I know to be active in camp ministry, because it is one of the few places in this world where we can truly go to serve and not be served, where there is no agenda, where what we are getting out of the experience is secondary to what those who come and need to be served get out of the experience. I keep going back to camp because I was fundamentally changed by my experience there, and even though I will never in this lifetime be able to repay what I have received in my camp experience (especially because of the vicious cycle that is going to camp: you go to give back and you can’t help but be further indebted to the transformative experiences you have each and every time you go), I can’t help but try to give just a little bit of that back, to create for another the opportunity to be served and experience that moment of clarity that is the transition to serving others because that’s what is truly filling, exciting, life-giving.
This experience of camp begins to show to me what it means for Christ to have paid a ransom for my soul, and not just my soul, but all of our souls. No matter how hard we try to give back, we will never be able to pay back what we have received. But, in that never-ending cycle of receiving more and more, we can give back by creating the opportunity for others to experience what we have received, to experience what it means to be served, and what it means to go from an expectation of service for us to an expectation of service by us. We create for others an opportunity to know that Christ has ransomed himself for us, to forgive us, to forgive our sins, to accept our brokenness and love us nonetheless.
This is the hope that I have in serving as a priest in this church. To create that opportunity for others to see with clarity that even through through their sins, their wrongdoings, their rejection of God, their failings, their brokenness, God is there for us, waiting to welcome us in a loving embrace, and that we can access this love, this unconditional forgiveness, because of the sacrifice that Christ was willing to make on our behalf. It is my hope to create an opportunity, to support and further opportunities, for those who have accepted this reality of our faith and want to invite others in to experience this reality-shifting truth with us. To serve those who need us to guide them home. To serve others, because we cannot ever repay the ransom paid, but we can certainly show a token of our appreciation by committing our lives to being continually transformed by our connection to God, to each other, to the stranger, to our neighbor.
We are valuable to God because we are the very good, beloved creation of God. Our distance, our failings, our sin, our betrayal, have caused God to grieve for us. In Christ, that grief has been answered with a promise. A promise that if we acknowledge what God has done for us through Christ, then eternal life is ours, then eternal forgiveness, eternal love, is ours. When we share the Good News that is this promise of faith, we are creating an opportunity for more life to spring up around us. When we share the Good News that is this promise of faith, then we begin to pay back the smallest fraction of that ransom that has been paid.
We can never hope to sit at the right or left hand of Jesus. We likely struggle with the thought of even being in the presence of Christ, being in the presence of God, at all. But, we do have hope. Our hope lies in the transition we make when we realize that we would rather serve than be served. When we realize that of course our lives are valuable to God, and we are transformed and inspired to share this Good News with all. No matter where you are in this journey, know that I am here to serve you, that many in this room are here to serve you, that there are many in this room who need you to serve them. We will transform each other if we live into this Good News.