Monday, October 19, 2009

A Holy Disruption

Minimum Security by Stephanie McMillan - April 25, 2009

Mark 10: 32-45
******** United Church of Christ

October 18, 2009

A spiritual discipline that I have endeavored to apply over the years of my adulthood, especially as a pastor and mother, is the acceptance of disruptions. A disruption is any change in the status quo. It can be welcome or unwelcome, unexpected or expected, or merely a suspension of the usual process of living. Many a time I have welcomed a disruption, even planned for a few of them, such as moving away from home and resigning from full-time ministry. Some of these planned disruptions of ‘the way things are’ were of the most positive kind, like getting married or having children or returning to work, yet each also comes with its own challenges as well. Most of the time I work at welcoming disruptions into my status quo; some of them are of the merely inconvenient variety, but usually they are an opportunity for ministry.

In fact, ministry is comprised mainly of disruptions to the status quo. Someone loses a job or needs some help paying the bills or just moved into town or was in an accident or has just quit smoking or is in recovery or received disturbing news from a lab report or a relationship has ended or a loved one has passed away—and they need to talk, they need community, they need help.

Jesus knew this. Often he would try to get away by himself and pray but more often than not, folks who were hurting or lonely would find him and Jesus would give them what they needed most: healing, forgiveness, love and a changed life.

In this morning’s scripture lesson Jesus and the disciples are headed for the biggest, most traumatic disruption of their life together. For the third time Jesus has told his closest friends and followers what will happen to him when they reach Jerusalem. He goes into great detail—betrayal, torture, then death, and at the last, resurrection.

Two of the disciples, James and John, have the strangest reaction to this disruption, this oncoming train wreck: to ask to be at the right and left of Jesus when he comes into his glory. The author of Mark does nothing to gloss over their request or to make them appear less connected to this audacious demand, as does Matthew by having their mother ask Jesus for them. Mark presents the disciples as very human. It would not be the last time that when a leader’s death or leave-taking is imminent, even one as beloved as Jesus, someone would make a power grab. This does not beg for a judgment but rather understanding. By asking for seats of glory, they betray their fear at losing Jesus and the intimate community from which they have received a new life.

But Jesus is as cool as a cucumber. As the ultimate transition man, he exudes an ideal non-anxious presence. He does not judge them for asking something from him, even as he is about to enter the city where he will meet his death. He responds to the ignorance that is masking their fear with gentleness, as though they are young children lacking certain life experience.

What the disciples do not know is that disruptions can also be deep sources of transformation, especially the ones that cause a great deal of pain. Like a mother giving birth to a child, painful disruptions have within them the possibility of transformation, of birthing us from one life into another. It is how we approach and creatively handle these disruptions that determines what shape this transformed, changed life will take.

Jesus warns James and John that indeed they will drink from the same cup and share the same baptism, but who will be at his right and his left has already been prepared. Only recently have I wondered if the two thieves who were crucified on the right and left side of Jesus were representative of these two disciples, illuminating the truth that on the path to glory there is no escaping pain and disruption, but that there is also transformation of the highest order.

You’d think that if the other disciples were listening in, they would have heard Jesus’ warning and heeded it, but no. Thankfully these other disciples are just as wonderfully human as we are. They become angry at James and John, perhaps because they made the request before any of the rest of them could.

Jesus then reminds them of the worldly powers that be, that there is a certain pecking order to be observed and obeyed but as usual with Jesus, it is turned upside down. And in so doing, Jesus has set the disciples and us free from any humiliation from the powers that be by commanding that we be humble instead, by living as servants and slaves.

Servanthood is a life lived in the service of disruption. The master calls, the servant responds, disrupting whatever was currently happening. The servant is willing to disrupt his or her life for the sake of the master.

This past week I met with a group of clergy friends for our monthly spirituality group. Each month we take turns leading the group through a discussion, some prayer and singing, and sharing Communion. This time we shared Communion quite differently. We were instructed to take a sizeable chunk of bread and then to feed each member of the group with a small morsel of it, saying each person’s name with the words “I am willing to disrupt my life for you.” And a few of them had already done that for me.

You are currently living through one of the more challenging disruptions that can disturb the status quo of a congregation, that time of transition when a pastor leaves but not quite time for a new settled pastor. You may not have been willing to live through this disruption at its beginning but I have witnessed your willingness to disrupt your life together grow over the past seven months (yes, it has been that long).

How much further are you willing to go? Are you ready to make those difficult changes that will prepare you for the future, such as how you govern yourselves? You already disrupt so much of your individual lives for the sake of this church. THANK YOU! The irony, however, is that when our practice of church becomes an unconscious pattern, when it becomes the status quo, such as giving the same pledge each year or the same people leading, it is then that a holy disruption is needed.

Are you truly being challenged by the words of Jesus? Do his words poke holes in your arguments, your resistance, in your status quo? For through those holes, through those holy disruptions will come shafts of light, to illumine your way to true servanthood, to glory, to transformation, to a changed life. Amen.

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