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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

October 21, 2012

Gospel: Mark 10:35-45
1st Reading: Isaiah 53:4-12 Psalm 91:9-16
2nd Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10

This week it was announced that scientists have found a planet made of diamonds. It is so far away it would cost a planet made of diamonds to get there, but it got my imagination going. Would we want to try to go there? Or would it devalue the diamonds we already have? Diamonds may be exciting and glamorous, but wouldn’t it be even more valuable and exciting to discover life on another planet? On a planet of diamonds, what is the rare stone that engagement rings are made of? Maybe quartz or pumice? It is all in our perspective, isn’t it?

Our view of the Kingdom of God is also about perspective. In one view, it is something precious and rare. Jesus says it is like a pearl of great value and a man goes and sells everything he has in order to purchase it. Or it is like a treasure hidden in a field, and a man, learning of it, goes and sells everything he has to buy that field and own that treasure. The Kingdom of God is something we’d like to have and it is something rare to find. It is something valuable that we would benefit from having possession of. So no wonder the Disciples want to know how they can get a hold of this precious treasure by making their reservation early for courtside seats, since they are limited.

Jesus talks so much about his “glory.” Today the Disciples are trying to get a piece of it. I have often puzzled about this. What is glory? How do you know you have it? How do you know you have enough of it? Is it something rare? Is it something to plentiful? We sing about it a lot in church, but I don’t know if I’d know it if I saw it.

I think we can agree that glory is something good.

Think of the Christmas story when the angels appear to the shepherds, the Bible says that “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” This passage and many in the Old Testament seem to refer to a kind of light. When I think of glory in our culture, I think of the rich and famous. They get all this attention. The paparazzi are following them, hoping to snap a photo. We get news reports on which of them had a baby or donated money or adopted a puppy. Because we’ve seen them in the movies, we seem to think we know them and we seem to care about details of their lives. Maybe we wish we were like them or are glad that we aren’t. Do we watch them so that we can be like them? Or do we watch them so we can avoid the pitfalls they seem to get trapped in? Celebrities seem to get a lot of glory, but also people love to hate them, so they have their share of suffering and they get to suffer somewhat in public.

I was writing some synonyms for glory to try to understand what it is. I came up with honor, triumph, status, value, fame, credit, majesty, notoriety, special, recognition, and success. To have glory is to have elevated status. The world we live in tells us how to get more glory. We need to wash our hair with the right shampoo. We need to watch the right movies. We need to have the right job, the right amount of money, and the right friends. Glory is something rare that we can only get with riches. The thing is, if you’ve tried to find glory or satisfaction this way, you know it doesn’t work. Your hair gets dirty again. It never looks as glossy as it does in the commercials. Your money doesn’t bring you satisfaction. You can have all the money in the world and be sick or be unhappy. The world gives us a false path to glory. The world tries to entice us down this wrong path, we increase the profits of these companies that want to have the glory for themselves. We play right into their hands.

So here is Jesus showing us the true path to glory, to happiness, to success. He’s saying it may not be as rare as we think it is. It is just that we are looking for it in all the wrong places. Instead, he says, it is plentiful. It is in a life of service. Jesus is saying that glory is plentiful and abundant. There is enough glory to go around. We don’t have to fight over it. We don’t have to try to beat our neighbor to it. Glory is precious AND glory is plentiful. It is as close to us as our neighbor in need. It can be found in each flower, in each interaction. It is beautiful and wondrous and mysterious, yet it is right next door. It is as beautiful and precious as a diamond, but as plentiful as on the diamond planet.

Jesus reprimands the disciples that are arguing over his glory and their piece of it. He has just been talking about the suffering he is going to endure. They are troubled by this and their fear is what sends them scrambling for the glory. Jesus reminds them that suffering is also plentiful. If they are planning to be near him in his glory, they should count on being near him in his suffering. To sit on either side of him may be an honor, but it isn’t easy, as the criminals found out who were crucified on either side of him. Suffering and glory aren’t mutually exclusive. We think that in order to achieve glory, we should avoid suffering and if we run from suffering we will be happy. Remember the disciples abandoned and denied Jesus when it came time for him to suffer on the cross. Jesus says that glory and suffering are down the same path. Suffering and the Kingdom of God are down the same path. But every time we come to suffering we don’t realize that glory is just on the other side and we miss out. We think suffering means we are headed in the wrong direction so we try to recalculate. Jesus says keep going. On the other side of suffering is the Kingdom of God, the satisfaction, the hope that we’re looking for. He says if we want to become great, we should become a servant of one another. We should put our needs aside. Instead of going down the road that puts us first, go down the path that puts others first and we will find life abundant, not just for us but for others. And this path is as abundant as there are people in need, in fact infinite. It is the path of love and love is something precious, like a diamond, but also plentiful and immeasurable like the diamonds on the diamond planet.

On Commitment Sunday, this is a good thought to ponder. Do we exist for ourselves to get more glory for ourselves, to avoid suffering, to be served, to be comfortable? Part of me would love to say yes. I like my comfortable life. But we all know from life experience, this isn’t long-lasting. It doesn’t satisfy. We’ve also all experienced the true satisfaction of helping others, even when it inconvenienced us, even when it hurt us. So we are also aware of the Kingdom path that Jesus pointed us toward and led us toward. Our stewardship question asks us, do we keep the money we have for ourselves and spend it all on the things we like? Or do we spend it on behalf of others in need? Of course it isn’t all or nothing but a path we are moving down, like a continuum. On one end we spend it all on our pleasures and on the other end we give it all away to the poor. We are all somewhere on this continuum. Are we moving more toward one end or the other? And which end gives us more satisfaction? Which causes us more suffering and pain? Which one is closer to the Kingdom of God for us and for others. And it isn’t just about our money, but our time. Do we spend our time just doing what we like to do? Where does that get us but all alone and dissatisfied? If we spend our time helping others, we find ourselves relating to all kinds of people we wouldn’t have otherwise met. We find ourselves learning about ourselves. We find ourselves putting others before ourselves. We find ourselves forgetting the suffering we’ve endured. We find ourselves giving away our diamonds because there are enough to go around and we’ve got the real valuable diamonds, relationship and love with God, with our neighbors, and with people in need, something that can never be taken away.

The diamond is simply carbon, but its beauty isn’t revealed until that carbon undergoes tremendous pressure. Jesus on the cross endured that pressure that seemed to destroy him. Instead he rose more beautiful than ever to share the light of God, and the value that God holds us in, with all people.

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