Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

“You do not know what you are asking.”
Most of the time, like James and John, we don’t know what we are asking for.
 We don’t know what we are getting ourselves into.
We have all heard the expression, “be careful what you wish for.”
That is essentially what Jesus is warning James and John about.
To be a disciple of Jesus, to follow Jesus, to be great means to get low and serve others.
This is not something that one can take lightly.
It is not so much that being a disciple is about being perfect.
It is about the calling to serve, and about being a servant of all.
To give of ourselves without thought of what we get in return.

I have seen it many times in people.
They are searching for God.
Wondering where God is for them.
And when they find God they want nothing but to allow God to use their life.
The problem is that once God has a hold of your life there are all sorts of ways we are called to follow.
There are all sorts of things that we do that we never thought we would do.
It is hard.
And here is the hardest thing.
To do God’s will means to serve others.

Let us be honest about something this morning.
It is not always enjoyable to be around other people.
Other people are lazy, rude, and hurtful.
Other people break your heart.

When I went to seminary I remember having this conversation with God.
I asked that God would use my life to help others, to spread the good news.
I had no idea what I was asking.

When I was on internship in Philadelphia I got my first taste of what this would truly mean.
I became friends with some homeless people in Philadelphia.
Especially a man named Clearance.
I met Clearance on the street through the Church’s feeding program.
I began to drive down to downtown Philly on Sunday mornings to bring him to worship with me.
Soon I learned that Clearance had been keeping everything he owned in a storage unit.
And even though he was homeless he had a job.
The pastor of the church, with my advice, decided that we should help.
The Church put up his first month’s rent and security deposit.
It was in an apartment across the street from the church.
I saw Clearance every day after that and I tried to help him budget his money.
Clearance told me he wanted to get gold teeth.
I told him that he needed to pay his rent.
Sure enough the next time I saw him he had new gold teeth.
A week later I got a call from the landlord that Clearance was two months late on his rent.
Since the church signed the lease we were responsible for the money.
Clearance broke my heart.
I got burned.

I see this all the time in people in the church.
Out of desire to do God’s will they get involved in the work of the church.
They serve on committees, on council, and they give of themselves because they want God to use their lives.
But they get burnt out; they get disillusioned that people are not working as hard as they are.
They get upset that people don’t see things the way they do, or that the church does not live up to its ideals.
Eventually they get burnt out.

But Jesus this morning warns us all about what it really means to be a disciple.
It is not for glory.
It is for servant hood, and that is not always pretty.
It does not always live up to our glorious expectations.
I really believed that the church was going to change Clearance’s life.
That once he had a stable place to live and a community that supported him he would turn his life around.
Life is not that easy.
People are not that easy.
Serving real people does not always produce the results we would want.

But what are we to do?
Should we give up?
Should we stop helping others because it is not going to give us the desired results?

After that incident I learned and grew, but I decided this was merely the price of doing God’s work.
This was what it meant to be a servant.
Jesus’ own work was not some glowing success in the eyes of the world.
It ended in him being killed on the cross, a reality that he saw very clearly.
My internship supervisor told me that if he had to do it all over again he would do the same thing.
He told me this is where the church lives in the real world that is often brutal and failing.
I prayed a lot during and after that time with Clearance.
I asked God why this all had to be so hard?
Perhaps some of you have prayed that exact same prayer?

But if you know me now you know that I am still committed to helping those experiencing homelessness.
I am more aware of the limitations of the help we give.
I am more aware of the issues involved in people who are in a long term homeless situation.
But I have decided that if I really want God to use my life I cannot run from serving others because of one bad experience.
I also realize now that the help I offer is just as much for me as it is for others.
I serve and care because spiritually I need to do it.

When we do God’s work in the church or outside of it, we do it because in the serving our lives are glorified.
In the loosing of ourselves we gain greater spiritual blessings.
Perhaps we should realize what we are asking God for before we do it.

The good news in the text for us this morning is that Jesus says that we can do it.
We can share the same baptism that Jesus has.
That is a baptism of giving our lives.
Jesus is baptized to prepare him for his mission in the world.
So is ours.

For me the waters of baptism help to put out the fire during those times when I do get burned.
Our baptism prepares us for a life of having our hearts broken.
Just as Jesus was heartbroken that people do not accept the gift of the kingdom of God so are our hearts sometimes broken by other people.
But it is in realizing that the journey to Jerusalem has greater purpose.
The journey of faith is only amplified and made all the sweeter through those heart breaks.
If we never experience the heart break then we never tried to live in the calling of God.

God gives us the gift of life and what we do for others is our gift back to God.
God calls us to be in this world for each other.
I heard a quote this week that really hit me, "Anyone can find God alone on a picturesque mountaintop, the hiking trail, or the sunset.
The miracle is that I can find God in the company of other people who are just as annoying as I am." 

Sometimes we might have our hearts broken, we might get burnt out, but what Jesus tells us this morning is that if we want to do God’s will we have to do serving others.
We have to be willing to risk to endure, and in that there will be something greater in store for us.
New avenues of understanding ourselves, God, and the world will open up for us.
So let us go out and serve others, so that we can be the greatest we can be for God.

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