Guest Post: When Disciples Become Toddlers, or No, You Can’t Do It Yourself

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Written and preached at Our Savior’s Lutheran, South Hadley, Mass, on October 21, 2018, by the Rev. Karen Stephenson of Atlanta Bar Church, Atlanta, GA.

Mark 10:35-45

When I meet new people, I usually introduce myself by letting them know that I am a momma.  I have two children, and the oldest turned 23 this week. I confess that recently I did that whole mom thing and took a trip down memory lane. While I was looking at her pictures from when she was a a small child, I came across this one picture that made me recall that my Jordan, my 23 year old, had her own “catch phrase”…her own motto, which was always said through gritted teeth was this:

“I can do it myself!”

She said it all the time. It didn’t matter if she was trying to reach something on a shelf that was too high, or tie her shoes or cross the street — she could do it herself.  She was born with a fierce independent streak. So, now, this independence has made her an amazing adult, but it proved to quite a challenge as her parent.

In this week’s Gospel text we we encounter two disciples who are pretty sure that can too “do it themselves.” James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who as an aside here, are embracing their own motto, which is “There is no such thing as a stupid question.

They have asked Jesus to do whatever they ask of him and for the honor of being seated right next to him at the cool kids table in heaven, one on his right and the other on the left.

To which Jesus graciously responds: “Um, guys, are you sure you’re ready?”

“Can you drink from the same cup and partake of  the same baptism that I will?”

Their response: “Oh, yes, Jesus. We are ready.”

And this — this is where I am sure that Jesus responded with the quintessential theological response: “Bless your hearts.”

Which, according to Ludlow Porch, a Georgia humorist who was podcasting before it was cool, is often Southern for “…you stupid fools.”

Mark’s Gospel gives us multiple examples of how the disciples just don’t get it.

Here they are, believing that they have the ability to sit in the same seats as Jesus, God incarnate, and that they can do it themselves.

Like I said, bless their hearts.

You know, I have to wonder, how many of us are like Jordan.  How often do we encounter a new challenge or adventure even and through gritted teeth say the words, “I can do it myself”?

Or how many of us are like James and John, and  think that we can sit in the seats next to Jesus and handle all of the authority and obligation that such a position would require. 

How many of us say, “Hey Jesus.. I got this”?

Friends, hear me when I say these words: we cannot do it by ourselves. We are not enough. But before we fall into feeling inadequate, or limited by our beautiful humanity, consider this: God, our heavenly parent, knows that we are not enough. 

And what if I told you that this is the way that you, me, we are designed?  That it’s not a flaw in our makeup, but rather a beautiful aspect inherent in our design:  as humans, we are not made to go it alone.

This is humbling, right? It is for me. We live in the United States of America, a land of rugged individualism.  A place where we celebrate people who are able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Stories of individual success are lauded.  Self-made people are idolized.

But America isn’t the kingdom of God, is it?

Maybe we’ve lifted up the wrong thing.  Maybe in our desire to ‘do it ourselves’ we have forgotten that God created us to live in community and to rely on others just as they rely on us.

We are accustomed to a culture where we think we don’t need each other, and maybe just maybe there are times when we think we don’t need God.

So, if we aren’t meant to do this life thing, this life as disciples, by ourselves, what reminders do we have to help us embrace our neediness, our humanity?

Take a minute. Take a look at the people sitting around you.  I know that yesterday you all celebrated the life of one of your own. According to your pastor, this congregation gathered together to honor a woman who understood that to be human was to be in community and to make room for more people at the table.

A  woman who knew that we cannot do it ourselves,
and — this is the good news — that we don’t have to. 

And not only that, but that we can’t do good on our own, we are unable.

Martin Luther reminded us that only through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us are we able to be enough.  So Recognizing our inability to drink the cup and be baptized with the same baptism as Jesus is the first step in recognizing our dependence on God.  We are called to serve, yes, but we don’t have to do it alone.  

We have each other and we have a God to see us through. 

When we can’t muster the strength to act, we rely on others to help and when others lack the strength, we can step in.  But in all of it, God is guiding us and strengthening us. And it is through God’s power and presence in our lives that we can be enough, 

That we ARE enough.

Amen.

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