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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - October 22, 2006

When I was in elementary school we had a mean gym teacher, Mr. Calder; Sarge we called him, not to his face of course, only behind his back because he did have that military demeanor about him.  He was fond of calisthenics.  As far as we kids were concerned we spent way too much time doing jumping jacks and sit ups and things like that and not nearly enough time playing.  Mr. Guzzi, the other gym teacher (Fuzzy Guzzi we called him) let you play more so every year you hoped your class got Fuzzy Guzzi for gym, not Sarge.

I think I was in fifth grade and it was one of those years my class had Mr. Calder.  We were doing a unit on basketball and having completed our ration of calisthenics for the day, he was showing us how to shoot free throws.  He was shooting them underhanded, like Wilt Chamberlain used to shoot them, which was the way they taught kids to shoot free throws back in those days. 

The trouble was, like Wilt Chamberlain, Sarge’s shots weren’t going in.  Being a bunch of fifth graders we wanted to laugh, but we were fighting to keep it in because we knew if we laughed we could get smacked.  This was back in those care free days when teachers could rough kids up a little bit and get away with it.  Finally though, after missing yet another shot, Sarge growled at us and said, “I’m showing you how not to do it, so you can do it right!”

Maybe he was trying to be funny, I don’t know.  I never detected much humor in Mr. Calder but maybe he was a funny guy and it was just wasted on us kids.  It’s hard to believe that he was being serious though, because showing kids how not to do something so they could do it right would be a rather unorthodox approach to teaching.  It’s something I never tried in all the years I taught and coached.

But…when you read the Bible, sometimes it seems like about the only reason Jesus kept the disciples around was so he could use them as examples of how not to follow him.  The portrayal of the disciples is not entirely negative in Mark.  They are loyal; they left their previous lives to follow Jesus and they do stay with him.  They have to be somewhat courageous because there is opposition to Jesus along the way and it’s opposition which would also implicate and threaten his closest followers.  So there are some positives in their portrayal; there is a good degree of faith here and to be fair we have to give the disciples credit for that.  They are not without virtue.

Still, what we get a lot of in the gospel stories is their failure to understand Jesus.  They seem pretty dense at times or at least we’d like to think that they’re denser than us.  If we’d seen all the miraculous things Jesus did we would have understood more than they did, right?  The misunderstanding we get again today, has to do with their preoccupation with their own status and power. 

In the verses immediately before today’s gospel Jesus for the third time tells them about the fact that he will be arrested, condemned, mocked, humiliated and killed, and also that after three days he will rise again.  It didn’t make sense the first time he said it to them and the third time it still doesn’t make sense.  The first time he said it Peter said “No way; this can’t happen to you,” and Jesus rebuked him harshly for setting his mind on human things rather than divine things thus using the negative example of Peter to show us how not be a disciple.

The second time he says it, right away the disciples are talking about which of them is the greatest and with a more gentle rebuke than he used on Peter, Jesus again shows us that this is not the way to follow him.  The third time isn’t much different.  This time, James and John are singled out for wanting positions of power when Jesus comes into his glory and again Jesus uses their negative example to show us how not to follow.

We’d like to think that if we were those disciples we would have done better.  Somehow I doubt it though because the evidence of our lives shows that we still don’t get it.  Despite all these examples of how not to follow, all these statements from Jesus about how following him is not a path to glory and prosperity but more likely involves suffering and sacrifice, despite all this we don’t seem to understand much more than the disciples did, or if we do understand more, we live as if we didn’t.

The problem was that Jesus was announcing a future that didn’t make sense.  Everything the disciples saw pointed toward Jesus being the one who was going to free them from Roman oppression.  As far as they were concerned he had what it took and suffering and death didn’t fit into their plan.  Suffering and death would mean failure and things would remain as they were, maybe worse, with all the usual pieces still in place.  Jesus talk about rising from the dead after three days didn’t change anything either because everyone knew that just didn’t happen.  Dead is dead.  It’s over.  Those words wouldn’t even have registered.

Jesus was announcing a future that didn’t make sense.  The disciples were hoping for a change, for a different future, but all they could imagine was a rearrangement of the existing pieces, a rearrangement that would move them into more prominent positions in place of those who currently held them.  It’s kind of like the election that will take place in a couple of weeks.  The Republicans want to keep the pieces in place, meaning they’re still in control.  The Democrats hope to rearrange the pieces, putting themselves in control, but will that really represent anything different for us?  None of them on either side seem capable of imagining anything really different when imagining something different is what is desperately needed.

In all of his teachings, in the story of his life, Jesus invited people to imagine a future that didn’t make sense.  By doing this he was playing the role of a prophet, doing the same things many of the Old Testament prophets did.  They warned the people of their time about what would happen if they didn’t change their ways and it happened.  There was defeat and punishment and exile.  But then, when things seemed hopeless, the prophets created visions of new futures.  To start with, they weren’t concerned about whether their visions could be implemented because…before they could be implemented, they had to be imagined.  Imagination comes before implementation.

The disciples had an imagination problem.  They were hung up on implementation which is frequently where we find ourselves.  We hear these upside down visions of what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God and can’t get past how impractical it sounds; turn the other cheek, love your enemies, sell all you have and give the money to the poor, suffering and death as the path to glory; it doesn’t fit with our expectations either.  It doesn’t seem practical or possible so we immediately begin trying to make Jesus’ teachings more what we think is doable, and imagination is stifled. 

But what if Jesus is saying, don’t worry so much about how to do it; just imagine it.  That’s the first and the most critically important step. You can’t do it unless you can imagine it.  Without imagination we’re back to rearranging the pieces and while there may be some benefit to that, nothing really new happens.  But with imagination…who knows what’s possible.

That’s why Jesus didn’t write a how to manual.  You can buy such things.  You can go to the book store in the religion section or maybe the self help section and there are books on how to live a Christian life, The Purpose Driven Life, things like that.  These too may have some benefit, but Jesus didn’t write any of them.  Like I said, he offered more how not to’s than how to’s, but mostly he created visions; visions for us to imagine. 

With imagination, implementation will happen…but there’s no one single way to do it, no one size fits all and it doesn’t happen all at once.  And it doesn’t happen at all until the reality of Jesus’ vision sets in and we realize that the way things are isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  That’s probably the hardest step because most of us are served quite well by the way things are; we’re not really up for something different. 

So we come back, week after week, to hear the strange words of Jesus; strange words about a strange kingdom…and we try to imagine it.     

    

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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