Pick Me

The Rev. Joseph Winston September 20, 2009

Sermon
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 About this time of the year, students slowly settle back into the routine known as school. They now know by heart how many minutes of precious sleep they can slip in before waking up for their first class. After spending days wandering down the hall with their books in one hand and their schedule in the other, most students actually find the next class without getting lost. In the hall and in the classroom, old friendships resume without missing a beat. Other allegiances shift dramatically and new relationships quickly form. Once again, the daily grind includes hours of homework. Classes prepare for the first tests of the year. Some students grimace while other grin when they receive their papers back from the teacher. One hears a similar story outside of the classroom. It is football season in
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.
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Texas. If you expect to win under the lights on Friday night, you then must practice long hours on the playing field. These drills started long before the first day of school and they will continue until final whistle of the season. At the most, this hard won experience teaches you how your teammates will react during the pressure of the game. This knowledge on how they act on Friday night wins only one-half of the battle. You also need to learn both the strengths and the weaknesses of the opponents. Only then will you have a chance of winning the game. If you listen carefully during all of this, you can hear the constant refrain of “pick me” echoing through the halls of the schools, repeating in the classrooms of all sizes, and being said over and over on the playing fields around the state. Pick me – I am your best friend. Pick me – I can solve that problem. Pick me – I am the one you need to fill the hole in your lineup. Even though the reasons why someone might pick us differ greatly from one situation to the next, it all boils down to one indisputable reason. It is a great honor when someone selects us. We still know that today. It makes us feel good to know that we belong with our friends. Our image improves in the eyes of others when we solve the task set before us. We become more popular when we make the team better. This ever so brief description on the honor our society places on belonging is easy for us to understand. We still live in a world that places significant weight on the opinions of others. But in the not too distant past, we valued honor given through selection even more. Take for example the people who work as bankers, police officers, and fire 2

fighters. In our parent’s time, only the most honorable people in the towns could hold these positions. Even today, this idea continues with us. We still believe that individuals in these occupations can be trusted and our faith in them is dashed when we find out otherwise. Picking someone also tells us something about their social status. Here in the south, this memory is very alive. Only the right girls go to the debutante ball. No one else need apply. Belonging also gave us an accurate idea about worth. Obviously, even now everyone would agree that country club members have more money than ditch diggers. We still recognize the Daughters of the Republic of Texas as having more political clout than many other organizations in this state. As we go back further in history, this interaction between selection and honor transforms from simply indicating some combination of trust, social status, and worth into a God given right. In the Middle Ages, only kings could appoint knights. But even a king could not appoint any man as knight. Only God could do that by allowing the man to first serve as a squire and before that a page. A break in any part of this chain completely disqualified a man from becoming a knight. Even today, the English word “nobility” accurately captures this idea. It comes to us from a Latin word (nobilitas which in turn is based on nobilis) that means highborn. In other words, God Himself selected that person to be a king or a queen or a lord or lady. Today’s Gospel Lesson reflects this understanding that God picks our position in life. The disciples are traveling with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Everyone knows what will happen there. Jesus has already told them two times that He will die 3

(Mark 8:31; 9:31). When the group finally arrives in Capernaum, Jesus asks them about the argument between the twelve (Mark 9:33). The narrator does not record the disciples giving any answer. In fact, he tells us they are silent because they had argued about who was the greatest (Mark 9:34). There is something strange about the disciples’ action of remaining quiet. In this day and age, it was completely normal to make these types of comparisons.2 That is how society functioned. God appointed people to their station in life. Naturally, only a few people were at the top of the pyramid of power. The Emperor of Rome ruled the civilized world. He appointed others beneath him to enforce Rome’s rules. Below each man was another. He was charged with keeping the law in a smaller area. This pattern repeated itself until everyone in the entire empire was covered. Everyone lived under this system. Its way of life influenced the world so much that we still remember it today in the Latin words we use in everyday language like: nobility, patron, client, and even father. But if this is so normal, why then are the disciples so silent? Why do not they say, “It is the way of the world to know who is the most important?” Why are they ignoring the question that Jesus raises? What has given them the clue that this type of lordship might just be wrong? Consider this. Who is the one appointing everyone to their place in life? The obvious answer is God. Who is Jesus? God’s Son (Mark 1:1; 3:11; 5:7). What then
John R. Donahue, S.J. and Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Mark, Volume 2, Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002), p. 284.
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should Jesus be doing? Given what the world does, the answer is, “Commanding.” Jesus should be ordering everyone around to do His will. But that is not what Jesus is doing. He is not back at the plush palace sending royal decrees down to the people, ordering them what to do. Instead, He is here on earth. He is healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and forgiving sins. That what God does. He turns the entire idea of being selected upside down. Jesus expects His followers to do the same. That is not happening in today’s Gospel Lesson. The twelve are not out doing anything that God is doing. Instead, they are arguing about who is most important. You see the disciples are just like us. Both of us are focusing on what God has given us rather than what God wants us to do. That is a problem. We are standing in the way of God’s Kingdom. To make sure that the disciples understand what He is talking about, Jesus explicitly tells them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35).” This one sentence on the first being last is much more than the life that Christ modeled for us. This is the way that God operates. This theme of God serving creation runs through the entire Bible. Every day, God causes the sun to shine, the wind to blow, the rain to fall, and the earth to yield its bounty. That is service. God rescued the people of Israel from the oppressive power of the Pharaoh. That is service. God sent His Son to free the world from sin, death, and the power of the devil. That is service. God died on the cross so you might live. That is service. We have fallen into a common trap. We all want to believe that we are here 5

today because we deserve it. That is not true. Nothing in our lives, not our family, not our name, not our ability, not even our skill, gives us the right to be here. Jesus is the one doing the picking. That is the Good News. He finds all those people that we would pass right over: the children who make way too much noise to be in church, the undocumented day laborer on the street corner looking for work, the men and women doing all the jobs that we do not want. That is what Jesus does. He selects ordinary people like you and me. He brings us here for a life of service. We are here today because of His actions. Every part of the world cries out, “Pick me!” That is our nature. We want to be wanted. Jesus calls out to you, “You are mine!” “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”3

References
Donahue, S.J., John R. and Harrington, S.J., Daniel J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Mark, Volume 2, Sacra Pagina, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2002).

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Philippians 4:7.

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