Some incoherent thoughts – Sermon for 21st Sunday after Trinity – Year B 2018
‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you . . . Mark 10:42-3
A couple of weeks ago, we considered angels, guardian angels to be more precise – today I want to return to the angelic realm, but this time its less presentable aspects, that of fallen angels . . .
Jesus you may well remember in Luke’s gospel declares, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’ Luke 10:18. But why does Satan fall, and indeed all his angels ‘fall from heaven’?
Well we cannot know for sure, but here and there we have hints – for example we may consider the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness – all about assuming power in one way or another, over the creation, over people, over the whole cosmos . . . change stones into bread, leap from the temple, bow down and worship me . . . When we assume power over, we separate ourselves from . . . even ‘if it is for your good’, perhaps the subtlest of diabolical temptations – for diabolic literally means to set apart . . . the diabolical angels want power – they want to be associated with a God of Power – and so they too can have power – sat at the right and left hand of God
There is a very ancient tradition in the church in this regard – that the angels fall because of their Pride, because they cannot bear not to be unimportant. God in Christ takes on human flesh, and sets his face towards the most disreputable of callings, that of a servant, and the most disreputable of deaths, that on a cross – and they cannot stomach that . . . for the angels continually see the face of God.
Put another way, they are full of pride. They want a God who fits their self image! They secretly desire to be the centre of all things! (In this respect I think it is worth considering if this is not what we all too often do when we speak of the human as ‘The image of God’ without any reference to the God of whom the human is the Image . . . All too often we veer dangerously close to the cliff of placing ourselves at the centre of things, if not indeed fall ourselves. Insofar as I understand it which is not very well, this also is the fundamental place of separation of our faith from Islam. For to the Muslim, the idea that God might assume human flesh is anathema, for God is so wholly other . . .)
This attitude, of the fallen angels – that it is all about Power. And thus to be separated out from the Creation – to Lord it over . . . Perhaps this attitude is at the heart of the disciples request, that one sit on the right and one on the left of Jesus ‘in his glory’. After all – they know that He is the Messiah. James and John have seen him transfigured on the mountain. He is the One who will be ‘in charge’ – the one who will have power, and they want a bit of that for themselves . . .
Yet what is staggering is that Jesus has just reminded them for the third time of what his mission is
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “Behold! We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” Mark 10:32-34
He is going to enter into the depths of our human condition, even death, even death on a Cross, so that he might lift it up. He shares in our Life that we might share in His. Share, not have a bit of it for ourselves, but share. Joined together – not split apart.
We may remember a couple of weeks ago, Jesus teaching on marriage. About being joined together – One flesh – and the words ‘those whom God has joined together, let no man separate’
What does Jesus say you should do to your enemies? Serve them – share what you have with them. If they are hungry, feed them. Give your life for them . . .
So Jesus’ response to James and John and their request to be in power – is to ask, do you want to share in my life? Can you drink the cup I drink, and be baptised with my baptism? – -We can they confidently assert – thinking perhaps that the reward is the power they seek – but the result is not that. Yes, you will share in my life, my death, but as for sitting at the right and left hand. That has already been prepared for someone . . . and of course it has, the two thieves
All we have is the request of James and John, for the seats of authority – for some of the glory, for power – to Lord it over . . .
this Way of Jesus is So strange, even to us . . . we still fall for the old deception, that one can take up Power, for Good, but to assume power over is to be separated from, it is diabolical. The Good we assume power for is always abstract, it isn’t a Real Good. For we do not know God, we do not Know the Way of Jesus
Three times he tells them, and three times they fail to understand – foreshadowing the threefold denial of Peter ‘I do not know him’ – yet it is clear that this is not so much a denial as a Confession. I don’t Get Him! I don’t Understand Him. I do not Know him. I am separated from Him – Peter does not so know Jesus as to know what he is about. Jesus’ words he does not understand . . . Jesus is God come into the world, and in the eyes of the world making himself of no reputation . . . he doesn’t come into the world in any way which suggests to us that he is God, because we are strangers to who God is . . . For we may know about, but to know about is to be separate from – to Know, to Share in the Life of God is truly to Know God. Peter doesn’t want to share in the life of this Crucified one . . . And this is a trap for us too – that what Jesus does for us he does in separation from us. So many versions of this story exist in the Church. We watch and admire Jesus from a distance – but that is not to know Him
This perhaps is why we find so many more or less ingenious ways to separate the person of Jesus from the Triune God, secretly we don’t want Him to be God, because if he is, and if we are made in His image, then His way is our way – his Life is our Life, and we who claim to know Him can only follow him by likewise making ourselves of ‘no reputation’
We are called to proclaim Jesus as LORD – the manifestation of the God of the Universe – Jesus, the Galilean peasant who dies on a Roman cross, who comes amongst us not to be served but to serve – and to give up His life as a ransom for many . . .
This is the significance of Jesus’ earlier words to the crowds “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
“Those who are ashamed of me” who cannot own this homeless bedraggled Jewish preacher as their God.
Well the Tradition tells us that some of the angels couldn’t bear it. This God wasn’t good enough for them in their pride, they were ashamed to own him and so rebelled against Him
And so when he was revealed in Glory, there were two one to his right and one to his left – two thieves . . . God on His throne
The Servant King, the God of no repute
Always the temptation is to dress this all up. For some we do it by needing good arguments to back up our faith – for those who would despise the God who reveals himself as a Servant and dies upon a cross, we seek to make it reasonable . . . but blinded by our pride it cannot be so. The rich the powerful – they find it too much and turn away . . . for to follow Him is to turn from Power to Love. From separation (the diabolical) and power over, to union, to Life with
Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians drives the point home thus . . . For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. The Power of God is the Life of the Spirit which Raises the Crucified Jesus from the Dead. It is the Life of God amongst us, the Kingdom of God amongst us. It is the weak yet Triumphant Power of Love
Jesus comes to us in weakness and humility – the lowest of the low – not one who seeks to be served, but who comes only to serve, to give hie life for others. if he is our God – if being made in the Image of God means anything at all, then it must mean that this is the posture we too are called to adopt in the world. If truly we are to Know Him.