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A Backwards Way Of Living

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TITLE:  A Backwards Way of Living                   SCRIPTURE:  Mark 10:35-45

Jesus appeared to be on the right track -- playing the game skillfully -- winning.

Not that it was easy!  Jesus had his enemies -- he wasn't popular with the rich and famous.  But the common people loved him.  Wherever he went, crowds gathered.  People wanted to see him -- to touch him -- to listen to him.

For the disciples, it must have been like traveling with a rock star.  They could see that Jesus was on his way to the top, and they were happy to be riding on his coattails -- to be known as his disciples.  We shouldn't be surprised to learn that they expected a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

But life for Jesus' disciples was never easy.  Jesus continually surprised them -- surprised them in unpleasant ways.  Day after day, he said things that seemed completely backwards:

- Jesus told his disciples:


"Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it" (8:35).

That seems backwards, doesn't it!  Lose your life to save it?  How could you do that?

- And Jesus said:

"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all" (9:35).

That's backwards, too, isn't it!  Go to the back of the line to get to the front!  Be a servant so that you can become a master!

- When the disciples tried to keep children from bothering Jesus, he said:

"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these

that the kingdom of God belongs" (10:14).

How can the kingdom of God belong to children?  Most people thought that the kingdom of God belonged to the holy men -- the priests and the Pharisees.

- When a rich man came to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit eternal life, he said:

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (10:25).

The disciples had been brought up to think that wealth was a sign of God's approval.  How could it be difficult for a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God?

The disciples had been used to seeing things one way all their lives, but Jesus was showing them a whole new way of seeing.  It must have been like being in a Hall of Mirrors.  You have probably been through a Hall of Mirrors at a carnival.  They are fun.  You stand in front of one mirror and look short and fat, and you stand in front of another mirror and look tall and slender.  I like the tall and slender mirror.

But the things that Jesus was saying were even stranger than a Hall of Mirrors.  A Hall of Mirrors simply makes things look different than they really are.  Jesus called his disciples to a backwards way of living.  It was as if he were saying, "Look to your left to see what is on your right." -- or "Look up to see down."

That reminded me of a story by Michael Collins, the command module pilot on Apollo 11 -- the first flight to land men on the moon.  In his book, Carrying the Fire, Collins talks about the difficulty of trying to rendezvous two spacecraft.  Some things that work on earth seem backwards in space.  He began by noting that objects in low orbit move faster than objects in high orbit.  So far, that's what we would expect.  It's like the ice skater who tucks in her arms to spin faster.

But consider the problem of a pilot trying to catch up to another spacecraft.  If he were the pilot of an airplane trying to catch another airplane, he would increase his speed and point his airplane in the direction of the other plane.  As he approached, he would slow down to prevent a collision.  The process would be quite straightforward -- speed up -- get close -- slow down -- rendezvous.

But in a spacecraft, that doesn't work.  Adding thrust to a spacecraft puts it in a higher orbit, and higher orbits are slower -- so instead of catching up, you fall behind.  Collins puts it this way:

"No, against all instincts, one must apply thrust AWAY FROM the direction of the target, drop down into a LOWER, FASTER orbit, and then transfer back up into the original orbit at precisely the right point in the catch-up trajectory." (p. 37)

Flying on Gemini 10, Collins and John Young had a very difficult time trying to rendezvous with the Agena rocket that would carry them further into space.  They kept missing.  They called those failures "whifferdills."  They hated whifferdills.  Whifferdills were embarrassing.  More important, whifferdills used up precious fuel.  That's serious.  In space, you can't just pull into a service station and say, "Fillerup!"

Part of their problem turned out to be an equipment malfunction -- but the other part was having to function in an environment where things worked backwards.

Jesus' disciples must have experienced something like that.  They believed that Jesus was the Messiah.  Having given up a great deal to become his disciples, they expected to enjoy the fruits of success when Jesus came into his kingdom.

But then Jesus began to talk about being killed by the priests.  That's an odd notion, isn't it -- killed by the priests!  Why would a priest kill anyone?  And Jesus said other things, like:

"Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it" (8:35).



"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all" (9:35).

In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus talks about the usual rules.  Under the usual rules, money and power are king.  Rulers become tyrants.  But Jesus said:

"But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all" (vv. 43-44).

That was difficult for Jesus' disciples, because they looked at Jesus like politicians look at a strong presidential candidate.  They figured that when Jesus came into power they would share that power.  Jesus had to tell them, "No!  That isn't the way it will be!"  That must have been terribly disturbing for the disciples to hear.

It isn't easy for us either.  It isn't what we want to hear.  We would prefer to skip past the cross and go straight for the resurrection.  We would prefer to hear, "Believe and grow rich!" rather than "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant."

And there are plenty of people in the church who are saying, "Believe and grow rich!"  They tell us that God wants us to drive a Lexus and to wear a Rolex.  But Jesus might very well tell you to sell your Rolex and use the money to feed the poor.

Our problem as Christians is that we live with one foot in this world and the other foot in the kingdom of God.  This world calls us to take care of Number One.  Jesus calls us to take care of others.

Christians have been doing that for centuries -- taking care of others, that is.  Christians have been taking care of the sick and needy for centuries. 

The neat thing is that, when we do those things, we not only score points in the kingdom of God, but we also find ourselves blessed in the here and now.  Karl Menninger, the great psychiatrist, was asked what someone should do who feels on the verge of a nervous breakdown. His advice?

"Lock your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need and do something for him."


Mitch Albion wrote a novel entitled, The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  He dedicated his book to Edward Beitchman -- Albion's Uncle Eddie -- an ordinary man who died at age 83 having lived a simple life that didn't lend itself to long obituaries.  Albion wrote the story to honor this seemingly unimportant man who was, in reality, more important than anyone realized.

Albion's book starred a man named Eddie -- the head of maintenance at Ruby Pier, an amusement park.  Eddie was a gruff man -- but had a soft heart for the children who enjoyed the magic of Ruby Pier.

Near the beginning of the book, a tragic accident happened.  A cable on one of the rides snapped, and one of the cars came crashing to the ground.  Eddie leaped to save a little girl in danger of being crushed -- only to be crushed himself.

Eddie then found himself in heaven, where he encountered five people to whom he had been important in life.  For the most part, they were people whose paths had crossed Eddie's path only momentarily.  It was difficult to imagine that he could have been important to them -- but he was.

Hollywood made the book into a movie starring Jon Voight.  In the movie, after Eddie is killed, he is seen walking out of the ocean toward Ruby Pier.  Hundreds of people are waiting there to welcome him.  The narrator says:

"All the accidents he had prevented,

all the lives he had kept safe --

and all their children,

and all their children's children --

there because of the simple things that he did, day after day."

The message for us is that we are more important than we might seem.  Day after day, we interact with other people -- sometimes helpfully -- sometimes not.  Each of those interactions is an opportunity to make a Godly difference in someone's life.


Let's give a blessing -- and live a blessing -- in the sure and certain hope that we will receive a blessing.


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