Well, when I was a boy growing up in New York, I really didn't collect anything. But my two brothers did. My older brother collected baseball cards, and my younger brother collected comic books. They were so protective of those collections. They kept them in those clear plastic sleeves, and forbade anyone from getting close to them or from touching them. There was one comic book that my younger brother was the most protective of. It was a Superman comic book, the one where Superman goes to the Bizarro World. Have you heard of this one? It is actually very valuable today, this comic. But Superman goes to the Bizarro World, where there is a planet called Htrae, which is the word Earth spelled backwards, because everything in the Bizarro World is backwards from the way it is on Earth.
So for example, the planet itself is not a globe, it's a cube. And in the Bizarro World, up is down and down is up, left is right and right is left. And when you enter a room, you say, “Goodbye.” And when you leave a room, you say, “Hello.” Totally the opposite.
I was thinking of that comic today as I was preparing my homily, because as we hear in today's Gospel message, Jesus is instructing the disciples to go out, take the world, and turn it upside down. I wa thinking that Jesus's kingdom is actually an upside down kingdom. And he gave us instructions for building that kingdom, which seemed to be opposite of how most people lived.
So for example, most people hate their enemies. And Jesus says, “No, love your enemy.” Most people hold grudges against those who have done them wrong. And Jesus says, “No, forgive! Turn the other cheek. Forgive not once, but 70 times seven times.” Most people want to get revenge on those who have done them wrong. And Jesus says, “No, bless those who persecute you.” Jesus said that in His Kingdom, the last would be first. And the first would be last, that the rich and powerful are going to be pulled down from their thrones, and the lowly and oppressed are going to be lifted up.
Now if you were here last Sunday, our Words of Integration and Guidance were by the late spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen. And if you remember, he said that the kingdom of Jesus is not for the upwardly mobile, but for the downwardly mobile. And that's very confusing to us, because we have been taught to go up, to reach for the brass ring, to climb the corporate ladder, to get to the top, to be number one. But Jesus is saying if you want to be number one, you actually have to be last.
Now, it's not that Jesus’ kingdom is Bizarro. It's that the world we're living in is Bizarro. Because it's a world that is much more focused on me than we, and we've seen that during the pandemic, unfortunately, at the beginning of the pandemic, people were so focused on hoarding things like toilet paper. As long as they had enough for them, they didn't care about other people. We see the same thing with people wearing masks. It's more about me than we.
That happens to us in the voting booth. When people go into vote, they're thinking about themselves, mostly they're thinking which politician and policies are going to best affect me. They don't really think much about others, about especially the least of these, how those policies are going to affect the least of these. So they don't really care about the safety and security of refugees. They care more about their own safety and security. They don't really care about whether or not people have health care, as long as they get to keep their own health care. They don't really care about whether everyone has a living wage, as long as their stock portfolio is going to be well protected. In other words, they are much more concerned about maintaining their own kingdom than they are about bringing about the kingdom of God.
Now our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning come from our New Mexico friend Richard Rohr, and they come from a book of his which also has an upside down title. The name of his book is called Falling Upwards. And what he's getting at again, is that the way up in the spiritual life is really the way down, that it's not about building ourselves up. It's about being of service to others. It's not about being served, but about Serving.
And that's confusing to us because I mean, who wants to be a servant? We all want to be bosses. I mean, we were kind of trained that way as little kids. We were told Study hard in school. Why? So you could get into a good college? Well, what was a good college? Well a college that was going to get you a good job. And what was a good job? A job where you made a lot of money. And why did you want a lot of money? Well, so that you could have everything and that and you could move up, have a higher status, a better way of living. You could be number one. You could be the boss.
But Jesus is saying, Oh, no, it doesn't work that way. In my kingdom, If you if you want to be First, you have to be Last. And again, it sounds so bizarre to us. And it sounded Bizarro to the 12 apostles. You see James and John in today's Gospel reading. They say to Jesus, Hey, you know, when the kingdom is established, we want to be your left- and right-hand guys. We want to be like your Vice President and your Secretary of State, okay?
And Jesus is saying, Oh, no, you don't get it. James and John thought it was about power and position and prestige. And Jesus is saying, Well, no, if you want to be first in my kingdom, you have to be last. If you want to be the greatest, you have to be about serving others. And Jesus demonstrated that for them on the night before his death. He got down, if you remember, and he washed their feet. To show them this is what I want you to do, to go out and serve others.
We think being a servant is lowly. But Jesus is saying no, it's just the opposite. serving others is your power. That's where your divinity lies. That's where your joy lies.
In our E-Pistle newsletter this week, I shared with you a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. He said, “The best way to find oneself is to lose oneself in the service of others”. And Albert Schweitzer said “One thing I know for sure, the only ones among you who will be really happy in life are those who seek and find how to serve.” Leo Tolstoy said, “Joy can only be real if people look upon their life as a service.” And one of my favorite quotes about service comes from the Hindu poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who said, “I slept and dreamed that life is joy. I awoke and saw that life is service. I served and realized that service is joy.”
Service is joy. We think service is lowly that it's a burden. It's not. Jesus is saying that's where your freedom comes from. That's where your joy comes from. All the great spiritual teachers knew this. That's why St. Francis of Assisi said, “It is giving that we receive.” And he prayed, “Oh, divine master grant that I may seek not so much to be consoled as to console, not so much to be understood, as to understand, not so much to be loved, as to love.”
So that's why Jesus is saying here, if you want to be great, you have to be of service. And Dr. Martin Luther King said something very similar. He said, “Everyone can be great, because everybody can serve.” He said, You don't need a college degree in order to serve. He said, all you need is a heart full of grace, and a soul full of love.
And my friends, you the people of Douglas UCC, you have that. And one of the great privileges of my being pastor is I get to be witness to that, almost on a daily basis. I see the service that you do in the community and out in the world. And I get to see those behind the scenes, acts of service that most people don't know. And I'm so grateful for that because you inspire me each and every day to want to serve more and more.
Oprah Winfrey said she begins her day with this prayer. “How may I use the gifts that I have been given to be of service to that which is greater than myself?”
I love that prayer. And I want to invite you this week to begin your day with something similar. I always like to begin my day with a prayer of gratitude, of saying thank you. But then the second thing is now “How may I serve you?” And when we pray that way throughout the day, we are looking for opportunities to serve.
So, my friends, we here at Douglas UCC, we are the church for one another, that beautiful banner behind me reminds us of all the ways we can be the church and serve. When we do those things, we help to build the kingdom, to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. So let us go and turn the world upside down. Let us go and create a just world for all.
Reverend Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
by Richard Rohr
Jesus is very patient with his disciples, which is good news for all of us. Like the apostles, we also have a hard time understanding the deep mystery that the way up is the way down. In today’s Gospel story, Jesus calls the twelve apostles around him, and explains, “Anyone who wants to be the most important has to be the least important—the servant of all the others.” Just like the Twelve, we usually want to be on top, but Jesus calls us to be free and happy at the bottom. We all want to be the boss, but Jesus tells us to be servants. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “You know how the so-called rulers of nations like to lord it over the people? And how those at the top like to make their authority felt? Well, with you it has to be different. If you want to be important, serve others. The son of man himself did not come to be served but to serve, to give his life so that everyone might be set free.” Jesus offered the world a new pattern of power and leadership, which few in church or state have ever really agreed with. If only the Church had shared Jesus’ bias toward the bottom the past two thousand years! If only we had seriously believed him, how much sooner we would have seen the coming of peace and justice on this earth. If only we had truly listened to the Gospel, how differently Western history would have unfolded. Instead, we have made easy and happy friends with power, prestige, perks, and possessions—even in the name of God and the Church.
Watch the Homily: https://youtu.be/_tgYP-C-k08
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