Monday, October 30, 2006

Blind Recognition

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Mark 10:46-52

at Batesville Presbyterian Church on October 29, 2006


            A blind beggar sat on the side of the road just outside the ancient city of Jericho with a cloak over his shoulders and a cup in his hands. The cloak was for warmth and the cup was for begging. The blindness was for his sins. Or so thought his family, his village and his people. He was considered to be cursed by God. Blind. Beggared. Thrown away. Alone. The system was not working for Bartimaeus son of Timaeus. But Bartimaeus did have two things that served him well. He had faith and he had hope.

            Bartimaeus was ecstatic when he learned Jesus would be passing his way. He had heard about Jesus perhaps from a member of Jesus family. He knew Jesus was from the royal family, the lineage of King David of old. And Bartimaeus had heard that Jesus was not only a member of the ancient royal family of the Hebrews but that he was the very one, the very Messiah that the prophets had foretold. This Jesus was the Son of David, the ruler of Israel, the one who would return the downtrodden nation to glory. As the Hebrews of old who were enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt, so the Hebrews of Jesus' day were calling out to God for deliverance. And just as God had heard and answered their prayer by sending them Moses to deliver them from Egypt and Pharaoh so God was hearing their prayer now and sending them Jesus to deliver them from Rome and King Herod. The blind man would love to join the cause of the Messiah, to march with him in the great stride toward triumph over Rome. If it meant his death in battle, little did he care about that. For he had suffered these many years the disdain and disgrace of blindness which in his culture and to his people meant that Bartimaeus had sinned against God and was worthy of the punishment of blindness. Only later would Bartimaeus learn that Jesus was a different kind of king than he had imagined.

            Even though he was blind Bartimeaus reconized the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. So when he heard Jesus was coming down the road he began to shout and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Bartimaues begged Jesus for mercy.

            Last week a middle-aged man whom I had never met walked in the church and caught me in the hallway. I could tell from his body language he wanted something even though it was not a good time for me. It was lunch time and I was headed out the door when he caught me in the hallway and demanded some attention. The man said he was seeking money for a doctor. He had been getting treatment for his back at the emergency room but was now getting scolded for doing so. He needed to be under the care of a physician but without $80 or $100 he could not get in to see a doctor. He had applied for disability but it would not come through until next year. He had no insurance. He had no money. He had no doctor. He had no access. The system was not working for him.

            I told him our church offers two things and two things only: Gasoline or food. I could send him to Rascal's gas station if he needed gas for his car or he could come to the food pantry if he needed food. He said he did not need gas and he had already been to the food pantry earlier that morning. Like blind Bartimaeus this man was begging for help and like Bartimaeus he was crying out to me, a representative of the church, a disciple of Jesus, "Have mercy on me."

            I wanted to hush him up like the crowd wanted to hush Bartimaeus. We do not want to hear from people whose lives are not working for them. We think of poverty as a curse from God and we wonder what these people did to be so damned by the divine. We do not want to know about people for whom the system is not working.

            So it was for Bartimaeus that, as he shouted loudly, many in the crowd tried to hush him up, this blind beggar, this man whom God had cursed, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" This was his one chance in life and he would not be denied an audience with Jesus. His faith and his hope rose like a powerful wave that crashed over his tongue and he cried out as loudly as he could: "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

            Jesus stopped in his tracks. He crowd stopped in their tracks. There was a hushed silence as the sound wave from the shouts of the blind man cleared the air. "Call him over" said Jesus.

            They called him. "Get up old man. This is your lucky day! Get up! He's calling you to come!"

            Bartimaeus leaped to his feet and threw off his cloak. He would find it later with his own two eyes. He came to Jesus with eager expectation.

            Jesus said: "What can I do for you?" Although it seemed obvious that the man wanted to be healed of his blindness, Jesus wanted to hear his intention. If he was cured then he could no longer be a beggar. Some people become habituated with their role in life even if it is the role of a beggar. They fear change and do not want to be cured. 

            The blind man said to Jesus, "Rabbi, I want to see." He knew the implications. He was aware of the potential downside of even such a positive change as being cured of blindness. He wanted it anyway. He wanted to see.

            "Go on your way," said Jesus. "Your faith has saved and healed you." Jesus saved him from his shame by restoring his dignity in the eyes of the community. Jesus healed him by curing his blindness.

            In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road. This was what Bartimaeus wanted. He wanted to be able to see so he could join the cause of the Messiah. He followed Jesus down the road ready to live or die for him.

            Bartimaeus recognized Jesus. He knew his true identity. Even though he was blind he could see clearly that Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah promised of old. Bartimaeus recognized Jesus. And Jesus recognized Bartimaeus. Jesus stopped walking when he heard Bartimaeus' cries. He heard him crying out for the Messiah as God had heard the children of Israel crying out for a savior in Pharaoh's Egypt. Jesus recognized Bartimaeus. Here was a true believer. Here was a person of hope. Here was a person of faith. Here was a person who could see without eyes.

            My encounter with the man seeking money for a doctor did not come to such a dramatic conclusion. I did not solve his problem. I did not cure his illness like Jesus cured Bartimaeus. But I did recognize the man who came to the church seeking help. I did recognize him as a human being like me. I did recognize him as a child of God. I saw Christ within that man. And from the way he looked me in the eyes, I think he knew that I recognized Christ in him. And I think he recognized Christ in me. So even though he did not receive money for a doctor he was recognized by a person who represented Christ to him. And that may have been miracle enough for him for that one day. I hope it was. I pray it is.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Moving on Up

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Mark 10:35-45
 at Batesville Presbyterian Church on October 22, 2006.

One day two disciples approached Jesus to ask a favor. James and John had reason to believe Jesus would consider their request for they, along with Peter, were the elite among Jesus' disciples. James and John were brothers, sons of Zebedee, whose family could afford to hire servants. (Mark 1:20) Jesus had nicknamed the brothers "Boanerges," meaning "sons of thunder."(Mark 3:17 ) Only Peter and they were present at some key events in Jesus' ministry such as the raising of Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:37) and in the Garden of Gethsemane with where Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Mark 14:33). Only Peter and they joined Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration where they saw their Master transfigured before their very eyes and witnessed him discoursing with Moses and Elijah. (Matthew 17:1-3) Only Peter and they had witnessed these things. James and John belonged to the inner circle of Jesus' disciples.

Now these sons of thunder, James and John, were ready to move on up so they tested the limits of what Jesus could offer. The sons of thunder made their move for authority over the twelve disciples and this included dominance even over Peter. Their ambition reached way beyond the group of Jesus' disciples and included all the angels in heaven and all human beings in heaven and on earth. They had their eyes on the prize and as children sometimes shout to one another, "That's mine; I called it first," they beat the other disciples to the punch. Their request to Jesus was simply this: "Arrange it so that we will awarded the highest places of honor in your glory--one of us on your right, the other at your left."

I have in the past considered the disciples as rustic fishermen who were not too bright. They are often portrayed in such a negative light in the gospels. But I have lately come to appreciate the disciples as very advanced beings who were chosen by Jesus because he recognized their spiritual potential. Their level of commitment was complete. Each of the twelve disciples had left everything behind to follow Jesus. Yet sometimes even spiritually advanced persons must find the edge through experience, through trial and error. The sons of thunder requested this from Jesus: "Arrange it so that we will awarded the highest places of honor in your glory--one of us on your right, the other at your left."

Jesus plays the adult to the disciples childish grasping for ultimate power. Jesus said, "You have no idea what you are asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I'm about to be plunged into?"

"Sure," they said. Why not? And they were telling the truth. James was martyred by decapitation at the command of Herod Agrippa I. (Acts 12:2) We are not sure how John died but his commitment to Christ is beyond question. They were indeed capable of drinking the cup of suffering that Jesus drank and of being baptized into his death and resurrection. They were ready to suffer for Christ. Even so, Jesus hesitated.

Jesus said, "Come to think of it, you will drink the cup I drink, and be baptized in my baptism. But as to awarding places of honor, that's not my business. There are other arrangements for that." They were asking for more than even he could give.

When the other ten disciples heard of this conversation they were outraged and they confronted James and John. How dare you single yourselves out? Who chose you as our ruler? Jesus got them all together to settle things down. Then he used this teachable moment to share his vision of moving down in service to others.

"You've observed how godless rulers thrown their weight around," he said, "and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you." This is a hard truth that seems to work against the very fiber of our existence. We want the best seats at the football stadium. We want the head table at the charity ball. We want to be the queen in the homecoming parade. Moving on up. That is what we have been trained to do and moving on up is a natural human desire. We want more and Jesus is not against our having more. He once said: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things you desire will be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33) He also said whoever wants to be great must become a servant and the greatest of all will be the servant of all.

Jesus demonstrated the balancing act between moving up and moving down. His very birth, his incarnation, his coming down from heaven to be born as a human being, is the ultimate example of moving down in service. We remember during the season of Advent how Jesus moved down from heaven into human birth on planet earth. We remember during Lent Jesus' ministry of teaching and healing and feeding as a demonstration of moving down into servanthood. In the Apostle's Creed we say of Jesus, "He descended into hell." His servant nature took Jesus all the way down into the desperate depths of human experience. Jesus moved down as a servant of humanity.

He also moved up. He referred to the cross as being lifted up, saying: "When I am lifted up on the cross I will draw all people to me." He was lifted up he ascended into heaven. And that ascending into heaven part is what James and John, the sons of thunder, had in mind when they asked to sit at his right hand and his left hand in his glory.

As we begin this stewardship season our desire is for our church to move on up. We would like to upgrade our facilities, hire a full-time Director of Christian Education, provide programs for our children, youth and adults. But as we're desiring for our church to move on up, Jesus reminds us of the need to move on down. Down to where the need is -- beyond the hallowed walls of our sanctuary and out into the community. "Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave." And he didn't just say it, Jesus lived it. He came to serve, not to be served -- and he demonstrated the meaning of serving others in both his life and his death.

Let us follow the exampls of our Lord by moving on up in our relationship with God and moving on down as servants of others. This balance between moving up in spiritual development and moving down in service to others is one of the keys to life in God's realm. May God grant us the wisdom to find the balance between improving our own situation and serving the needs of others.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Utter Surrender

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Mark 10:17-31
at Batesville Presbyterian Church on October 15, 2006.

       We're rich! I discovered I was rich a few years ago when I came across a British website soliciting funds for charity. There was a place on the website to input your annual salary and see where you fit in financially compared to everyone else in the world. Imagine my surprise when I typed in what I considered to be my modest annual salary and clicked the "enter" button and discovered I was richer than 99.2% of all people in the world! The numbers were staggering. There are 5,947,438,586 people poorer than me. Close enough -- let's call it 6 billion people who are poorer than me. Even allowing for the possibility the numbers may be off a bit you get the point. (And the point is not, as one woman said when I mentioned this in a Bible study: "Jon, we pay you too much!" The fact is that many of you make more money and have more assets than me.) The point is you and I are among the richest of the rich in the world. We are richer than 99% of the world's population.

I make this point to help us avoid the first mistake we usually make when we hear the story for today. Jesus starts talking about the how hard it is for the rich person to enter God's realm and we immediately start thinking of people who have far more money than we do – millions of dollars more than us -- and we admire Jesus for showing them where it's at. Let's not make that mistake today. This is a text that speaks directly to each one of us. So let us listen carefully and hear what Jesus will say to us in this story.

       As Jesus is setting out on a journey, a man runs up and kneels before him, and asks him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" At the end of the story we  will learn he  is a rich man. This man is not trying to trick Jesus as is sometimes the case with some other questioners. He is sincere. I think he knows enough to realize that eternal life is here and now, where one is, not in some future time or place. And this eternal life is what he seeks.

       Jesus replies to the man's question about eternal life: "You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.'"

The rich man tells Jesus: "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Envision this man's inner and outer life as a castle he has built by the strength of his will. Everything inside him makes sense. His actions are wed to his beliefs. His convictions are manifest with concrete actions. This man is a sincere seeker. He has lived right and done well his entire life but something is still missing. His life is off center. Something is slightly askew and he is spiritually sensitive enough to feel this imbalance in his very joints and bones.              

            Jesus, looking at him, sensed a kindred spirit. Jesus, too, had kept all the commandments since his youth and he knew the level of dedication it takes to keep the commandments not only in actions but in intentions. Jesus looked him hard in the eyes--and loved him. He recognized the dedication in this man. He saw his sincere desire to love and serve God. He sensed a kindred spirit.

       In answering his question about how to inherit eternal life, it is significant that Jesus says nothing about the man's beliefs. Sometimes we miss the mark when we conceive Christianity as primarily a matter of right belief. We think if we can say the Lord's prayer and the Apostle's Creed and really mean it then we've got Christianity under control. But Jesus says nothing about beliefs. This is not a mental challenge. It is deeper than the mind can take us. The challenge is to a practice not a belief. Jesus says: "You lack one thing. Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. And come follow me." (Mark 10:21)

      Aside from the obvious challenge of organizing a garage sale of all his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor, Jesus is asking the rich man to surrender his inner vision of reality. Jesus challenges him to tear down his interior castle and start with nothing in the  bank, nothing held in reserve through complete and utter surrender to Jesus.

       This dramatic story reminds me of another spectacular story told in a book called The Golden Legend. Here is the story.


Saint Dionysius, first bishop of Paris, was beheaded with the sword before the statue of Mercury, confessing his faith in the Holy Trinity. And at once the body of Dionysius stood erect and took his head in its hands; and with an Angel guiding it and a great light going before, it walked for two miles, from the place called Montmartre to the place where, by its own choice and by the providence of God, it now reposes. (Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea; trasl G. Ryan and H. Ripperger, The Golden Legend, New York, 1948, pp. 620-621; quoted in Meditations on the Tarot, Anonymous, 9-10)


            This remarkable story reminds me of the rich man seeking eternal life from Jesus. In both stories, someone needs to lose their head before they can get where they need to be. The rich man refuses to lose his head. He is caught up in his egoic consciousness, his sense of "I" and "me" and "mine" and he can not get beyond the mental level of consciousness to the more subtle level Jesus requires. The rich man cannot get beyond his mind. If only he could have figuratively chopped off his head like Saint Dionysius and stood up and walked under the power of the Spirit then he could have followed Jesus into the realm of God within. But the rich man could not. So his face clouded over and he walked away with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.

            Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who 'have it all' to enter God's kingdom?" The disciples couldn't believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: "You can't imagine how difficult. I'd say it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to get into God's realm." (vs. 23-25)

            Now we understand, of course, the rich man did not sell all he had and follow Jesus and we sympathize with the rich man. Yet, as Peter points out, this is exactly what he and the twelve disciples had done. As Peter puts it to Jesus: "We left everything and followed you." If we, like the disciples, could move beyond our minds and be guided by the inward compass in our hearts, we could find our way to a place to lay down and die to our false selves so that our true selves could be birthed into the realm of God within. Then we could follow Jesus' directive to utterly surrender ourselves and all we possess and go follow Jesus.

            Death to the false self by the relinquishment of desires is the way into God's kingdom – God's realm within. The realm of God is here, now, within us. As Cynthia Bourgeault puts it: "The kingdom of God is not later but lighter." It is not "pie in the sky when I die" but a way of living our lives in this world. The realm of God is hard for us to enter because we are always distracted by our desires. So he says, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God -- God's realm within you -- and all these things will be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33) The realm of God within is a place few Christians manage to find. It is especially hard to find for rich people like us. So now we know the meaning of Jesus hard to swallow statement: "Many are called but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14)

Remember the story of the man named Job in the Old Testament. He had everything including a beautiful wife, children, land and wealth and he sacrificed it all on the altar of God. After the trial, God restored everything back to Job and then some. Likewise, Jesus says to Peter and his disciples, "Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They'll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first." (Mark 10:28-31, The Message)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Angels In-Between

Dr Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
at Batesville Presbyterian Church on October 8, 2006.

The seminary assignment was not unusual -- write a paper on a topic assigned by the professor -- but the topic was more personal than usual. "Do pets go to heaven when they die?" Our sources were a book assigned by the professor and the Bible. Using the book and the Bible I concluded that pets do indeed go to heaven when they die. It was a pass or fail course and I passed. As children we wonder what happens to our pets after they die and we wonder what happens to us after we die. We are told that we go to be with God in heaven with Jesus and the angels. From the Bible we see that heaven and earth are not so far apart for even here on the earth there are angels that make appearances.

In fact the Bible resounds with angel appearances. Whomever wrote the epistle to the Hebrews assumed readers were familiar with angels. As Bible students we know angels are spiritual beings from heavenly realms who serve as God's messengers to humans on earth. They appear in both the Old Testament and New Testament. For instance, an angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and told her she would give birth to Ishmael who would be the progenitor of the Arab peoples from when comes Mohammad and the religion of Islam. An angel appeared to Abraham and prompted him to leave behind his current life and travel to the Promised Land and become the progenitor of the people of Israel.

We are accustomed to the thought of angels appearing within the Bible. The psalmist sang: "The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them." (Psalm 34:7) And again the psalmist sings: "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways." (Psalm 91:11) In the book of Job we learn that angels served God before the creation of earth. At some point there was an angel rebellion led by a beautiful and intelligent angel named Lucifer. Many angels joined Lucifer's rebellion and he tricked other angels into following him into the darkness. The angels that remained with God in the light continued to worship God and work for God.

We read about angels in the New Testament. Jesus and his family was acquainted with angels. An angel appeared to his mother, Mary, and told her she would conceive a son who would be the savior of the world. An angel of the Lord appeared to his father in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 1:20)

Angels helped Jesus to accomplish his mission on earth. When Jesus faced his darkest hour on the night before his crucifixion, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:42-44) It was an angel that rolled back the stone of Jesus tomb and angels appeared to the women who were looking for Jesus in his tomb. The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen." (Matt. 25:31) The Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, acknowledges the existence of angels.

We acknowledge their existence in certain hymns of the church. We sing about cherubim and seraphim (these are types of angels), falling down before Him, God in three persons, blessed Trinity. We tend to think of angels as being higher than us and while we are on earth they are. But in the heavenly realms to which we are going we may be higher than the angels by virtue of our family connections. As Hebrews tells us, through our connection to Christ, we are members of the family circle of the Trinity. Christ considers us humans as brothers and sisters. So, by virtue of our adoption into God's immediate family, humans are higher than the angels.

Jesus Christ is also higher than the angels. That is the point our text wants to make. Our text today uses angels as a comparison device so we can appreciate the superiority of Christ. Christ is mentioned by various titles 23 times versus 10 mentions for angels. In this text, angels are described as winds and flames who worship God. Angels are spirits in the divine service, sent to serve human beings who are to inherit salvation. (Hebrews 1:14) But God did not put angels in charge of human salvation. That job belongs to Christ.

We humans wander through our earthly lives like wayfaring strangers. We are for a time lower than the angels but we are destined for glory and honor and all things will be subjected to humans. Of course we don't see it yet, we don't see everything under human jurisdiction, but according to scripture this will come to pass in due time. The human transition from our lowly status as earthlings to our exalted status as rulers in heaven is made possible through our family connection to Christ. We adopt creatures called pets into our family and we take care of them and they become a member of our family. God has adopted us into the family of the divine Trinity and we are members of the family of God.
We are members of God's family and we have tremendous power available to us. Power to heal our deepest hurts. Power to help us find the guidance we seek. Power to accomplish the mission for which we have been sent to this earth. Whether children, youth or adults, the power behind all creation stands ready to help us. We may call on a God when we need assistance, saying with the Psalmist: "O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me." If we ask for their assistance, the angels stand ready to help us as well.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Zero Degrees of Separation

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Mark 9:38-50
on October 1, 2006 at Batesville Presbyterian Church

       When the disciples told Jesus about an unauthorized person who was casting out demons in his name Jesus said, "Do not stop him. Whoever is not against us is for us." Jesus saw zero degrees of separation between his authorized and unauthorized disciples. The mistake of disciples then and now is to think we have a copyright on the powerful name of "Jesus." Christians are constantly struggling to determine the boundaries between who is "in" and who is "out" and Jesus is constantly redrawing the boundaries to include everyone. For Jesus sees zero degrees of separation between humans and God.
       Jesus challenges disciples to seek the same union with God he experienced. This union with God is a treasure that any person may seek and find but it is not an easy path and in fact it is very costly. We must be totally committed to this path to obtain union with God. So Jesus tells his disciples,

"If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed  — to obtain union with God in this lifetime with one hand missing — than to have two hands and live in hell — a state of separation from God.

And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life in God's kingdom lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell — to live in a state of separation from God in this lifetime.

And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for to achieve union with God in this lifetime with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. For in hell — in the state of separation from God in this lifetime — the fire of your ego is never quenched.

     We can see the hell to which Jesus refers all around us: War, violence, greed, and destruction of the earth for profit. These are the way of hell on this earth. Jesus calls us to another path. He calls us to follow the inward path to the kingdom of God which is union with God in this lifetime. Much has been made of Jesus statements to cut off our hand or foot or cut out our eye. They sound like such radical solutions to a problem that we rarely experience. The cure is radical but so is the disease of following the ego. But the goal is so wonderful — union with God in this lifetime — that the level of commitment Jesus challenges us toward seems like it may be worth it. Imagine achieving a state of union with God in this life. Imagine living your life and experiencing each moment a sense of zero degrees of separation between yourself and God. That is the kingdom of God. That is what we are challenged to pursue.
       Now when we hear Jesus challenge us to a level of commitment that would cut off our hand if it held us back from union with God our ego kicks in and we resent the idea that Jesus would challenge us to such a high level of commitment. The ego feels threatened. By ego I am referring to the false self that abides in each of us. The ego — the false self — is the source of the thoughts that run constantly through our heads. The thoughts in our head come from our ego, not our soul. Jesus calls us to go deeper than our minds — to go down deep into our bodies — to the level of the soul. The ego — our mental jabber — will do anything to keep us from moving beyond it and going deeper into ourselves. The ego will keep us distracted from the deeper self by focusing on anything it can find — our past, our future, even the present moment if it can get us to find something to complain about in the present moment. The ego, our mental jabber, loves to complain about other people and also situations. We think we don't want to be where we are in life. We want to be somewhere else. Or perhaps we want to be someone else. We craze to be
recognized, acknowledged, remarked upon.
       Many people are always waiting for the next thing to react against, to feel angry about. Their anger and outrage is like a drug. They need a fix several times a day in order to satisfy their craving. This too is hell on earth for the person who lives it and for those who must live and work with this person. Complaining and craving for anger like a drug — this is our ego and this is what Jesus calls us to move beyond if we would enter what he calls "the kingdom of heaven" which is the realm of God tha lies within us.
       In contrast the cravings of the ego, Jesus calls us to walk the path of humilty. Humility is the key to power in the realm of God within us. In one of his parables, Jesus says, "When you are invited, go and sit at the lowest place ... for everyone who humbles himself will be exalted." Instead of trying to be a mountain, teaches the ancient Tao Te Ching, "Be the valley of the universe." In this way, you are restored to wholness and so "all things will come to you." (Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, 216) Humility is what the disciples lacked in our lesson today. They felt themselves superioer to the unnamed disciple who cast out demons in Jesus' name. They rebuked him but Jesus encouraged him. The disciples got trapped in their ego and cut off from the power of humility.
       Humility is our lesson for the day on World Communion Sunday. As we join with disciples of all races and denominations from all over the globe we come to the communion table we acknowledge we do not have a trademark on truth. We do not have an exclusive contract with God. Jesus sees zero degrees of separation between East and West, Catholics and Protestants, Greek Orthodox and Syrian Coptic, Pentecostal and Presbyterian. Zero degrees of separation.        
       Jesus saw zero degrees of separation between his authorized and unauthorized disciples. Jesus sees zero degreees of separation from us and other Christians. Jesus offers to all the same bread and the same cup. Some religious leaders once asked Jesus to condense the entire Old Testament into one sentence and Jesus said this. Love God with all your heart and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. That means see yourself when you see your neighbor. For in the kingdom of God — in God's realm within — there is literally zero degrees of separation between any two human beings and between any human being and God. Zero degrees of separation.