Potsdam United Methodist Church
Where we let Jesus shine! Where we invite, love and nurture ALL!
Sunday Worship
11:00am Service
Pastor Heidi R. Chamberlain
Information info@potsdamumc.org

The Real Sin

September 23rd:

The Real Sin
September 23, 2012
Call:           Mark 9: 33-37
Text:           James 3: 13-18
Read:   W&S 77
Special:        Baptism

The Smothers Brothers,
Muhammad Ali, and
a group of squabbling children.

Not three things that you would think have anything in common.

But they are the three images that came to my mind
as I thought    about the scripture that called us to worship.

It's not too hard to understand why the squabbling children came to mind.
        It is almost impossible to not think of that
                When one hears the story in Mark
                About Jesus' disciples arguing with each other.

Every time I hear the story,
        I want to shout them down and say (pointing my finger as I speak)
                "You sit there!"
                "You sit there!"
                "You sit there!"
And I would go on and on
        Until I had separated them all
        And told them to keep quiet and think about what they had just been doing.

Jesus took a kinder, gentler approach
- certainly what appears to be a quieter one.

But like me,    he was unhappy          with the disciples.

[brief pause] It takes a little longer,         but not too long,
to figure out why Muhammad Ali comes to  mind.

For the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest.
        And part of the boxer's shtick was to declare,
                "I am the greatest."

It got him a lot of attention
        Although I must confess that
                Despite thinking he was an excellent fighter            and
        Despite admiring his willingness to pay a price for his principles
        I rather quickly grew tired of those proclamations.

The self proclaimed greatness made me quite uncomfortable
        Even though in boxing, self promotion was a way to sell tickets

Amongst followers of Christ it not only makes me uncomfortable
        It offends me    and angers me.
I just shake my head at the arguing disciples'.
[pause] The Smothers Brothers have a more remote connection
But they remind me that         the word "greatest" itself
does not have to be present
        for an argument to be of the "I'm better than you" type

For the blonde (Dick, I think)
after being berated by his brother
(who, if I am correct, would have been Tommy)
Would often say, "But Mom liked me better than she liked you."

These "I'm better than you" approaches
These   "I'll raise me up and I'll put you down"   ways of interacting
        Are a long way from Jesus' teachings on humility
                Taking the least prominent seat at the table, for example
                Eating with sinners for another.

And so like Tommy and Dick Smothers, Muhammad Ali, and squabbling children,
        Christ's own imperfect human disciples
By actions that are obviously and inherently wrong
lead us toward an understanding
                        Of what James is addressing in his letter.
                        And why he wrote this [3: 13-18]

When James contrasts
                The gentleness and wisdom of good works
With            having envy and selfish ambition in our hearts

        He could have been talking to
that disputatious group following Christ in Mark
        He could have been - and most obviously was -
Talking to their first century successors

And     He could have been - and I have no doubt that he was -
Talking to their 20th and 21st century successors
        Even though they - WE - live two millennia later

James was speaking to us in a message
        That spanned the globe
        And traveled the centuries
And did so, without losing any of its power or importance.

Isn't that remarkable!

James' ancient words
spanned the globe and traveled the centuries
        without losing an iota of power or importance

Thousands of miles from where James posted his letter
Thousands of years from when James posted his letter,

His words and the message they convey
                Still point out that striking contrast
And they continue to shout out a warning
                That envy and selfish ambition
                Can only lead to disorder and wickedness.

And before we get on our high horse and say,
"We don't need that warning because we are Christians,"

 let us keep in mind that
James' initial readers were not violent criminals
they too were people who called themselves Christians

For all Christians are human and thus all Christians are imperfect
        They were in James' day
and despite 2000 more years of instruction and example
they remain that way in our day.

And that imperfection shows most clearly
        In acts that that are motivated and propelled by selfishness

Thus there can be no more needed warning than this passage from that letter
        For if you and I stop to think about it
Even for a second or two -
 selfishness    in all its forms                and under all its aliases
                Arrogance and Greed and Sense of superiority
                Self centeredness and Self indulgence and Self importance
Is at the root of every sin
And is thus     the real sin            [repeat]

Go home [not just yet]  And read chapter 20 of Exodus
        Tell me which of those ten commandments
                Is not  most likely or perhaps only
broken as a result of one of those forms of selfishness

The first four - the ones that directly relate to our attitude toward God -
        Are broken by thinking that   our wants   trump God's commands
                Thereby becoming for ourselves our own god, our own idol
The next five - the ones defining our relationships with each other -
        Are only broken by our desire for something
        And doing something to get it   despite God telling us not to.

And if even then we cannot figure it out for ourselves
God gave us the tenth commandment
- the coveting commandment -
        As a summary that even the most foolish of us should be able to grasp.

When we look at the "Great Comms" we see the same thing

If we break the Great Commandment
        It is because we love ourselves more than we love God
and more than we love each other

If we fail to fulfill the Great Commission
        It is because we either think we have better things to do
        Or we fear the embarrassment of failure.

This little six verse portion of James warns us of all that.
But when we hear someone described as sinful
        We think of sexual behavior
Not of selfishness      (obviously some behavior is both)

Why is it       that the words of our scripture have been with us for multiple centuries
        But we still don't seem to get it.

It seems appropriate that this scripture comes before us
As we experiment with a SILT offering

SILT is an acronym for Self     Imposed         Luxury  Tax
        A tax we impose         on ourselves
                On things that even we describe as luxuries
                        Things that we want but do not need.

For while the "tax" is designed as a way to raise money for the church
It is also designed as a means of informing us
        Of how much we do just because we want to
        And we do so even when we use our own distinction between wants and needs.

My SILT envelope is already double what I expected
        And there is still another week left in the month

If we can give any advice to the little girl we baptize today
        We could do a lot worse than teach her the lesson
        That James has been trying to teach us for centuries.

[If time permits, read the words to "Selfish Ambition."]

"Selfish Ambition/Blessed Assurance"
music at No. 369 UMH
words written by Rev. James E. Barnes II and originally sung at Potsdam UMC September 28, 2009

Choir:          Selfish Ambition, all things are mine
O what a glory, my power divine
Heir of great freedom, no need for God
Born of my own kind, saved by my blood

Congregation:   First Verse of "Blessed Assurance"

Choir:          Perfectly grasping for greedy delight
Visions of treasure all things in my sight
People subjected, servant and slave
Loving their plaudits, all that they gave

Congregation:   Second Verse of "Blessed Assurance"

Choir:          Greedily preening, seen as the best
Telling those round me "you're happy and blest"
Grabbing and getting, all that I can
Powered by ambition, selfish demand

Congregation:   Third Verse of "Blessed Assurance"

Choir:          This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my own self all the day long
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my own self all the day long

Congregation: refrain from "Blessed Assurance"