On the Evolution in Revolution
October 17, 2021
Psalm 91: 9-12
Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
Mark 10: 35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “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; 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. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Today’s sermon is titled On the Evolution in Revolution. This Sunday we join with eight other congregations in the Monadnock region in turning our attention to the issue of housing, more specifically, the lack thereof. We live on the 42nd parallel, nearly half way to the north pole and at such latitudes it seems that this time of year all of nature is turning attention to shelter. As the nights grow colder we are not unlike all the other creatures who are busy preparing for what lies ahead.
I learned this past week that 46% of women in our country have experienced fear of suddenly becoming destitute. I learned this while on the Art Tour last weekend. My Friend, Rosemary Mack, is one of almost 60 artists who opened up their studios for the tour. Rosemary creates three-dimensional pieces of art using a wide variety of items she salvages and each one makes a statement about our society at large. I want to describe for you one of her pieces. Imagine a large shoebox, large enough to hold a pair of winter boots. Rosemary took the shallow box, stood it upright and gave it a peaked roof so it looks like the inside of a dollhouse. She made two floors. The bottom floor was not visible but the top floor was open and we can see a well-furnished room, complete with a female figure vaguely resembling a Barbie doll. Beside her is a collection of shopping bags from Tiffany’s, Bergdorf’s, and the like, as if she has just come home from a shopping spree. She is standing on the rug of her beautifully appointed room. I was searching for the meaning, so I read the description Rosemary provided. That is where I learned that 46% of women in America fear becoming destitute from a turn of events beyond their control, anxious that the rug might quite suddenly be pulled out from under their feet. I looked back at the rug the woman was standing on. I pulled it and she disappeared from sight. Right through the floor she went.
Where did she go? Rosemary showed me how to open up the cover to reveal the ground level. It was a completely different scene, a street scene, dark and ominous. The figure of the woman was now surrounded by all the shopping bags, tattered and torn from overuse. She was in a harsh new reality after the rug had been pulled out from under her. She had, quite literally, been on the top and now she was on the bottom. 46% of women in America fear such a turn. In our country last year, one person in every 600 was without housing. Thirty percent of those unsheltered are women.
The current housing crisis is a symptom of a cultural disease and the root causes of that disease are on full display in our scripture reading for today from the Gospel according to Mark. Jesus’s disciples, James and John, are making a plan. They are jockeying for positions of perceived power. They are scheming how to secure their place of honor and they want Jesus to promise they will be recognized, one at his right hand and the other at his left.
Jesus has just told the disciples for the third time that he will be arrested and put to death but they simply can not believe it. How could someone who channels the healing power of God fall victim to the Roman authorities? Surely Jesus will emerge the victorious and James and John want in on the action. They want to be the ones in the revolution that go from the bottom to the top. After all, Jesus has been full of promises about how the meek will inherit the earth and how the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Again, in our reading for today, Jesus offers us a revolutionary way of being in the world. “…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
I can hear the disciples saying, “What kind of revolution is this? Whoever wishes to become great must become a servant?” I can also imagine Jesus smiling and shaking his head. He knows the endgame. He knows that within the kind of revolution he is facilitating there is also an inherent evolution that is required.
Let’s consider these words, revolution and evolution. They differ in spelling by only one letter and yet they have very different connotations. Both words come from the latin word volvere, meaning “to roll.” With simple physical examples, like a revolving wheel on a car, or a gear inside a clock, what is up will eventually turn down and what is down will eventually turn up. Social and political revolutions are not so precise. Those in power eventually relinquish power and sometimes the powerless are able to advance to positions of power. Jesus’s disciples and many Hebrew people were hoping that Jesus was the catalyst for the revolution that would depose the Roman authorities and lift the Hebrew people out of oppression.
Revolution denotes a cycle of rising and falling; evolution is defined as “an unrolling that leads to greater complexity.” I believe that the scope of Jesus’s mission included elements of revolution and evolution. He knew his people were suffering under the Roman occupation, but a political revolution would only alleviate some of the issues. Jesus offered his life to further the evolution of a new paradigm. In that new paradigm, a person’s greatness is defined by their willingness to serve. Jesus says, “…whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
That statement undoubtedly puts an end to the disciples’ jockeying and scheming about who will be at Jesus’s side. Turn your minds away from competing with one another; turn your minds to serving one another. Work together to manifest the kingdom of God on earth. This is the evolution in the revolution. This is also the dream of the psalmist we heard today, to live in a world where [God] “the most high is our dwelling place.” In such a world, we are all sheltered. In such a world, 46% of women do not fear destitution because they know that there are social safety nets in place to catch them if the rug is pulled out from under their feet.
In closing, I am painfully aware that we do not yet live in such a world, but I believe we are evolving socially and spiritually in ways that will guide us there, guide our children, grandchildren and generations to come. Thousands of years ago, Jesus pointed the way for us with one of the most revolutionary messages ever proclaimed: if you wish to be great then serve one another. So be it. Amen.
Gracious Lord, our God, we are thankful for our immense capacity for awareness and feeling, it is surely a gift from you. Even when the weight of knowing and feeling feels too much to bear, remind us, Lord, to appreciate that we are not unaware, and that we are not numb. We pray to be strengthened and encouraged in the work that lies before us…the work of healing, the work of repairing the brokenness within ourselves, the work of holding the needs of others in balance with our own needs, and the work that You place in our minds and hearts. Help us, we pray, to say “yes”. Help us, we pray, to say “I’m sorry; please forgive me”. Help us, we pray, to trust in the goodness that You intend for us, as your children. Thank You for our many blessings, among them this prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
I, 59 Book of Hours, Rainer Maria Rilke