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Sermons

As a Ransom for Many

October 20, 2013

Bible Reading

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

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.”

(Mark 10:32-45)

Sermon

It may seem strange that a minister of our General Convention, which places so much emphasis upon reason, would begin his Convention sermon with a reference to feeling. But this is what I want to do. It is my very deep feeling that this, the one hundred and thirty-eighth gathering of our church, may well prove to be a turning point in the history of our church—a turning point toward the increased relevance of our church.

For a decade, we have been involved in the very painful process of self-examination. For a decade, we have been trying to face the facts about ourselves—the fact of frequent interpersonal stress and strain; the fact of numerical decline in a period of population explosion; the fact that the average age of a relatively young church is rapidly growing older. But also, I believe, we have come to appreciate some positive facts in our midst—the fact of an astounding devotion and loyalty to the church on the part of both laymen and ministers; the fact of a deep conviction that we do have a precious heritage; the fact that as stewards of that heritage we can never rest with the status quo.

In our decade of self-examination, we may not have always found agreement, but I do believe we have found a better appreciation for the honesty, the integrity, and the sincere devotion of our fellow churchmen with whom we seem to differ. On this foundation of mutual trust and respect, undergirded with a love for the Lord and a sincere concern for the neighbor, we can have a church relevant to these changing times. Not all of the facts we have had to face about ourselves are pleasant. Indeed, some of them have come as bitter pills to swallow. But swallow them we must and we shall! And we shall reverse the results of past errors.

We, as a Christian body, have had our dark days of temptation and sin. We have nagged at one another. We have falsely questioned the motives of one another. And we have smugly looked down upon one another and upon our fellow Christians. It is with deep shame that I confess to my God and to you that I have been a party to this sin of self-righteousness; believing like a fool that my way and my approach was the only right way, and lamenting the “hard-heartedness” of my brother churchmen who refused to “rally ’round my flag.” Too many of us have been a party to this sin—if not asserting that “my way is the only way,” as I did, at least acting as if every alternative was obviously wrong and that its proponents really did not care what happened to our beloved church.

I sincerely believe we are on our way out of this valley of the shadow of death. At least, I feel I am ready to ask your forgiveness, and I feel a growing sense of repentance throughout our church family. I believe we may well be ready to build on a foundation of mutual trust and respect, undergirded with a love for the Lord and a concern for the neighbor. Indeed, facing the facts, there is a demanding urgency that we so build!

As we look toward the goal of becoming a more relevant church, we note that new voices of honest conservatism are being heard. They are needed and have a real contribution to make, as long as they sincerely guard against irresponsible reaction. At the same time, renewed voices of honest liberalism are being heard. They too are needed and have a real contribution to make, as long as they sincerely guard against irresponsible radicalism. And, in the matters of the church, these voices need not only to be heard, but they need to be heard by all. For I have an abiding confidence that, in the act of listening, we shall discover that the many voices speak with one tongue; that the many are one in the fundamentals of a real love of our Lord—an honest, though often confused, concern for the neighbor—and a sincere longing for the effective advance of our church.

Further, I believe that through the act of listening one to another, the many voices shall find that they are one in their acknowledgment that the basic, fundamental purpose for which we exist as a church is to minister in the name of our Lord. There is no other valid reason for our existence. The instructions which our Lord gave to his disciples so many years ago as they turned toward the Holy City Jerusalem are the same instructions He would give us this day as we seek to turn toward the Holy City New Jerusalem. Listen to our Master’s words:

“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

“. . . To give his life as a ransom for many!” This is the mission of the church. To give itself—to expend itself—to exhaust itself as a servant to man, just as the Lord commanded his original disciples so many years ago. No other purpose is sufficient reason for the existence of our church! And I honestly believe that, if we will push the examination of ourselves hard enough and deep enough, if we will listen to our fellow churchmen silently enough, we shall discover that we are one in our sense of the mission of the church. To give our life as a ransom for many is a basic, Biblical, commandment.

What we must come to recognize, however, is that in the pursuit of this mission we shall walk many paths. We shall vary in the manner and in the emphasis in which we seek to fulfill this mission. I do not overlook the seriousness of these differences. And I do not assume that all approaches are compatible one with another. But I do assume that we, the people of this Church, can become big enough, charitable enough, and understanding enough to respect the honesty, the integrity, and the sincerity of those with whom we differ. For after all, we have before us the challenge of the greatest definition of Christian love and charity of which I know: love, the finding of joy in the happiness of another; the finding of encouragement in the success of another; the finding of satisfaction in the accomplishments of another. And, “by this,” said our Lord, “shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

The church exists to serve. And the relevant church must serve in many and diverse ways as it ministers to the needs of its day. There is no one way, one method, one emphasis that is the right one. The tragedy of seeking a panacea in finding the “right gimmick” lies in the failure to comprehend and to appreciate the variety of movement that is required for the full body of performance, be it in the symphony or in the life of the church.

I do not know what the church of the future will be. But of this I am sure; historically the Christian Church has always adapted and adopted as it sought to remain relevant to the eternally changing times. Sometimes this adapting and adopting has been to its sorrow and shame. But just as often it has been to the glory of God. And if the church is to remain relevant, it must continue to adapt and adopt.

The dynamics of Christian stewardship demand a degree of iconoclastic zeal within every disciple. The practices of the past are not holy just because they have been practiced. The methods, the program, the structures of church life are not holy just because they are ancient. Holiness is of the Lord and is found only in His presence, and the church, if it is to remain relevant by remaining in the presence of holiness, must be sufficiently free of tradition (note I do not say devoid of tradition) to enable it to critically examine itself, its practices, and its program without the deadening balm of sentimentality.

Somewhere I heard someone say that the small group will be the sacrament of the future church. At first hearing this sounds a bit heretical. But we have been blessed with enough of the therapy of the small-group experience at least to take the suggestion seriously. The church of the future may well find here, within the intimacy of the small group, an instrument of salvation amid the impersonal bigness of our changing world.

Those of us in the clergy become increasingly aware of the impossibility of our fulfilling all the multitude of opportunities and needs before us. In one of our group meetings we discovered that in one year’s time, we had been called upon to act with competence in twenty-eight different fields of recognized specialty. I do not propose that the members of the clergy become a staff of limited specialists—this would only further isolate us from our people—but I do suggest that there may well be a better way for the clergy to serve the Lord and the congregation of his people than by being the pastor of a specific congregation. It is up to us to be free enough of the traditional pastor–congregation relationship to enable us to explore and to experiment in other possible arrangements.

As for the laity in the church of the future, I am convinced that there must be an accelerated return to an active role in the “priesthood of all believers”—a Christian aggressiveness as “ambassadors of God” in their daily associations—an aggressive infiltration of labor, management, politics, business, and social life. The layman has before him a thrill and exhilaration beyond his greatest expectation when he discovers, recognizes, and practices the power of his own witness to the neighbor who may have lost his way. The Lord can use every man in his eternal efforts to save men from the hell of indifference and the chaos of purposelessness.

The challenge before a changing church in a changing world is not an easy one. But then, the Lord has never promised “cheap grace” to His disciples of any age. If it takes courage to be in the service of the Lord, then let us glory in that requirement. We can well afford to throw security to the four winds if we believe the promise of our Lord that “whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

What we choose to become in the service of our Lord is our choice to make. The way may not always be clear as we work to be a relevant church, but may it please the Lord to use us, and may we be led to give our lives as a ransom for many.

Rev. Dr. Calvin E. Turley