Based on Job 38:1-7, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45, Psalm 104
It is a fact of life that humans will struggle with discovering who they are – or in spiritual terms, who they are gifted and called to be. Along the way to growing into who we are to be, it is easy to get lost – to forget ourselves. Much ink has been spilled documenting the “fall from grace” of powerful or popular folks who became enamored with what others thought of them or with the lure of prestige, power or prosperity. They are ruined because they chose becoming worldly gods over the reward that comes from slowly and consistently growing into the humble likeness of Jesus.
Rudyard Kipling, the great British writer, penned a story called “The Man Who Would be King” in the late 1880’s. It details the exploits of two “soldiers of fortune” who set out from India to become kings in a remote part of what is present day Afghanistan. Peachey and Daniel were best of friends and colleagues in the military. Daniel believed that they had the tools, experience and chutzpah to conquer the local tribesmen and build for themselves a kingdom which they would one day present to Queen Victoria. They had labored long and hard in the Queen’s Army and had little to show for it. So, off they went to seek their fortune and worldly glory or to die trying.
Our scriptures for today speak to us about what happens when we forget ourselves and seek to become gods. The One true God finally shows up to set the record straight to Job and his companions. The Psalmist sings about how great God and God’s works are and how God should be blessed by our souls. James and John want to be with Jesus when he comes to glory, but they overstep their bounds not realizing what it will take for them to truly follow Jesus. The writer of Hebrews reminds all that only a few are called by God to be high priests and we should not “presume to take this honor” except when called by God like Aaron. All of us need to be reminded from time to time that while we are beloved children of God…we are not gods. Let us go to God now in prayer asking for the humility to live into who we are gifted and called to be…
The Psalmist echoes God’s opening questions in the 38th Chapter of Job. The song writer notes that all things come from God and that we should remember to bless God with our deepest selves at all times, in all situations and in all places. Likewise, God shows up late in the Book of Job with questions for Job and those gathered around him. God asks pointedly just who they think they are? Afterall, can they do the things that God has done, or have the wisdom and knowledge of God? This begins a four-chapter recitation by God about the things of God that no mortal has ever known. God reminds Job and his comrades through the things they have said and how they have approached the suffering of Job that they have forgotten themselves. God reminds them all that there is only one God, and none of them fit that job description.
The writer of the sermon that is the letter to the Hebrews is speaking plainly about the role of the human priests in society. These folks are set aside to intervene on behalf of themselves and others through gifts and sacrifices to God. These priests are still only human, however, and should never consider themselves to be less sinful than their flocks. Only Jesus was made sinless and perfect and because of those attributes, only Jesus could “become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”. This designation came from his Father, the Creator and God of all. Many of us forget that no other human has ever received that designation from God.
Jesus has just finished, for the third time, to explain to the Disciples what would happen to him in Jerusalem. He said, “…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;…” With all that having been spelled out, James and John come to Jesus to ask for special consideration. They ask Jesus to grant that one of them be able to sit on his right and one on his left when he comes into his glory. Jesus asks them pointedly if they remembered what he said his path to glory would be – and if they really wanted to follow that path?
Daniel and Peachy did indeed make it all the way to Kafiristan, through many trials and tribulations. They did succeed in conquering some local tribes and building a formidable army to subdue the land. While leading their army, both men (through great luck) had the myth of invincibility, immortality and divinity of gods placed upon them. In Daniel’s case this went to his ego, and he overstepped his bounds. He was found out to be simply a human masquerading as a god and he and Peachy were sentenced to death. Daniel died, but Peachy survived to return to India to tell their story. A cautionary tale of what can happen when we forget ourselves and our rightful place in the world.
Job certainly had cause to raise up his questions and suffering to God. James and John seek to cement their places of divine power and prestige for all eternity and get more than what they asked. On first glance, we can empathize with Job – we know the back story about how God and the Adversary played a terrible game with his righteousness and faithfulness. All of Job’s sufferings came at the hand of the Adversary with the full knowledge of God. When we evaluate James and John, however, many react that they are forgetting their place and see them as usurpers. Both Job and the brothers seem to feel that God owes them something beyond all that God has done and will continue to do for them, they forget themselves.
Understanding the spiritual teaching in these scriptures requires that we listen closely to the Psalmists. Whether it is Psalm 8 where the writer wonders, “…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor….” In Psalm 104, the lyrics state over and over again that God made the earth and all that is in it. Because of that we should be grateful all the way to our souls and that those souls should continually bless the LORD. We did not make the Earth and all that is in it – only God is capable of that. We have benefitted from all that God created and continues to create for us, but we are not the Creator, we are the beneficiaries. It is an important distinction to remember so that we do not forget ourselves.
However, we do forget ourselves. We do go days, weeks, months, years without paying homage to God for all that God has done, is doing and will do. We forget that we were created to be stewards of all Creation, and instead we sin against God and neighbor by wantonly exploiting all that God has made for us to use. Almost a billion people worldwide are without adequate food, water and shelter; without adequate sanitation or the financial means to provide for themselves. Meanwhile, a select few (relatively speaking) are the ones that Jesus refers to when he says to the Disciples, “…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….” Those of us who belong to what are known as “developed countries” are those lords and tyrants.
We forget ourselves. We forget that our lives are supposed to be about sharing equitably all that we have and all that we are as we love our neighbors as ourselves. We forget that God has promised more to life than making it to the top of whatever ladder we’re on or getting into a top college or university so that we can chase after the highest paying job. We forget, like Daniel, Peachy, James and John that our lives are not to be spent trying to become gods of this world. That is the temptation that the Adversary put before Jesus and that Jesus refused; we forget who and whose we are, and so we continue to fall into this temptation.
The scriptures remind us again today of what happens when we forget ourselves. Let us remember all that we are promised as children of God. Because when we forget who and whose we are, the consequences come not only our own lives but the lives of those around us. May God continue to be merciful and gracious to us all! Amen!