the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Road to Perdition

Mark 10:32-45

Rock Island, Illinois -- 1929. The year the stock market crashed. Prohibition, and all of the ills it spawned, was in full swing. Michael O'Sullivan was a good father and a family man -- and also the chief enforcer for John Looney, the town's Irish Godfather of crime. As Looney's "Angel of Death," O'Sullivan has done the bidding of Chicago gangsters Al Capone and Frank Nitti as well -- but when a gangland execution spells tragedy for the O'Sullivan family, a grieving father and his adolescent son find themselves on a winding road to treachery, revenge, and revelation.

This is the story in a book, by Max Collins, entitled Road to Perdition, which was recently made into a major motion picture, staring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.

Perdition is a word seldom used in our everyday speech. As with many things in our life, the title of the movie and the book, has a double meaning. This father and son are making their way from Rock Island, Illinois to the home of some relatives in Perdition, Kansas. But the true meaning of the word Perdition is complete and utter destruction.

While the O’Sullivan’s make their way to a small Midwestern town in Kansas, they are also most certainly on the road to utter and complete destruction. There are mobsters at every turn. Michael Sullivan is a man who has lived by the gun and surely, he will die by the gun. His son is innocent of even the knowledge of what his father does for a living. But when his mother and younger brother are gunned down in their own home, he learns quickly. Along the Road to Perdition, Michael, Jr. learns to drive a getaway car, rob banks, shoot a man in the back, and go to church to confess his sins.

In the end, Michael, Sr. achieves perdition, utter and complete destruction, at the hands of a killer hired by the Capone gang. Michael, Jr. finds redemption in the church and becomes a priest.

Hearing this story we can’t help but think of the words of Jesus:
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction [perdition], and there are many who enter through it. "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14
Twice before, Jesus tried to tell the disciples of the Road to Perdition. The first time, the scripture says he was “stating the matter plainly,” that is, not in parables. Peter rebukes him. When Peter confesses Jesus as “the Christ,” his is willing to go to the ends of the earth to follow him. But Peter wants no part of the suffering.

The second time, they were on the road to Capernaum. The scripture says “They did not understand [him], and they were afraid to ask him.” When they arrived at Capernaum, Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed which of them was the greatest.

In our scripture today, Jesus and his disciples are finally on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus is walking briskly, with purpose, for he is on the Road to Perdition. The scripture says, “and Jesus was walking on ahead of them;” But it was the disciples who were lagging behind.
Besides the reluctance of the disciples, we are told two additional things:

They were amazed, and…
They were afraid.

Amazed: according to Webster’s Dictionary they were bewildered, perplexed, filled with wonder, astounded, astonished, dumbfounded, flabbergasted, and shocked. Why did Jesus insist on going to Jerusalem?
[O,] "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, [you] who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and [yet] you were unwilling.
Matthew 23:37
They were afraid. Fear, that most powerful of emotions, that causes us to shrink, to run, to hide. Fear, that causes us to engage in mindless frivolities in order to escape its grip on us. Fear, the antithesis of Faith and Hope. They were afraid because they were on the Road to Perdition. (complete and utter destruction.)

Then Jesus stops, waits for them to catch up, and gathers them together. And he begins to tell them again, now for the third time, about this Road to Perdition. He speaks of himself in the third person as the Son of Man, a phrase taken from Ezekiel. But the disciples heard what he said in the first person:

“[Look!], we are going up to Jerusalem, and [I] will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn [me] to death and will hand [me] over to the [Romans]. They will mock [me] and spit on [me], and scourge [me] and kill [me], and three days later [I] will rise again.“ Mark 10:33-34

That last phrase seems hardly audible as though it is an afterthought. And the rest of Jesus’ speech is a description of Perdition: (complete and utter destruction.)

And in the midst of the shock and fear we have frivolity! What Jesus is telling them is the most important thing. He is speaking of matters of life and death. And he was interrupted.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, the sons of Thunder, were two of the inner circle. When Jesus raised the daughter of Jarius from the dead, who did he take into the bedroom with him? Peter, James and John. When he was transfigured on the mountain top, who did he take with him on the mountain? Peter, James and John. When he goes into the garden of Gethsemane, he leaves the disciples behind except for Peter, James and John whom he takes with him a little farther into garden.

Had all the attention given to them by Jesus gone to their heads? Passages in John’s Gospel indicate that there was a competition, even a rivalry, between Peter and John (the disciple whom Jesus loved.)

But let us not judge them too severely. After all they are only human, like us. They were self-centered. They were part of the “Me” generation. They knew how to measure success. Success was to be number one and number two after Jesus. They had to speak quickly. Peter had been given the keys to the Kingdom. On Peter Jesus was going to build his church. So they wanted recognition too. They wanted to sit with Jesus on the royal platform, flanking him as he sat on his throne.

Jesus saw the frivolity of their desire. He told them, “you don’t know what you are asking.” Then he issued them a challenge: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

Their answer is proof positive that they didn’t know what they were talking about. They didn’t know what Jesus was talking about. They didn’t know what was at stake. They didn’t know the cost of discipleship. They said, “We are able.”

Obviously, they were not listening to him. Often, when Jesus is trying to tell us what he wants us to know, we are not listening. We are dreaming of our own importance. We want God to give us all the good things in life: love, happiness, wealth, health. And all along Jesus is trying to tell us about the Cross.

The others became indignant and resented James and John. They were humanly jealous.

Jesus calls them to himself. He gathers them “the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” Lovingly, he separates the world from the Kingdom. The world sees leadership, success, this way. “But it is not this way among you.” And then he teaches them the Kingdom way of success:

…but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. Mark 10:43-44
Is this what we teach our children? Don’t we teach them to seek power and wealth so that they will not have to serve others. Isn’t success measured by how many of our brothers and sisters must serve us because of the power that our amassed wealth provides us? Clearly, Jesus is teaching the disciples, and us, that success in the Kingdom of God is servitude.

He provides us with a great example:
For even [I] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give [my] life a ransom for many. Mark 10:45
We ask, "What would Jesus do?" What did he do? He came not seeking wealth or power, but seeking to be a servant. He allowed the Jews and the Romans to use him -- to use his body as an object of torture -- to use him as an object to power-over -- to use him as a ransom -- He paid the price -- for many.

In our church yard, there are three crosses, representing the three who were crucified on Good Friday. All of these crosses are bare. They are emptied of the suffering and grief experienced on them. In our sanctuary, there is a cross that is bare except for a strand of Dogwood flowers that adorn it. We come to the altar every Sunday seeing only the blank reminder of the pain, the sacrifice, the surrender, the holocaust, the Perdition that was Calvary. We want to move too quickly from Thursday to Sunday ignoring, or at best, paying only lip service to the horror of Friday.

Perhaps it is only human nature to want to censure out the violence and the blood so that we can rush to the happy ending. When we come to our Lord’s table, we drink of the cup that he drank -- the blood that was poured out for us.

In most Catholic churches there is a Cross, larger than life, that hangs upon the wall behind the altar. On this cross is an equally larger than life image of the crucified Christ. Perhaps they have the right idea. Instead of focusing on the glorious event of the resurrection, the gift that is given freely to us without paying the price, they focus on the pain and suffering and the cost that Jesus paid as a ransom for many.

This year we will journey with Jesus and the disciples as they travel to Jerusalem, and to the Cross, on the Road to Perdition.

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before thy face I humbly kneel, and with burning soul pray and beseech thee to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity, true contrition for my sins, and a firm purpose of amendment: while I contemplate with great love and tender pity thy five wounds, pondering over them within me, having in mind the words which David thy prophet said of thee, my Jesus: “They pierced my hands and my feet; they numbered all my bones.”


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