Sep 19th | Jerusha Van Camp | Mark 9:30-37
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The transcript is printed below.
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Did you know that the front passenger seat of the automobile is valuable prime real estate? In my childhood memories, I can recall endless arguments I had with my siblings over who got to ride in the front passenger seat of the car. This great tradition was passed down to my children, who followed in my footsteps, and also argued with their siblings about who gets to ride in the front passenger seat of the family car. It’s an amazing phenomenon, my parents never sat me down and explained the front seat real estate value, nor did I sit my children down to discuss the front passenger seat real estate value and yet, somehow, they knew. I have often thought that of all the Christ followers from the beginning until now, Jesus’ disciples had to have reached the peak of Christian discipleship, after all they were trained and formed in the physical presence of Jesus. And yet, as we read today’s Scripture text, I can’t help but imagine Jesus as an exasperated busy mother, with her bags slung over her shoulder heading to the family car as her children follow behind arguing over who gets to ride in the front seat.
The human kingdom of this world is vastly different from God’s kingdom. Disfigured by sin in this human kingdom, human bodies are a currency. In biblical times, children held no economic or social value, and Jesus is making a huge point by assigning value to the child when he picks them up and pulls the child into his arms. We all know that in today’s human kingdom, bodies who are thin, white, male, heterosexual, and “attractive” are valued more highly than bodies who are fat, brown, female, trans, or aging. In this human kingdom, the path to success is paved with genocide, injustice, prejudice, selfishness, greed, and abuse of power. In contrast, in God’s kingdom, all human bodies are the sacred temple of the Holy Spirit. In God’s kingdom, success is found in humility, love, peace, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and in being the servant of all. In this human kingdom everything is expendable, and all of creation is suffering under the burden of its oppressive reign.
I suppose it could be something of a comfort to know that if the disciples who lived in the daily physical presence of Jesus didn’t magically begin living according to God’s kingdom, then it's no wonder that we haven’t either. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was powerless or failed to train his disciples, but more importantly, emphasizes the challenge of realigning human hearts towards God. Being pointed towards God's plans and purposes is not an instant, easy, or magical process. Whether we could have followed Jesus around and observed his ministry in real time, or whether we follow Jesus now in our time, we are pulled away from God’s righteous kingdom by the culture of the human kingdom.
It doesn't come naturally, for our hearts to be turned towards God, and to live out God’s kingdom in the world. It takes intentional action to mold our hearts towards God’s way of living. I did not grow up in the liturgical faith tradition. I grew up in a church where there was no bulletin, no hymn books, a very long sermon, and an even longer altar call. There was no repetition, and there were no corporate prayers. The church tradition I grew up in had long lost its connection to the witness of church tradition. As part of my seminary assignment for my Christian Doctrine class this semester, I was tasked with reading Alister McGrath’s book, Understanding Doctrine. As I read this book, I wept. I wept for myself, I wept for all of the people for whom the evangelical church has failed. Because what I realized was that as the church became hyper focused on experiencing God, it lost the doctrinal and theological foundation that gives faith a solid foundation. It lost this important component of formation that grows out of church tradition and liturgy.
The human brain is an amazing organ and its capabilities are stunning. In every experience of life we encounter, our brain learn and the repetitive ingestion of information and feelings aim the rudder of our hearts. We all know, if we consume nothing but negativity, we will begin to be more negative and depressed. If we consume nothing but life giving affirmations, then we will most likely be more positive about our lives and the world. Our inner world is formed by the liturgies of our lives, by the cultural messages that are so subtle, we probably don’t even know that they are there. I ask you the question today, “What are the liturgies of your daily life, and how are you being formed by them?”
Corporate liturgical worship has never been more important than it is today. It truly is the church’s super power. In his book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith writes that, “The practices of Christian worship are a tangible, practiced, re-formative way to address the tension and the gap”. This tension and gap that Smith refers to is that place in our lives between the reality of God’s kingdom and the reality of this human kingdom. Smith writes, “We don’t recognize cultural practices as liturgies...that do something to us”.  Our innermost self is being formed by the patterns and practices of our lives, by our culture, by what we are surrounded by. Just as our cultural liturgies bend our hearts aim away from God, our worship practices realign our hearts aim towards God. In my own personal experience, I can testify that the Presbyterian liturgical faith tradition is transformative. It was the confessions and prayers that I repeated on Sundays with this church congregation that began to change my unbelief, into faith. It was through the confessions, and prayers that I began to realize that God loved me and accepted me, and that there was a place for me in the church. It was the liturgy that called me to confess my sin, and helped me forgive myself and others, and heal. This transformation was not an accidental by-product of worship that applied only to me, no, liturgy is a river that flows with ancient witness of God’s grace, love, and salvation from God’s people in ancient times to God’s people now and throughout the ages. Liturgy invites us to meditate on the holy scriptures, and invites us into the holy faith wrestling of the saints. Liturgy is the prophetic confession of God's Kingdom and God's reign in the world. Liturgy is the stream that carries us when we have no words because our grief and our pain are too great. Liturgy is the prayers of other people that carry us when we have none. 
Last weekend was the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Many of us spent the day remembering where we were when the first plane hit the first tower. Last Sunday, a friend posted an article about 9/11 that I actually stopped to read. The article contained the transcript of the conversation between Todd Beemer, a passenger on United flight 93 and the emergency phone operator, Lisa, who answered his call. Todd the passenger is explaining to Lisa that the plane he is on has been hijacked, and Lisa the phone operator, tells him about the tragedy of the twin towers and of the terrorist plot that is unfolding. As the conversation between Todd and Lisa continues, Todd begins to realize the gravity of what is happening and the choice that is before him. Reading from the transcript: “Lisa: Todd, what are you going to do? Todd: We’ve hatched a plan. Four of us are going to rush the hijacker with the bomb. After we take him out, we’ll break into the cockpit. A stewardess is getting some boiling water to throw on the hijackers at the controls. We’ll get them….and we’ll take them out.” At this point in the transcript, it is clear that a decision has been made. Todd and the other passengers have decided that they would rather sacrifice themselves now than to let other lives be taken and let the terrorists do more harm. By this point in the transcript, Todd has already given Lisa instructions to give messages to his pregnant wife and his two little boys, and as the conversation between Todd and Lisa continues, Todd asks Lisa, “…..will you do one last thing for me? Lisa: Yes…What is it? Todd: Would you pray with me?” Then together they prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and when they had finished praying the Lord’s prayer together, they went on to speak the 23rd Psalm out loud, together. After they finished, Todd can be heard saying, “God help me...Jesus help me...Are you guys ready? Let’s Roll.” Minutes later, United Flight 93 crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and there were no survivors.
When it mattered most, Todd Beemer jumped into the river of ancient witness and prayed with the saints both present on earth and with those in the church triumphant. When there were no more words, Todd Beemer leaned on the power of other people’s prayers and Scripture. When there is nowhere else to go, when there are no more words, when the world is on fire, we can jump into the river of the church’s witness of God and together with the saints remember that we belong to a different kingdom. We belong to God’s kingdom of peace and not to the kingdom of this world. We can remember that we belong to God’s kingdom of justice and equity, where the last shall be first, where humility, kindness, and love reign. So let us turn our hearts daily towards God. Let our hearts be reformed through prayer, through Scripture, and through gathering together in worship that will aim our hearts towards loving God. So that through God’s people, God’s kingdom will come and God’s will may be done on this earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
 Smith, James K. A. You Are What You Love. Brazos Press, 2016. Pg. 30
 Smith, James K. A. You Are What You Love. Brazos Press, 2016. Pg. 32
 Warren, Tish Harrison. Prayer in the Night. InterVarsity Press, 2021. Pg. 17