Sermon October 21, 2018 Proper 24B
The Rev. John M. Atkins
Gospel of Mark 10:35-45
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and
said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of
you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for
you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right
hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 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?” 39 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; 40 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
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and
John. 42 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. 43 But it is
not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you
must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you
must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but
to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
+ + + + + +
I recall the day Ted and I first met Inky.
We drove 45 minutes north
of our house. Winding roads and barren trees welcomed us into rural New Jersey
on that sunny Saturday afternoon, February 27, 2016.
We were warmly greeted as we entered Inky’s foster home. A small, coal-black
poodle danced and bounced with delight, going from person to person while
playing with her toys. Ted’s face reminded me of a child’s elation on a Christmas
We spoke to the foster-parent and a representative from the Poodle Rescue Group
of New Jersey. Listening to Inky’s story compelled us even more to offer her a
I wrote a donation check to the rescue group. Our donation was like a ransom, so
Not that the group was holding her for a price, or that we paid for her freedom.
Rather, we acquired her freedom by our love and our desire to support the rescue
We redeemed her for freedom, in order to allow Inky to be who she is intended to
be – a beloved, domesticated creature of God to be cared for, valued and loved.
The donation went toward allowing the group to continue rescuing domesticated
animals either from abandonment or abuse, giving other animals freedom to be
Of course, Inky didn’t fully reveal her squeaky bark until we got her home. She’s
a very smart poodle.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus addresses his disciples’ blatant arrogance and
ignorance of seeking status within God’s realm. Once again, Jesus clearly tells his
followers that they must follow his example of servant leadership. Status has no
place in God’s realm. Rather, sacrificial love is the mark of participating in God’s
Over and over again Jesus communicated the values of God’s realm,
most of which are not shared by this world.
Jesus, the servant-leader, frees us from the bonds of sin through his sacrificial love
that compelled him to give his life for us and all creation. We are to follow his
example, doing the same, sharing selfless act of love.
Most Saturdays, I watch an hour of Areal America on the Smithsonian Channel.
Two Saturday’s ago they showed the scenic wonders of Alabama.
The narrator also told stories about Alabama’s history of slavery and segregation,
focusing on the stories of 1960’s Governor, George Wallace, and the public,
defiant actions of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which helped
propagate racial equality.
As we are aware, the slave trade provided the majority of the South’s economy and
great wealth to plantation owners.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation
opened the way of freedom from slavery.
And on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act
which provides legal authority giving all African-Americans the right to vote.
Those redemptive actions helped provide the ransom for African-Americans’
When we think of the word ‘ransom’, it is common to conceive payment in the
form of currency given to specific people. But ransom doesn’t have to infer money
or a price being paid to anyone. Rather, ransom can also infer a liberating action
without transfer of funds or a price being paid or designated recipients.
As in the case of Inky, no payment was made for her freedom, rather an act of
donating for perpetuating rescues.
As in the cases of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Voting Rights Act of
1965, no payments for freedom were made to anyone, rather acts of justice resulted
in opening doors of liberation for God’s people of color.
And, as in the case of Jesus ransoming many, as the Gospel of Mark reports, no
payment was transferred, no price paid, and no designated recipient was named.
The world doesn’t have the power to demand ransom from Jesus. And, in my
opinion, the Holy One Jesus called Father didn’t demand ransom from Jesus, as
would a blood-thirsty deity or a war-lord or a medieval landowner demanding
Jesus gave our ransom – and it was purely out of love that he sacrificed his life –
not as a payment to God, or to the Devil, or to the world – rather, he gave his life
so that we might be free to live as God intends, liberated from all the shackles of
self-interest, greed, division, and the desire for power.
Jesus ransomed us to have freedom from those things that separate us from God
and one another. We’ve been given liberty to explore the magnificence of living in
God’s realm, here and now, if we choose.
This is a major difference between the theology of salvation to which I subscribe
and the theology taught to many Roman Catholics and Evangelicals.
Of course, I am not alone. My understanding is shared by many Episcopalians and
countless others throughout Christ’s one holy catholic apostolic church. Simply
stated, I believe love is at the heart of our reconciliation with God, not restitution.
I do not believe that Jesus paid the price for our sins as atonement to God; rather,
Jesus bore the consequence of our sins with the purpose of drawing us close to
God’s heart of love. I repeat: God is not a blood-thirsty deity demanding the
sacrifice of Jesus’ life in order to forgive our sins.
The idea of Penal Substitutionary Atonement or Satisfaction Atonement comes
from “the medieval theologian Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), particularly in
his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. ‘Why the God Man’). In Anselm’s view, God’s
offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-
man, Jesus Christ.” (https://www.theopedia.com/satisfaction-theory-of-the-atonement)
For me, Anselm’s understanding of reconciliation imagines a god unable to look
upon sin and delight in creation. Therefore, Anselm’s god is unable to look upon
us. In my opinion, this kind of god is as ruthless and evil as humans can be,
demanding a bloody death.
Certainly, a god as Anselm claimed, a god to whom I introduced in my youth, and
some Christians proclaim as normative today is unworthy of our praise and love,
and emphatically not the God of Jesus of Nazareth and his Good News.
Jesus spent time with sinners, reminding them of God’s love and inviting them into
God’s love. A god too pure to look upon sin is a god far too removed to care and
Pastor and author Keith Giles, spoke of Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory
by saying: “That’s not the Gospel. At least, not according to the New Testament,
or to Jesus. It’s also a very new doctrine that didn’t show up until about a
thousand years after Christ. It’s also not the only theory about the atonement, or
the oldest. It’s actually one of many theories. And, at any rate, it’s not the
I believe, Jesus bore the ultimate consequence for our sins out of his deep love
for God, for humanity, and for all creation.
Jesus bore the result of our separation from God and one another so that we might
be free to live within God’s realm of justice, peace, joy and love. That is GOOD
150 mph winds from Hurricane Michael ripped apart the house of Paul and Stacy
Christiansen in Lynn Haven, Florida. Neighbors, Ron and Heather Dolan,
witnessed the devastation happening. Immediately they gathered other neighbors
and began calling out and searching for Paul and Stacy.
The homeowners had heard the sound of trees falling and their roof violently
creaking, so they ran to the garage and got into their truck for safety. But the
garage collapsed onto the truck’s roof, nearly crushing them.
Ron, Heather and other neighbors pulled mounds of debris out of the way until
Stacy, Paul and their dog, Ginger, were safely freed. But Paul needed his insulin.
So, Greg Charles Weaver ran into the teetering, crumbling, crackling house.
Afterwards he said with a heavy sigh: “I found the fridge, got his medicine and got
Selfless acts of love for the sake of another; that’s how Jesus lived and chose to
died. That’s Good News for the world.
Many people are drawn to God – responding to Jesus’ selfless acts
That’s the life you and I are called to gratefully, humbly and joyfully live. A life
of servant leadership. A life of selfless acts of love. A life illuminating the world
with the GOOD NEWS of Jesus.