Homily: September 20, 2015

Pentecost 17, YEAR B; Rev. Phil Boelter, Vicar The gospel scene today reminds me of my own childhood.


From early childhood all the way through college I was

In the words of my best friend and college roommate

“Big, dumpy and dumb.”


I was back then and probably still am

TOTALLY unfit for group sports-

Always chosen last for the team.


But my dad was determined by second grade

that I needed to be in little league baseball.

So, he signed me up.


Not only could I not follow the ball and hit it,

I was exiled by the coaches to waaaaaaay out in the out field,

where I could do the least harm possible.


Standing there, oblivious,

all of a sudden I’d hear the yelling, the commotion.

And whizzzz

the ball would cross the infield line and go sailing past me

or fall unnoticed from the skies above,

unclaimed by my trusty left handed ball glove.

I was always the opposing team’s favorite player.


It was only a few years later that my dad discovered what was wrong.


I remember very clearly-

I was in fourth grade-

And the family went bowling.

My dad had given up on baseball.


He was trying to explain to me

how I could tell which pins were left standing-

after my first roll down the alley.


“See the lights above the pins?

They tell you which pins you didn’t knock over.”


“What lights?”   I asked, squinting.

It turned out I couldn’t see any further out than the end of my big German nose.


Two weeks later I had a pair of the blackest, thickest,

Coke bottle lensed glasses ever seen this side of a pocket protector.


The disciples in today’s gospel reading

are just as spiritually blind as I was physically.


Today Jesus keeps dwelling on last week’s theme of denying yourself

By continuing to talk about his impending suffering and death.


But what great theological question are the disciples huddled over?

Who’s the greatest among them!


Like me and my childhood friends,

They all want to be the first, the best,

the one chosen to lead the team to victory.


We’ve all been in on THOSE kinds of discussions

at some point in our lives-

Probably on one side or the other.


Vikings versus Packers,

Democrats versus Republicans.

Christians versus Jews or Muslims or Atheists.


But that question of who’s the best,

Whether it be in sports,

Or politics

Or even religion,

is really a dead end street.


Jesus points us a different way.


He says,

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”


Jesus himself is a good example of this concept.


After all,

this is the Man who pours himself out for others-

teaching, healing,

going around his neighborhood, community, country

Doing good.


Not only that,

But theologians in the gospels tell us he gave up his life

so that we might live more fully.


That’s why Jesus mentions his death again and again and yet again in the gospels.

Its why in the Gospel of Mark

Christ’s suffering and death take up almost half of the entire book.



For the first followers of Jesus Way,

Christ’s death was of utmost importance.


But I can’t pretend to understand that concept.

Why did CHRIST need to die for ME?

Was I so bad

or so bad off,

that God needed to kill someone else in order to get revenge or satisfaction-

like some cosmic Godfather?


Far from it.


What Jesus keys in on here and elsewhere in the scripture

is an attitude of openness to others-

a spirit of love and compassion-

That motivates us to give of ourselves

And to even give UP ourselves

Sometimes our very life itself,

for another.


It is only THAT love and compassion that will save us.

It is only THAT love and compassion

that Christ demonstrated when he opened up his arms wide on the Cross.


But its much easier talked about than lived.


Such compassion can’t usually originate from within ourselves.

or if it does,

Eventually that stream of compassion dries up.


Our resources are limited,

As is sometimes our vision,

our strength,

even our capacity to love.


But Christ calls us to something beyond ourselves-

a love and compassion that comes from the God who created us,

Christ who walks with us

and the Spirit who lives within us.


It is that compassion that enables us to

Relate well to others,

To perform community service in our neighborhoods.

When we pick up litter on the street,

Take time to listen to other peoples’ problems….


When we continue to put up with and stick with our family and friends

when it would be easier to walk away-

In all these situations,

Compassion is the glue that holds the cosmos together

And allows it to keep running.


Compassion for others is the glue

That binds all our relationships together.


THAT compassion is boundless,


Sufficient for every moment and every circumstance we will ever face.


It knows no limitation of time or place,

Country or creed,

Class or belief

Or status in life or death itself.


The Dalai Lama

When he was in the Twin Cities this past year

Eloquently spoke to us of such compassion.


“We can reject everything else:

he said,

religion, ideology, all received wisdom.

But we cannot escape the necessity of love and compassion....


This, then, is my true religion, my simple faith.

In this sense,

there is no need for temple or church,

for mosque or synagogue,

no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine or dogma.


Our own heart, our own mind, is the temple.

The doctrine IS compassion.


Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity,

no matter who or what they are:

ultimately these are all we need.


So long as we practice these in our daily lives,

then no matter if we are learned or unlearned,

whether we believe in Buddha or God,

or follow some other religion or none at all,

as long as we have compassion for others

and conduct ourselves with restraint

out of a sense of responsibility,

there is no doubt we will be happy.”



THAT’S the team I want to be on-

Both here in life now….and in the Hereafter.


On this team losers and winners and everyone take all…

No matter what our age,

Skill set,

Level of engagement.


And on this team

those who lose their lives in love and service for others

Will find them.










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