Oct. 21, 2018 Reflection
Mark 10:35-45/ Philippians 2:1-8
When We Work Together, We Can Do Anything
Earlier, we heard the story of Anansi and the Sky Kingdom. When the King Lion was recruiting a volunteer to go to the Sky Kingdom to ask for light, those who considered themselves strong and able stepped up. They were able, but not able enough to reach the Sky Kingdom. According to our common sense, if anyone had a chance of succeeding the task, it was the strong and abled ones, but they ended up failing. When a spider named Anansi volunteered, they laughed at him because he is such a small animal. But what they didn’t think of was Anansi’s ability to work together with friends. Think about his friends Fly and Ant; they are both small and insignificant, in general. But we witnessed how together the three of them could complete the task that not even the strongest of the others could complete alone. Each of the three little guys contributed their abilities. The spider spun a web and the ant bit off the cloud to make a way in. Fly with his whole family, they could eat all the fruit. Ant with his family could cut all the blades of grass. What one strong and abled individual could not do, three tiny animals could do by contributing their small abilities. Therefore, the clever spider Anansi declares at the end, “When we work together, we can do anything.”
In today’s gospel story, we meet two of the disciples of Jesus who acted sort of like the individual strong animals in the Anansi story. These two brothers weren’t being team players. It’s not cool to play alone in God’s kingdom. Of course, the others were going to complain about this. Jesus must have been exasperated at these two brothers’ request. “Have I taught you nothing about God’s kingdom? Don’t you understand that the pursuit of God’s kingdom is full of hardships and it is God to grant us, not us to request, glory in the eternal kingdom?” Listen to the conclusion of this episode in the life of Jesus and his disciples; “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”
Throughout his public ministry, Jesus taught humility, togetherness, and caring for one another. Humility and equality are the most important values of God’s reign. That is why the early Christians lived together and shared all their possessions according to their needs. Even today’s text in Paul’s letter to the Philippian Christians emphasizes humility and putting others first. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” We are called to pursue the greater good, whatever the “greater good” is for each context, and work by the principles of humility and equality. For us who belong to the United Church of Canada in the year 2018, the greater good is adapting to the new changes of the church. This new structure will further our church’s commitment for equality and justice. For example, the assessment that all congregations should pay the national church that we call the General Council will be calculated from the net income of each congregation; the richer the congregation, the higher the assessment payment. This reminds us of the early Christians who shared all their possessions according to each person’s or family’s needs.
Starting January 2019, our United Church of Canada will structurally transform, and as a result, Kootenay Presbytery will be no more. Our presbytery members are probably more worried about this change than members of some other presbyteries because we live in isolation from other areas. We had a vigorous discussion last weekend at our last presbytery meeting about how we can survive without the presbytery. How can we still connect with each other and support each other when we already have limited access to resources? Because Presbyteries will be no more to provide connection and mutual support, the national church is recommending us to form clusters and networks. This will happen only if we all commit to the cause; we have to voluntarily participate in the clusters and networks we will form according to our needs. We are worried about this change because nobody knows what the new church will look like, but at the same time, we are hopeful for all the possibilities with which we can work since we won’t have the official governing body that was our presbytery. There are a lot of things to solve if we want to keep being connected to each other in the Kootenays; for example, will we meet? How and where will we meet? How will we fund our programs, travels, and accommodations while we are meeting? There may be inconveniences to our local congregations to a certain degree. We may think we cannot spare our monetary resources and the time commitment of our ministers, especially if we have to be away on the weekend and cannot lead the Sunday morning worship services. Therefore, as we listen to the biblical messages of humility and not being individualistic or selfish, I urge you to start thinking big; about how we can all mutually survive and thrive as the United Church of Canada. As we take care of our own congregation, we also have to think of contributing to the bigger church as well as receiving support from it.
Last week, we received a letter from the BC Conference president Rev. Jay Olson. In her letter, she mentioned a lot of words and concepts that are connected to today’s lesson of humility and togetherness; such as “hope” and “not doing it alone”. In fact, she used the word “hope” a lot. Our new church system will require greater unity from all of us. We have to unite and work together. Just as a building cannot be sustained if one or more parts of its structure is weak or collapse, the United Church of Canada cannot stand firmly without the support of all parts of its structure. As we learn humility, service, and togetherness today, let us extend the attitude of humility from our personal relationships to the “greater good” that is the United Church of Canada. Let us all welcome this time of change with hope and commitment to not be individualistic or selfish as a congregation. Let us all get on the new vehicle of our church that is the new structure and support the ministry of the greater church where grassroot level initiation of connection and mutual support will happen. We are all facing challenges for our future as the United Church of Canada but let us trust in God and also in Anansi’s last words; “When we work together, we can do anything.”
Rev. Sunny Kim