Sacred Soil

Ode to a Ditch
October 21, 2012, 10:15 am
Filed under: Sermons

Lectionary 29

Isaiah 53:4–12
Psalm 91:9–16
Hebrews 5:1–10
Mark 10:35–45

In my early 20’s I was part of a group of people working on a community housing project. We were a bunch of idealistic folks who somehow managed to create homes for 29 families. We invested our whole selves into the project, and a lot of our own money.

There came a time, when the architect sat down with us and explained that the sewer system would need some complicated work that might mean diverting the stream that ran through the property. She began talking about angles, ditches, and culverts, and my head began to spin, and my eyes glaze over, until I saw Bob, slowly and steadily working himself into a boil. Finally, he burst out—“I’ll do it. There is no need to sacrifice that stream for your incompetence!”

Bob had a way with words.

I had not, to that point, taken any courses on the fine art of ditch digging. Nor, would have even known to question the architect. But Bob did know what he was talking about. Bob knew his ditches. Well.

And over the course of the next few weeks, Bob, and a few helpers came out to the site, and with graceful skill, he traced out a new path for the sewer, hand digging the trench, skillfully measuring the angle (for with sewers it is especially important that gravity be your friend). I remember those days filled with the fine mist of an Oregon Spring, muddy and damp. Bob was sopping with muck–but his ditch was beautiful and pristine.

His gift and his skill saved the creek, and several thousand dollars. We celebrated him with poetry, and raised a glass to this great gift in our midst.

I must say, I’d never had thought that a ditch digger would be so important. So honored. To that point, I’d never given a passing thought to ditch digging. I would have never named this job as glorious.

I suspect the disciples would have thought similarly. I love this story of the petulant Zebedee brothers demanding of Jesus that he give them a bit of his glory.

“Jesus, we want you to give us whatever we ask”… to which Jesus says, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

They respond that they want Jesus to grant that one have the right hand side and the other the left when Jesus comes into his glory.

I’m not sure what the disciples had in mind when they were imagining Jesus’ glory. Perhaps they’d imagined themselves rulers of a vast land, or greatly wealthy with servants and glorious wine. Whatever they imagined, I’m sure that it had nothing to do with ditch digging, and even less to do with what God had actually called them to do.

But ours is a culture that seeks glory. This hasn’t changed since the first century. We are compelled to gather up glory for ourselves, collecting it with stories of close encounters with famous people, achieving for achievements’ own sake. A culture duty-bound to find our 15 minutes of fame–as if this would make our lives meaningful. As if this would make us matter, give us a little power.

We do this in insidious ways—this seeking our own glory. Often we don’t even realize that we have done it. A few years ago, friends of mine, who ran a soup kitchen wondered about this, “how are we unwittingly seeking our own glory?” And in seeking their own answer, they noticed two lines, divided by a serving table. One side was the side of power, the other of powerlessness. The server, and the served. And they were convicted.

And so they mixed everything up. Changed it from a soup kitchen to a community meal. They asked everyone to serve, to clean, and to eat. And it was transformative. And in changing these things, they shared in the glory–the joy of community and mutual relationship, and the recognition that we all desire meaningful work; we all desire real connection. And they even found glory in the shared work of doing the dishes.

Jesus responded to the Zebedee brothers, letting them know that indeed, they would experience all that Jesus was to experience, but this would not be glory they imagined. There would be no regal throne, but rather the life of a servant. No grand army overthrowing Rome, but rather death at the hands of those who sought their own glory.

Which brings me back to Bob’s ditch. There is this temptation with this text, to believe that we should seek servile work and distance ourselves from the joy of a job well done. There is this temptation to believe that we should strip ourselves of passion about our work, and subject ourselves to meaninglessness. Which then gets us to a two sided coin, on one side glory seeking, the other joyless.

But I don’t think that Jesus is asking the disciples to slip into meaninglessness when he tells them to be servants of all. No, rather I think that Jesus is calling us to a third way, to rethink what is glorious, what is good, what is better, what is powerful. I think that he is calling us to see that the ditch digger and the lawyer are to be servants to one another, that we are to live mutually connected, as one body in Christ. All needful of each other. All children of God.

And so it seems good and right that we celebrated Bob that night. That we cherished that ditch. Cherished the Good work God had done through Bob. And it seems to me that we have this opportunity to celebrate all ditches in this manner, to celebrate all the good work brought about by people, just as us, who seek meaning in their lives, whether we are inclined to see it as glorious or not. For in so doing we do not seek our own glory, but rather we seek the glory of God in our sister and brother in Christ, people beloved by God.

For at this table here, God has welcomed us all. Ditch diggers and Wall Street bankers. God has called us each by name, joined as brothers and sisters. Servants of one another. The only glory we’re seeking here is God’s.

So come, let us gather at this table as equals, cherishing the good work God does through all of us. And may we have the grace to be servants to one another, honouring the great glory of our God who loves us beyond comprehension.


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