The Penguin Principle


Jackson Snyder, based on William G. Carter

 

 

 

  Judge Moore was dismissed from his office this week by the vote of a bipartisan panel of Alabamians.  Moore, of course, was the chief justice who built a huge monument to the Commandments in the state judicial building lobby.  Here’s a quote about this action from the New York Times that I thought appropriate to today’s Gospel text:

The action nearly provoked a riot, and many analysts thought that when it came time for the nine-member ethics panel to rule on Mr. Moore’s fate, members would allow him to keep his job because of the political risks of removing him. The panel can remove a judge only by a unanimous vote.  “I’m really surprised,” said William Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Alabama. “Usually, when you get a group of nine people, at least one will be thinking not so much of doing the right thing but saving his own skin. This took courage. I don’t see how voting against the Ten Commandments judge could help anybody’s political career in any way.”  “Alabama Panel Ousts Judge Over Ten Commandments Monument” New York Times, November 14, 2003

Consider the professor’s surprise that someone on that panel didn’t try to save their own political future by voting for Moore’s retention.  Despite what this professor thinks, I’m sure that the people on the panel without an exception considered their own political future very carefully before making this call.  Do you think it was the right call?  (Don’t tell anyone, but I do.)

 

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Text: Mark 10:35-45

 

Those Disciples

  In most of the messages you’ve heard from pulpits, the twelve disciples of Yahshua are usually pictured in a good light – we think of Peter’s strength, John’s love and James’ dedication. All but Judas were considered by the ancient church as “saints,” and modern churches are named after them, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, and our own St. Mark’s in Pensacola.  Along with Peter, the Rock, the others are considered foundation stones of the faith we practice today.  However, when we read about these men in the Gospel of Mark, a different picture emerges.  Though they walked the narrow way with Yahshua, listened intently as he taught and learned from his signs and wonders, they never really got the point.  In fact, they mostly looked and probably felt mighty foolish.

  Today we hear Mark’s story of James and John sidling up to Yahshua while the others weren’t looking. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do what we tell you.”  That’s as shameful a request as some of our prayers!  Yahshua’s curiosity got the best of him. “What do you want?” he said. Unashamed, they answered him: “When you climb up on your throne, put us on your right and left.”  That was a scandalous request.  When the other disciples heard about it, they were furious with James and John not because they thought it wrong, but because these boys had beat them to the punch. 

   It reminds us of a game we used to play before we all had the arthritis: “King of the Hill”?  But these boys don’t fight their way up; they try to sneak up.  Self-preference within the ranks of Yahshua’s closest associates is perplexing, though, in the world, self-promotion is the key to success. The world encourages us to take the initiative, climb to the top, push to the front, get our name in lights.  The beatitude of our culture is, “Blessed are the aggressive for they’ll get what they want.”  Many a self-made man boasts of “pulling himself up by the bootstraps,” and we admire such, no matter how many their boots have stomped on the road to the top of the world.  Yet, in our Christian fellowships, self-preference is disturbing and also prevalent, I’m afraid.

 

Pawn to Bishop

   A Methodist pastor once wrote about power and politics in his denomination.  Methodist people and preachers are under the care of a bishop.  Bishops, in turn, are Methodist preachers who are elected for life after extensive and often expensive election campaigns – campaigns in which the candidates try not to be caught campaigning.  As this pastor observes (and I quote),

It is a long-standing Methodist tradition that bishops must not appear to have sought their office and, once elected, the new bishop must make a public declaration that “I didn’t seek this office and I didn’t want it but, once the Lord calls, [I must answer].

Note that there’ve been a few preachers elected bishop who turned the job down (but not many).   (The next election of Bishops will take place sometime between April 27th and May 7th in Pittsburgh.)

  Likewise, Baptist congregations have learned to be skeptical when one of their preachers moves on to a better church, claiming, “I really want to stay right here in this little old church with all my dear friends, but the Lord’s calling me up.”  Baptists note that “the Lord” rarely calls a minister out unless out means better pay. 

   “Teacher, we want to be right up there with you, but keep it quiet for right now, will ya?  The rest’ll be mad that we asked first.”  Mark knows that some good religious folk are naturally prone to want high privileges, notoriety, control and protection.  Some demand their fifteen minutes of fame, then try to spin fifteen minutes into a lifetime.  And many of us want a “Jesus” who’ll exalt us when we simply name it and claim it.  I’m no exception – I’d like that, too.  But I’ve learned, that’s not the way it works.

 

Penguin Principle

   A little book was once published for young ministers titled The Penguin Principles to help them get a handle on pastoral ministry.  The first Penguin Principle goes like this: “Despite the pious things we say, at any given time, less than five percent of any church group is operating out of pure Christian motivation. The other 95 percent is asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’”

   When I was a young minister, I thought, “ Church people are generous and gracious.  They’re always ready to help, and unconcerned about getting their own way.”  Then when I tried to start a Senior High Sunday school class, each candidate said something like, “What’ll I get out of it?”  I tried to get some to help me with the campground ministry.  One said, “What’s the pay?”  Others said, “I’ll do it,” then didn’t or did piddly nothing.  Honestly, I’ve been disappointed for twenty-five years.  Avowed yet inactive church members are, by and large, prevaricators.  They commit to membership – time, talents, gifts and service – then they renege or make you beg or make outrageous excuses or put you off or just say yes just to get you off their back.  I’ve always been posted to tiny churches where few will do, yet more complain about what isn’t getting done without lifting a finger to fulfill their vows.  ¿After all, what’s in it for them? 

   In our churches, complaints still ring out from members who don’t attend because there’re no youth programs.  These same parents, when asked if they’ll help, always say “no” or just disappear – what they may be thinking is that entertaining their kids is MY job or YOUR job, while they get the morning off.  Yes, I’m angry with a righteous anger – anger without sin!  When Yahweh has privileged these people with opportunities to be exalted in service to his Kingdom, they’ve answered with a resounding “no!” because His pay just didn’t meet their expectations.  The Penguin Principle is the devil’s stronghold in many churches!  “There’s nothing in it for me that I want.”  You should be fuming with anger about that, too.  We all should be angry enough to tear down this stronghold!

 

No Problemo

  “Teacher, give us what we want.”  Is Yahshua wrong when he replies, “You don’t know what you’re asking”?   We know perfectly well what we’re asking.  Many who’re fervently religious desperately want the Almighty to meet unreasonable demands to help succeed.  Yet such requests for cheap success reveal our paucity of knowledge about Yahshua’s motives.   We took the Sabbath (yesterday) to journey up the mountain road to the top at Kelley State Park in near Huxton.  In order to get to that high overlook, we could have chosen to drive it or walk it.  We walked.  The last quarter mile was rough going, because the climb was steep.  But the feeling of accomplishment in reaching the top was far more greatly magnified by the rigors of the walking that that of merely pushing the gas pedal and riding. 

   “Look,” Yahshua reminds these disciples, “we’re going up, up, up to Jerusalem – we’re on foot and it’s uphill all the way.  The road’s hard and rocky.  We face difficult twists and turns.  There’ll be suffering, humiliation – even maybe death.  Boys, there’s no easy road to glory.  There’s no magic potion to make you big, like in Alice in Wonderland.  But are you able follow me up?  To drink my cup?  To be poured out?” 

  James and John quickly reply, “Oh, yeah, ol’ buddy.  No problemo. Give it.”  These guys didn’t know their place nor did they want to fulfill the requirements for the offices to which they aspired.  Do we know what it takes to be exalted, to succeed in the Kingdom – to rule and reign with HIM?  Yahshua tried to convey to his disciples that his reign was to be mysterious and secret -- like a tiny seed unnoticed, germinating and growing ever so gradually, silently, imperceivably – until, all of a sudden, it crashes through the veneer of realty and consumes all – and becomes the biggest tree in the entire universe – the family tree of Yahweh Elohim.  One morning, perhaps soon, we may wake up to find our life-force consumed in this gigantic organism, in all its blooming glory, magnificent height and depth, and benevolent beauty; and we’ll wonder how it happened and where it all came from.  We won’t know.  For the Kingdom of Yahweh shoots upward, upward, upward, in spite of us, in ways we can’t comprehend with the limited perceptive abilities with which we’ve been blessed.  But we may with new eyes discover ourselves to have become spectacularly displayed blooms upon these great branches, and we’ll be glad.  Of course, this kind of exaltation requires a great investment while we are yet in ignorance of what we may become.

 

Key and Quixote

   The investment required is in Yahshua himself – his life – his way – his kind of illogical, offbeat power. Look at him.  One minute, Yahshua shouts out tormenting demons. The next minute, he embraces children and lepers. One day he cries at wind and waves and all the other turbulent, destructive powers of an unruly creation.  Another day he rides a silly donkey into a hostile city.  Once Yahshua sticks his fingers into a guy’s ears who never heard any good news in his life.  Later, he uses his news as a scalpel to cut away the cancerous lies that keep folks sick.  He’s like a cosmic Don Quixote, except that his visions are the true reality and his fight is with real lethal powers we can’t see.  Yahshua comes forth to make a difference in this painful, haunted world.  He comes to clean out the ashtrays, scrub the floors, dry the dishes, take care of the dying, expose waste, corruption and coercion, to ruin and sacrifice himself – not to sit on a throne with dull-minded cronies on his right and left. He came to give his life to pay your ransom and set you free from all things that damage, hurt and destroy, whether you drink his cup or not.  Yet he’s seeking those who will follow him – those who are ordained as Children of Yahweh who will save the world by casting out the old and ushering in the new.  Won’t you do something more?

   That’s why he asks you, “Are you able to drink my cup?”  You can sure say no.  He asks, “Are you able to share my baptism?”  You certainly don’t have to, but for heaven’s sake, don’t be like some church members who’ve said “yes” when they have no intention on following him anywhere.  For those who would follow Yahshua must be his slave and imitator.  His “religion” requires a total change in how one lives and thinks.  This life must be sacrificed for the exalted life.

 

Foster and Bonhoeffer

   Here’s a tiny, down to earth example of sacrificial service.  Richard Foster received a phone call from a friend.  His wife had taken the car, and he wanted to know if Richard could take him around on some errands. Richard was really busy preparing to teach a class, but since this man was his friend, he very reluctantly agreed.  He grabbed a book on the way out the door to the car.  The book was Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor whom Hitler had hanged just before the war ended.

   The errands didn’t go fast.  Traffic was horrible; precious time ticked away.  Finally they pulled into a parking lot, the friend got out, and Richard, who was nearly furious by this time, stayed behind with his book.  He opened it and his eyes immediately fell upon these words:

The service that one should perform for another in a Christian community is that of active helpfulness -- simple assistance in trifling matters. There is a multitude of trifling matters wherever people live together.  Nobody is too good for the meanest service.  One who worries about the loss of time that such petty acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too seriously.

Richard got the point.  In this moment, the Holy Spirit was telling him to leave his class preparation up to heaven – heaven would give him the time – and heaven did.  Be careful in picking up a holy book when you’re put out by the demand of others on your time.  Yahweh always seems to have a message for you on whatever page you happen to glance at.  

 

Societal Ills?  (optional)

    That said, let’s hike to the mountaintop for a larger view of our society and world.  The world system doesn’t drink of Yahshua’s cup nor share his baptism.  Money makes the world go around!  The institutional world is selfish and self-promoting – companies stop at nothing for record profits, regardless of how the commonwealth is affected.  Our prominent politicians are bought and sold by special interests, so that these corrupt businesses may gain more, more and more money.  What politician on the Capitol Hill isn’t a multimillionaire?  Even us “poor folk” have so much money to spend and so much leisure time to spend it in that our economy has become primarily service-oriented. 

   Many large companies couldn’t care less about making the world a better place. The only kind of social responsibility they feel is “a kind of public relations whipped cream decorating the corporate pudding” (Robert Bellah).   A perfect daily example is the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, fabulously rich from profits made by promoting drug addiction and disease, running television ads pointing young people to a website that teaches them how not to use their products.  Talk about an absurdity!  If they were sincere, they’d shut their business down immediately and disburse their assets to their victims.  What if church people decided to speak up?  What if we, with a unified voice, promote what the world really needs: an equitable wage for anybody who’ll work, a healthful environment, the right for all to live in peace, the equitable redistribution of vital resources, and, most of all, a philosophy of holy purpose, whereby one’s daily work counts for something far higher than minimum wage or social entitlements?

 

It Was Dick Clark – What Ever Happened to Him?

   Once I asked a prominent Methodist minister to make an address at a pro-life gathering.  I’ll never forget the look on that pastor’s face when he told me, “Jack, you know I’m pro-life, but I ain’t no crusader.  There are too many pro-choice folks in my church.”   Would we be willing to be crusaders, even if it meant our losing a job?  I don’t know.  I do know if we want to follow Yahshua, we need to rethink what it means to his disciples, especially in a culture that worships material success. The kind of assembly Yahshua wants to build doesn’t bow before stature, power, politics, convenience, constituency, hype, mediocrity, relativism, nationalism, paganism, cultural fads, political expediency, political correctness or worldly achievement.  No, what Yahshua is building is an organism that works hard every cotton pickin’ minute to set people free to serve Yahweh everywhere, every day, in every place.  And we all need a fellowship and a discipline that produces strong, godly, fearless servants like Yahshua himself, who’ll advance in their servanthood and stand up for what’s true and right whenever they’re called, no matter the consequences.

 

Bishop to Pawn

   We had a cemetery committee meeting this week: I remembered the story of a cemetery plot salesman you need to hear:

   Rev. Joel Gregory became the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas that had thirty thousand members.  It was the crowning achievement of his ministerial career.  First Baptist occupies five city blocks, houses two schools, a college and a radio station.  The church gave him a beautiful home with several wooded acres and an indoor swimming pool, a Cadillac, memberships in exclusive country clubs and luxury box seats for Dallas Cowboys football games, not to mention a hefty salary. 

   But something went wrong in Gregory’s pastorate. Church leaders wanted to climb up on the throne with Yahshua.  They demanded more members of Pastor Gregory; thirty thousand wasn’t enough.  They demanded bigger buildings; five city blocks wasn’t enough.  Most of all, they demanded that Pastor Gregory tag along behind his predecessor, the famous W. A. Criswell, who’d served the congregation 46 years and showed no signs of retiring.

   Pastor Gregory said, “There wasn’t room for the both of us.  The whole zoo of human ambition is the fabric of some superchurches.”  A power struggle began, dividing the church into opposing sides.  In the wake of the division, Pastor Gregory stunned Southern Baptists everywhere by resigning from that plum pulpit.  Now he’s serving a new parish, selling cemetery plots door to door in Ft. Worth.  (Yes, you heard me right; but this was probably in the mid 1990s.)  Now, according to the Penguin Principle, a lot of people point him out as a failure.  But cemetery plot salesman Joel Gregory says otherwise. “For the first time in my life I’m learning what it means to be a servant,” he says.  “It gives me a different view of Christ, and a different view of the real needs of human beings.”

   Yahshua said, “Are you able to drink my cup?  Are you able to share my baptism?  Are you able to walk with me as a slave, wherever I decide to take you, whether it be up or down, near or far, rich or poor?  Are you able?”  Before we blurt out “yes, we are able,” let’s not delude ourselves into thinking it’ll be a joy ride.  The road of discipleship is uphill all the way, every step of the way, and at the top is a bloody stake (stauroV).  Whoever would follow Yahshua must follow him there and glory in that.  Yahshua promised us nothing else – nothing, that is, until we own the high ground.