It was 1995 at Good Shepherd yesterday.
As our Worship Center undergoes some technology upgrades in preparation for the Zoar launch, we had no technology.
So we wheeled in an overhead projector, used transparencies, and sung the new/old “classics” like Lord I Lift Your Name On High, Come, Now Is The Time To Worship, and, of course, Awesome God.
All in all it was great fun. And it set the stage for the sermon you’ll read below, Week Four of Mad People Disease. Called “Wash. Rinse. Repeat.”, it landed at this bottom line:
We prefer fighting to fixing.
Of the four “biographies” of Jesus, my favorite is the one called “Mark” and that because of all that he discloses about the secondary heroes of the stories, the entourage of guys we know as the disciples. Jesus’ inner, inner circle. And I love the three little scenes we are going to look at today because of what they tell us about us, what they tell us about them, and what they tell us about Mad People Disease.
The first scene starts at Mark 9:30-31. Here’s what’s going on: Jesus and the 12 are headed towards Jerusalem. Really, what’s taking place, I suspect, is that Jesus is taking sort of a solitary walk to his own execution – that’s what any trip to Jerusalem in the Gospels signifies – and the disciples are following behind, doing what disciples do. And on occasion Jesus stops to teach them about who he really is and what is really in front of them, like here in 9:30-31:
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
So after hearing THAT, these 12 guys should have been TOTALLY focused in on the betrayer – his activities and his identity. But they’re NOT!
Instead, look at what happens next in 9:33-34:
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Doh! Embarrassed silence at being called out! And isn’t in interesting … Jesus talks about being betrayed in 9:31 and all of us who know the story immediately think of JUDAS but the truth is that the first betrayal is right here, right now: the case of MPD over which one of them is the greatest of all! I love the bible! I love how sly Mark is and how careful he is in arranging the material so that if you’re paying attention this stuff leaps off the page.
And the argument? So much what happens when you get preachers together. “How many did YOU have on Sunday? (Begging they’ll return the favor!) “Oh, I ran into Billy the other day.” “Billy?” “Yeah, Billy Graham.” Name dropping, chart topping competition. They did it then & we do it now. Only the disciples were getting this incredible teaching from Jesus on revolutionary topics – the first will be last, the last first, etc – and it’s the proverbial in one ear and out the other. Who cares about HIS kingdom when I’m building my own and don’t get in my way! Scene 1 and I love it. Rather bear a grudge than bear the cross.
Scene 2 is just one chapter over at Mark 10: 35-37:
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
READ. The density of these guys is incredible. And purposeful. Think about it: Mark didn’t have to include this part of the story but he did anyway! J & J have been hearing about humility and sacrifice and death and all they can ask for is HONOR. And they don’t know, they really don’t know what they’re asking for; look how Mark portrays it in 15:27:
27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.
Whoa. Again, not accidental language; brilliant art.
But back to this story. The best part? Look at the response of the other 10 in 10:41!
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
Righteous indignation! Fighting! Arguing! MPD! And it’s all over prestige and position and power. They do it once in chapter 9 and then as their no doubt frustrated leader continues his increasingly solitary march to execution, they do it AGAIN. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
And then, Scene 3 in 14:29, at the Last Supper (holiest meal ever?), and the subject of betrayal comes up (again!). This isn’t a fight, really, it’s just the continuation of the earlier one, because Peter is still clamoring and competing:
29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.”
I don’t care how much you talk to us about sacrifice and humility, I AM THE MOST HUMBLE MAN ALIVE! And how long does Peter last? One day and three denials later, not very. Still fighting the same fight. Same old, same old at the holiest dinner ever. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. It’s funny: we just get these three scenes of arguing over whose most humble … imagine all the stories that Mark didn’t include!
But do you remember how I said Mark is my favorite biographer of Jesus precisely because of how he portrays the disciples? Do you know why he goes to such lengths to show all their mess-up? Hint: it’s NOT so we can criticize them from a distance! It’s so we can see the ways in which their feeble, faltering attempts to comprehend and then follow Jesus are not so different from ours! Because are they the last collection of people who fight about the same things over and over and over? Are they the final ones to fall into these patterns of arguing that never accomplish anything than the painful venting of frustration? Has anyone else since them been through the MPD of washing, rinsing, REPEAT? Am I speaking to anyone?!?!
Because I KNOW there are marriages in this room right now that may have been officiated by a Justice Of The Peace but what you have now needs the Sec’y Of War. You fight about clutter. You fight about the schedule. You fight about in laws. You fight about in laws. You fight about her drinking. You fight about his computer time. You fight about the kids. You fight about sex. You fight but you don’t resolve and every argument – just like the disciples – is simply a slow motion replay of the one that came before it.
And there are work places here where you repeat the same habits that lead to the same communication breakdowns and the same hurt feelings. Some of you have had these kind of work-related fights at three or four different jobs now and you are just today realizing that in all those anger cycles YOU are the common denominator. What do all those dysfunctional workplaces have in common? Oh yeah, YOU.
Even with church, it’s so often the same. Either you get into to same rows with the same people about the same issues. Or get this: you get into the same kind of difficulty with different people at different churches. Again, the common denominator in all those church fights and all that spiritual immaturity & that Jesus-centered MPD is . . . you!
Do you know what we discover along the way? Do you know what the disciples kept doing the Wash/Rinse/Repeat with their anger? Because they found losing their tempter to be more comfortable than changing their behavior. They protected themselves from the anxiety of legitimate, authentic Jesus-surrender & gospel living . . . by arguing! Yes! Arguing, temper-losing, MPD as a defense mechanism against genuine change! The patterns these disciples fell into and that we fall into are predictable, intractable, and seemingly unchangeable. As reliable as weather forecast in Baghdad in July: sunny and 120. Day after day.
Because this is ultimately the deal for those disciples then and for many of us now: We prefer fighting to fixing. We’d rather fight than fix. Losing our temper, fighting about the same thing time after time is ultimately more familiar and more comfortable than changing the patterns of behavior in the one person we can control: ourselves. We prefer fighting to fixing.
This came home to me so vividly not long ago. And I’m not an argumentative person & thankfully our home isn’t characterized by fighting. But I realized that when it comes to work, I am so easily distracted into fights within the Methodist movement. I have colleagues and supervisors and famous people who are taking the denomination down what I think is a destructive path and I have opinions (no!) and I want to organize and publicize and yeah, even antagonize, and the next thing you know I’ve spent a day fighting. Meanwhile there’s stuff that needs fixing right here at GSUMC! Usually the stuff that needs fixing has to do with me! But it is much more comfortable, more familiar to engage in denominational warfare than congregational renaissance. We prefer fighting to fixing.
Is that you? At work, in church, and most especially with regard to your most intimate relationships and the MPD you have, is that you? Are you like the guy who said I know every argument has two sides, I just wish ours would have an end as well? Maybe even more to the point, is this what you grew up in? Did a light just go one? Yeah, mom and dad always fought about his drinking or her shopping and every fight was a sequel to the one before it! And now I know they really would rather fight than switch! In fighting, they were avoiding. And with a moment of rare clarity, are you now realizing that not only did you grow up in that kind of environment, you are repeating that kind of environment? The energy you should pour into solving you pour into fighting instead? We prefer fighting to fixing.
So: what? How break these seemingly unbreakable cycles of Wash. Rinse. Repeat.? Well, when you see that much of your fighting is really avoiding, recall some of the things the disciples were avoiding: Jesus’ impending death. Their call to live upside down lives in which the greatest among them was not the one with the biggest house and the best car, but the one who is servant of all. Their invitation – because of the manner and purpose of Jesus’ death – to become agents of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:20-21). Wow. That was heavy news to bear and a heavy calling to embrace. So rather than finding their lives by losing them, they avoiding the issue altogether by fighting about the same things over & over.
And seeing what they avoided clarifies what we want to embrace. Brings into focus where pattern breaking power comes from. It’s Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation, not ours. It’s Jesus’ pattern breaking power, not ours. It’s Jesus who will wrestle some fruitful fixing out of your unproductive fighting. My first calling today was to turn the light on, to raise your self-awareness as to what’s really going on . . . and then to turn that new self-awareness into desperate God-dependence. This is not a cliché. This is not a “pray about it” easy answer. This is a bringing your sick patterns to the throne of a holy God who IS THE RECONCILER and begging: turn my brokenness into beauty! When you do that, when we do that, all that energy you waste on fighting can be redirected to fixing. We prefer fighting to fixing.
With that as foundation, a couple of very practical next steps for you: 1. Do the most unpleasant thing first. So pivotal. What a great work habit – do the thing you like least about your job first thing in the day. And relationally, if you know you’re a delayer and an avoider, resolve to have those most difficult conversations 1st.
Number 2: Keep remembering the enormous difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Assertiveness is the simple declaration of I want more of or less of this in our relationship.
Number 3: Remember that GS concept of Solutionists. You know what solutionists do? They remember, in marriage in particular, that it’s NOT me against you. It’s the THREE of us (you, me, and the Risen Christ) against the problem. What a help! We prefer fighting to fixing but we’re learning to have Jesus wrestle fruitful fixing out of our unproductive fighting.
Because I want what happened in Lee Strobel’s life to happen in yours. He’s the author (AV) of The Case For Faith & The Case For Christ. But his story is compelling because well into adulthood – marriage, career, kids – he was an atheist. And then Jesus happened. Shortly after Jesus happened, his five year old told her mom: “I want what happened to daddy to happen to me.” “Well, why honey?” “Because he used to be mad all the time. And now he’s not. That’s what I want.”
And that’s what I want for me and for you.