October 17, 2021
21st Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
Wednesday before last, some of you came and took pews from the sanctuary. It was quite a sight seeing sixteen-foot pews hanging out the back of trucks and mini-vans. A few days later, Better Futures, a company committed to reuse, repurpose, and recycling, came and moved the rest of them out of the sanctuary. I took a picture of the room and posted it in our Youth and Family Facebook Photo Friday. (I’ll post it on Facebook today, and we’ll include it in an upcoming communication about our renovation project.). The sanctuary looks like a ballroom, or a roller rink if you happen to be a certain assistant director of music. When someone suggested hosting the Grammys, using the long red carpet that stretched down the aisle, I noticed that it was, indeed, a red-carpet walk that ended…at the baptismal font.
I like that image. Families bringing their children onto the red carpet as if they are the stars of the show. We snap a few pictures as they make the journey to the water, knowing that God’s promise will crown them in glory.
Remington Kaldun Brown, you will be our star today. Your red carpet walk to the baptismal font.
Did James and John think they were on their own red carpet walk to Jerusalem? It seems that they thought Jesus would be crowned, maybe even clothed in imperial purple, lifted up so that the nation could be liberated? Who wouldn’t want to be on the right and the left in the glory of a liberated and free Judah, ruled by Jesus the king.
We’ve typically assumed that James and John misunderstood Jesus’ mission. They wanted the wealth, the glory, the power. It’s confirmed when the rest of the disciples realize that they missed their chance for the good spots. They’re angry that James and John got there first. They all wanted the choice seats on the hill.
This past week, I spent several days with clergy colleagues exploring leadership in a time of pandemic. Dr Storm Swain, professor at United Lutheran Seminary, took us through a chart described the Disaster Management Cycle. First, you have the incident and initial response. This leads to the beginning of recovery, which leads to a time of mitigation, fixing what was broken, and then finally, a time of preparation so that you’re more ready the next time. There’s a natural movement from incident to restoration and readiness. However, she told us, none of this is working right now, because each surge of the virus is a new incident. Incident after incident. The murder of George Floyd is an incident. The political climate, including the election, and the constant rumblings of a re-match is another incident. Climate disaster is an incident. The cycle of natural movement to recover and mitigate never gets started because we keep getting retraumatized. In short, she said, we’re in unchartered territory. We keep getting stuck in our initial primitive response, which is usually something like fight or flight, or freeze and faint.
Her talk made me think again about James and John. What if they weren’t deluded about the trajectory of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem but understood it? The closer they moved to Jerusalem, the more their systems went on high alert for danger. In the passages that come before this one we read today, Jesus explains pretty explicitly that he will suffer and die. What if James and John are terrified? And from their fear and anxiety, they ask all the wrong questions. They try to hold on to what they know. They relapse into a world that they actually knew wasn’t right, even had worked to change. But in the face of disaster, they defaulted to a world of privilege and power that just might save them from pain.
Jesus must have known what was going on. He never shames them. He simply says, “Sure, you can have exactly what you’ve asked for. You will drink from the same cup. You can have the same baptism as I do. You can have the same destiny. We will share it all, and there will be a glory in that.”
And then he gives them the key they need to move through their trauma and fear. The path to keep from getting stuck or fainting on the way is to look up; to look outward; to see the neighbor. “I came to serve, not to be served. The goal isn’t to be first, to be a lord, it is to be a servant.” (Aside: It’s probably unfortunate that the church eventually began to reference Jesus almost exclusively as “Lord.” On that day on the red carpet walk to Jerusalem, I think he might have suggested another primary title.)
In the earliest days of Christianity, baptism wasn’t necessarily for infants. It was for adults, or for an entire family. The font was certainly a crowning moment in life, but it was also a turning point when one life was left behind and a new one began to emerge. Baptism into Christ meant leaving something of yourself behind to be the new creation in Christ that now wrapped your identity. Some people even got new names. Rather than hold tightly to what they had or knew or could count on, they let go and gave themselves over to a new Spirit.
Perhaps that’s then wisdom in a time of pandemic, with wave after wave of virus and racialized trauma, not to mention all the other things that serve as our own little disasters. Rather than hold tightly, responding from fear and our wounds, Jesus invites us to life up, to let go, and to move toward one another.
Dr. Swain told us this week that there may be one more natural response to disaster. Instead of flight or fight, or freeze and faith, there is tend and befriend. In times of disaster, our brains get flooded with oxytocin, which is the same chemical released in women at childbirth and for breastfeeding. Oxytocin is sometimes called the love hormone. It’s released when we fall in love, when our bodies are in overdrive. It creates a desire to make connection, to form bonds. We may have natural tendencies to run or freeze, but our bodies are also designed to release chemicals that make us connect. Survival is not an individual project. It is communal. Somewhere deep in the chemistry of creation is this Jesus-wisdom that our very survival—the very survival of the whole planet—comes from being in it together.
Perhaps the suffering and death of Jesus is precisely what introduces new levels of cosmic oxytocin into the bloodstream of the universe. It is true that after the resurrection, there is, indeed, enough “love hormone” in the world for James and John, and all the rest of them, to Remi, for you, for me, for all of creation, to share in this glory.
The red carpet, the neural pathway of life in a pandemic, is laid from the font out into the world, where we still fight our temptations to run away or to shut down or to close in, or even to judge everyone for managing their fear differently. This red carpet is the third way, the way of love, the way of befriending and feeding, birthing and connecting.
And it comes from sharing the cup.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
 Dr. Storm Swain, The Frederick Houk Borsch Associate Professor of Anglican Studies, Pastoral Care and Theology, United Lutheran Seminary, in a lecture, “Trinity, Trauma, and Transformation: A Resilience-Informed Approach to Grief and Trauma in Pandemic Pastoring, delivered to “Leadership on the Way,” Portland, Oregon, October 13, 2021
 Medical New Today, “What is the link between love and oxytocin?” https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275795