Last Sunday you may recall the Gospel story of the man who walked away from Jesus because he was too attached to wealth and to the comfortable lifestyle it afforded him. But you may not have heard of Hedwig, a woman whose feast was celebrated just this past week. She lived in the 12th century on land that is part of modern-day Poland. Hedwig was born to well-to-do parents and later married into more wealth and privilege. But unlike the young man in Mark's Gospel who walked away from Jesus because of his wealth, Hedwig made a different choice. She donated all her wealth to people less fortunate. She helped build monasteries, convents, hospitals for lepers and she was a strong advocate for peace in her troubled times. Legend has it that she went barefoot in winter to express her solidarity with the poor. And when her bishop told her to get shoes, she got shoes but carried them in bags to give to the sick and hungry people she met.
In today's Gospel, Mark continues the same chapter ten reading. Jesus had just warned his disciples that the love of wealth and its accompanying lifestyle makes it difficult to achieve the kingdom of God. But James and John had "hutzpah." They asked Jesus to assure both of them places of honor and privilege in his kingdom. If this were a vaudeville scene, we might imagine Jesus smacking his forehead with his hand. He had just told the rich man of the demanding cost of discipleship. And then he reminds his followers again of his coming cup of suffering and death. But James and John, oblivious to these warnings, are still looking for a privilege and honor.
So Jesus says: you really want a share of what's coming to me? Can you drink from my cup? Oh sure, they say without thinking, we can drink from your cup. In their lust for power and prestige, they remain ignorant of the consequences of what they are saying. Jesus assures them they will share his cup, though they can't begin to imagine what they just signed on for. To their credit, these disciples do learn over time the true cost of discipleship. Most of them die as martyrs.
Jesus concludes today's Gospel with powerful words : "You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around. When people get a little power and prestige, it goes to their heads. It is not going to be that way with you! Whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant. Whoever among you wants to be first must be last, for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others!"
You and I have choices to make: we can follow the man obsessed by wealth and walk away from Jesus, or we can choose, as did Hedwig, to walk in Jesus' footsteps, continuing his work to bring about the kingdom. At Communion this morning, we will drink from the Cup of Christ and hope for abundant life. We should never forget this Cup is the cup of Blood shed for us. And we will eat the Bread of life. We should never forget this Bread is broken and consumed by others.
We are not simply the historical keepers of stories and memories of Jesus; we are his continuing presence in the world. Jesus healed, so must we. Jesus sought justice, so must we. Jesus expressed compassion for the poor and the outcast, so must we. Jesus suffered greatly in his ministries. We suffer in our ministries as well; yet as Jesus reminds us, we are here to serve, not to be served. Ultimately, joy and abundant life do prevail : we have God's word on that! In just a few moments, we will stand together and pray aloud these words from our Creed: In and with Jesus we believe that each of us is situated in the love of God, and the pattern of our life will be the pattern of Jesus : through suffering and death to resurrection. Our lives must stand by these words!