I have ShrineMont on the brain right now. I spent four days there this week at the bishop's clergy conference, and we will be going up to our parish retreat there next weekend. It's a fabulous place, up in the mountains, with the most wonderful trees and mountains and great food.
I can't ever think about ShrineMont without remembering when our daughter was 13 or so, and we were getting ready to go as a family up to our St Peter's parish retreat. My husband and I were talking about some of the activities that we would enjoy, and my daughter looked at us and said, "You don't get it. ShrineMont is all about the teenagers!"
That would have come as a surprise to those of us who enjoyed the adult activities like games and hiking and late night conversations over a congenial glass of wine. But to our daughter, none of that was relevant. It was all about the teenagers, which really meant "it's all about me."
It's all about me. We rarely say that aloud, but I'll bet we often think it. We may not use those exact words, but we feel it. When something happens that inconveniences us, we complain, because, after all, it's all about me and my convenience. When the waiter, who is servicing twleve different tables of customers, is a little slow refilling our coffee cup, we grumble, because, after all, it's all about me and my need for a little more caffeine. Even when good things happen, that little phrase "it's all about me" seems to creep in. Get a promotion? Of course! I deserved it. I'm a good worker. It's all about me. Hit the lottery? It's about time, because it's my turn. and after all, it's all about me!
It's a common disorder, this compulsion to view the world as something simply in service to our own wants and needs. And it seems to be a bit of what James and John are afflicted with in today's gospel. They start off the little kerfuffle among the disciples by asking for special preference from Jesus. They must have gotten that idea from their mother, who had asked Jesus for the same thing earlier in the gospel. I can hear her now: "You boys go speak up for yourselves. You're never going to get anywhere in the world if you don't ask for what you want. He likes you. Go ask him."
And they go ask, because in their minds it really is all about them, and Jesus says, "you two have no idea what you're asking for." And then the other disciples hear about it and they start saying "It's not fair. Treat us well, too." Because in their minds, it is all about them as well.
And Jesus says, "well, yes, it is all about you, but not necessarily in the way you seek. If you were trying to be a king on this earth, it would be a really exciting thing, wouldn't it? Lots of power and money, people doing what you ask, dancing girls and fancy clothes and such. But my kingdom is something else entirely. You want to be part of the elite in my kingdom? It means you are willing to be a servant, not a power player. It means you do whatever is necessary to make sure all are cared for and protected, not simply worry about retaining your own power. It's about putting others ahead of you and above you. Can you accept this part of the deal? It will be all about you, but you as a servant, not as the served. So think about this before you say this is what you want."
The disciples, of course, thought they would get kingly glory by being with Jesus, where everyone around them would affirm, "Yes, it's all about them! Aren’t they fabulous!"
But Jesus said what they would hear was more like "it's all about you because it's your responsibility to help me and take care of me."
That's the funny part of this business of following Christ. It is all about us, and it's not all about us. It is when we follow Jesus and recognize that his model of right living is about serving rather than being served. It's not all about us when we get into "needy child" mode, craving attention and needing things to make us feel better or more important. That's just not Jesus' way.
And this is why this is such a useful passage as we bring our pledges to the altar in few minutes. By committing to give to the work of the church for the coming year, we say "it's not all about us." Each of us might use those funds for a newer car, or a bigger house, or a few new outfits. But we know that while that might make us feel a little more special in the short term, it doesn't help us help others in the way that giving to the work of this parish can do. It is not about us as individuals, it is about us as a part of a larger community, as a apart of the world. It is about us doing what we can to bring God's reign to earth. It is about us recognizing that being a follower of Jesus means we put the needs of the world ahead of our own needs, and that this is the path to eternal glory.
It is not easy. We seem to be wired to think of ourselves first. But Jesus says we have the power to do some strategic rewiring of our priorities, and this is just what we do together today
So as you bring your pledge forward today, know that you are saying "it is all about me. It is about what I can do in my own way to help change the world. It is about what I choose to do for others rather than what I insist on for myself. It is about serving before taking, about God before me."
St Ignatius Loyola captured the essence of what it means to serve Christ and the world in a prayer written 500 years ago:
Eternal Word, only-begotten Son of God, teach me true generosity. Teach me to serve you as you deserve. To give without counting the cost, to fight heedless of wounds, to labor without seeking rest, to sacrifice myself without thought of any reward save the knowledge that I have done your will.
It is all about me, and about you, and most importantly, about God.