Message—The Episcopal Church of the Cross
Loving Jesus, Serving Others
Sunday, October 21, 2018
Text: Mark 10:32-45
They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
-Mark 10:32-45. The appointed text for this Sunday was 10:35-45. We extended the reading to the preceding verses to give some context.
Good morning, friends. Peace be with you.
Mark is my favorite gospel. It is so for many reasons, not the least of which are how Spartan and unsparing it is, and how it makes such great demands of the reader.
It is Spartan in that it contains no narrative fluff. There’s a thought about Mark’s Gospel…that it was written for the Christian community in Rome; Rome, the big city filled with busy and important people; and so, Mark is like the “executive summary” of the Gospel witness.
Mark’s gospel is lean. Mark has a truth to tell…that the way of Christ, and the way of the Christ-follower, is the way of the Cross. His story relentlessly reveals this truth, and it is a truth too important to muddy with narrative eddies or cul-de-sacs. Pay close attention reading Mark; little is wasted.
It is unsparing in that Mark is like a friend who, in love, speaks truth into our lives; one who sees the “more” in us…one who believes God has given us what is necessary to rise to the occasion of faithfulness and discipleship…and knows that “more” will only come forward when we are challenged.
There’s a story about a wide receiver who was having a hard time catching the football because the quarterback threw the ball so hard. The coach didn’t tell the quarterback to back off. He said, “Throw it harder. He’ll learn.”
Mark throws hard. He is little concerned with our comfort. His language is unpolished and unvarnished. I have a hard time imagining him asking us how we feel about Jesus. He’s more concerned that we live how Jesus calls us to live; if, in fact, we decide to follow him.
I’ve mentioned this before over the last couple weeks, but I’m going to mention it again. It’s worth repeating because it’s the fulcrum of Mark and the Gospel: In the middle of Mark’s telling of the Jesus story, three times Jesus tells his disciples what it means to be the Messiah, and what it means to follow him…if, in fact, we decide to follow him.
Jesus says it looks like suffering, and the Cross, and death…all followed by Resurrection. Resurrection most definitely is. That’s his destiny, and ours. Easter is where we’re going. Our God is always an Easter God; we are always an Easter people; and we are always given an Easter life.
But the way there is through Good Friday.
What we heard this morning, in the passage I read that’s not in your bulletin but precedes today’s word, is the third time Jesus says this.
And each time he says it, they…meaning the disciples…don’t understand him. They just don’t get it. They don’t see.
This time, it’s James and John; two brothers. They seem to have been feisty characters. Jesus gave them the nickname “Boanerges,” meaning “Sons of Thunder.”
Now along the way, Jesus has already said this to them: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35) And “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) And “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Mark 10:31) He’s been pretty clear about what this following Jesus thing looks like.
But they haven’t quite caught the vision…
Jesus finishes his witness to them…about what will happen to the Messiah…and they respond by coming forward to ask him for reserved seats at the head table. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Now I’m convinced…their hearts are in the right place. They aren’t bad guys. They aren’t trying to sabotage the ministry of Jesus. They aren’t sinister.
They’re just human beings. They’re just like us. They stand next to Jesus, just like we do; and still can’t quite translate him to themselves…which shouldn’t surprise us because we stand right next to Jesus and have a hard time translating him to ourselves and our life. They stumble rather than walk, and see dimly rather than clearly. It’s all too big, and too different, and too upside down.
Bless their hearts; and if you speak Southern you know what “Bless their hearts” means. But I say that with affection because I know Jesus is looking at me and saying to the angels “Bless his heart…” because I stumble more than walk; prefer Easter to Good Friday; would really like Jesus to affirm my comfortable life more than challenge it; and sometimes, my faith is as transactional as theirs, and I want to know what’s in it for me.
So again…this time, I’m sure, very slowly, Jesus teaches: You know how it works in the rest of the world. The powerful use their power on their own behalf, and they use it to remain over those who are powerless…or, at least, less powerful. In the world, power is an end in itself, and the powerful use power to keep themselves in power.
That’s the way it is. It’s how the Kingdom of Self governs.
We follow a different code because Jesus follows a different code. Our code as those who have decided to follow Jesus…is that to be first is to be last; to be great is to be a servant; and to be first is to be a slave.
“Love Jesus; Serve Others” is how we say it here.
And if this sermon kind of sounds like the one I gave a few weeks ago, it’s because Jesus says the same things three times. He wants us to get it.
Now there’s a way of understanding this where we imagine Jesus kind of pointing his finger at us and telling us “Y’all better be servants.”
And it might that some people need to hear it that way. Sometimes, the Kingdom of Self sometimes has a mighty grip.
I actually think he says all this gently, and that it’s just one more way he’s trying to save us. It’s another way he points to the path of true life…which isn’t a popular vision of life, but is the only vision of a true, and rich, and priceless life. The path to a life worth living isn’t up. It’s down. Our true selves and most human selves are revealed and discovered not in living for ourselves, but in giving of ourselves.
That’s Jesus’ way. That’s why the Son of Man came. And so, it’s our way…if, in fact, we have decided to follow Jesus.
To go up you got to go down; to be first, you got to go last; to be great, you don’t claim the place at the head of the table next to the guest of honor. You sit and serve where you’re placed. And if you want to discover what it means to be truly human…and if you want to see the face of Jesus…nurture the heart of servanthood.
And it’s crazy. It’s upside down. It’s where the cynical begin to say “That’s not real life!”
We respond “it’s the most real life.” It’s the most real life there is. It’s the only kind of life that’s real.
Don’t you love being a subversive? If the powers of the world knew what we were up to, they’d be trying to shut us down. In some parts of the world, they are…
Thomas Merton once observed how often people may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success, only to find when they get to the top that their ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall.
Jesus wants to protect us from that disappointment. He wants for us the best, most eternal life possible. He doesn’t settle for half-measures. They avail us nothing. At that Cross he gives the whole thing, and he calls us into the self-same life…because that is the life worth living.
So we say around here “Love Jesus, Serve Others…”; Love the Lord our God, and love and serve our neighbor. It’s what I want to do; it’s what we want to do. To the second part of that statement Jesus speaks today. And we have decided to follow him, so that’s the path we walk; and the cup we drink; and the baptism with which we are baptized.
It might mean a seat at the head table. Notice that he doesn’t tell James and John “no.” He just says “That’s not my decision to make.”
But it might not.
But where we sit at the table doesn’t matter. But how we give of ourselves does…
…less, I would suggest, for the sake of the other; more, for the sake of our own souls.