the one where we can be jerks...
October 19, 2015, 12:00 AM

Sermon Text: Mark 10: 35-45

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

Anyone that has children, has had children, or works with children knows that they are some of the most optimistic beings on the face of the planet. Sometimes it is refreshing to hear their shouts of joy and glee in the face of adversity, other times it is downright frustrating. Especially if your child is saying, “Daddy – I think the Rangers are going to win. I know it!” Even though the score is 6-3 with 2 outs in the top of the 9th and the Blue Jays only need one more strike… Which of course, was the case for me this past week.

So, yes – children are incredibly optimistic. My daughters and I’m sure many of the children you see and interact with every day espouse about what they are able to do – which is pretty much anything and everything. Right? Can you run faster than a car! I can do it! Catch every ball thrown to you? Of course, I’m able to do that! Finish this sermon for me? Of course I’m able to do that! In fact, I’m told that this optimistic view on life really doesn’t stop for quite a few years. Kids always seem to know more than their parents and those in authority.

But, I think we as a people can be this way too. There are many times that we can and we are enthusiastic about the things that we are able to do. Even when the odds are long stacked against us, when the outcome is even potentially harmful to us or others, doesn’t matter we’re gonna get it done because we are able!

Sometimes we’re overly optimistic about what we can do because we don’t listen as intently as we should. We see the glory of what could happen or what we want to happen without realizing all the other ‘stuff’ that is needed to achieve that goal or outcome.

Sure, I know I have the ability to run a mile in under four minutes. I got relatively close when I was in high school. The only thing that got in the way was training, and food, and life. If not for those things – you bet I could’ve run under four minutes! Of course, I didn’t listen to my coaches when they said if you want to do this – then you’ll have to experience this and it’s not always going to be fun or easy or triumphant.

I think about all this when we come to this story in our gospel this morning with James and John – the sons of Zebedee. This conversation that they have with Jesus comes right – immediately – after Jesus has foretold of his own death and resurrection. Again, for the third time. Each time Jesus has told his disciples about what is to come, it is usually followed by the disciples not really getting it and jumping to conclusions. In fact, the last time Jesus foretold his death and resurrection, which was only a few chapters ago in Mark’s gospel, the disciples started arguing about who would be the greatest among them.

It’s like they haven’t been listening. It is almost like they are the Lloyd Christmases of the world (from Dumb and Dumber fame) who when heard that there was a 1 out of 100 chance he could end up with the girl, he exclaimed, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!” Overly optimistic. Not listening.

The disciples hear ‘glory,’ ‘rise again,’ ‘messiah.’ They don’t know what it all means, but they want to make sure that they are getting a piece of that action. So, James and John come to Jesus and ask probably the most presumptuous question in all of scripture – We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.

Wow. That takes guts. I don’t think I’ve ever asked that sort of question. To anyone in my life.

You’d think, as the reader, that Jesus’ response would be. “No. I’m not walking into that trap.” But, Jesus doesn’t do that here. His response throws us – it threw me – for a loop. He answers, “What do you want to ask of me?”

Their response is – we want to sit at your right and left hand when you come into your glory. When you reign over the earth as Lord and messiah – we want to be right there – at the front – in full view. We want people to know us and see us sitting next to you and with you at the table in those places and seats of honor. That’s what we want. Nothing more than that.

Jesus’ response – you keep using those words, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.                                 

Of course, when the others hear about this they are pretty upset too. Sure, we’d like to think they are upset because their friends had the gall to ask Jesus such a question – they should know better! But, in actuality, they are upset because James and John asked it first. They want the same thing. They too want that seat of glory. They’re just upset and jealous that they didn’t ask first.

Of course, Jesus lays it down that what they ask for isn’t necessarily what they might want. Reigning and being in glory in the Kingdom of God is not the same as it is in the ‘world.’ That attaining glory in this way doesn’t mean lording it over others. It doesn’t even mean that you’re looked up to by those around you.

Being in God’s glory doesn’t mean that spotlight is placed upon you. You’re not going to be going on The Tonight Show or touring the country receiving so much fame and fortune.

There will be those that want you to think that’s what living a life of glory is like and should be like. But, we know that’s not the case. That isn’t how God operates.

Jesus is even laying it on pretty heavy for the disciples. Acknowledging to them that what they are asking of – and what they eventually will get – is suffering comparable to Jesus. James will be one of the first martyred for his faith. John – scholars believe – dealt with suffering of his own even if it is believed that he lived into old age.

What Jesus is trying to get across to his disciples and get across to us – is that though we might ask of similar questions of Jesus, and when Jesus in turn asks us – “Is this what you want, are you able?” it might involve more than what we’d expect when we answer, “We are able.”

Drinking from the cup that Jesus drinks and being baptized in the same baptism that he is brings us into opportunities to suffer. Maybe not in death or in physical harm as it did for Jesus and his disciples, but it does bring us at odds with those around us. It brings us into to ‘conflict’ with the general consensus of the world. It might mean that it fractures relationships that we have with others because we view issues differently.

So, what might that look like? We begin confirmation this afternoon. Yet, the lives and schedules of our children are more filled than ever before. Sunday is no longer the day of ‘rest’ or worship that it was even when I was in middle school and high school 15-20 years ago. I know of stories where coaches or others in leadership roles in our children’s lives have said – if you’re not here, you won’t play. No excuse is going to be heard. It doesn’t matter where you are – if you’re not here, you won’t be out on the field. I know that happens, I’ve seen it happen.

I remember when I was in high school and I worked at Blockbuster and my boss was floored when I told him I couldn’t work on Sundays. Why? Because I had worship and youth. For me that was more important than telling people where to find such-and-such movie. I took a financial hit at a young age. I was eventually let go because I wasn’t ‘all-in’ to the business of Blockbuster. That is a small form of suffering.

In the midst of the tragedies that our world and country live through – the numerous shootings and acts of violence place people in precarious situations. There is the human reaction of wanting to exact revenge in some way. To ‘get ours’ in some fashion. To draft laws and rulings that give everyone a means to protect themselves.

Then there is the other thought – that goes against the majority – that says more isn’t necessarily better.  This is suffering too – especially since it goes against what many in our families – my family – would say.

We still haven’t even touched on what Jesus actually says in this gospel reading. That being lifted in glory requires us to serve those around us. Being in glory in the world has people look up to you, but in the kingdom of God, people will look down because you’re intentionally placing yourself lower so that others needs might be served. We come to serve – we live to serve – we have faith to serve.

This life of faith calls us to look out for others before we lookout for ourselves. That’s what Jesus asks of us when we optimistically cry out, “We are able!” Just as James and John cried out – yet they still ran when the time came to think of others before themselves.

That’s the tricky part. That’s the part that keeps us from fully living into what God calls of us. And that happens to everyone – even your pastor. We get scared, we get anxious. We get leery of serving others, putting ourselves ‘out there’ that goes against what the world calls for. Mostly because we don’t think anyone is out there serving us as well.

So, we cry out – we are able, yet become shy when the opportunity arises to be able in our faith; in our proclamation of God’s love and kingdom.

The wonder that we receive in this reading this morning – is that Jesus knows this. I’m fully confident that as Jesus hears James and John say, “We are able!” He knows that they’ll fall. Yet, he still has faith in them. Eventually they’ll ‘get it.’ As the rest of the disciples will as well.

Not because they’ll do it on their own, but because the Spirit will be present with them. They won’t be alone. They’ll be fed, they’ll be led. They won’t be alone.

God is with us as well. We will cry out today and many days in the future, “We are able!” When we are called upon by God. Yet we will fall short. We’ll run, we’ll stay quiet, we will remain seated. It’ll happen. It happens to all of us.

Yet, God doesn’t stop working on us. Jesus doesn’t leave us out to dry. The Spirit doesn’t abandon us. We work together. We work with one another.

We serve, and we are raised. We drink from the cup that Jesus drinks. We are baptized into his baptism. We are called and claimed by God. We continue to proclaim that we are able – and with Christ – we are. Amen.

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