Sermon for October 17
Let the words my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen
How many of you have had a chance to read the “Quote of the Week”? it was by Mark Twain who, upon maturing as a man, looked back at his relationship with his father. “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
There’s a lot of truth in that quote. It’s not that the old man had learned much; it was how much Mark Twain learned, especially how much he learned about his father.
The disciples had been with Jesus at least two years, maybe three. They were on their way to Jerusalem from Galilee. Jesus had just told them how hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. John Mark tells us that they were amazed and some even afraid. Jesus pulled the twelve aside. He told them his final mission. His final mission was to go to Jerusalem, be handed over the chief priests and the scribes, “the Jews”, as John the gospel writer calls them, They will condemn him to death. But they couldn’t carry out the death sentence in this situation. So they turned him over the Romans, Gentiles, for the death sentence. He would be mocked, flogged and ultimately put to death by crucifixion. So, both the Jews and Gentiles had a part in his death—one cannot blame the other. He paid the ransom for all! He then told them he would rise again after three days.
But then James and John come to him. They had a request. They wanted to know that when Jesus came into his glory, if one could sit at his right and the other at his left. One would be head of the Senate, the other head of the House.
Hadn’t they been listening to him over the past years? What part of “you must become servant of all’ didn’t they understand? Had he said anything about power and ruling over others?
We wonder what they were thinking. Peter had identified Jesus as the Messiah and he didn’t deny it. Could it be that after all his teachings, they didn’t comprehend what Jesus was saying? Didn’t they hear, three times now, that he would be killed? How could they not have some inkling that they were dealing with someone sent from God? Someone more than a mere human?
These men couldn’t have been that dimwitted. They were successful fisherman—they had a business; one was a tax collector. We take a look at them and wonder when will they learn, or did they want to learn? Mark Twain’s father probably wondered that about his son.
But if we stop for a moment, don’t we ask of Jesus the same question? “What do you want me to do for you?” And how we answer to that question shows our true motives. Do we seek our own glory or the glory of God? Do we ask for faith or fame? Do we want to follow Jesus to the cross, or do we want to sit with him in glory? Are we as dim-witted as the disciples? Jesus has told them time and again that there would be suffering and death. They had to have had selective hearing. They figured this procession to Jerusalem would be one of grandeur and that he would inherit his messianic kingdom there.
So Jesus ask them: “You don’t know what you’re asking; can you drink the cup I am to drink? Or be baptized with the baptism I will be baptized with?” “We can.” was the reply. “Yes, you will.” replied Jesus. And they didn’t know it at the time, but they would. But to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.”
The other ten heard this going on and got mad. Jesus reminded them of how it was out in the world. The so-called great ones lord over the lesser ones. But not here, not with Jesus. If you want to be great you must be a servant to all those around you. You must be a slave of all. I didn’t come to be served. I came to serve. I come to give my life for many.
It won’t be long now until the group reaches Jerusalem and things will become clearer for them. God will call them in no uncertain terms to become the type of servant Jesus is talking about.
But we are all a little like James and John. We are in our own little world and we protect it, not wanting anyone to get in. We feel comfortable there. We are the king or queen of our little world. We don’t won’t anyone coming in or us going out. And so the question becomes: “Are we being obedient to our call to take up our cross and follow?”
I read a story not to long ago about Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN. It was for a long time the home of the Grand Ole Opry. It was originally a church and that’s where it got its pews for seating. It was actually built for an evangelist named Sam Jones. The story is that Jones was holding what holiness folks called a “quitting meeting”. It was during this meeting that the people would confess their sins and swear off drinking and smoking and cussing and running around with people they weren’t married to and all kinds of behavior like that. The meeting had reached an emotional high point when Jones called on an ultra-righteous woman in the congregation and asked her what she was going to quit. She replied, “I ain’t been doing nothing, and I’m going to quit that too.”
God calls us to “quit doing nothing.” God calls us to stop seeking greatness and to start seeking to serve. We are called to give ourselves to others as Jesus gave himself for us. We are called to care for the hurts and pains of others as Jesus cared for us. We are called to live lives of obedience to his calling, to take up a cross and follow him. We are called with hope in our hearts. We are called to acts of love from our hands. We are called to announce the words of grace and love from our lips. We are indeed are called to serve. So we are servants!
Amen and amen.