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Sermon for the Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost

    Oct 21, 2018

    Passage: Mark 10:35-45

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Series: Sermons for Year B (2017-2018)

    Category: Sermons for Year B (2017-2018)

    Detail:

    Sermon for the Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (2018)
    October 21, 2018
    St. Anne’s Episcopal Church (Lackey Chapel at CCU) 


    Job 38:1-7, (34-41)      Hebrews 5:1-10       Mark 10:35-45

    I don’t know if y’all are familiar with the comic strip Frank and Ernest, but it’s one of my favorites, and one of my favorite strips from the collection is just one frame. The setting is a high mountain peak. On the top of the mountain is a holy man, with a long beard and wearing a monk’s outfit. In the bottom of the frame, it shows a man who looks tired and worn out, presumably after having made the climb up to see the holy man. The only lines in the cartoon are spoken by the holy man, who says, “You want me to enlighten you about the futility of materialism and the illusion of the ego, eh? What’s in it for ME!?”  

    In this morning’s Gospel reading, we have James and John asking Jesus for a favor. They want to sit at his right and at his left in glory. I think that when we hear this lesson, we might be hearing it with the assumption that James and John are asking about heavenly glory and that their hope is thoroughly holy and good. Who wouldn’t want to get a seat next to Jesus in the glory of heaven? I know that’s something that I’d sure like! But what James and John were asking about was not as wholesome as we might suppose.     

    We have to remember that what James and John - and the other disciples - expected from Jesus was that Jesus, as the messiah, was supposed to restore the literal kingdom of Israel. He was supposed to usher in a new political regime that would overthrow the Roman military occupation and reestablish the Jewish nation. So in essence, what James and John were doing was asking Jesus to give them the highest roles in the new power structure that they thought he was going to establish. They didn’t want to be left out of the inner ruling circle - they wanted a place at the top. 

    So I guess you might say that James and John were approaching Jesus and saying, “Sure, it’s great that you’re teaching about how the poor and the meek are blessed - but what’s in it for US?!” If you recall from last week, Peter implies  basically the same question when he makes the observation that he and the other disciples have left everything to follow Jesus - the implied question is what are they gonna get out of it? They were stuck on the idea that being followers of Jesus meant that they were going to benefit from it.  

    And I think if we’re honest, we get stuck on that idea too. Some Christians think that by believing in Jesus, you’ll be extra blessed or that being a Christian means that somehow God’s favor is going to shine more brightly on your backyard. It’s a common joke among clergy that pastors always seem to get the best parking places when there don’t seem to be any available. That joke always makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong, though, because I rarely can find good parking! 

    But the idea runs into deeper water - and it touches on that ever-present theme in the gospel: power. I think most of us here - most everyone in the world, in fact - approach Jesus in the same way that James and John did. We want to have power over others. We want to be able to influence others so that we can get our way. And even if our way is altruistic and we want what’s best for everyone, when we are challenged, we’re quick to desire the ability to cast all nay-sayers aside and enforce our will at any cost. And I think that most of us, if given the kind of power we really wish we had, would become tyrants who would lord power over others.   

    But Jesus says this is not the way. 

    The response that Jesus gives to James and John, and to Peter, and to US is that while there is a “reward” for being his disciples, the reward does not come from our asking, “What’s in it for me?” The reward comes from asking, “How can I help others?” “How can I serve?” The reward for being a disciple is not necessarily all that glamorous, and it certainly does not mean that we’re always going to get our way. If anything, Jesus promises his disciples that by following him, they aren’t going to get their way.  

    The cup that Jesus drinks and the baptism with which Jesus is baptized means the suffering and death that Jesus went through as a result of his faithfulness. And if you recall the scene from the garden of Gethsemane, you’ll remember that Jesus asked God to “let this cup pass from me.” So he wasn’t too keen on having to go through what he had to go through. And if we’re faithful disciples, we’re probably going to find ourselves in situations that we might not have chosen for ourselves otherwise. 

    But there’s actually some good news in what Jesus is saying! And the good news, in part, is that we don’t have to play the power game. I’m convinced that if all you care about is power, then no matter what side you’re on, eventually you’re going to wind up on the side of the oppressor. And to my mind, if the gospel is oppressive, then it’s not the gospel. 

    Another part of the good news is that we don’t have to ask “what’s in it for me?” as if being faithful is only about what we get out of it. If that were the case, then we could very easily make stewardship season about how supporting the church will mean you reap benefits from your giving and turn the whole campaign into a ponzi scheme wrapped up in pious talk.  

    Now, to be fair, I do think it’s fine to ask, “What’s in it for me?” on a small scale. If I’m a disciple, I should expect that I can gather with my community in a safe and joyful place that gives me a sense that God is present. If I’m a disciple, I should expect that my fellow disciples will do their best to help spread the good news. If I’m a disciple, I should expect my leaders to do a good job of explaining the scripture and teaching the faith. So yes, there are things that we should “get” out of being followers of Jesus. But none of them involve becoming so important that we lose sight of who we are and what we’re called to do. And we’re called to serve. We’re called to serve each other and we’re called to serve with each other.

    It’s sort of like a marriage.  If any of you who are married ever think that you’re so important that you shouldn’t have to mop the floor or take out the trash because that’s your spouse’s job, then I’d be interested to know how that’s working out for you. Marriage is more about mutual service than it is about “what’s in it for me.”

    So if you find the morning’s Gospel lesson somewhat familiar and you’ve ever been tempted to approach Jesus solely out of a desire to get ahead in life, then first, I want you to know that you’re in good company - some of the great saints of the church did the same! But I also hope you take away the lesson that Jesus teaches those same disciples: greatness in God’s kingdom is measured by how you use your gifts in the service of others.