Saturday, 20 October 2012

Thoughtless Christian

- Mark 10:35-45
The Request of James and John
35 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.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 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?” 39 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; 40 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.”
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 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. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

If you wanted someone to write your biography you certainly wouldn't ask the author of Marks gospel. Could he present the disciples in any worse light than he does?
It's certainly been something of a comfort to journey with Jesus and the disciples these last few weeks and, in witnessing their blundering and misunderstanding, realise what good company we keep in all our getting it wrong.
Today, we read of James and John asking if they can have places of honour, seated next to Jesus in the new kingdom.
To understand their story better, we might remind ourselves of the framework of Marks gospel.
As Jesus journeys with his disciples he is constantly trying to teach them about the suffering and death that is ahead for him. It seems that as the disciples eyes are opened to the uniqueness of Jesus, as they see more and more the wonders and miracles he performs, as they grow more and more excited about being apprentices of such an amazing, charismatic leader, Jesus redoubles his efforts to reveal to them his identity and purpose. His identity as the Son of God. And his purpose - to save the world by his death.
Yes he is the Messiah but not one that they might recognise.
His version of Messiah leads to suffering and death.
And, so it seems, in Marks gospel, that every miracle is sandwiched between Jesus teaching about his suffering and death.
It is important to him that the disciples begin to understand: This is not all about the highs - there are incredible lows to come.
Then we might feel a wee bit more sympathetic towards the disciples. How difficult it must have been, every time they were blown away by how amazing Jesus is, every time they just wanted to ooh and aha and marvel at his words and actions, Jesus brings them right back down to earth with a thud and starts to prattle on about how he must suffer and die.
No wonder they were confused. Now wonder they got frustrated and tried to argue with Jesus or tried to stop him launching into such dreary talk when they just wanted, for a time to remain on a high. Jesus is determined to haul them back to earth.
Actually, as Scots, that is something with which we should be very understanding, something of which we have lots of experience. It is a part of our psyche that none should get above themselves. As we grow up and even in adulthood, there are always those around us who will bring us back down from whichever cloud we find ourselves on, there will always be someone to ground us and keep our feet on the earth. There will always be someone to remind us that every pleasure must be paid for with pain!
Do you remember that TV advert recently - for yogurt- that showed a woman enjoying every spoonful of yogurt - and for each spoonful of pleasure she enjoyed, there were folk all around her stubbing their toes, tripping up, generally experiencing pain for every moment of her pleasure.
An animated version of Marks gospel might look similar. Every pleasure balanced by pain. Every celebration overshadowed by sorrow. Jesus keeping the disciples grounded.
But Jesus purpose is not to bring them down but to build them up.
Jesus wants to awaken them to the reality to which they are called.
A reality that will involve suffering and death.
A reality that though they haven't yet grasped the meaning of, they will live into in time.
It's hard to tell whether Jesus words to James and John: “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized It's hard to tell whether these words are a threat or a promise. My preference is to think of them as a promise: Jesus knows that these disciples will indeed live into that promise - when the time comes, they will be able to endure suffering, they will die for the sake of the kingdom. Jesus knows that they will "do him proud" when the need arises.
So this mornings gospel contains another attempt by Jesus to ensure that his disciples are as well prepared as they can possibly be.
When the other disciples learned what James and John had asked of Jesus, they were indignant.
I wonder if the reason the other disciples were displeased with James and John was simply because they wished that James and Johns question was one that they had asked.
It's infuriating when others push themselves forward into something we feel we deserve.
Jesus is probably well aware of the outrage of the other disciples when he continues his teaching - because Jesus then goes on to teach about how different his disciples must be.
Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
In our Christian walk today, in this part of the world, we may not encounter the kinds of trial that awaited the first disciples but we are still called to practice a life of service.
Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
Servanthood is a difficult path to walk. One that demands a lot of practise.
There is a Native American story about a young brave who goes to an elder and says, "I'm in turmoil. My heart is filled with good and with bad."
The elder tells him , "Two dogs live within the heart. One is good and the other is evil."
"How do I know which one will win?" asks the young man. "The one you feed will win," replies the older, wiser man.
"The one you feed will win,"
So it is with being a servant.
If we feed our servant nature, it will grow strong and overcome the desires that would make us want to be first in everything.
It is not wrong to have ambition.
It is not wrong to want the best.
Modelling servanthood does not preclude achievement.
In fact being a servant can actually be quite powerful. ( And I'm not talking about the cult that is Downton Abbey!)
For us to have an impact on this community that we serve calls for us not to ask: "whats in it for us?"
For us to have an impact on this community that we serve calls for us to be servants.
Calls for us to discover the needs of our community and do what we can to meet those needs.
Serving our community in small things and in large, all of which make an impact.
Perversely, that will get us noticed.
We will become known as people who are willing to serve, willing to be there for others, willing to give of ourselves to make a difference.
Feeding our servant nature until it becomes all that we can do - serving others.
Until we do it without thinking.

That's what Jesus demands.
Not the conscious "always putting yourself last",
Not the big effort
Not even the martyrdom.
But the thoughtlessness
that comes as second nature.
Just like Jesus.
Serving because that's just what we do
Always putting others first
because that's just the way we are,
and in all this
making a huge impact,
without even knowing
because the nature of Christ
lives deep within us.
Thoughtless Christians
That's what the world needs more of.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Sharon said...

I can just hear you preaching this, Liz! I love the "do it without thinking" at the end, especially, and the yogurt commercial illustration, too.

Thank you, my friend!

liz said...

Thanks, girlfriend. I appreciate your encouragement. I love it when you host the preacher party. :)

Terri said...

The yogurt commercial reference is thought provoking and a good illustration for your sermon.