As we come together today we are beginning a short, but VERY important series that will hopefully shape the direction of our church for the future.
We are facing a critical juncture in our church and denomination. This is true on many levels, from the local church to the global church. The church is under attack from many directions. Many times it appears to those on the outside looking in that we are more about squabbling amongst ourselves, rather than sharing the love of Christ and that is a true shame.
I have mentioned before that more and more people are becoming more apathetic about what it means to be a faithful Christian. They don’t really have anything against Christianity, but they have never taken the time to think much about it, let alone consider whether or not it is relevant to their life.
I hope and pray that we truly can be the Body of Christ in this world, reaching out and transforming lives. But for this to happen it will require doing more than talking and waiting for others to do something. It will take a commitment to prayer and a call to action.
For the next three weeks we will be looking at what it takes to be the church. Today as we look at our scripture reading, we will begin to explore what it means to be a committed Christian.
Next week we will be taking a more specific look at the ministries of the church on a local and global level. Part of that discussion will include the finances of the church. The following Sunday is All Saints Day, and we will continue our discussion by celebrating those that have gone before us and provided a foundation for our faith as we look to the future of ministry in our church.
So let’s take a look at what is happening in our scripture reading for today. I guess the alternative title for today’s message could have been: James and John call shot gun, as they try to jockey for position to try and gain favor with Jesus.
As a little bit of background and context for this passage, Jesus has been trying to tell the disciples about his impending death, but they just don’t get it.
For the last coupe chapters of Mark leading up to this one, there is a common pattern that takes place: Jesus talks about his death, the disciples prove they just don’t get it, and Jesus responds to them.
In chapter 8 Peter tells Jesus he is the Messiah, Jesus tells them that that the Son of Man must be rejected and killed, but on the third day he will rise again. Then he turns and looks right at the disciples and turns directly to Peter and tells him: “Get behind me Satan. You are not worried about things from God, you are only worried about earthly stuff.” Probably not what Peter thought he would hear, but it does show that Jesus knows they just don’t get it.
In Chapter 9 Jesus and the disciples are coming down from the mountain after the transfiguration; when Jesus, Moses and Elijah were together on the mountain top. He tells them once again that he is going to be killed, but three days later will return. The disciples don’t say much because they had just been arguing amongst themselves about which one of them is the greatest. Once again they just don’t get it and Jesus tells them the first will be last and the last will be first.
That brings us to today’s lesson, where James and John end up going to Jesus with probably one of the more absurd questions he’s ever heard.
They have the audacity to approach Jesus and ask him to do whatever they want him to do. At this point I picture Jesus doing a face plant right into the palm of his hand. But Jesus is more gracious than I am; he takes a deep breath and asks them: What is it you want me to do for you?
James and John seem to have forgotten their role as a disciple and that they are there to learn from Jesus rather than make demands on him. But they go right ahead and say hey Jesus can on of us sit on your right and the other on the left? (shotgun)! Wow! That is a head scratcher.
Jesus’ response is epic. He tells them upfront that they don’t have a clue about what they are asking. However, he is more than willing to keep going if they really think they are up for it.
They still seem to be all in, so Jesus asks them, are you willing to drink from the cup I drink, or be baptized with the same baptism with which I am baptized?
I doubt James and John thought twice about what they said next: Heck yah Jesus, count on us. They are still of the mindset that Jesus is about to set up an earthly kingdom and they want in. Sipping the on the cup with Jesus must mean they are enjoying the good life and the baptism thing if that means we are with him, no problem. We are all in.
What they don’t realize is that what Jesus is really asking. What he really wants to know is if they are willing to follow him through all the trials he will soon be facing.
When Jesus speaks of his baptism, what he is reminding us of is the reality that following him requires a commitment.
Following Jesus means death to sin, renunciation of evil, and even being willing to embrace of our own death if required. We’re all in or we’re not. It’s not about God’s “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”
At the Eucharist, when we take the cup, we remember Christ’s suffering and pray, “That we may be for the world Christ’s body redeemed by his blood.” That means, at least, that we are willing to enter the world’s sufferings as he did and take them upon us. Christ’s victory and our victory, comes to us through God’s gift of resurrection, which comes after death. It is not the result of our earthly desire to live a life of victory (like James and John were seeking).
So Jesus tells them point blank, OK – the cup and the baptism, those are things you will be able to experience; but the seats at the left hand and the right, those are not mine to give, not here and not now.
The other disciples hear what’s happening and start to pile on. They start in with the: Did hear… and continue with something along the lines of …sure am glad we are better than that! If you think about it we are probably not much different when we watch someone messing up big time.
Jesus calls them on it too as he tells them: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
That reply must have humbled the disciples big time, just as it should each one of us.
Over the next few weeks, I would like each of us to take the time each day to think about the faith journey we are on. What are our motives? Are we in some way acting prideful like James and John? Are we pointing fingers at someone else’s troubles and piling on?
Or, are we truly willing to serve others as Jesus did, regardless of the consequences?
If our church is truly going to succeed and meet the many challenges we face, it will take each one of us working together to do the will of the Lord.
Jesus is asking each one of us the same question he asked James and John: What do you want me to do?
Will our response be a series of checklists of things that we think we need for a better life? Or, are we willing to submit our lives to Jesus and simply say, Lord I want you to take control of my life and show me how I can best serve you.
As we prepare to sing our closing hymn, I would like to leave you with a couple of couple of things for you to think about.
First of all if you have questions about what it means to make a commitment to Christ, please feel free to talk with me or someone in the church. If you are willing to make a commitment and would like to be baptized or know more about what it means to join the church, let’s talk! If there is an area you would like to serve in the church, please be in prayerful consideration and let me know.
Finally, I would ask you to take a look around. There is plenty of pew space available! Think for a minute about who is missing. Is there someone you can call or ask if they might want to come to church the next couple of Sundays. Let’s see what we can do (with God’s help) to make All Saints Day a true celebration of what Christ has done and will continue to do in and through our church.