Not What We Signed Up For

This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday service on October 21, 2018. Year B, Proper 22, Mark 10:35-45.

James and his brother John, some of the first disciples Jesus called, came to their teacher and said: “Teacher, we want you to do something for us.”[i]

Jesus, knowing better than to blindly agree with a precocious disciple, says: “What is it you want me to do for you?”[ii]

“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”[iii]

Glory.

That’s what this ministry is all about, after all. This obscure teacher who’d roamed the countryside, collecting a following; calling out religious hypocrites and corrupt authorities; performing amazing miracles, demonstrating his power.

The past few Sundays our Gospel readings have shown Jesus on the road to Jerusalem the Holy City, the epicentre of the Jewish world. Those who walked with him were likely expecting a triumphant entrance. They put their hope in him, that he would bring about a new age for Israel.

And, there would be glory.

When Jesus cryptically replies: “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?”[iv]…the brothers are confused. They’ve shared meals with Jesus, drunk the same wine; they know he was baptized by John in the Jordan, as many people from the countryside were[v]—maybe even these brothers.

So they reply, “We are able.”[vi]

It seems they thought they knew exactly what was to come; exactly what they were getting themselves into. We, however, have the luxury of knowing the ending.

Not often enough, we share the story of a man, a labourer turned teacher, who was seen as enough of a threat by the authorities that he was publically executed. A good man, who had committed no crimes, was killed on a cross, hanging next to criminals—one on his right, and one on his left.

Though the disciples don’t seem to notice, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus spends an awful lot of time trying to tell them what his glory will look like. And, it is not pretty.

Right before the verses we read today, as the teacher and his followers walked towards Jerusalem, Jesus shares how the Son of Man would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, be condemned to death; and killed.[vii]

The life, that Jesus offers to his followers, is a good one but it… is… hard. And, though his followers answered the call, it’s obvious at this point in the story, that’s not what they signed up for.

In the following part of the story, the other ten hear what the brothers have asked and become agitated.[viii]

When I was a child my dad used to tuck me in at night. This was a special one-on-one time just for me and him, to connect.

One night, and I remember it so clearly tucked under the covers looking up at my dad, I asked him:

“Daddy do you love me more than mom?”

He paused. And said, “Well, I love in different ways.”

 I think I scowled because I didn’t like that at all. I wanted to be loved the most, and I didn’t want to share that love—even with my mom.

Later on in life I was very happy my parents loved one another, but it took a little perspective to get there…

Is it our human nature, that we want to have more than everyone else? Or, do we live in a world that tells us there is so little that we have to hoard—even love?

These two brothers, come to their teacher and ask for more than their friends, their travelling companions, and fellow students. It is a competition. Only a few can come out on top.

But, don’t these men ever listen? Haven’t they heard Jesus’ chorus of “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”?[ix]His teachings are littered with it!

The kinship, that Jesus calls us to turns competition and success on its head. Glory doesn’t look like empire… Leadership is servanthood… The Gospel is about self-sacrifice.

That is at the heart of the cross, for me. Jesus resists the urge to align himself with power and empire; and instead commits himself, even unto death, to faithfulness and justice.

What a cup to drink, and a baptism to be baptized with!

Whenever I feel like the Christian life has become a passive thing, about being nice and singing hymns—the Gospel is here to shake me awake, and remind me that the Kinship of God has a very different perspective.

It is only with God’s help, that we may begin to be transformed by this call to live so differently in a world that tells us to be afraid, to be tight-fisted, to be suspicious. What Good News it is, that there is another way to live.

Amen.

 

ENDNOTES

[i]Mark 10:35 NRSV

[ii]Mark 10:36 NRSV

[iii]Mark 10:37 NRSV

[iv]Mark 10:38 NRSV

[v]Mark 1:5

[vi]Mark 10:39 NRSV

[vii]Mark 10:33-34 NRSV

[viii]Mark 10:41

[ix]Mark 9:35 NRSV

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