22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Gospel and Sermon for October 21, 2018

The holy Gospel according to Mark, the 10th chapter.  

Glory to you, O Lord.

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.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

It was the third time Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen to him.  He says that he will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes.  He will be mocked, flogged, and killed.  On the third day he will rise again. 

James and John, along with Peter, have been closer to Jesus than any of the disciples.  But they still don’t get what he is teaching them.  

The first time Jesus tells the disciples what is going to happen is right after Peter has declared that Jesus is the Messiah.  Then Jesus started talking about suffering and death and Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him.  Peter, the first to declare that Jesus is the Messiah, didn’t really understand what he was saying.

The next time Jesus talked about his upcoming suffering and death, the disciples were afraid to say anything.  Nobody asked him about it. They were scared to ask the teacher a question.

The third time Jesus talked about his death and resurrection, James and John, sons of Zebedee, are the ones to come forward.  They haven’t gotten the message any better than Peter did, but they have a different approach.

They know Jesus is the Messiah, but they still see the Messiah as an earthly king.   They want to be sitting in the best seats right next to him at the royal banquet.  They are bold enough to ask Jesus about it, too.  

The other disciples are not very happy with the brothers’ request.  It isn’t that the others understand Jesus anymore than James and John.  They just wish they had thought of it first.

Before we get started feeling all superior to the dumb disciples who don’t understand Jesus’ teaching, we need to remember something about ourselves.  Don’t we sometimes do the same thing James and John did?

If we are honest with ourselves, I bet we can all remember a time when we have asked Jesus for the best seats.  Maybe we have asked for a promotion at work.  Maybe we have asked for the best grade on the test, or to win the purple ribbon at the state fair.  

Maybe we have even mentioned to Jesus that we sure hope that our team wins the big game this week so that we can have bragging rights? Or maybe we haven’t asked to be number one.  Maybe we have just asked to be ahead of our rivals, whoever they might be.  

Whatever it is we have wanted, we have probably been just like the Zebedee brothers and told Jesus to say yes before we even asked for what we wanted.

Jesus uses their request as a teaching opportunity on leadership.  He reminds all the disciples that the Gentile rulers are tyrants and lord their power over everyone else.  He tells them that things will be different in his reign.  

Everywhere that Jesus reigns, the greatest will be the servants.  Jesus will set the example for all of us.  We are all called to be servants for each other. 

What does it look like when we are servants?  When I first think about servants, my mind goes initially to two British television shows, Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey.  They both tell the stories of two groups of people. The rich people own the huge mansions and live upstairs. 

The servants work downstairs.  The servants do everything for the upstairs family.  The rich people wouldn’t know how to prepare a meal or even dress themselves without the servants’ help.  

This model of servanthood is not what Jesus is talking about, though.  This model is like the model that the Gentiles have. Jesus is describing a very different kind of world where everyone is a servant.  In the reign of God, all leaders are servants and all servants are leaders.

Robert Greenleaf wrote extensively about servant leadership.  He said that if you are a servant first, then a leader, you will look to the needs of the people and ask how you can help them solve problems.  You will be very different from someone who just wants to be a leader. That person just wants power and possessions.

Jesus listens to our concerns, no matter how big or small they are. When we are servant leaders we listen to others.  We learn of their concerns.  We hear their ideas.  We hear their stories.  We give them our time and our patience.  We recognize them as children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ.

We don’t just tell other people what to do and walk away. We help them figure out what would work best to solve their problems.  And we help them implement the plan.  Jesus does not just tell us what to do and walk away.  He promised to be with us always.  He walks with us and helps us when we ask. 

When we are servant leaders we care about others. We show respect for them in the way we talk and act.  Jesus did not distinguish between the rich and poor.  He showed respect for everyone he met. 

Jesus healed people everywhere he went.  We might not have the power to say a prayer and cure a disease like he did.   But we do have the power to pray for others.  When we are servant leaders, we are healers. We can work to heal broken relationships.  We can use kind words.  We can show forgiveness.  We can encourage others to forgive also.  

Jesus talked about what was going to happen to him when he reached Jerusalem.  He tried to prepare his disciples for the future.  When we are servant leaders, we are forward-looking.  We have long term goals and we stay focused on the way things can be.  We hold to the vision of a different way of living.  We hold to the vision of life in a world where Jesus reigns.

We know that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God.  God trusts us to use our lives wisely.  God trusts us to use the earth wisely.  God trusts us to be wise in our relationships with each other.  

When we are servant leaders, we are good stewards.  Stewardship has always been a part of the servant’s job.  The servant knows that everything belongs to the Master.  Nothing really belongs to the servant.

Jesus tells us that things will be different in the world where he reigns. Like James and John, and all the disciples, we are called to be servants to one another.  

We know Jesus’ words to the disciples are true.  Christ has died.  Christ has risen.  He reigns at the right hand of God.  We pray that the reign of God will come also to us.