Pentecost 21 B 2021 Greatness Sermon
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
What does success look like to you? Is it winning the championship and beating all the other teams in your sports league? Is it checking off every item on your to-do-list? Is it getting that new job or promotion that you were hoping for? Is it having enough money to buy that big house, or big boat, or that big brand-new car or truck?
I think you would agree with me that success may look very different for each one of us – at least as different as what success looked like to Jesus and to His twelve disciples.
Now, before I go any further, I must point out that the church has historically painted a good picture of the twelve disciples, except for maybe Judas who stole money from the mission fund and betrayed Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane for 30 lousy pieces of silver. To this day I have not heard one Lutheran Church named after Judas.
But the other eleven disciples are looked upon very favorably. And we do have Lutheran congregations named after them. And throughout the generations, people have referred to the first disciples as the rocks upon which Christ has built His church.
Even so, as we read today’s Gospel, we get a very different picture of who these men were, and what they wanted, and how they envisioned success.
Now, we know that these men had spent a great deal of time with Jesus, and that they had listened to Jesus teach, and they had witnessed Jesus reach out to people with amazing signs and wonders in their midst. But as the record goes as presented to us in the Gospel of Mark, these twelve men never did fully understand the Good News Jesus was trying to teach them.
Instead, the Good News seems to have gone in one ear and out the other as dreams of glory and honor filled their minds as they literally climbed over one another in their quest for success. We see this today in our Gospel reading when James and John sneak up to Jesus while the other disciples were not looking to make their bold request.
“Teacher,” they whispered to Jesus, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
What were they thinking? As I read the Gospel, James and John had no right to ask for a blank check from Jesus any more than you or I do today. For you see, when true faith is present, obedience follows. But when doubt abounds and we start to dream of personal glory, we are demonstrating that we do not trust our Lord and Savior which eventually leads us to actively test God.
We forget that Jesus responded to Satan’s quest for glory with these words: “It is written, you shall not tempt the Lord your God.” And that Jesus had responded to Peter earlier in Mark’s Gospel stating: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Mark 8:33
Even so, today in our text Jesus, in His eternal patience, does not chastise them. Instead, Jesus asks them “What do you want?” They reply, “On the day when you enter your glory, when you ascend to the throne as Kings of Kings and Lord of Lords, we want to sit at your right and your left.” In other words, what they want is their vison of glory to be fulfilled.
James and John wanted all the glory. James and John wanted the prime seats, the place of honor and prestige, as if they and they alone were and are the true followers of God and top dogs among the twelve.
And how do the other disciples react when they hear that James and John have made such a request? They become angry, not because they thought it was wrong for them to make such a request, but because James and John had asked for fame and glory and honor before they could make a similar request.
The Zebedee brothers had beaten them to the punch and had asked Jesus to grant them the one thing that was on all their minds.
And the strange thing is, the exact same request is on all our minds too. Every single one of us wants something from Jesus. On this side of Christ’s return, what the brother’s asked is not odd at all. We live in a world that encourages us to take the initiative, to climb the ladder, and push to the front of the line.
“Blessed are the aggressive,” our culture states, “for they will get what they want.” If that means pulling the boss aside and making a private pitch, then that is what must be done. For we seek privilege and protected status. These are measures of success in our world today.
“Teacher, give us what we want – and give it to us now.” That is the mantra that we live by. And today, Jesus, in His eternal patience, replies “You do not know what you are asking.”
Why??? Because walking with Jesus means walking to Jerusalem. And the journey to Jerusalem will be uphill all the way. The road is hard and dangerous and full of painful twists and turns. There is suffering, humiliation, and death. And there will be no earthly glory.
And so, the same question that Jesus asked the Zebedee brothers Jesus asks of us. Jesus asks “Are you able to drink this cup? And are you able to bear this kind of baptism?”
James and John answered Yes. They did not understand yet that Jesus did not come into this world to sit on a throne with two disciples at His side.
Instead, He came to give of His life to pay off our ransom to the powers and principalities, and to set people free from all that can damage and destroy us.
As followers of Jesus Christ, our success can no longer be measured by what we can accumulate or who we can step over or what accolades we can gather along the way. If we want to be successful as a community of faith and as individuals, we can not live for ourselves anymore.
Instead, we must rethink what it means to be followers of Jesus as we give our lives in service to others. And this will not be easy. We live in a culture that measures success by what we can acquire and achieve.
But today Jesus still asks “Are you able to drink my cup? Are you able to share my baptism? Are you able to walk with me, giving yourself to others in a life of service?
And if we dare say “Yes,” we must remember that the road of discipleship is uphill all the way, and it leads to the foot of the cross.
My friends… Jesus does not promise a rose garden. Jesus does not give out trophies, or ribbons, or medals. For success is not found in prestige and power and all the things of this world, but in following the lead of Jesus as we journey through a life of faith and service.
May we all gladly join this procession to the cross and as we do, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds on Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations. Preserve the works of your mercy, that your church throughout the world may walk in faith towards the glory of the cross as we live out our lives in service to others. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.