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.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him,“Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 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?” 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; 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.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 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. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” ****************************************************************************************** The folloring sermon was given on Kick Off Sunday; the day all of our fall education programs begin at FBCM.
Another story about the least and the greatest! A few weeks ago when we saw the disciples arguing about basically the same thing, Jesus picked up a small child and put her in the center of the room and said, "Unless you become like one of these you shall not see the Kingdom of God"
We also spoke that week of something called mimetic desire-which means (in part) that we learn what we want, what we desire, from other people- and that our actions are based (in part), on our desires. We have people we idolize- those we look up to- and quite often we find ways to act like ("mime") the people we idolize. Grade school boys playing football envision themselves as their favorite quarterback (I was going to say Eli Manning, but I stopped myself as I'm in Eagles territory...) Coaches study plays of the pros and try to teach them to the teams... Mom and dad watching from the bleachers also have dreams of greatness for little Tommy...they've had him watching the Eagles since he could sit up- Those of us with players names on the backs of our shirts today- we are all part of it.
And please hear me, I'm not knocking it- I'm simply pointing out that generally, this is part of how we learn. I'm using football as an example because it's our theme today, but it happens in all areas of our lives. What child of the 60's didn't want to be Neil Armstrong? What person seeking to do humanitarian work, doesn't look to Dorothy Day or Mother Teresa? Those wanting to be great in business? (examples) How about Music? (examples) People working toward peacemaking and justice seek to exemplify Dr. Martin Luther King and Ghandi.
We all do it- it's part of the way we grow into the people we would like to be. And once we see someone we want to emulate- someone we want to model ourselves after, the game begins. We go after what we desire.. and we'll do almost anything to get what we want. What's more, we like to play. We play hard, and we play to win!
The disciples were learning the very same way we do; they were also were playing to win. They had left their homes and their old way of life to follow Jesus- what they saw in him was someone they wanted to be like, and learn from. They sensed he was destined for greatness- they saw him perform miracles-they watched him mesmerize thousands at a time- winning over even the toughest converts. This guy had it all; he was a people's man!
And now, after traveling around with Jesus for almost three years, he starts talking about going to Jerusalem. To the disciples, this made perfect sense. They figured after working the circuit and gathering his following- Jesus was going to take his rightful place as King. In the disciples mind, he was going to Washington DC!
Now granted, mixed in with the message about heading for Jerusalem was also Jesus incessant talking about being arrested and beaten and killed-and in three days raised up. But however they may have been thinking about that- they were sure of one thing- that Jesus was going to be in power- he was going to be the one in charge, and soon! So naturally, those closest to him were discussing amongst themselves who would be chief of staff and who would be secretary of state! And since Jesus had two hands- one right and one left- there was room for two people closest to him-who better to fill those positions of power than two brothers- James and John. Jesus had even nicknamed them Sons of Thunder! That had to be for a reason! So as soon as they have it sewn up in their own minds, they ask Jesus “Let us be your top two guys when you get in power."
Now truly, church is the only place that we think of the disciples as being "wrong" somehow in this. In the rest of the world, and in any other setting, we would say that the disciples were being assertive- we would call it 'going after what you want' and doing it boldly. Playing to win! We teach our children to do it- We want them to be in positions of power where they can make a difference and live out their leadership potential and use their gifts (and aren't all of our children gifted?) But in the church when we read this passage we say, "Bad disciples! Power seeking, power hungry, blank bank blanks...Take the least powerful position! That's what Jesus says!"
Yet, if you notice, Jesus doesn't scold them for their request. Instead he says to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, (garden/crucifixion ref.) or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” In other words- 'do you have the same calling as I do- and do you realize it leads to the cross?'
And they answer him, “Absolutely!" Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink (and with modern eyes reading this we can see that in statement Jesus is predicting their deaths as well... they will also 'take one for the team', to use a bad metaphor, and end up martyrs for what they believed. I'm not sure they understood that- I'm not sure any of us, if we are honest, really think through what following Christ really means and where it will lead us in the end. )
Now, you know Jesus can never really have a private conversation... and when the other disciples hear what's going on, they get angry with James and John. (Probably because they didn't think of it first- after all they had all been discussing this very subject since they were back on the road at Capernum!)
So now Jesus has to address the group. Simply put, Jesus is saying, "You know the way the world works? With people all pushing to be powerful so they can direct and tell others what to do? And you know how it's acceptable for the world to use violence to get what it wants?" And of course the disciples did know- they had seen one of the greatest oppressors of all time, Rome, in action since they were born. They had lived under tyrannical rulers and felt the violent abuses of power. And Jesus says to them "This violent way of getting things done isn't the way it's going to be for me; and it's not the way its going to be for you."|
And this is the place that I'm supposed to tell you that to be a servant is the way you become great; but frankly I have never understood that. When I think of that message I get a picture of Jesus washing the disciples feet, or Mother Teresa putting bandages on the poor. And when I try to translate it to my own life it looks a lot like, me in the kitchen cooking chili for everyone while they watch the game... not exactly what Jesus intended I'm sure...
But Jesus continues- "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
I believe that what Jesus is saying is that when we look at the way the world works- the things the world desires, power taken by force and violence- which is by the way, pretty much the only way the world gives power... (it's how we justify wars- people won't give us what we need or what we want voluntarily so we go to war- we call the victims necessary losses- casualties-it's part of it.) We practice for it with sharp competitiveness in schools, careers, politics, economics. We even use military terminology for sports to help us desensitize- when Mommy sends little Tommy out to the football field she doesn't say- "Now, try to love everyone... be a servant." She slaps him on the back and says, "kill em!" Again, I'm not downing sports- I'm trying to point out how we have become so accustomed to this kind of thing that we don't think twice about it- we have so bought in to the power by force idea that we no longer notice its harm on us.
And folks, it is so ingrained in us that it even poisons the church. Historically, we don't need to look very far for examples of how the "church" has shown violence in the name of God..."Holy wars," "good" or "sacred violence." We use good violence to get rid of bad violence. "Necessary sacrifice" we call it, to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet this is exactly what Jesus was speaking against. It's what he went to the cross to exemplify for us. "The world would rid themselves of Jesus by violence- and although he had the power to fight back or retaliate, he didn't. He refused to use "good" violence to drive out the bad, or even to protect himself." (Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred,)
It's called non-violent non-compliance. We see it in the examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others who had the power to use "good violence" but who stood and spoke against it. Those who saw problems in the system, who bucked the parts of the system they saw as unjust, but who continually spoke against using violence to get what they wanted- no "sacred" wars.
Jesus calls us, in the way we follow him, in the way we seek to emulate him, (here is that mimetic desire part we talked about before) in the way we seek to be like him, to stand with him in that same non-violent way.
"If all of us had lived like that he would not have died, but he was left alone at the critical moment, when instead of standing with him all turned against him. At that moment, the violence of our disobedience (of us not standing with him in non violent non compliance... that violence) fell on him; our cowardice and our fear of being hurt ourselves broke out against him." (Imagine) If we had joined in a covenant not to inflict violence on the other and to bear the violence inflicted on us without retaliation. (Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred) How different would that scene have looked if the crowd had stood with Jesus in solidarity?
Yet we didn't- so Jesus showed us by himself- he gave his life without return of violence in order to model for us, to show us how to break the cycle of violence and oppression. In short, he gave us the keys to the chains that hold us in captivity to the powers of injustice and oppression! Oh that we could learn to do the same!
Obviously, this is no easy task- learning to follow Jesus in a way that is so counter to the way of the world. And although at game time, we all say, yes, I'm in! I want to play! We play hard- and we play to win! So perhaps we need to rethink what winning looks like. And where we begin to talk about that is right here in the local church. Optimumly, this place is a place of learning- of encouraging and of equipping. Where we seek to not only define who we are and what it means to be a follower of Christ, but how we follow Christ as a body- as a community! And we need to be able to model that for our children and for the world, as Christ modeled it for humanity.
But this is where it starts... on this "field." And we can play hard, and we can play to win, but we also play together.