Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Really?": a sermon on Mark 10:32-45


Mark 10:32-45

Jesus and the disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again."

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."

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If there were a subtitle for the gospel of Mark, it would probably be:  “Really?”

See, last week we heard the story of the rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.  And Jesus ends up telling him:  Sell everything.  Give the money to the poor.  Then come and follow me.  And the rich man goes away, and Jesus turns to the disciples and says:  “How hard it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”  And the disciples say, “Really?”

And three weeks ago we heard the story of how the disciples find out there is someone else out there, who is casting out demons from people in the name of Jesus.  But he’s not with the disciples, so they tell this crazy renegade to stop.  Then they run to tell Jesus, like kids on the playground -- Teacher, Teacher, he was casting out demons in your name, but he wasn’t with us!  And Jesus says that whoever is not against us is for us-- and you should be a lot more worried about yourselves than about the actions of others.  And the disciples say, “Really?”

See, each of our four gospels has its own slightly different way of telling the story.  And Mark’s gospel in particular loves stories where the disciples do not come off looking like smart and holy people.  They are a ragtag group of uneducated fishermen and tax collectors and other low-level employees -- a bunch of sinners, really.  And they spend a full year traveling with Jesus, moving from town to town, witnessing healings and miracles, hearing his teachings, listening to him debate with the religious leaders.

And the first time Jesus predicts his death, Peter rebukes him.  Peter, who just verses before said “You are the Messiah,” says “But that can’t mean you’re going to die!  You have it wrong.”  And Jesus says:  whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their live for me and for the good news will save it.  And the disciples say, “Really?”

And the second time Jesus predicts his death, the disciples as a group don’t understand, and they’re afraid to ask -- so they start an argument over who among them is the greatest.  And Jesus looks at them and says: whoever wants to be first must be last.  And the disciples say, “Really?”

And in today’s story, Jesus and his followers are headed for Jerusalem.  Jesus pulls the disciples aside and says, “When we get there, the Son of Man will be tried by the religious leaders, and condemned, and handed over to the Romans, and mocked, and beaten, and crucified.  And in three days he will rise again.”

So then James and John come forward and say, “When you are glorified, give us the best seats, next to you.”

Naturally, right?  That’s the obvious response to someone telling you they’re willingly walking towards their own suffering and death.  To say, “Oh, okay, cool.  But we get your car, right?”

So Jesus says:  “Really?”

Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with my baptism?
Are you able to give up power and glory so that others might have it?
Are you willing to let go of what you’re used to, in order to be something very different?
Are you willing to challenge authority, and to love the least of these?

And in Eugene Peterson’s version of the gospel they say:  “Sure, why not?”

This is the holy gospel of a group of twelve guys who just did not get it.  Thanks be to God.

But really -- thanks be to God.  The thing I love about the disciples is that they don’t get it at about the same level that I don’t.  The thing I love is that after two thousand years of Jesus saying, “The greatest among you must be the least,” I’m still counting up points and wondering which seat I get in heaven.  And I may be wrong, but I have the tiniest little suspicion that I’m not the only one in the whole Christian church who does this.  I think maybe there might be two or three more people out there somewhere who would really like to know who’s ahead in this game.

And sometimes these three or four of us get into power, and we build systems that count points.  We look at our bank statements, at the stock market, at the cars in our driveways.  We get into political office.  We get the better iPhone.  We make art, but only for money and fame.  We give love, but only if we get love back.  And we count up our points and check them against others’.  Sometimes we -- and again, it’s just three or four of us -- come out ahead.  Sometimes we come out in the middle.  Sometimes we come out behind.

And into all this Jesus comes and says, “Whoever wishes to be great must be a servant.”

And the disciples say, “Really?”  And when the soldiers come for Jesus, they all run.

And we say, “Really?”  And we count up our own points.

So I really love that the disciples do not get it.  But even more I love that it’s all still true.

Our inability to understand what Jesus is saying doesn’t make it a lie.  Our inability to grasp the kingdom of God doesn’t make it any less real.  It’s always there.  Always working around us and alongside us.  Always ready for the moment when our point system breaks down-- and God can break in.

Jesus is always true.  Always ready for when we need to be freed.  When our rankings and systems become not a way to glory and power but to death and destruction.  When everything we’ve stored up to prove we’re worthy turns to dust and mold.  When our news is saturated with political polls and snarky commentary, when our media tells us we aren’t nearly beautiful or powerful enough, when even our church communities start to draw lines about who’s in and who’s out-- this is when Jesus says, “But it is not so among you.”

It doesn’t have to be so among us.

The God who came down, who dwelled in a human body, who lived and walked with us-- that is what is so.  God loves us so much that when we could not let go of our own rankings and systems -- then God came into the world and showed us how clearly all that led to death.  That if you hold on to power, if you hold on to glory, if you hold on to your own greatness -- then your life is lost.

That's what we baptize Tucker into, today.  We baptize him into Christ's baptism:  into the Spirit descending like a dove and resting on him.  Into life in community, and service to others.  And we do baptize him into Christ's death-- death to sin, to the forces of evil, to all the powers that draw us from God.

In baptism, we have all died to those.  Their hold on us is drowned in holy water.  Everything that binds us and keeps us from God -- everything that makes us seek power and glory -- every system of point-keeping and one-upping -- it’s all done.

Now, those forces aren't gone.  They still operate in the world.  They'll still show up in our schools, our workplaces, our homes, our friends' homes.  They're still in our lives.  But their power?  Their power is gone.  As a baptized child of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit, you are free.

Free from evaluating.  Free from comparing.  Free from competing.
Free from hiding the broken parts of ourselves.  Free from guilt.  Free from shame.

You are free.  You are really free.

So, now that you are free -- what do you want to do?

You are free to ask for help when you need it.
To offer help, even when you’re not sure if you can.
To pray, even if you don’t think you have the perfect words.
To open the Bible, even if you never have before.
To be honest about your pain.
To ask questions you were told you couldn’t ask.
To stop keeping score.
To love your neighbor simply because they too are a beloved child of God.
To love yourself.

So now that you are free -- what do you want to do?

We’ve left index cards on your chairs.  Find a pen, and write it down.  One thing.  One thing you want to be freed from, or freed to.  Just one thing.  We'll offer you a minute of quiet.  Some of you are out-loud thinkers; you need to process, talk this out with someone.  That's great.  Do that.  Some of you are already reaching for your card, with one idea burning clearly in you already.  That's great.  Write it down.  Write it down, and take it with you.

And be free.  Be really free.

Amen.

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