Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45 “The Cross – Successful Discipleship”
We like success and we like to be associated with successful people! We root for our favorite sports teams, we invest in successful companies, and we support our favorite politicians. For instance, I would love to see my Tennessee Vols win each game they play, but that is just not in the cards, at least for this season. We like winners and the world equates success, relates greatness with those who are “on top.” Paul Waddell recently wrote in Christian Century, “The way of the world equates greatness with being catered to and served, with being singled out and set apart. The successful are those powerful enough to always get their way.” 1 The story in today’s gospel is about folks who wanted their way.
The two disciples who asked Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” What? Had they not been paying attention? Had they not heard Jesus talk about going to Jerusalem to be rejected, beaten, and to die? It seems like for them, Jesus was going to be welcomed as a hero, as a great king, as a repairer of all that is wrong in Israel, and they wanted seats at that throne. They just did not fathom what it meant to “be like Jesus” and yet, they dared to be a disciple.
I had someone ask me a few weeks years ago, “what does it take to follow Jesus in the 21st century?” What an interesting question, I thought. I easily could have suggested several good books for my friend to read. I could have given them a pamphlet about some awe-inspiring saint that they might peruse. I decided instead, to encourage them to go to the source for their answer; Jesus himself. I told my friend that to follow Jesus, we must realize that “in the Christian life, greatness is measured in serving, in expending ourselves in love, sacrifice and generosity to others. Moreover, honor is found not in titles or privilege or celebrity or wealth, but in goodness and humility. In the strange world of the reign of God, power is not a matter of ruling over others but of living on their behalf.” 1 If you are going to follow someone, if you are going to call someone “Lord of my life,” then it helps to know who He is, how he lived, the depth of his love, and how he interacted with his disciples and his opponents. So, let’s take a quick look at the One we call Lord.
Here are some basic facts about Jesus. Jesus was focused on who he was and what his mission was in the world. Except when praying, resting, eating, healing, or teaching, Jesus was always moving towards an objective. He was crystal-clear about his mission and he let nothing (not peer pressure, opponents, or his own personal needs stand in the way). Jesus reordered the power structures of his day by going head-to-head, toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose with the religious and political leaders who kept the people in religious bondage. Jesus loved folks who did not love him back. Jesus gave of himself when others denied him even a place to lay his head. Jesus was kind, compassionate, loving, and self-denying and yet, he was bold, truth-telling, radical, and he held people to account. Jesus endured the abandonment of his friends, rejection by his followers and along the way, he died a gruesome, shameful, and scandalous death.
Theologian Yung Kim asserts, “Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice because of a love that drove him to question and even to defy the accepted customs (context) of life in his society. ” 3 Kim adds, “Jesus lived an ‘others centered’ life in the midst of a self-centered society. His death then, for the salvation of others, is a call to the . . . (faithful) . . . to live a risk-taking life for the sake of others.” Jesus’ focus on others was so unimaginable, that it ultimately led to his death. Jesus loved in ways to say the least, we may find a little difficult to integrate into our way of being. In our culture today, success is measured not on how much we give of ourselves but rather, on how much we draw unto ourselves. Jesus lets (us) know that to follow him, to take the path of Kingdom glory, we must take a shockingly different direction than that espoused by our culture. “Once again, he turns our ordinary understanding of success upside down.”1 Jesus says, “Your talents, your time, your treasure, your life; give it away for the Kingdom of God.”
James and John did not understand the Kingdom yet, they did have ambition, misguided as it was, but I have to say, they were not merely passive, lethargic, and disinterested. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Maybe there is another lesson embedded in this story of two disciples who wanted a little Kingdom glory. Theologian Stephen Chapman recalls, “Rather than begrudging the ambition of the Sons of Entitlement, then, might (we) engage them with respect and love, as Jesus did, while working to refocus their ambition on the cross?”2 Maybe this love despite our self-focus is what we need, when we get a little distracted from what it means to follow Jesus. Maybe when we forget that we are called to walk the path of Our Lord, what we need is a reminder that Kingdom life really leads to the cross (a giving away of our life).
You see, all that we have, all that we are, all that we see, even that little breath you just took, is a gift from God. At the heart of being a follower of Jesus, is recognizing that God is the source of our life, and it is a love like that, that should result in a response of love by us for others. Receiving that love brings us to be vulnerable, to love, to be willing to be transformed into Christ. In our Bishop’s sermon Friday night at the Opening Convention Eucharist, he proclaimed, “You are Jesus in the world.” As Christians (which means Christ like), as disciples (which means followers) we are not merely “fans,” “cheerleaders,” or “card-carrying members.” “If Jesus is the true and final high priest who achieved glory through the scandal of the cross and who was perfected through suffering, it is Í no different for those who promise to know life as his disciples.”1 Being a follower of the One we proclaim as Lord, requires more than just showing up. Being Jesus in the world requires us to go out, to move out, to love out there in the world. When we call Jesus Lord, we are saying, I am willing to be Jesus in the world today.
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century? It means that we should really follow him. We must do as he does. We must love as he loves. We must take a risk! When we stand in the abyss of life’s situations, whatever they may be, we must remain obedient to God. When we experience great loss and broken heartedness and we are unsure of what lies ahead, we must remain faithful knowing God is with us. We must accept the peaks and valleys of life and trust that God is present in all of it. We must love each other, even when it is difficult. We must love others outside your circle of friends. We must embrace a spirit of gentleness, compassion, mercy, boldness, and forgiveness. We must be willing and ready, engaged and generous, and we must be on guard. Following Jesus may really mean, no, it absolutely will mean that you will lose your life. The truth is you will find life and life abundant in Christ.
So what are you waiting for, DARE to BE a DISCIPLE!
1 Wadell, Paul J. “Living By The Word: Reflections On The Lectionary [O 18, 2009].” Christian Century 126.20 (2009): 19-318. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.
2 Chapman, Stephen B. “Sons Of Entitlement.” Christian Century 123.21 (2006): 20-318. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.
3 Kim, Yung Suk. “Jesus’ Death In Context.” Living Pulpit 16.2 (2007): 12-13. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 15 Oct. 2012