SERMON Pentecost 21 B Proper 24 St. Andrew’s Grove, OK
Job 38:1-7, (34-41); Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
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Success vs. The Cross
James and John asked Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus nicknamed these two “Sons of Thunder.” The Greek word for “Thunder” is Βοανηργές , which I believe defined James and John’s fiery and critical zeal. True to their name, these two disciples’ request of Jesus surely sounds a bit like they felt entitled to something special. They longed for power and success, which made them act so “thunderous.” Like the “Sons of Thunder,” we all want to be efficacious, and to be closely associated with equally efficacious and powerful people. We all like the winners. Our culture reserves seats of honor for those who are “on top.”
Nontheleess, the story in today’s gospel is about two of Jesus’ disciples who wanted their way, their own success, and their glory, but they were very foolish thunderous disciples. The crux of their entitled feelings became evident when they asked Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” When you hear this passage, we hear it through the lens of knowing the path Jesus took, which led to a cross and to his ultimate trial, crucifixion, and death. So, we hear this request and think, “do these two not get what Jesus mission was all about; were they not listening to Jesus talk about going to Jerusalem to be rejected, beaten, and to die?” They must have thought that Jesus was going to be welcomed into the city, and be glorified as a hero, as a great king, as a repairer of all that was wrong in Israel (initially he was).
James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” wanted their special place, their seats of glory at the throne, a seat reserved based on some misguided notion of Jesus’ upcoming success. They did not comprehend what it really meant to “be a follower of Jesus.” Sometimes, we are like the “Sons of Thunder, unaware of the costs of discipleship. Despite James and John’s ill-advised ideas about Jesus’ mission, and even with their bold demand for seats of Jesus’ glory, both of them still dared to be a disciple.
Get into the story
A few years ago, one of the college ministry interns I worked with in South Florida asked, “what does it take to follow Jesus these days?” I easily could have suggested she read a good book or an article about some awe-inspiring saint, but I decided to encourage her to go to the source himself for the answer; Jesus Christ. I explained to my intern, “If you are going to follow someone, if you are going to call someone ‘Lord of my life,’ then you have to know who He is, how he lived, the depth of his love, and how he interacted with his disciples, as well as his opponents.” I continued, “We all need to learn more about him, then live in gratitude for his grace and finally, go and show him within ourselves to others.”
We all say we want to be disciples, but some of us are not versed in the narrative of Jesus’ life. We followers once a week hear the scriptures read to us, but that is like eating a good appetizer, and missing the nutrition found in feeding on the whole meal. We all need to eat often and ravenously on the life of Jesus every single day, so we can be changed by the one we all call Lord.
If Jesus’ story intrigues you, let me share are some facts about him to whet your appetite for more study: (1) Jesus was clear about who he was and what his mission was going to be in the world. (2) Except when praying, resting, eating, Jesus was always moving towards an objective; reconciliation of creation through the self-giving love of the cross. (3) Jesus let nothing stand in the way of his mission. (4) Jesus reordered the power structures of his day by going head-to-head, with the religious and political leaders who kept the people in spiritual bondage. (5) Jesus loved folks who did not love him back and gave of himself, when others denied him even a place to lay his head. (6) Jesus was kind, compassionate, loving, and self-denying and yet, he was a bold, radical, and a truth teller who held people to account. (7) Jesus endured the abandonment of his friends, and the rejection of his followers, as he died a gruesome, shameful, and scandalous death. (8) Here is the key to it all: Jesus is fully God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all we perceive. God in Christ was born, lived, died, and his unimaginable love raised him to life again, and he lives today. Now that is something to sink your teeth into.
Seats in the Jesus’ Movement
Jesus’ focus on others was so unimaginable, that it ultimately led to his death. Jesus loved in ways that to say the least, we all find difficult to incorporate into our own way of being today, especially when success is our primary driver. Jesus calls us to follow him, but to take our seats beside him in his movement, those seats have a shockingly different focus than that espoused by the success of our culture.
Jesus disappointed James and John, when they did not get the kind of seats of success they desired. Even so, the Sons of Thunder, journeyed on with him all the way to Jerusalem. As misguided as their ambition seem to have been, they did not become mere passive, disinterested sideline fans of the movement. They went the distance with Jesus to the cross and remained well, almost to the end. We like them may have a hard time going all the way in the Jesus mission of love, but Jesus does not turn his back on us, if we cannot.
Jesus loved James and John despite their foolish ambition, and maybe that kind of love is what we need, when we become distracted away from what it really means to follow him. We often desire a discipleship that steers far away from the rugged path of the cross. What we need is a reminder that Kingdom life is about shedding our mistaken ideals about the kind of life to which we hold so dear. We get distracted from the Jesus’ way, and the way of success and ambition becomes our target. One way to get back on track is to live a life of gratitude and to DARE to BE a DISCIPLE!
“How can I practice that kind of gratitude Canon Eric,” you may ask? Try this. Take a deep breath and let it out. 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. Discipleship begins with a life of gratitude, acknowledging God is the source of every aspect of our life. Gratitude humbles us, makes us vulnerable, and infuses us with God’s love. Gratitude is more than a feeling. Gratitude is our love for God and others in action. Our Presiding Bishop The Most Rev. Michael Curry said in a sermon, “if it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God.” I will add, God’s love moves us to action.
Christians are not mere “fans,” “cheerleaders,” or “card-carrying members” of the movement of God’s love in the world. When we proclaim Jesus as Lord, we should be moved to do more than just show up on the mission field. We are Christ’s ambassadors in the world and representing Jesus in the world requires us to go out, to move out, and let our lives proclaim the gospel. When we call Jesus Lord, we are really saying, “I am willing to be Jesus for others in the world today.” So, take a risk and DARE to BE a DISCIPLE!
Dare to be a Disciple
So, what does “Dare to be a disciple mean Canon Eric?” It means that if we are to really follow Jesus, then we must do as he does, serve as he serves, take a risk and be faithful in love! When each of us stands on the left or right of people traversing the pain and abyss of life’s terrible situations whatever they may be, we are daring to be a disciple. When we bring solace to those living in poverty, loss and broken heartedness, we are daring to be a disciple. When we love each other, even when it is difficult we are daring to be a disciple. When we love others outside our circle of friends we are daring to be a disciple. When we live with a spirit of gentleness, compassion, mercy, boldness, and forgiveness we are daring to be a disciple.
Following Jesus means we must be engaged, we must be involved, we have to be generous, and be willing to be changed forever. Following Jesus absolutely means that (when like James and John) we seek a place nearer to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we will certainly lose our life and the things that were once important to us.
God is calling his church in a bold way, to re-discover the physical and spiritual needs of our neighbors around us, and then to build teams to bring our gifts of love (hands and hearts) to bear on their situations. God is calling all of us to his mission field, and when we decide to faithfully and fully engage in this Jesus’ way of life, we will surely discover a life of abundant love, peace, and joy. If this Jesus Movement of active and engaged love is true and I believe it to be so, what are we waiting for? Like James and John, the Sons of Thunder, it is time for us to Take a risk and 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