2021-03-21 Lent 5
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The season of Lent is coming quickly to a close. Our journey to the cross and empty tomb is nearly complete. And today, we get another reminder of what is coming. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (MK 10:33-34). Jesus predicts His suffering, shame and death, and also His resurrection. Most people I think would respond to such comments with humility and sombreness. Talking about death has that air around it.
But directly after Jesus brings it up, James and John, Zebedee’s kids, have their minds set on other things. Maybe it’s just a distraction, something else to talk about and get their minds off of our Lords upcoming passion. Or, perhaps they were callous and were thinking only of themselves and their own gain. They tell Jesus to do exactly what they want Him to do. “And what’s that?” Jesus asks back. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (MK 10:37). In other words, make us ‘big cheeses with Jesus.’ Make us powerful. Make us mighty. Make us full of glory! Give us Your power, Lord! Let us reign with You in splendour!
Jesus responds back again. “You morons don’t even know what you’re talking about!” You guys are way out in left field. Can you drink the “cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (10:38) Jesus asks. The disciples say “Sure thing!” but again they don’t know what they are getting themselves into. The cup that Jesus drinks and His bloody Baptism of the cross both refer to His suffering and death. God’s kingdom will be filled with toils, struggles and conflicts before it is full of the victory and glory that James and John have their eyes on.
It’s quite typical really for people to want the glory but not to have the guts to do what it takes to get it. But herein lies the difference with God’s Kingdom and that of the world. God’s Kingdom isn’t about greatness and glory and power so much as it is about being a servant. This is what Jesus stresses to His misguided but well meaning disciples. “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you” (10:42-43) Jesus says. The ways of the world aren’t your ways, because they aren’t God’s ways.
People in positions of authority can often be exactly like this. Back when we lived in Oxbow we would often cross the US border. Border guards, depending on the day, can let you know exactly who pulls the strings. I remember trying to cross into the US years ago in Ontario when we were doing our cross Canada driving tour. This border guard was at least 8 feet tall, a massive 380lbs, bald and completed the look with Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator sunglasses. We pulled up to the window and he asked us our citizenship and we handed him our Canadian passports. “CITIZENSHIP!” he yelled. … After peeing my pants, my voice cracked as I replied “Ccccanadian, Sir!” People like that love to make you squirm and cause you issues because they can! Maybe you’ve been in that same predicament. Maybe you’ve been that type of person, who enjoys making people around you feel 2 feet tall so that you can feel 10 feet tall and bulletproof. If so, then #RepentItsLent. For if you belong to Christ, then walking in His ways is non negotiable. Arrogance, pride, lording over others, they all have no place in God’s Kingdom.
“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” says Jesus, “and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (MK 10:43-44). Servants and slaves. Not very glamorous! Indeed, pretty much total opposite of glamorous. When you think about slaves and servants, you think low on the social totem pole. You think about ugly jobs, nasty jobs that nobody wants to do. You think about how such people are treated and often mistreated. Slaves and servants don’t really bring to mind warm-fuzzies or good thoughts. And yet Jesus uses these exact words to drill His divine point home in the minds of His misguided disciples.
Where does greatness exist? Greatness exists in service. The depths of slavery will make you top dog. God’s kingdom is completely opposite to our worldly ways of thinking. When we hear the word slave or servant, we instantly recoil. It’s a life of hard work and suffering that nobody wants to do. And more than that, it means that you are owned by someone else. And we really don’t like the sounds of that! We’re Canadians after all. We invented the underground railroad for crying out loud! But being a slave or a servant for Christ, means that we submit to His will and that we are owned by Him. We belong to Jesus our Lord. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
There was the story of a man who had bypass surgery. As he was recovering, his doctor prescribed an exercise program and it was emphasized that the patient had to do this program “religiously.” A few weeks later, the man returned to the doctor for the follow up appointment. The Doc asked him how his exercises were going. “Yep, real good Doc, real good. Doing them religiously. At first it was really tough to do them once a week but …” “Once a week?!” The Doctor interrupted. “I wanted you to do them every day!” “But you said religiously, so just like church I did them once every seven days whether I wanted to or not!”
Being a slave or servant of Jesus isn’t a just a once a week kind of thing. It’s not just for Sundays. It’s not just at Christmas and Easter. It’s every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year! It means following our Lord’s will for us, it means walking the same road that our Lord walked. And that road is the way of the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (JN 15:13). Our Lord predicts His passion and shows us where true greatness is to be found. It’s in service. It’s in slavery. It’s in putting others before yourself, even at enormous personal cost. It’s in giving everything and then some in order that those around you may benefit. Churches that lose sight of this servant heart and mission to serve others and their community at large with an outreach focus, fail. They close their doors. It doesn’t matter how right their doctrine or glorious their music or how snazzy the coffee is, without the servant heart of Christ, it all comes to nothing.
Being first means being last. It goes against our naturally sinful grain to think this way, to live this way, to do business this way – but by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s will becomes clearer and clearer before our eyes. In Holy Baptism, we have become servants for Jesus sake. We belong to Christ our Lord and everything we have belongs to Him. We walk the way of the cross with Christ. We pick up our own cross and follow. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (10:45) He has drunk the cup of suffering for us, that we might drink the cup of His eternal blessing. We pick up our cross, deny ourselves and live to serve our Lord and our neighbours. Thanks be to God now and forever more. Amen!