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Pentecost 21B Sermon
10: 35-45
October 17, 2021

Sermon Archives


Mark 10:35-45

35 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.’ 36And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 38But 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?’ 39They 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; 40but 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.’
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So 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. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

Our Gospel reading this morning begins with three verses that some people call Jesus’ third prediction of his passion. One Bible commentator claims that it is not good to call this (or the first two instances) “predictions” of passion. Predictions are guesses that people make based on how they think things are going to come about. For Jesus to predict his death in this way means that he is telling his disciples that based on his message and the fervor that the religious leaders have to preserve the status quo, he thinks he will probably be put to death. Instead of thinking of them as predictions, we should see them as moments when Jesus is letting his disciples in on what God is doing through him; it is better to refer to the three passages as, “Announcements of the Messiah’s Servant Mission.”

It is also important (thinking about the context of the stories and their meanings) to remember that these three “Announcements of the Messiah’s Servant Mission” between chapters 8 and 10 in Mark’s Gospel are bookended by stories of Jesus healing blind men. These healings are physical manifestations of Jesus’ mission in the world to heal humanity from unjust situations.

These are the kinds of miracles stories that we are used to when we think of Jesus’ life, and they make us feel good because we have empathy for the people who are healed. In Mark 8:22-26, a blind man in Bethsaida is healed when Jesus has to take two cracks at it - first he puts saliva on his eyelids and he can see blurry images of people who look like trees; then Jesus lays his hands on his eyes again and sight is fully restored. Next week we will hear the tale of blind Bartimaeus, whom Jesus heals in Jericho in Mark 10:46-52. By bracketing these announcements between these two healing accounts, Mark wants to open our eyes to how Jesus is also at work performing a much more difficult, and important, miracle with the disciples as he heals their blindness as well.
Think about it: After Jesus first announces his servant mission, Peter puts his foot in his mouth by rebuking Jesus and ends up on the receiving end of a rebuking himself; after the second announcement, the disciples put their feet in their mouths by asking which of them will be the greatest, to which Jesus responds, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” And in today’s passage, James and John make a request to sit at his right and left hands in his glory – maybe picturing some royal banquet table or throne room – and Jesus (in a sort of gentle, loving way) tells them that they just don’t know what they are asking. Glory, in God’s kingdom, takes servanthood, sacrifice, and (yes) even suffering. Mark doesn’t tell us how they responded to this, like when the rich man was shocked and went away grieving when Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. We do know that the other disciples were angry with them for having the audacity to make this request, which seems to be the way it is when people are put into competition with each other.
One of the components of our capitalistic economy is competition. To be sure, when one company produces all of a single product, they can run unchecked as to quality assurance and price control. But the promise of competition in the workplace can also sow seeds of resentment, hatred and the turning away from a company providing a product or a service that is useful or needed for people, to that company just figuring out how to make more and more money. When this happens, the idea of serving the customer is lost, and the company and the almighty dollar are lifted up as idols instead. Healthy competition can be good, but when it rises above the level of servanthood to which we are all called, then people get greedier and greedier for money, power or fame.

Jesus’ call to servanthood is not easy and it is not popular. The prosperity gospel is a popular message to many people in this country and in the world. Some preachers pack people into their arena-churches every week; preachers convince people that the Bible promises you that if you give a certain amount of money to God that you will be blessed with a certain formula of blessing. But Jesus doesn’t buy into any of that. He only comes to heal us of our selfishness and short-sidedness, and to give his life not only as a ransom but also as an example of how servanthood happens. As popular as the prosperity gospel is, the message of servanthood is equally unpopular. I read once that Martin Luther preached his last sermon in Eisleben, Germany about 10 days before he died. At the final sermon of this great preacher’s life, a whopping 5 people showed up! As you can imagine, Luther was angry, and in a letter after the sermon he complained that following a lifetime of labor, it seemed that very few people were interested in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Imagine – only a handful of people present for Martin Luther’s final sermon because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a popular message! Who really WANTS to hear this message of being great by being a servant, giving and sacrificing oneself? Nobody does! Well, nobody does until (no matter how rich, popular or powerful they are) they reach the point of brokenness, which we all do! And when we reach that point, we discover that the way of wealth, power and fame just doesn’t work. It is then that we – like the disciples – find ourselves being met by the presence of the living Lord who desires to heal us of our blindness; not the physical blindness of the two men that he healed on either side of the three announcements of his messianic servant mission, but the spiritual blindness that he healed while he was taking the feet out of the mouths of the disciples every time they misunderstood his words about giving his life, suffering, dying and rising again. Jesus pulls the curtain back that obscures the important things in life; the curtain of our sin that blinds us to what makes for true greatness and worth in God’s eyes. When he accomplishes his mission in Jerusalem, the curtain will be pulled back for all of them. They will finally understand that he is a servant king, the kind that God had wanted for Israel all along!
Jesus remains the servant king that God wants for us today as well. One hundred years ago, when Pastor Schue and those leaders were planning a new congregation here in Clintonville, we wonder what kinds of predictions they might have had about the life of this faithful community. Did they foresee a huge church edifice, packed to the rafters each week with folks that came, heard the good news, and went into the world to love their neighbors in Jesus’ name? That has been a part of our history here - the packing to the rafters part - and the faithfulness part has been true in every chapter of our life together. We pray that faithfulness and servanthood are part of our history yet to come, but instead of dealing with issues of purchasing land and building a structure, we are dealing with issues of providing Sunday school for our few, but special, young people, and upgrading technology to have a better streaming, video and audio worship presence for members and strangers alike. I encourage us to keep seeking out that servanthood that Jesus encourages us to seek, even while we deal with 21st century challenges in the church. How can this technology help us to be better servants of the Gospel? How can we love our children and our neighbors better and encourage them to do the same? How can we keep Jesus in the forefront of our faith community as we move forward in faith into the next one hundred years of life in this gathering of believers called Clinton Heights Lutheran Church? May God bless our discernment and continue to encourage our servanthood. Amen.