St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 20 Sermon
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Corby Varness

“There is no such thing as a stupid question.”   Oh yeah? I think that in today’s gospel, we have an example of a really stupid question.
 
Jesus and his followers are heading for Jerusalem. They are heading into a tempest and Jesus is trying to prepare his friends for what is to come: He tells them: “I will suffer. I will die. I will rise up from the dead.” 
       
You know how James and John (the sons of Zebedee) respond to this? They pull Jesus off into a corner, away from the others and whisper: “Teacher, will you promise to do whatever we ask of you?”    
       
Jesus is no dummy. “Maybe, what do you want?” 
 
(Here comes the stupid question.) “Can you fix it so that when you rise to your glory we will get the best seats - one on your right hand and one on your left?
       
Like many, James and John are hoping that upon arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus will kick out those Roman rulers and take over. He will become a wonderful, powerful King and they want to be his prime ministers! These simple fishermen want power and glory and status and authority! Have they heard a single word Jesus has said over the last three years?
 
Jesus sighs… “Oh, dear James, beloved John. You don’t know anything. I am heading toward tremendous suffering, and a horrible death. Do you really want to go through that too?”
       
“Sure! No problem!”
       
“Well, you know what? You are, indeed, going to have to endure great suffering for having followed me. But, I’m not going to be handing out positions of power. That’s just not my thing.”
 
Now, let’s stop and think for a minute about how silly James and John sound. They made a request of Jesus and here we are, privy to their desires and judging them as selfish fools. We all ask a lot of Jesus in our prayer requests.   Do you ever sound like James and John in your prayers? I’m sure that I often sound just as selfish and foolish as those Zebedee boys! Maybe we shouldn’t judge them too harshly.
 
Nearby, the rest of the disciples are grumbling as they see James and John trying to get special favors from Jesus. They are jealous, they don’t want to be left out. They want to be powerful too! They want to share in the glory to come.
       
So, Jesus takes a deep breath. “OK everyone. Let’s gather together and talk about this. You know that those foreigners who call themselves kings like to order their people around. And their great leaders have full power over the people they rule. I have a different plan. Actually, it’s a completely opposite way to live. Do you want to be great? Then you must be the servant, the SLAVE of others. If everyone is jostling to be first in line, I will pick that quiet soul at the back of the line to enter the kingdom of heaven first. Quit jostling. Quit fighting for power. Look! I’m the son of God and I’m not here to boss people around. I came to serve, not to be served. I came to wash the dirty feet of my followers. I did not come to be a slave master but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people.
       
Listen to that! We must be servants, slaves of others! How can we do that?
 
Here is a small example: One day I saw Chris Boardman walking slowly toward Calder Hall with her cane. She stopped and saw a piece of paper, some kind of wrapper under a bush. She carefully leaned down, picked it up and brought it inside to toss it. I don’t remember when this was, and Chris probably doesn’t remember it at all. She wasn’t waiting for someone else to do the work. THAT’S being a servant!
 
How much easier would it be to walk by that piece of trash and pretend that you don’t even see it? I see churches in town with 100s of people attending. And I see trash on their grounds. Maybe everyone walks by thinking, “that’s the gardener’s job”, or “that’s the janitor’s job” or maybe they think, “that’s the pastor’s job!” “It’s not MY job to pick up trash!”
 
One Sunday it was my day to bring treats. I remembered, too late, that I also needed to make the coffee and tea and set up the table.   Of course, I was also running late. So I drove to church in a frenzy, wondering if I’d get everything done before our service started.   I came into Calder Hall and there was the table - all set up. The coffee was ready, just needed to be plugged in. There were the cups, there was the tea pot. The table was beautiful! Phew! I was so grateful. Turned out that Natalea had been at church on Saturday doing the altar and took the time to also set up everything for coffee. Now this is NOT the job of the altar guild and I’m not saying it is. Boy, was I grateful to Nat! That’s being a servant.
 
These are two small examples of servanthood. I am reminded of what Mother Theresa advised: “Do small things with great love.”   We can all do this. Trying to be a servant, trying to do more than your share, feels great. Oh, I’m not very good at it. Whenever I pick up a bit of trash, I am secretly hoping that there is a hidden camera catching me being good! But, I do feel pleased for myself because I’ve served the world by making it tidier.
       
Even though they had been with Jesus for years, James and John were still all about power and hierarchy. They wanted Jesus to use his great power to become king and they wanted to be right next to him, bossing everyone around. Jesus upends that whole idea, that whole power structure. He says, ‘step back, be quiet, serve others. The least among you shall lead.‘ He is teaching them about servant leadership.
         
A great gift of being in a church like ours is that opportunities abound for servanthood. I think it’s key to this mindset that you are not expecting power or glory, or even a salary for the good work you are doing. No one at our church gets a salary and that changes everything. We’re not thinking, “oh, she’s making all that money so SHE should be cleaning the kitchen or pulling the weeds.” People often ask us “who is in charge here at St. Mark’s?” NOBODY! EVERYBODY! We are all called to the ministry of our church. We are all equally responsible to serve each other.  
       
This is from our website: “We have a shared ministry in which clergy and laypeople serve and lead together. Our work here depends on each one of us recognizing and acknowledging our gifts (both our own and each other's) and putting them to work as we find ourselves called by God.   A diagram for authority in Total Common Ministry is more like a circle with God at the center. Each one of us is called by God to use our gifts as we share in the work of the church. Our authority to minister comes to us from God through our Baptism. Each one of us, through God's call, ministers through our gifts. We are a community of ministers gathered around and centered in God.”
       
Serving others is a quick and easy path to joy. St. Marks gives us so many opportunities for service. The jail ministry, nursing home ministry, altar guild, bible study, making prayer beads, cleaning the church, maintaining the web site, teaching children, praying for others, serving on the Bishop Committee, playing music, making coffee, cleaning the kitchen, the rummage sale and our biggest service opportunity: PANCAKE DAY!
       
We are blessed for these opportunities to serve with joy in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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