My sermon today is influenced by the Rev. William Willimon.
Have you noticed how some churches seem to promise that whatever your question, whatever your need, the answer is simple: JESUS CHRIST IS THE ANSWER! This seems to be a very common presentation of modern day Christianity. If you have a need for peace in a troubled life, the need for greater hope and confidence in the future, well, Jesus is the answer. It’s pretty simple, isn’t it?
That isn’t at all how Mark presents Jesus in today’s lesson. Today Jesus isn’t an easy answer, rather, he is a strange and demanding Lord. As the disciples walk along with Jesus, a couple of the them say, "Lord, grant us to sit at your right and your left when you come into your kingdom." In other words, "Lord, when we get you elected Messiah and your Kingdom is come, grant us to sit on your Cabinet!"
Who can blame these disciples for making this request? They have left everything to follow Jesus, to walk with Him. And it hasn’t been easy following Him around Judea, poor and penniless, enduring hardships. It’s no wonder they are asking for some reward. They believe that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah, the great leader who will come in, raise an army, kick the Romans out of Judea and set up Israel again as the most powerful nation in the world. They just want to sit beside his throne.
And Jesus replies to this perfectly understandable request by saying: "You don't know what you're asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
Now we have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story. We know what the disciples don't know. The road that Jesus is walking is a road that leads to torture, to death on a cross. The "cup" that Jesus is to drink is the cup of his horrible death. The "baptism" that will drown him is the baptism of his death as he suffocates on a cross.
The disciples show that they are clueless when they respond, "Sure! We can do that! We are able to drink your cup and be baptized with your baptism! No problem!”
Don’t you expect Jesus to say, “You idiots! Have you been listening to anything I’ve said? You are still clueless!” But instead he says, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but 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.”
Think about this please; when Jesus came into his glory, it was not on a throne but on a cross, with two thieves, one on his right and one on his left.
This is the real message, one that is not proclaimed in that saccharine sweet “Jesus is the answer” way. We don’t follow Jesus to get what we want out of God. Following Jesus is God’s way of getting what God wants out of us. And it isn’t always easy and nice. Sometimes it is tough to follow Jesus, isn’t it?
God wants a world, a world redeemed, restored to God. And the way God gets that is with ordinary people like us who are willing to walk like Jesus, talk like Jesus, yes, and even if need be to suffer like Jesus.
Look at the tough work our Sarah is doing. She is following Christ by working with people in dire circumstances, suffering, impoverished people. She is doing the work Jesus has given her to do. And she is strengthened by the love and power of her congregation on the street.
We are bringing food for her congregation today, lots and lots of food. We are blessed with this opportunity to be servants, servants of the poor and needy in Aberdeen. I don’t know about you but I feel truly grateful to be able to do this small thing, to be able to extend this loving gesture of home cooked food to this congregation. I am grateful for this servant opportunity.
“Whoever wished to become great among you must be your servant.” This is the message of Christ. It isn’t simple or easy to follow. We are challenged every day to be more giving, more forgiving, more loving than we want to. Aren’t we lucky to try to answer this challenge? That’s the Good News.
Let us pray. Jesus, help us to hear you. Help us to hear your challenging--sometimes bad--news as our good news. Help us to hear your voice as our summons. Help us to follow where you lead. Amen.