Sermon; 22 Pentecost/Proper 24B; Mark 10:32-45
Mark is a Passion narrative with an extended prologue. Almost everything in Mark points us to the cross and, as you would expect, today is no different. In fact, it's hard to get more cross-pointed than today.
Today we have Jesus' third and final Passion prediction. Jesus and his disciples are on the road going up to Jerusalem. Here, as with the other predictions, Jesus pointedly says that he will be handed over, condemned to death, be mocked, spit upon, tortured, killed, and will rise again on the third day. As with the other predictions, he says all this openly.
Notice where Jesus is on this journey to Jerusalem. Anybody remember? They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. Jesus isn't following. Jesus isn't being pulled along by outside forces. Jesus is leading the way to his self-sacrifice. Jesus understands the purpose of both his life and his death. In that act of leading, in that act of understanding servanthood and sacrifice, Jesus leads the way. And he is asking us to follow him.
But the disciples don't get it. They can't yet understand the meaning and/or purpose of Christ's life. And while all the disciples generally don't get it, today it is James and John who show both their ignorance and their greed.
James and John hear this prediction from Jesus and I think the only part they heard was, “I will rise again.” The only thing they hear is, “This guy has the power to defeat death.” The only thing they are looking for is how they can have access to that power. So they ask, “Grant us to sit, one at your right and one at your left, in your glory.”
What James and John are doing is twofold. First, they miss the whole point of Jesus. That whole point is wrapped up in the last verse of today's passage: The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Second, they continue to see Jesus as being based in power as we understand it. They continue to want Jesus to overthrow the Roman government and establish the old kingdom of Israel. They still want to exercise worldly power over others.
These two misunderstandings are tied together.
Too many times people have used Jesus or the Church or Christianity as a tool or weapon against others. Too many times people have seen “the power of Jesus” as permission to do great harm. We see it in the Roman Catholic Church where priests have used their power to abuse children. We see it in every denomination where people have used their power against women. As we approach Christmas, we will see it again in an attempt to use Christian power to fight the so-called “war on Christmas,” and demand that everyone say and respond in a particular way.
I was at clergy conference last week. As I mentioned in the Wednesday Word, we heard stories from our female colleagues about various uses and abuses of power against them. Everything from inappropriate touching to letters left in their mailboxes. And one colleague recently told me of a physical use of power when a larger man grabbed her at the hips, pulled her in, and whispered to her for a “private” conversation. This is NOT okay.
The Church, like Jesus, does not exist to exert power over others. We are not here to sit in glory ruling over others and demanding certain loyalties or behaviors.
Unlike James and John today, but like John later in his life, we need to understand and live into the real purpose of the church and tap into the real power of Christ.
The purpose of the Church, and therefore or purpose, is to serve others. Our purpose is to sacrifice ourselves so that others may have life. What does that sacrifice look like?
It's sacrificing our time, talents, and treasures for others. It's participating in any or many of our various ministries. Be present for Community Cafe. Help with the Learning Parties. Get involved with Bester school. Look for ways to help the people who visit our bench. Be willing to sacrifice our public image by calling out abusive and/or inappropriate behavior that happens in public. Reexamine your budget.
There are plenty of ways we can sacrifice ourselves for the proclamation of the gospel and to reflect the love of Christ.
And in that sacrifice and service there is no room for power grabs or abuse of power. In the Christian perspective and theology, real power comes through our service. Jesus exhibited this when he washed the feet of his disciples. We experience it when we do likewise.
I recently read a blog post by a Roman Catholic priest about the ongoing abuse of children in that church. Among other things, he said, “Those who commit these crimes have warped the meaning of Eucharist. They have taken the body of Christ which was broken for us, and have broken the bodies of little ones for their own selfish desires.” That which was originally a selfless sacrifice for the world has become a selfish sacrifice of others in the name of power.
Last week I talked about taking up our cross and following Christ, and how we were called to crucify that which separates us from Christ or that which takes the place of Christ in our lives. One of the things we need to crucify is our desire for power. We need to be wary of churches and leaders who wield power like a club, trying to force everyone to bow to their particular interpretation of Christianity.
But unless our desire is based in servanthood, it is meaningless. And if our desire is based in establishing the kingdom of the nation and not the kingdom of God, we will continue to see and participate in abuses of power.
As Mark brings us closer to Holy Week and the Passion, we are left with two paths from which to choose: we can choose to follow James and John and the way of worldly power, sacrificing those who get in our way for our own personal gain; or we can choose to follow Christ and the way of spiritual power, sacrificing ourselves for the good of the gospel.
The question is ever before us: Whom will you follow?