Sunday, October 21, 2012
Mark 10: 35-45, NT page 46 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.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But 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?” They 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; 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.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So 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. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Sermon It’s in high school that social divisions are the most clear, as nowhere else are the classes of human society divided up between tables at lunch. To move from one table to another seemed impossible to me – you sat where you sat and you made sure to stay in your place. There was a table for each grade, freshman to seniors, but more than that there were subgroups, tables within these grades. There were a few for each sport, one for kids dedicated to drama and art, another for the ones who were accepted and a table for the ones who were not. I remember where the pregnant girl sat, and I remember walking over to her table after being recruited for an abstinence campaign sponsored by the Rev. Billy Graham. It was called True Love Waits, and I was distributing the sign-up cards, as discreetly as possible, to several tables in the cafeteria when I came to her table and asked her if she’d like to participate. “So I’m supposed to sign up and promise I won’t do that before I’m married,” she said. Then she looked down at her pregnant belly and said, “Don’t you think it’s a little late for that.” After this encounter I didn’t hand out any more cards. Something about the campaign felt very strange, and though I didn’t intend to do anything besides hand her a card, I knew something was wrong about the way I made her feel. Indeed, something is wrong about the kind of Christianity that makes people feel that for them it is too late; something about it is wrong and very far from what Christ intended. But Christianity has this tendency – to pat on the back the pure and the righteous, while it was Christ who spent all his time around outcasts and sinners. While it doesn’t always feel that way, the Gospel is a radical message. Those whom society has left out must be brought in, and those who wish to be first must become last. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him with a request that they want Jesus to agree to before they even tell him what it is: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Let us be, not just associated with you, but right there next to you, let us be seated there at your table. Little did they know that the two who will be eternally remembered as being beside Jesus were two criminals, crucified beside him, one at his right and one at his left. Christianity is not for the self-righteous or the self-promoting, but for those who would willingly follow the example of a King who is not greeted by cheers of adoration but taunts and insults. He is not pictured seated on a throne but is nailed to a cross. He does not benefit from servants who dress him and attend to his needs; instead he kneels to wash his followers’ feet. He will not be forever associated with the pure of heart, mind, and body, but will always be remembered as the great friend to sinners. It’s still easy to relate to James and John, who do not offer a strange request. They want to know how high they will climb the ladder, if they will make it right up there to the top, the beneficiaries of prestige and respect, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” I know why they ask this question, and maybe you do too, as for our entire lives we have been ranking ourselves in relation to those around us. As children: who is the fastest, who is the tallest, who is the oldest. As teenagers: who looks the best, who has the most money, who has gone the farthest. And as adults, we would like to have matured beyond high school but few ever do. Our obsessions are the same, our concern with appearance remains, and we continue to gravitate towards the right kind of people, the kind of people who can help us advance in the eyes of the world, not knowing what it truly means to be great. 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. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must by your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” In high school there were those who sat at the top of the social hierarchy, and I remember a teacher telling my class, “Those of you who are cool today, enjoy it, because soon enough you’ll be working for the classmates you’ve been making fun of.” The last will be first and the first will be last, and whether you feel as though you are at the top or the bottom, be aware of how you treat those whom you consider beneath you because the abuse of power is never Christ-like and it always results in harsh consequences. The football team in Mt. Pleasant has made headlines the past two weeks for all the wrong reasons. Players with the assurance of a bright future now may well watch their aspirations dashed through the bars of a jail cell. Some will blame the parents, others the school, but truly we must all acknowledge that there is always something inside driving us to take advantage of whatever power we have at our disposal. Treating teenage football players like heroes will always result in the abuse of power. Politicians will always be susceptible to the idea that the ones who make the laws are also exceptions to the laws. And every person must be wary of the human tendency to look down on those who clean their house, wash their dishes, and serve their table for it was Christ, the incarnate creator of the universe who came to this earth not to be served but to serve. Your relationships must be viewed with this truth in mind, and I am thankful for this church that will help you do it because the world will not. While the world allows for those who can get ahead to get ahead, this church provides space to the Boys and Girls Club and Time Sharers, both of whom provide tutoring and afterschool care so that girls and boys who might fall farther and farther behind in school learn and study with the help of volunteers, many who are members of this church. While it is possible to go through life forgetting that there are people without enough food to eat, this church supports the People’s Table that feeds hungry men and women who live in our community, by the belief that all God’s children deserve to be served a good meal. And while those who suffer the stigma of being HIV positive are often pushed out of sight, this church supports Columbia Cares to provide counseling, support, and rapid testing, for truly the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and neither can you claim to follow him without caring for all those whom society looks down on. This is the Stewardship season at First Presbyterian Church, and so I call you to consider, not just what you ought to do with your money, to realize not just where it came from, but to imagine how your money might go to honor those who are in need. How your money might do something to convince those who believe that they don’t matter that they so truly do. How your money might change the mind of those who believe it is too late that in Christ it is never too late. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be a servant.” If you wish to be great your time, energy, and money will not be used to honor yourself so much as to honor your neighbor, not so much to make yourself feel special, but to make the children of our world who think they are forgotten learn that they are honored by you, to make the poor of our society who feel left behind and cast aside feel like a priority, and to make sure that those who believe it is too late for them feel as though life is only beginning. Amen.