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03.11.18 Downward Ambition Mark 10:35-45 Sermon Summary

by on March 12, 2018

Note: This sermon was delivered in first person.

My name is Thaddaeus. In the Bible, I’m only mentioned in the list of apostles. You could say I’m a behind the scenes kind of person, mostly just part of the group. I’m an introvert. I’m most comfortable sitting back and observing. I think about things in silence a lot, and help out occasionally when I see the need.

I was surprised when Jesus called me. He loved being with people. He was always throwing parties. Often he included the “wrong” people, and this upset some folks. Even his family was concerned for him. And he often performed public miracles and drew a large crowd. Even when we tried to get away, crowds would follow us.

It was no wonder he called James and John. That was a really good strategic decision. They were the sons of ambitious parents. Zebedee was a successful fisherman who even had hired men working for him. Their mother was ambitious also. She was always angling for her sons to advance. (see Matthew 20:20-28) Some of us wondered if they weren’t calling the shots with regards to their sons James and John.

Jesus had just started telling us about Jerusalem and our upcoming trip for the Passover festival. He said the religious leaders would hand him over to political leaders who would execute him as a public criminal. But then he said he would rise again. It was all very strange.

James and John pulled Jesus back. They asked to be seated on Jesus right and left after it all was over.

Jesus was very patient with them, as he was with all of us when we didn’t understand him at first. You know how it is. You get this feeling God wants you to do something hard, like give up a dream you have or a dream you’ve accomplished. God tells you you won’t be alone. You’ll have God’s Spirit. And Jesus will be with you, even leading you.

But you know people won’t understand. They’ll think you’re crazy. So you change subject or try to negotiate your dream back into God’s will or just skip to the end of the story when everything works out well.

That’s what James and John did. They heard “rise again” and wanted in. They didn’t really pay attention to the parts about being “betrayed” and “executed.” It’s a lot like your Holy Week for folks who only come on the Sundays.

Well, the rest of us heard about this and got angry. Some of us HAD heard the tough parts. Others of us were still digesting what Jesus had said. And some of us didn’t believe it at all. But none of us started jockeying for position—not at first anyway. I think some of us resented James and John because they actually did what some of us were thinking. Sometimes the most judgmental people are that way because they wish they could do what they are judging others about.

For all these reasons, we were mad at James and John, but Jesus was patient with them. He said, “Can you drink the cup from which I drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said, “Heck, yeah!” We had been drinking with Jesus a long time. Remember all those parties? And just look at what baptism did for Jesus. He gets baptized and comes back full of the Spirit, teaching, healing, and drawing big crowds.

James and John, and maybe their parents, probably were thinking, “Imagine what it could do for business to have these parties and draw these crowds! What could it mean for our family?!”

But then Jesus made this ominous promise: “In fact, you WILL drink and be baptized.” It was like he was changing the way we thought about his cup and baptism. I remember now that every time we tried to sugarcoat Jesus’ teaching—like about turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, selling our possessions, and especially sacrificing ourselves for love of others—every time, Jesus would turn us back. He would call us to repent, to follow him, all the way with all of our lives. He would call us back to our own crosses.

This is kind of like what Lent is supposed to do for you. It shifts the focus from the cup of festivity to the cup of sacrifice. It changes focus from the cute baptism of infants to a life of baptismal living.

Well Jesus went on to say that the places of honor which James and John were asking for weren’t his to grant. James and John would just have to wait and see. So, too, would the rest of us. We’d have to follow Jesus without thought of reward or promise of honor and just see where we ended up.

“We had to trust God,” Jesus was saying. He always said that! “Live for today, do what is right, be patient, and trust God.” That was kind of his message. And it put James and John in their place. And instead of feeling justified in our anger, it put us in our place also.

For me, I found my place is hanging back and watching Jesus, helping where I can. That was my place. I suspect that the right place for you, and probably the right place for everyone, is also somewhere behind Jesus. Thank God he’s so patient to walk with us until we each find our place. Amen.

 

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