The Message, October 17, 2021, "Great Service"

The Message, October 17, 2021, "Great Service"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
October 19, 2021

“Great Service”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Mark 10:35-45

            I am not a mind-reader … but I may be able to guess what some of you are thinking.
            “Service again?! Pastor Scott … did you not just preach about being servants a couple of weeks ago?! We get it. Whoever wants to be great must be willing to serve.”
            I hear you, but do not talk to me. Talk to Mark. Talk to Jesus! Apparently, Jesus felt that this was an important enough topic to talk about it over and over again. And Mark’s whole Gospel is about what it means to follow Jesus. So …
            Just think of it as one of those lessons that you heard repeatedly from your parents:
            “Drive safe. Be sure to buckle your seatbelts. Look both ways when crossing the street. Play nice. Share your toys.”
            As often as those lessons were repeated, we knew that they were intended to keep us safe, and also to help us be good and caring people.
            We are pretty sure what Jesus expects of those who seek to follow him, but clearly the disciples were a little slow to catch on. And it never hurts us to hear his instructions another time.
            But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We jumped to the end of the passage. Let us back up so that we can understand what brought on this lesson on discipleship.
            Actually … we need to back up to a point a couple verses before we began.
            Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, and Jesus had just foretold what was awaiting him and them when they arrived.
            He said: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him.” (Mark 10:33-34)
            This was the third time that Jesus foretold his death, and this third telling was more graphic and detailed than the previous occasions. Those who were traveling with them on the way were shocked and afraid. Who would not be shocked and afraid?! What Jesus was saying was terrifying! It was awful to consider that this is what awaited their friend and their teacher in Jerusalem. And it had to make them stop and wonder what it meant for them. If their teacher, the leader of their group was to be mocked and spat upon, flogged and killed, what would happen to them?!
            And that is where our passage picks up this morning. After Jesus shared that shocking prediction, James and John stepped forward. James and John, part of Jesus’ inner circle approach Jesus and say: “Oh my Jesus, that is terrible news. What can we do to help you? What can we do to support the rest of the group?”
            Actually … no. That is what you and I might have said, but that is not what James and John said.
            “Hey Jesus, we want you to do whatever we ask of you.”
            I have to give it to them. They are pretty nervy. That would be a pretty bold requests in any circumstance, but to make it as they are on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem is pretty audacious!
            Of course, James and John did not understand that Jesus and the disciples were on a pilgrimage. They believed that they were marching to Jerusalem for Jesus’ coronation. They were marching to Jerusalem so that Jesus could be crowned ‘King of the Jews’! And they were going to be right there by his side.
            And Jesus did the most Jesus-y thing … he went along with them. “Oh, James and John, what is it that you would like me to do for you?”
            “Well, Jesus, when you are crowned as king, we want to have those two seats of honor. We want to sit up on the dais and either side of the throne, at your right hand and your left. We want those good seats right down front!”
            Jesus continued to pursue their request: “Okay. So, do you really think that you can handle that? Do you think that you can drink the same cup? Do you think that you can experience the same baptism?”
            “Oh yeah, Jesus. No problem. We got this!”
            “You know not what you ask.”
            Do they know? Do they truly know what they are asking of Jesus? Do they truly know what Jesus is asking of them?
            And the related question: Do we know? If you are to follow Jesus as he intends, do we know what that means of us?
            Not only was this the third time that Jesus foretold his suffering and death, this was also the third time that he taught this lesson regarding discipleship. Here is the lesson:
            The cup of which he spoke, was understood in Hebrew scripture to refer to the totality of someone’s life and experience. It could also refer to God’s punishment and wrath.
            When we think of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, we do not typically think of it in terms of God’s punishment. God had no reason to punish Jesus. However, we can think of in terms of Jesus being willing to endure that punishment … punishment at the hands of human authorities … in order to accomplish the fulfillment of bringing the Kingdom of God into its fullest expression.
            The baptism of which Jesus spoke was not the baptism that we think of in terms of our own baptism into the life of the church. Again, in ancient usage, the word baptism was understood to mean fully submerged.
            We know and understand that the Kingdom of God does not adhere to the standards of this world. God turns the world upside down. Jesus follows suit. Jesus rejects the status quo. The last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted. Those who wish to be great must be willing to serve.
            Those who seek to follow Jesus, must be willing to be imitators of Jesus. They must be willing to drink of the same cup and receive the same baptism. They must understand that their lives must be fully immersed in the life and the Way of Jesus Christ. They must be willing to suffer the pain that comes along with it.
            There is no such thing as a part-time disciple.
            There should be no such thing as a fair-weather follower.
            To be clear, to serve and follow Jesus does not necessarily mean martyrdom. But it does mean the willingness to deny the human demand for honor, power, and privilege.
            Jesus made the point over and over again, he framed the lesson in different ways to help the disciples understand.
            “You are not like the Gentiles; you are not like the rest of the world. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44)
            Just like the ways that our parents taught us, Jesus teaches as well. He leads us and instructs us along the way. He gives us multiple occasions to consider:
            How do we love and who do we love?
            How do we serve those who we love, as well as those who we struggle to love?
            How do we prioritize our time? Are our lives centered around God? Or is there something more earthly around which we orbit?
            True discipleship is characterized by a costly pouring out of one’s life for another. But the reality of our world today means that most of our lives and attention are directed at things other than serving our neighbors.
            Our society is not structured around a servant model. We tend to think of things in terms of the corporate model. Success is defined by how much money we make, or how many people we have working for us, or how many perks we enjoy, or how much stuff we have accumulated. Very often, serving is somewhere near the bottom of our ‘To Do’ lists.
            It is often the same within church circles. When clergy get together, they typically ask things like: “How large is your congregation? How many people do you have in worship?” They may be genuinely curious, but they may also be looking for opportunities to brag about themselves and their churches.
            The questions that we should be asking ourselves are:
            Who have we helped?
            What more can we do to help?
And what are we willing to give up in service to others?
These questions are humbling. They should inspire some serious self-reflection. They may also sound condemning and critical. They may discourage those who think that they cannot possibly live up to Jesus’ expectations for us.
So, let me offer some words of encouragement. The disciples struggled to understand, and we may too. We may not get it right every time. We may not ever get it right. But we try.
Remember, despite all of their flaws and their missteps, the disciples remained faithful. They were not discouraged; they did not throw up their hands and walk away. And Jesus did not give up on them either. Jesus did not fire them and recruit a new group of better disciples. He did not trade them in for a newer model. He accepted them, warts and all. Rather than reject them, Jesus continued to guide them, direct them and teach them. He never stopped and he never will.
God is still speaking.
Jesus is still teaching.
Let us listen. Let us learn. Let us follow. Amen.


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