Does anybody here like Talent Shows? I wonder which your favourite one is: Strictly Come Dancing? X-Factor? Great British Bake-Off? In the best traditions of the format, lets have a vote. Who votes for Strictly? X-factor? GBBO?
What about the Olympics and Paralympics? Did anybody watch those this summer? Did anybody go to any events? What did you go and see? What was your favourite event?
What do all these events have in common? The people who are competing want to win. They want to be recognised as the best singer or dancer, the best baker, the fastest runner or swimmer. They want to be able to stand on the top step of the podium, to receive their prize, and the recognition that goes with it. Because they want this they are willing to put in immense amounts of effort and work. They will practice their skills. They will be ready to learn from their mistakes. They will spend hours training. They will spend huge amounts of time and effort in order to compete and to win.
In our reading this morning from Mark's account of the good news of Jesus, we hear about two other men who also wanted to have a podium place, men who wanted to be seen to be the best. James and John were brothers. They had worked on their Dad's fishing boat before they'd decided to leave that and go and follow Jesus.
As they'd followed Jesus they had become convinced that one day Jesus was going to rule the world. The great teaching that they'd heard from, the amazing things that they'd seen him do, they were absolutely sure that God was with him and that he would be King.
When Michael Owen was ten he played for Deeside Area Primary School's under-11 team. In one season he scored 97 goals. He was that good. Imagine for a moment that you were in Michael's class at school. It's lunchtime and you're going to play football on the playground. Who would want to be on Michael's team? Why? You know that whoever is on Michael's team is going to win the game, and you want to be part of that.
James and John were certain that Jesus was going to end up winning, and they wanted to be part of that. Not only did they want to be part of that, they wanted to be his vice-captains. They wanted to sit on the thrones next to him. They wanted to be in charge in the new Kingdom that Jesus had promised.
Jesus doesn't answer their question, but asks them another one. “Can you drink the cup I will drink or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?” This sounds like a bit of an odd question. What does it mean? Jesus is talking about the things that he will have to do in order to become King. Even more than an Olympic athlete who has to train and do difficult things to become champion, Jesus would have to die on a cross and go through a lot of suffering before he became King. He is asking James and John if they are able to commit themselves to do those things, if they want to sit next to him in his Kingdom. They say that they can, but their answer and the reaction of Jesus' other followers makes it clear that they haven't really understood what Jesus' kingdom will be like.
So Jesus tells them clearly. If they want to become great, they have to serve other people. If you want to be a great baker you have to learn the techniques. If you want to be a great dancer you have to have flexible hips. If you want an Olympic gold medal you have to train and train and train. If we want to be great followers of Jesus then we have to do what he did. We have to serve other people.
There are lots of examples of what this means in practice. Each Saturday night volunteers from across Telford come together to run a safe space for clubbers in Wellington. Offering free drinks, basic first aid and a listening ear from midnight to four in the morning in a warm café and on the streets. They keep a watchful eye over the vulnerable, giving flip flops to girls struggling to walk in high heels, and blankets to those without coats when the temperatures drop. The churches in Dawley have got together to open an Advice centre for those struggling with debt and other issues. All over the country churches and other organisations will be filling shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.
There are many opportunities to serve others in an organised way, but there are also the day to day things we can do for our friends, our families, our work colleagues. I wonder what they might be for you? Any suggestions?
There is nothing wrong with wanting to become great, to be the best that we can be for God. So, let's ask God for opportunities to serve others so that we can do that and be part of Jesus' kingdom breaking through into this world this week.