Mark 10, 35-45
TITLE: Servant's Entrance
SERMON IN A SENTENCE: Christ calls us to be last so that he can make us first.
SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:35-45
Jesus had twelve apostles, but we know very little about many of them. We know Matthew, the tax collector, of course -- and Doubting Thomas -- and Judas. But the Big Three were the brothers, James and John -- and Simon Peter. Peter, James, and John -- these three were privileged to be present at the Transfiguration and at Gethsemane.
All three -- Peter, James, and John -- were tempestuous men. Peter was always going off half-cocked -- saying or doing something foolish. He was the one who cut off a man's ear at Gethsemane. But Jesus called James and John the "Sons of Thunder," so they must have been pretty volatile too.
Of the three, Peter was the natural leader -- always first to speak out -- first to act. Peter was sometimes right -- sometimes wrong -- but never uncertain.
But James and John were not content to let Peter run off with the leadership prize. In our Gospel lesson today, they got Jesus off to the side and said, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." What a way to ask for something! "Do for us whatever we ask of you." Children ask like that -- "Would you do something for me?" Parents know better than to say yes without first learning what they want.
Jesus asked, "What is it you want me to do for you?" They responded, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." The right-hand and left-hand -- the places where the king seats his favorites! The right- and left-hand -- power positions! It is so yet today. At conference tables, the chairperson sits at the head of the table, and the chief lieutenants sit at the right and left. You can usually tell just how much power each person has by where they are seated around the table. The closer to the chairperson, the more powerful they are. By the time you get to the far end of the table, there isn't much power left!
"Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." What about Peter -- the other member of the Big Three? James and John were asking Jesus to push Peter into the background. They wanted to be the Big Two.
"Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." James and John obviously hadn't been listening to Jesus. Jesus just told the disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. James and John let that go in one ear and out the other. They thought that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to establish himself on David's throne, and they couldn't hear anything that Jesus said to the contrary.
"Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." It was a selfish request, and the other disciples, when they heard of it, were furious! All of them expected to be VIPs once Jesus got where he was going. They sometimes argued about which of them was greatest. They were all jockeying for position, and resented James' and John's attempt to jump in at the front of the line.
But Jesus didn't rebuke James and John -- nor did he rebuke the other disciples. Instead, he used the opportunity to teach them something about his kingdom. His kingdom would be quite different from the one that these disciples expected.
He reminded them that they had seen powerful people at work -- kings, governors, rulers. He told them that the ones that they thought of as great were instead really tyrants. They got where they were at the expense of little people -- defenseless people -- vulnerable people.
Jesus told the disciples that they must not be like that -- tells us that we must not be like that. He says:
"Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all."
And then he tells us that he has set the example for us. He has been a servant -- a slave. He says:
"For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve,
and to give his life a ransom for many."
Be a servant -- be a slave. That isn't what those disciples wanted, and it isn't what we want either. We want to be in charge -- to be the decision-maker -- to enjoy the perks of office -- to tell other people what to do. That is the way of the world. Look out for Number One, it tells us. Toot your own horn! Go for the gusto!
A few years ago, college president William Banowski interviewed Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine. Hefner explained the Playboy Philosophy. He said, "We reject any philosophy which holds that a man must deny himself for others." When Barnowski wrote up the interview, he added this comment. He said:
"Hugh Hefner tells us to get all we can.
Jesus tells us to give all we can.
Because the clash is total, there is no way to gloss over it.
The popular philosophy teaches that to get life, you must grab it;
Jesus taught that to win, we must surrender.
The conflict is absolutely irrevocable."
The world tells us one thing -- Jesus tells us another. Whom should we believe? Each of us must decide.
I will just say this -- I am deeply grateful that so many people have believed Jesus -- because it is people who believed Jesus who made my life bearable -- made the world (or at least their little part of the world) a fit place to live. People who love money and power often get rich and famous -- but people who love Jesus enrich my life -- and your life -- and other lives all over the world.
One example is a Post Chaplain at Fort Riley, Kansas many years ago – a full-bird-Colonel. He had a brand-new chaplain, and he assigned him to do admin work in the post chapel. Soon after the new chaplain arrived, Riley called him into his office. He said, "The only reason you and I are here is to take care of chaplains who are taking care of soldiers and their families." He said, "We can't always give chaplains everything they want, but we need to do the very best that we can. Remember that whenever a chaplain asks for help." Here was a man at the top who understood that his only reason for being was to help the person at the bottom.
Another example is that of Wilfred Grenfell, who established a medical mission in Labrador, in the early part of the 20th century. By the time he retired forty years later, he had established in Labrador six hospitals, four hospital ships, seven nursing stations, two orphanages, two large schools, fourteen industrial centers, and a cooperative lumber mill. Grenfell summarized his philosophy in these words:
"The service we render for others
is really the rent we pay for our room on this earth."
There was a church sign that someone posted above the entrance to the sanctuary at St. Bede's Episcopal Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The sign said simply, "SERVANT'S ENTRANCE." There was no other door into the sanctuary -- no other way to get in or out. If you wanted to attend worship at St. Bede's Episcopal Church, you had to enter through the SERVANT'S ENTRANCE. Nobody could have said it better!
I am reminded of the American journalist in China watching a nun clean gangrenous sores. He said, "I wouldn't do that for a million dollars." She smiled and said, "Neither would I.
I could go on and on…but I won’t.
Through the centuries, people who have loved Christ have also loved and served their neighbors. They have blessed us -- and God has blessed them in return. In the Beatitudes, Jesus says that such people are blessed -- and indeed they are. James Barrie, the playwright who created Peter Pan, put it this way. He said:
"Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others
cannot keep it from themselves."
Jesus calls us to be servants -- to serve the needs of others -- to put others first. He promises that, if we will do that, he will put us first -- make us great. He promises that, when we bring sunshine to the lives of others, he will cause it to shine on us as well.
It is a promise that he has kept a million times over. Try it! Become a servant! Bring blessings to others -- and see if Christ doesn't bring a double blessing to you.