Today was Gideon Sunday. Gideon's go into the churches, talk about their Bible placement programs, tell some stories all in the space of 10-15 minutes. I told my Gideon, Mr. House, that I was prepared to speak....or not to speak....and told him to let the Lord lead his talk. He was awesome...and when I looked at my watch it was almost 12. I did not want him to stop. So, here is what would have been my sermon for October 18th.
My Scripture today was from Mark 10:35-45
I was talking with a friend of mine this past week about the United Methodist appointive system. We both agreed that, in our opinions, The United Methodist Church has the best system for deciding what pastor goes to what church and so on……but even within the best of systems…there are flaws. My friend spoke about pastors he has known who have spent their entire careers calculating their next big move……how they will get moved up to a bigger church, which of course, means a bigger salary and I suppose more prestige. Ministers are human creatures just like everyone else, and can easily fall prey to thinking about Christian ministry in worldly ways. And the first disciples of Jesus were no exception to this flaw in thinking. Here in our Gospel Lesson for this morning we find James and John asking Jesus to give them positions of prestige and power…“Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” In Mark chapter 9:33-35. Jesus has just gone through this same discussion with the twelve……and a chapter later He must deal with it again. The disciples missed the point in chapter 9 and they miss it again in chapter 10……and some 2,000 years later, we often miss it as well! So let me ask you this morning….What is greatness? In the kingdom of God greatness is not about moving on up……it’s about transformation!!! The violent reversal of the world’s way of measuring greatness…can go no further than Jesus explains it, embodies it, models it, and makes it possible!!! In Jesus’ world…which is the world of reality……the greatest at the banquet is the slave who does the serving……not the one sitting at the head of the table making the toasts, getting all the attention, and telling others what to do. Well, let’s think about it……let’s really think about it… Within our families, our social circles, our church……who is it that we love and respect the most? Who do we prize the most? Who do we trust the most? Is it the person who drives the most expensive car? Is it the person who wears the most flashy and expensive clothing? Is it the person who is best looking? Is it the person who holds high positions and tells others what to do? Is it the one who ‘lords it over us’…who exercises their authority over us…who causes us to quake in our boots? Or is it the person, rich or poor, who is not a show off…if they do happen to have anything to show off? The person who is the first to visit us when we are sick…maybe bringing us a pot of homemade chicken soup? The person who is more than willing to sit and listen to our problems…without complaining…without judging? The person who holds our hands and prays for and with us when we are facing trials and tribulations? The person who rejoices with us when good things happen in our lives, and grieves with us when bad things happen? The person that we know we can count on to help us in our time of need no matter what? Let’s look at verses 42-45 in our Gospel Lesson. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” Again we find Jesus turning the world upside down! Notice the irony and scorn in the phrase: “those who are regarded as rulers…”.Talk about popping the balloon of human pomp and circumstance! Here, Jesus punctures the pretensions of all ruling classes, all ‘so-called superior races’, all self-designated caste systems……greatness is found in humility, honesty and repentance. There is a little boy on the sidewalk in the fairy tale called “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” While the rest of the crowd, are enraptured and full of flatter over the supposed gossamer-thin clothing of the emperor, the realistic little boy blurts out the truth, “Why, he hasn’t anything on at all. He’s naked! And isn’t this what Christ is saying to us? There is no real leadership in the tyranny of power; the only real greatness lies in service. This reversal of the world’s measurements may be hard for us to accept; but until we do accept it we are far from the kingdom of God! Suppose our lives were measured only by the amount of real service we have offered to other people? How great would our lives really be? Well, here Jesus is telling us that this is precisely how they are measured! After James and John ask Jesus to let one of them sit at His right and the other at His left…Jesus replies: “You don’t know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” Jesus uses here two symbolic words, familiar in the Old Testament, cup and baptism. They are clear words and they are huge in their implications. They are much more than mere figures of speech! Jesus had just finished telling His disciples what was going to go on when He goes up to Jerusalem: they will mock Him and spit on Him, and torture Him, and kill Him. The cup that Jesus drank and the baptism that Jesus was baptized with was His actual offering of His life!!! So, His question to James and John was literally this: “Can you, too, offer your lives?” In order for any of us to even come close to ‘greatness’ we must be transformed! We must allow the Holy Sprit of God take complete control of our lives and of our appetites. We must daily take up the Cross, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus. We must not look at life through the eyes of the world…we must not measure greatness by the measuring stick of the world. We must ask God to peal off the layers and layers of selfishness and selfish ambitions we hav…we must honestly ask to be humbled to the dust…which can be a very painful process. We must rely only on the love of Jesus Christ, we must live on His Word alone, and we must continually pray, “Not our will, but Your will be done.” We must not lay up for ourselves treasures on this earth—this earth which is coming to nothing—but instead we must store up for ourselves treasures in heaven…treasures of selfless service, of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, of concern for the spiritual and physical welfare of the unsaved. Part of what will happen to us if and as we are molded more and more into the image of our Savior is that we will develop a Christlike sensitiveness toward human need that brings real pain into our lives. We will expose our nerves to the hurts of others, we will load their burdens onto our shoulders, and we will allow our hearts to be torn with anguish over the sufferings of others. This is not easy. But it is the cup from which Jesus drank. If we are to drink from this cup, we will be shutting out all possibilities that we will live lives of easy comfort and clam-like indifference. Can we drink of this cup? The baptism that Jesus was baptized with means putting ourselves into conflict with evil and dangerous powers. It means being willing to go all the way for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s like jumping in front of a moving train in order to save a blind person who is wandering on the tracks. Jesus probably could have avoided crucifixion by staying in Galilee. He wasn’t brought to trial for saying, “Consider the lilies…, how they grow. It was for saying, “Consider the thieves in the temple, how they steal!” That is one of the things that brought on the crisis. It was when He drove out demons, when He raised the dead, when He faced the evil forces that Jesus was baptized with conflict! Can we be baptized with the baptism Christ is baptized with? Obviously not until we are transformed! Look at Romans 12:2. And this transformation is a process. It’s a process that begins when we finally yield to Christ’s call on our lives to repent and be born again…it’s a process that continues as we put our faith into action through service, fellowship, worship, Bible Study and witnessing……it is a process of being able to more and more have the ability “to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with…” But then He says, in a sense, “it’s not about moving on up…You have to let me change your thinking, change your priorities, change your perspective……it’s not about moving on up, it’s the exact opposite, actually. It’s about allowing yourselves to become the least for the sake of others……it’s about radical transformation!”