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Mark 10:35-45

How Do I Make My Life Count for Something?

Sermon preached July 6, 2014
I want to show you one of my favorite things - its a trophy that I got for winning the
church golf tournament in the church I served in Virginia - won that tournament not once,
not twice, but three times in the eight years I was there.
Thee things I loved about winning this tournament:
loved beating the guys at the church who played three times a week when I was
lucky to play once every three months;
loved the cash prize of $50! does that make me a professional golfer?
loved the formal presentation of the trophy at the annual banquet - the
Just about everyone has a hunger deep inside to be recognized as not just above average,
but that we did something that mattered, and that somebody noticed, and that we,
somehow, in a quiet way or a dramatic way, get some kind of recognition.
What James and John want
Thats what James and John want - power and recognition - but not just that, they want to
be first among equals, they want to be above everyone else at Jesus side in his glory.
How they got thinking about this - just a little while before in Mark they had gone up the
mountain with Jesus and seen him transfigured into glory, seen Moses and Elijah appear
with him, heard Gods voice thunder from heaven, This is my beloved Son - listen to
And James and John figure Jesus is soon going to announce publicly that he is the
Messiah - reveal to the whole world what the two of them saw up on that mountain - and
all their dreams were going to come true - crush their enemies, new world order, Israel on
So one day, when the other ten disciples were otherwise occupied, James and John snuck
over to Jesus, looking over their shoulders to make sure no one was within earshot.
"Jesus," one of them said, while they both shifted nervously from foot to foot,
"When you come into your glory, we want to be your right-and-left-hand men,
sitting next to you."
What was happening here is a lot like the competition within a campaign staff after a
candidate has won the Presidency.
The staff workers have logged tens of thousands of miles jetting around the
country, lived off doughnuts and coffee, worked endless days during the campaign
- and after its over, it's time to get some recognition and some power.
And so these staffers push and elbow each other, gossip about each other, and
especially promote themselves in the hope that the President-elect will give them
positions of power and influence: Chief of Staff, Secretary of State, Press
Secretary and so on. James - chief of Staff and right-hand-man to Jesus the
Messiah; John, trusted counselor and aide-in-chief and left-hand-man to the ruler
of the world.
But they were clueless
But James and John had no idea of the cost of what they were asking for.
They wanted to share in Jesus' glory, and power, but they had no idea that Jesus would
reveal his glory not from a throne, but from the cross.
And you remember who ended up at Jesus' right and left hands - two thieves - hanging on
the cross and dying just like Jesus.
So Jesus asks them, can you drink the cup I will drink?
What hes referring to, is the betrayal and suffering he will endure in just a weeks
time. Hes asking, can you handle what is ahead - for me and for you? Will you
be able to stand up, stand with me, as I go through with my destiny to die to save
the world?
they stick out their chests and say, Sure we can!
and they do and they dont.
Both of them like all the disciples, run away when Jesus is arrested and do
not stand with Jesus.
But both of them share in suffering - James is martyred as recorded in
Acts. 12; John is exiled to a tiny island named Patmos.
Jesus teaching
Somehow the other ten disciples got wind of what James and John asked of Jesus. With
righteous indignation they protested to Jesus. I wonder how many of them were upset
that James and John beat them to the punch. So Jesus sat them down and taught them a
really important lesson.
Now, note that Jesus does not contest their desire to be great - he doesnt say, be content
with being a little worm - dont strive, dont hope, dont reach for greatness - because
having those kind of hopes and dreams is part of what makes us human, in fact, I think it
is part of being made in the image of God - we know we are destined for more than this
world can provide us - we ache to do something useful with our lives, we ache for
meaning and recognition
And those desires are good - problem is, we pursue them almost entirely in ways
that dont work - but here, Jesus points to the one way that does work.
But that way is counter-intuitive. Its the saying, The way up - is down.
According to Jesus, one doesn't get honor and power and status by jockeying for
position; in fact, the whole idea of scrambling for power so you can have more
status, more honor, than others is as wrong as 2 + 2 = 5. "If you want to be great
in God's kingdom," goes the children's song taken directly from this teaching,
"you must become the servant of all."
That sounds so basic, Sunday school 101, doesn't it? Yeah, yeah, I know that, right?
But its not the way most of us really think, if were honest with ourselves.
Freud - "It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false
standards of measurement - that they seek power, success, and wealth for
themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true
value in life"
What Jesus is saying here, is that you can be great in this world through talent and luck
and power - but the only way to be great - forever - is through serving others.
But full disclosure - following Christ in this way isnt easy or trivial
Read book a few years ago titled The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, who is
President of World Vision. He tells the story of how he became president of World
Vision. He starts with his success in the business world, becoming CEO of Lenox - the
company that makes fine china and figurines and so on. Hes living in the posh Mainline
of Philadelphia, his five kids in an excellent private school, hes driving a company
Jaguar. Hes also a committed Christian and involved in his church, and in supporting
charities like World Vision.
One day hes sitting in his corner office and gets a call from his old friend Bill telling him
that World Vision is looking for a new President and hed be perfect for the job. In fact,
he felt that God was leading him to tell Stearns that hed be perfect for the job. Dont you
love it when people tell you that God told them you need to do something?
Stearns said that he laughed, it was ridiculous, he couldnt even find most of the countries
that World Vision served on a map. He didnt even read the international news section of
the paper. So he blew it off and tried to forget about it.
But other trusted friends started telling him, independently of Bill, that he should consider
the job. Then a recruiter called, working for World Vision, and despite Stearns trying to
get off the call, asked him the key question: Are you willing to be open to Gods will for
your life?
So Stearns started praying, then went to be interviewed by the board of World Vision,
was offered the job - and heres what happened next: Returning (home) that afternoon, I
was at the end of my...rope. I had a decision to make. Would I accept the (job), leave my
twenty-three year career behind, and move my wife and five kids across the country, or
would I turn down the job and stay at Lenox? This was one of those life decisions that
changes everything, and I didnt want to make it. I was an emotional basket case. And
so, at 4 PM, I slipped into my pajamas, crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head,
and began to weep and pray, crying out to God to take this cup from me. It was pretty
Stearns gave in to Gods call finally, and is glad he did - but man, it can be hard.
With service comes sacrifice. It may not make you crawl into bed sobbing...but it may
include some pain...thats what Jesus was trying to get across to James and John.
To put it plainly...
Now we have a problem. By we, I mean the American church. Somehow in America we
have taken the gospel and made it all about me. Or you. As a way to self-fulfilment.
And church as a place that meets my needs. And many think that following Jesus is just a
matter of believing a little doctrine, praying when we have needs, going to church when
we feel like it.
Robert Bellah, in his 1985 book Habits of the Heart, asked large numbers of
people what they wanted out of the institutions of life.
For marriage, and work, the answers were - personal development and
personal advancement.
Next came the church. What did people want from the church? Personal
Now there's something to that. But if you are here solely looking for personal
fulfillment and plan to find it by sitting in worship for an hour a week, I guarantee
you won't find it. You won't find personal fulfillment in the church by coming
here and expecting to be served. You find it by serving.
There are too many people who claim to follow Christ - in all churches, perhaps even in
this church - who are perfectly content to sit back and consume rather than contribute. To
be served, rather than to serve.
If your spiritual life doesnt seem to be going anywhere, if you come to church and
wonder, Is this all there is?, if you are turned inward on yourself and always cranky that
your needs arent getting met, I would suggest that you have an opportunity to learn to
Serving in small ways
And it doesnt mean necessarily you have to leave your job as a CEO and join a non-
profit ministry. The good news here is that everyone, and I mean everyone, can get in the
action; everyone, has the invitation to become great in Gods kingdom.
An old friend of mine tells of a visit he made to a church in Alabama some years
ago. Just before he was to preach, the pastor got up from his desk and asked Tom
to follow him. They went down into the educational wing, approached a Sunday
school classroom, and the pastor beckoned Tom to look through the glass window
set in the door. Look, he urged.
Tom peered through the glass into a kindergarten class full of activity. In one
corner of the room, a teacher was reading a story to a group of children. In
another corner, a teacher was sitting on the floor, assisting children in building
something with blocks.
In the middle of the room sat an elderly woman, calmly and slowly rocking in a
rocking chair. Every now and then, a child would break away from her group and
come to sit on her lap as she rocked. Occasionally the woman in the rocker would
say something to one of the teachers, and the adult would respond with a laugh
and a nod of the head. The actual teaching was done around the edge of the room
and in the corners, but the aged woman in the rocker was radiating grace around
the room.
She used to be the only kindergarten teacher, said the pastor. But now that she
is late in life, others do the teaching. But she still comes every Sunday morning to
sit in the center of the room and provide a blessing.
And let me be clear that it doesnt have to be a church ministry - parents and grandparents
who are doing their best to raise their children to love Jesus, parenting children every
single day, man thats the kind of service Jesus is talking about. People who serve Meals
on Wheels, who work to combat human trafficking - if you are serving in order to bring
the love and healing power of Christ to others, especially if you are getting little or no
recognition for it - you are doing what the Lord is talking about in this passage.
The Good News
For those who serve, there is great news in this passage. You may have forgotten your
dreams of greatness. You may be disappointed with your life. You may have become a
servant because others were too busy or thought themselves too good to stoop to the work
you do.
But listen - when you stoop to serve, God will raise you up and make you great in the
kingdom of heaven. God recognizes and honors what you do - even if others don't. Even
though you don't seek it, you will be recognized, you will be honored, you will share in
Christ's glory.
James & John misunderstood HOW to be great in Gods kingdom - but they also
understood how GREAT they would be in Gods kingdom. They dreamed of the glory of
serving with the conquering Messiah as he ruled the earth - well, Christ has something far
greater than that planned for us.
Was with my children and grandchildren for my birthday yesterday - being with
grandchildren always sparks memories of when my children were little - and I was
remembering when my son Peter was little, I would come home from work - this was
before seminary - and when it was nice out we would pull out this fat plastic bat and
plastic ball, the bat was as tall as he was - and we would go in our little front yard and I
would pitch the ball underhand to him and he would take these mighty swings, and if he
connected sometimes he would hit the ball up on the porch roof of our house. And Id
tell him, Great hit, Peter! and he would just delight in my praise, he would beam.
Imagine that instead of a father praising his son, you and I stand before the God of the
universe at the end of days. All the angels are watching, all the saints from every time
. Thomas G. Long, Preaching in the Middle of a Saintly Conversation, in Journal for Preachers,
Lent 1995, p. 21.
and place are gathered around. And God wraps us up and lifts us up with his love and
praise and we will blaze with glory like the sun. Now thats a hope that keeps you going -
when other people knock you down, when life doesnt turn out like you expected, when
other people betray and disappoint you, when your career doesnt turn our well, when
your health fails, even when our lives look to the world like failures - we have this
inheritance of praise and glory waiting for us.