Don’t Get Distracted 10-18-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 20:32-45 I explore Jesus’ response to James and John asking for an honor that is not intended for them. Jesus reminds us to be who we are called to be, nothing more and nothing less.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Mark 10:35-45 (also including 32-34)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

There’s a type of character that commonly pops up in movies aimed at young viewers…and this is particularly evident within animated movies from Pixar. The character type…the goofy sidekick. That unexpected character that pops up part way through the movie and comes alongside the main character, often times serving as comic relief within the story line…and in my opinion…more often than not, that character makes the movie.

Where would Shrek be without Donkey cracking jokes? Who can forget Olaf, the living snowman that traipses along beside Anna and Elsa…Aladdin’s furry little friend Abu…or my personal favorite…Dug, the talking dog from Up.

I love Dug…and in my opinion, the best scene is his introduction as he meets the main characters and displays his mechanically wonderful collar that allows his thoughts to be heard.

Its an amazing scene, as Doug acts like any friendly dog…jumping up on the chest of the main character to express his instant affection… “HI THERE…My name is Doug…I have just met you…and I love you….SQUIRREL!!!!!” (pause)
That’s my favorite spot right there…as Doug is distracted by a squirrel…something any dog would do…and yet…it makes the scene unforgettable…so much so that in recent years the word “SQUIRREL” has become synonymous for someone being easily distracted…and that’s where I’m jumping into the gospel lesson for today. (pause)
Now as I mentioned…I included a few extra verses at the beginning of today’s gospel lesson…and those verses included Jesus’ third and final passion prediction here in Mark. We heard the first two out of chapters 8 and 9 a few weeks back…and now, as Jesus and the disciples are finally nearing Jerusalem…Jesus shares the same message for the third time. Its not any different from the previous two…and he shares, quite clearly…the Son of man will be handed over and will be condemned to death…he’ll flogged…and beaten…and mocked…and he will be killed…and after three days he will rise again. (pause)
And immediately…right on the heels of this…James and John come trotting up to Jesus with this bold request. And I can only wonder…were they just listening? Or were they completely caught up in something different…utterly distracted…Honestly…I kinda hope so…it would explain quite a bit.

Maybe…just maybe, while Jesus is talking to the disciples about this tragedy that is coming right up…James and John are having a little side conversation because they are already planning on asking Jesus this…important question.

Psst…James….you ask him…no John, you ask him…well, maybe we should ask him together…I dunno…you think we should pull him aside…something tells me the other’s aren’t going to like this very much. (pause) SQUIRREL!!!! (pause)

I’d like to think that’s what happened…that they were simply so caught up in what they were about to ask Jesus that they completely missed what he was saying…because Jesus’ predictions about his suffering and death seem WAY too momentous to simply ignore right? But isn’t that what seems to happen?

I’m going to die and rise again…Hey Jesus…in your glory can we sit beside you? (pause) WHAT? They couldn’t have heard him could they? I mean, seriously. (pause) But what if they did? And what if this response is simply more evidence of the incredibly blatant point that Mark likes to make…that the disciples JUST…DON’T…GET IT.

We’ve seen this theme a lot haven’t we? They are constantly failing to understand Jesus’ teaching…or his miracles…or his healings…and when he comes around to teaching them…directly and plainly…about his death and resurrection…its more of the same. The first time, Peter rebukes him and gets called Satan….the second, we plainly hear that they don’t understand and promptly start bickering about who’s the greatest among them…and now…James and John…two brothers who likely have the normal sibling tendency to think alike hit him up with “Hey Jesus, let us sit in the places of honor beside you in your glory.”

I can only imagine the epic facepalm that Jesus gave them when he heard it. (facepalm) “Guys…really? You really think you deserve that?” And then we hear questions of cups and baptisms…and man aren’t the sons of Zebedee sure of themselves? Oh yes Jesus…we are able to do what you’re going to do. (pause)

Now granted…this whole exchange between Jesus and the brothers is a little odd…there’s a lot of debate about just what they’re really talking about here…is the cup Jesus’ death? Perhaps…and if so is he telling them that they will be killed? Its hard to say in the long run…because James was eventually martyred…but he wasn’t crucified…and John, well, he’s the one disciple who actually lived long enough to die of natural causes…so who knows what the cup is all about…and the baptism, well, that could be a lot of things…but regardless of that…Jesus makes the main point that to be the ones at his right and left hand is not what’s in store for James and John…that “honor” is prepared for different people. (pause)

Once again…when faced with the notion of Jesus dying, the disciples seem compelled to establish a pecking order…over and over again we see this…and today’s story is no different…they are so distracted by their petty human desire to be top-dog that they forget what Jesus has taught them over and over again…and so he reminds them once more…its not about trying to be great…serve one another…follow my example because the son of man came not to be served, but to be a servant of all…to give his life as a ransom for many.

And with that, we see the disciples finally shut up and listen. (pause) Over and over again Jesus has been telling these men that to be a follower of Christ…to be a disciple means a life of serving others…and yet it never sinks in…but this time, Jesus tells us that his life, which is about to be taken…will serve as a ransom…as a payment…because that’s what a ransom is…a payment to grant the freedom of someone that has been taken captive. (pause)
Maybe…just maybe…for the first time the disciples are starting to get it…even just for a moment…perhaps they are starting to see past their own petty distractions about what the Messiah is supposed to be…to see what the Messiah actually is…and where his glory truly lies. (pause)
All to often it seems like the disciples are focused on this amazing kingdom that Jesus is going to establish…and even more so…their place of prominence within it…and I fear that we get caught up in the same distraction…constantly asking the question of just what following God is going to get me. (pause)

But Jesus is revealing the point of his glory…and where it will be found…not in a kingdom…not in miracles or teachings or healings…but the glory of Jesus is found as he hangs on that cross…as he embraces a cursed death…taking on the curse of sin for all of humanity…paying the ransom to free us from that which holds us captive. (pause)
Maybe this is why the disciples seem to clam up after this third and final prediction…and why James and John don’t push the issue anymore…perhaps they are finally beginning to understand, if only for a moment…the true reality of what Jesus is talking about as he predicts his death.

James…John…you want to be beside me in my glory…you can’t…its not prepared for you…Maybe Jesus is predicting that they will all run away and abandon him…which we know they do…but…when Jesus is hanging in excruciating and degradation pain on that cross…he’s not alone…and this is why we say that he is in his glory…because the only time in all four gospels when anyone is described at his right and at his left…its two criminals…hanging up on crosses on either side. (pause)

This is the utterly unbelievable aspect of the gospel…that God would die…and not only that, but that God would willingly endure the most painful, humiliating, cursed death imaginable…and that he would do it surrounded…not by his friends…but by condemned criminals…revolutionaries…the lowest of the low…and that God would do this willingly to ransom us from the powers of sin and darkness that are so present in this world…holding us captive…and not only that…but that God would do all this for individuals that are often too distracted to notice…too distracted with worry…or with ambition…with anger…or with fear. (pause)
I can’t tell you what it is that distracts you from recognizing the incredible act that Jesus accomplishes on that cross…but I know that we all have those distractions in our lives…and yet, Jesus willingly does this for us anyway…and in the midst of all this…his words to James and John, as well as the other disciples, serve as an important reminder for us as well.

One day we all drink from the cup of death…the same cup that Jesus himself asked the Father to remove…and likewise…we share in the same baptism as Jesus…washed in the water and gifted with the holy spirit…and throughout all of that, we are not called to be anything more than what God intends for us…the places of honor…to be at the right and left of Jesus in his glory were prepared for two specific people…and God has prepared something specific for you.

And so, as we leave this place today, reminded of the incredible cost willingly paid by God on our behalf…remember…do what God has called you to do…be who God has called you to be…and while that looks different for everyone…there is something that we all have in common…that God has called us his beloved children and nothing can take that away. Amen.

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