Posts Tagged ‘James and John’

This Is Not Normal 10-21-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:32-45, I explore Jesus’ final Passion Prediction and the strange way that the disciples continue to react to it. It shouldn’t be normal…and in light of a tragedy in our community, it seems quite fitting.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

The grace and peace of the Triune God is yours, now and forever. Amen

Yesterday I spent I pretty big portion of the day in the car, as my family road tripped up to the central part of the state for the funeral of my wife’s aunt. As we were driving in the morning, both my wife and I commented that it was strange that there weren’t very many farmers out in the field yet…with the mild dry and breezy weather that we’ve had the past few days finally making harvest work a possibility.

But that was the case…very little activity in the fields as we traveled in the morning.  But then on the way home, it was the polar opposite. Combines in almost every field…the tell-tale presence of a large dust cloud as the crops are pulled out…and as we drove along, it crossed my mind “now that’s more like it….this is what I expect to see this time of year…this is normal.” Year after year of history all adds up for us to build these images of normal, as we witness or even experience those things that just end up being common.

Now that being said…I can’t help but think that today’s scripture reveals something else that is starting to become normal. Now, as I mentioned, I included an extra couple of verses in the reading today…because the setting is important.  For the third and final time, Jesus has shared the prediction of his pending passion…his betrayal and arrest…his persecution and torture…his death on the cross…and perhaps most importantly…the good news of the resurrection that he will also experience.

We’ve heard the other two predictions in recent weeks…as all three occur in a fairly brief portion of Mark’s gospel…now here’s the thing.  Jesus doesn’t deviate much in terms of the details that he shares each time…but the thing that’s starting to become familiar…that’s becoming…normal…is the reaction on the part of the disciples.

The first time Peter makes a proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah…and Jesus responds “You betcha…now here’s what that means.” And Peter oversteps his bounds…rebuking Jesus, likely due to an misplaced expectation of just what the earthly Messiah means.

The second time around…Jesus predicts it again…and this time the disciples sorta clam up in front of him, but as they continue walking along they start bickering about who’s the greatest among them…and Jesus has to stop and redirect them again.

And now today…he makes the same prediction for the third and final time…and this time, its James and John who come up to him with this off-the wall request…now…I can’t help but think that they know this probably isn’t the smartest thing to be asking for…so maybe, just maybe they have been paying attention to what happened the first two times…but they come up to Jesus and say “Teacher…we want you to give us whatever we ask of you.” And Jesus…who probably already has a pretty good idea of what’s coming, poses quite the question back at them…What do you want me to do for you?

And with that…we hear this request to hold the places of honor, at the right hand and the left hand of Jesus when he comes into his glory. (pause)
Seriously…its bad enough that the disciples never seem to fully grasp what’s going on…and not only in these three instances…but honestly throughout the course of the gospels it constantly seems like they lack any shred of comprehension…like their boneheaded responses are just the normal thing that we come to expect from them.

But you know what…it shouldn’t be.  These 12 guys…these men who follow Jesus around to witness the ministry first-hand…never seem to get it…and what’s worse…in two out of the three passion predictions…it’s the big 3…Jesus’ inner circle of Peter, James, and John…who misread things…and honestly…the gospel of Jesus Christ…the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near to us through the incarnate word of God made flesh in Jesus…that’s WAY to big to get brushed off with these boneheaded responses of the disciples…maybe we think its normal…but it shouldn’t be normal. (pause)

Now with this…I need to switch gears…Friday morning, I walked into the office with an expectation in mind…but I was a little off…because as I had taken my kids to school, I had seen and heard several patrol cars as well as the firetruck and ambulance go flying up the hill out of town…and for some reason, the thought went through my head…this is a big one.

Admittedly…I was already a little edgy going into the day…many of you sitting out there probably know the significance of October 19th here in our community…but I sat down at my desk and started working…only to get a message a few minutes later with some of the worst news we can get.

There’s been a car accident…and a student from the high school has been killed…now at this point it was only a rumor…but one that prompted me to reach out to the principal up the hill…and to quickly receive confirmation that yes…that’s what happened…and with that I jumped in the car to go be present and help out at the school in any way that I could.

When I arrived, the students were all in their classrooms…and they were being told what had happened…and as I sat there in the commons, talking with a few of the administration, I knew what I was going to see next.  I was going to see students come back out into the hallways crying…I was going to see them utterly devastated…clinging to one another in the shock…some would continue to walk around the school with that shocked look on their face…some would call their parents and go home…and over the course of the next couple of hours, the school day would continue on as many of them defaulted back into the familiar…upset and shaken…and yet trying their best to go on with things.

And that’s exactly what happened…now here’s the painful thing about this…I knew what to expect…because this isn’t the first time I’ve been at that school when something like this has happened. 3 times in the past 4 years our high school has experienced the tragedy of the death of a classmate…a life lost far too soon…and this should not be normal.

(pause) Now please don’t think that I’m trivializing this in anyway…its heart breaking…utterly devastating…and I know enough of those kids up the hill to feel the anguish of having been through this, not just once, and not twice, but now three times.  And to know that as devastating as it might be for the school and the community…that there is a family who has now experienced the nightmare that you don’t wish on anyone.

And if you have heard the news report about the accident…you know how bad this is without me needing to say it…and I’ve had conversations with several different people in the meantime…conversations that pretty much end up saying “this doesn’t make sense?” or “I want to know why?” And usually once they say that, they follow it up with “and I know I can’t know, and that’s not right.”

There’s a lot of truth in that…when a tragedy like this happens…something that we can’t make heads or tails of…it usually leaves us with a bitter taste in our mouths…and we’re either really sad or we’re really angry…and often we look for someone or something to aim that emotion at.

And as we consider that…maybe, just maybe…Jesus response to James and John is fitting today…what do you want me to do for you? The quick answer…is that we want God to take it away…to snap his fingers and make it just a bad dream that didn’t actually happen…but our broken reality has also shown us that this is not what’s going to happen…because Jesus did not come into our reality in order to serve as something of a magic lamp…to grant wishes to us…I can only think that Jesus had something much bigger and more profound in mind, not only as he predicted his passion…but as he actually experienced it.

Because in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus…God was doing something about this broken reality that we live in…a reality that includes pain and suffering and death…whatever it was that Jesus was accomplishing…the promise of the gospel assures us that whenever death rears its ugly head…it doesn’t get the last word…God does…because God mourns this reality just like we do…and God knows that while it might feel normal…it shouldn’t.

This is the gospel…that while we were sinners, Christ died for us…and this is true whether we feel good about it or not.  I don’t know about you…but in light of this tragic death…just like the others like it that our community has experienced…sometimes these promises of the gospel feel kinda bitter…but the truth is that the promises don’t change based on how we feel. (pause)
Once more, our community has experienced a tragedy…and now together, we will all try our best to find the new normal going forward…and as we do, whether this feels trite right now in the moment, or if it is a comfort…we have a God who is walking this road with us…a God who has promised to never forsake us even in the times when we find ourselves hollering and screaming at him…God will take it…so if that’s what you need to do…if that’s what you need to feel…feel it, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This is not normal…nor should it be…but regardless of how we find ourselves feeling right here, right now…know that God doesn’t think its normal either…and even if it doesn’t feel like it, God HAS already done something about it. Amen.

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.