Hi friends! Here is my sermon from this morning. If you are preaching on this text and looking for a children’s sermon, I had all the kids wear crowns and we talked about what we would do if we were kings and queens and princes and princesses and then I talked about how Jesus said if we want to be great that we first have to serve others. I charged the kids (and later the adults) to do at least one thing to serve others this week.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 17, 2019
Finding Greatness In Discipleship
Okay, guys I had a moment this week.
I was having lunch with a friend of mine at Patriot Place and when we walked out of the restaurant, she said that she was going to go to Bath and Body Works to buy some soap. I told her I was going to go with her, because I wanted to smell the new aromatherapy scents, but that I was not going to buy anything because – between by house and my office – I currently have plenty of aromatherapy lotion options in my life.
See exhibit A.
And also – for those of you who are keeping track – I literally just last weekend, preached a sermon about the stuff in our lives and how perhaps maybe it might not be a bad thing to either weed out the stuff we have or think twice before we acquire more stuff.
This is what I said last week:
When we stop and ask ourselves if we really need either what we are thinking of purchasing or getting rid of, we are giving ourselves the opportunity to calibrate our priorities.
What really matters?
The stuff we have accumulated? The stuff we want? The stuff our consumerist society is telling us we need? The stuff somebody else has that we are now coveting?
Or our relationship with God? Our faith? Our ability to serve others? The kingdom of God that we have the capacity to create right here on earth?
So there I was at Bath and Body Works, meandering through the aromatherapy section.
And then the saleswoman came up to me:
Just so you know, all of the lotions in the aromatherapy line are $6 today.
Y’all, they are usually $13.50.
So let me tell you about the moment when I came very close to needing an extra long time of confession this morning.
I did not buy the lotion. And, if I am being very honest with you all, I did not buy the lotion not because I thought rationally about the fact that I already have five bottles of the stuff and should use those before I get more, but mostly because there was a little voice in my head that said, you know, you probably should not buy something you do not actually need four days after you told your congregation not to do the same thing.
And also three days before you have to face them again.
So I did not buy the lotion.
Even though I really wanted to.
Sometimes even the preacher misses her own point.
In this morning’s scripture reading from the Gospel of Mark, James and John – the sons of Zebedee – kind of miss the point as well.
Now, for the sake of understanding the Gospel as a whole (since that is one of the reasons we are doing this Year of Mark), let us familiarize ourselves with who these men are. They are disciples. We are introduced to James and John very early on in the Gospel of Mar, in the first chapter. They are fishermen-turned-disciples whom Jesus calls to follow him when they are fishing on the Sea of Galilee with their father, Zebedee in the first chapter of Mark. Jesus later appoints them, in chapter three, alongside ten others, to proclaim the message and have the authority to cast out demons.
In addition to all of the miracles and healings and teachings that all of the disciples witness in the Gospel of Mark, James and John are two of the three disciples whom Jesus allows to enter with him into the house of the leader of the synagogue, where the man’s daughter is presumed to be dead, but is restored to life. They are also two of the three disciples who bear witness to Jesus’ transfiguration, where he appears on a mountain with Elijah and Moses. We will hear that story in two weeks, on Mardi Gras.
So I guess you could say that these brothers kind of have a leg up (if you would call it that) going into this conversation with Jesus. But here is where they miss the point. For the third time, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. He tells the disciples that they are going to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man is going to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes and where he will be put to death and then three days later he will rise again.
And instead of asking, perhaps, how they can prepare themselves for this moment or what this might mean for this ministry they have been commissioned into, James and John say to Jesus, okay, well you just make sure that we are at your right and left hand, in all your glory.
So here you have Jesus saying, you guys need to pay attention, because your whole world is about to be turned upside down. Then you have James and John saying, okay, well we want to make sure we are on top when all of that happens.
And honestly, I could criticize James and John for missing Jesus’ point that it is not about gaining power, but about Jesus’ ministry and this kingdom they are creating, but then I almost bought a sixth bottle of hand lotion that I did not need this week, so I think one moral of the story is that we all have moments in our faith journey where we miss the point.
So what is the point?
Jesus says this is not about power, but about discipleship; it is about service.
Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-45
For Jesus, the sense of urgency in these words comes from the fact that he knows what is going to happen in Jerusalem. Later on, for the writers of the Gospel, the sense of urgency in these words came from the fact that Christians were facing persecution. So you can see why it was so important that the disciples – and later on, the earliest Christians – to not miss the point that Christianity is about humble service and not about climbing to the top. The stakes were really high; people’s lives were at stake.
I would argue that it is equally important for us today for us not to miss the point that Christianity is not about power and about trying to climb to the top and declare ourselves glorified; it is about humble servanthood. It is about helping others. It is about putting the needs of others before the wants and the desires of yourself. It is about being willing to get your hands dirty and do the hard work that Jesus says is required to be great.
It is hard, because we live in a country where, most of the time, we cannot even conceptualize our own privilege; and we are surrounded by this narrative of The American Dream and gaining more and climbing the ladder and that that is what it means to be great.
It is funny (well, not funny haha, but funny ironic) because this narrative even seeps into our church. How do we measure greatness in the church? We quantify it with numbers: Do we have more people in worship? How many new members did we bring in? How much money did we raise?
And Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
Greatness is found in servanthood; it is found in service to God and in service to others. Greatness is not found in how much money we have or how powerful we are or how important we think we are; greatness is found in what we are doing to help others and to make this world a better place. Greatness is found in what we are doing to spread the Gospel and to create the Kingdom of God here on earth. Greatness is found when we shine God’s light into the darkness of the world and when we share God’s love in real and tangible ways so that hate and evil do not win. Greatness is found when we humble ourselves; when we become the hands and the feet and the face and the voice of Christ.
Not when we glorify ourselves.
I was working on my sermon on Friday and my sister texted me and told me there was an active shooter in Illinois, so I opened CNN to see if there were any updates and, I have to be honest, I got a lot more news than I wanted to know.
Our world is broken.
Our world so desperately needs the Gospel to not only be proclaimed, but to be acted out in real and profound and, yes, sometimes hard ways.
Into every generation, Christians are called to do just this. We are called to do just this. We are called to be servants, to enact the Gospel and to try to make this world a better place.
And are we always going to get it right the first time? No, of course not. Sometimes we will miss the point and have to be reminded and try again; the disciples did then and we will again, today. But this is one of the reasons that we gather, as a community of faith; so that we can hold one another accountable. This is why we do church.
So that we can try again. So we can strengthen our faith. So we can learn what it means to be Christ’s disciples.
This morning, I charge you with the same thing Jesus is charging the disciples with: Go out and serve others. Be in the presence of Christ by living out the Gospel and by making the world a better place. Find greatness in discipleship.
Thanks be to God!