Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2015)

Lent 5 – Series B (March 22, 2015)
“True Glory” (Mark 10:35-45)

A recent blog post at the Huffington Post, written by a young woman from the “Millennial” generation, listed 34 ways you change as you become an adult (by the way, in case you don’t know what a “Millennial” is, that’s the label recently given to those who reached adulthood around the year 2000; that means that they’re generally in their late 20’s and early 30’s right now).  Here’s the first four of those changes: 1) You don’t feel the need to gossip anymore;  2) Jealousy is futile and starts to fade away as a controlling force in your mind;  3) You handle conflict directly, maturely, and respectfully;  and 4) You know how to apologize and admit fault.
            But is that really true of adulthood?  Adults continue to gossip, get jealous, act immature, hold grudges, and never admit they are wrong.  The article goes on to state this: “Adulthood is a journey into strength and self-empowerment.”  Another blogger – a Millennial himself – writes in response: “Millennials are often labeled as the self-centered, ‘Me’ generation, and I’ve always hated that stereotype because I didn’t really see it.  Now I do.  Millennials think adulthood is more self-empowerment than self-sacrifice … Three of the 34 ‘ways you change as you become an adult’ are focused on others.  Sounds more like these may be ways to become parasites of happiness, not productive, caring adults.  Millennials won’t grow up because we won’t care about anyone but ourselves.  It’s hard to grow up and be an adult when you can’t get out from in front of the mirror.”[1]
            Pretty harsh words, coming from someone from within that generation.  But let’s not just rag on the Millennials.  This applies to every sinful generation.  We are all so self-absorbed that servanthood and self-sacrifice does not come naturally.
            I don’t know how old James and John were at this point.  They may have been in their 20’s or early 30’s.  The “sons of thunder,” they are called.  Two young, brash brothers.  Apparently, they were into self-empowerment, too … so much so that they audaciously asked Jesus for positions of power and authority when he comes into his glory.  Matthew’s Gospel tells us that they even get their mom in on the act … that’s why she appears with them in the picture on today’s service folder (Matt. 20:20-28).  Maybe the boys thought mom could put in a good word for them.
            James and John had a mistaken notion of glory.  They were expecting the glory of an earthly kingdom.  This was a perpetual misunderstanding among the disciples and the Jews in general.  This request happened right before our Lord’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  The crowd at that event was expecting Jesus to be an earthly king, too.  That’s why they turned their back on him so quickly when they saw him nailed to a cross.  James and John wanted positions of power and honor … to be seated at the Lord’s right hand and left hand.  And lest we come down too hard on them, it appears the other disciples wanted in on the act, too.  That’s why they were so indignant.  They were just upset that James and John got around to asking first.
            What are our notions of glory?  We think of God’s magnificence, his splendor, his majesty and greatness, his holiness, his complete other-ness … and this is certainly included in the Bible’s idea of glory.  We think of the glory of God’s presence … the cloud that filled the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle … the pillar of cloud and fire that led the people of Israel in their wilderness wanderings … the glory of the Lord shining upon the shepherds in Bethlehem … the bright glory of Jesus shining on the mount of Transfiguration.  We might also think of the glory of eternity ... an existence without sin and its effects, no more sadness, no more sickness, no more death, a joyful reunion with those we love who have gone before us, a life lived forever in God’s presence without having to be kept safe in a cleft between two rocks, like Moses when he was given a glimpse of God’s glory in passing.  But there is so much more that can be said about God’s glory.  There are many different words in the Bible that are often translated as “glory” but all have various nuances of meaning.
            The glory of God is demonstrated in his mighty deeds and saving works in Christ Jesus.  As Jesus approached the cross, he declared, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23).  The night of his arrest, he prayed to his Father, “the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” … “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:1, 4).  The cup which Jesus was about to drink was the cup of God’s wrath over sin and mankind’s rebellion against him.  The baptism with which Jesus was about to be baptized was being immersed in blood and death and grave.  In all this, “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” … the payment due for the bondage to sin and death to which we have all been subject ever since Adam and Eve first said “No” to God and “Yes” to the devil’s temptation.
            “In the cross of Christ I glory,” we sing.  The cross does not appear very glorious.  But God’s glory is evident under the cross and suffering.  The world cannot see this, but the eyes of faith can. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 4 says, “the god of this world [that is, Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God … For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4, 6)
            The King is crowned with thorns as he suffers and dies for the sins of the world.  The sign Pilate placed there declared him to be the King of the Jews.  At his right and his left are condemned criminals … sorry excuses for a prime minister or a vice-president, but the ones chosen to “sit” at his right and his left.  One rejected him in mockery, one received him in faith … a plain example of the two types of people in the world.  And consider a further contrast.  James and John asked Jesus for a place in glory prior to seeing the gore of the crucifixion, what most people would view as defeat.  The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, and this while looking at a beaten, bloodied, dying man.  That is faith … seeing the glory of God even in the face of suffering and death.    
            We reflect God’s glory when we humbly serve others in the name of Christ.  Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”  Our lives are not about self-empowerment, but rather self-sacrifice … toward our spouse, our children, our co-workers, our classmates … anyone God has placed in our life and who needs our care and concern.
            It may mean suffering for us, too.  “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus replied after the initial request from the two disciples.  “You will indeed drink the cup and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.”  James was martyred.  John was exiled.  But we must remember that suffering does not equal punishment.  Jesus drank the cup of the Father’s wrath over sin, down to the last drop.  “It is finished,” he said.  Our watery baptism connects us to Jesus’ bloody baptism.  In repentant trust, we come to the Lord’s table where we drink of the blood of the New Covenant.  Our Lord forgives our self-absorption and our wish for self-empowerment rather than self-sacrifice.  And through his Word and Spirit, we are empowered to be servants, even if it means we must also suffer.  Like the thief on the cross, God has given us eyes of faith to trust that God has not abandoned us when we suffer or when death draws near to us and our family.  In those times, he is present with you and continues to serve you with his love and mercy.  Jesus will remember you in his kingdom and you will be with him in Paradise.
            The 1989 Oscar-winning film Driving Miss Daisy is set in the American South during the Civil Rights struggle.  Miss Daisy, played by Jessica Tandy, is a wealthy 73 year-old Jewish widow who lives alone in Atlanta, Georgia.  After she wrecks her car, her son decides to hire a chauffeur, an African-American man by the name of Hoke, played by Morgan Freeman.  At first, Miss Daisy refuses his services, but eventually lets him drive her around.  Although Miss Daisy has her prejudices, she gradually begins to accept Hoke as a friend because of his humble, yet dignified, service to her.  In fact, the relationship between Miss Daisy and her chauffeur develops during the film until we are not sure who is serving whom.  Hoke is illiterate, and Miss Daisy teaches him to read.  When Miss Daisy’s housekeeper dies, she decides to cook and clean on her own, and Hoke assists and takes care of the garden.  Hoke ends up having a profound influence on Miss Daisy because of the love and faithfulness he shows.  When dementia begins for Miss Daisy and she takes up residence in a nursing home, Hoke continues to visit and help feed Miss Daisy.  At one point, Miss Daisy – this affluent, white, Jewish woman – tells this formerly illiterate black man, “Hoke, you’re my best friend.”[2]
            Those you humbly serve may never call you your best friend.  But that’s beside the point.  You don’t serve others to gain a friend.  You serve them because Christ has humbly and sacrificially served you.  And you may end up having a profound influence on them as you serve them selflessly in the name of Christ.  After all, even before we were friends of Jesus, he died for us.  Remember St. Paul’s words in Romans 5: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:8, 10).  Consider the profound influence his love and self-sacrifice has had on you!  A profound, far-reaching, eternal influence so that you will one day see your Risen Jesus … and no longer just with the eyes of faith, but right before your very eyes, shining as the Lamb of God (Rev. 21:23).


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