Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sermon, Proper 24B, Mark 10:35-45

Desire. Status. Ego. How much of what we do is driven by these things, or variations of them? I want a certain lifestyle -- the house, the car, the boat -- so I will work hard for those things. I want to attain a certain status, so I participate in events and activities that get me noticed in the community. I want people to value me, so I make sure that my name gets attached prominently to donations I make.

This also shows up in other areas of life -- like, say, football. Football players have a desire to win the Super Bowl. That's why they go through two-a-day practices in the July heat and study playbooks and work on routes and blocking schemes and play hurt and injured. And they desire to win the Super Bowl because they want the status of being called champion, of being able to show off that ring - or rings - and maybe renegotiate an already lucrative contract. And the ego is involved because all boys want to be the wining quarterback and say, "I'm going to Disneyland!"

And if you don't think ego's involved, how many Super Bowl quarterbacks can you name? Starr, Staubach, Bradshaw, Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger, Aikman, Montana, Elway, Young. Now, how many Super Bowl offensive linemen can you name? Um . . . I can think of one . . . Jerry Kramer.

We have an innate desire to do our best, to be recognized for what we do, and we oftentimes base our self-worth on how those first two things come together. We want power, honor and glory. And this is exactly what James and John are after: power, honor and glory.

James and John ask Jesus to allow them to sit on his right and left when he comes into his glory. The problem with this is in the motives of the asking.

Why is this a problem, you wonder? Didn't Jesus say, "Ask and you shall receive?" Well, yes. But as with anything in the Bible we need to look at the context of what we are looking at, as well as how it is supported throughout scripture. Ask and you shall receive, but ask in Jesus' name, says John in that gospel. And in John's first letter, he writes that we ask in boldness, but we ask for things according to his will. And James reminds us that the reason we don't receive is because we ask wrongly and selfishly.

"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."

This asking has nothing to do with the will of Christ, but is has everything to do with the selfish desires of the two disciples. They don't understand that Jesus didn't come to establish a kingdom based on the rule of power as we understand it. They didn't understand that the kingdom of God isn't founded on conquest and domination. Rather, the kingdom of God is founded on love, service and the sacrificing of yourself towards the goal of bringing all people into that kingdom.

The goal of the church is to make disciples of all people. We do this through our service to others, such as our efforts in the food bank, or our collection of supplies for military personnel, or how we are going to distribute turkeys to families in need. We do it through our evangelism to others, telling them about our faith, our church and our God-story. And we do it by putting God first.

Putting God first should be the whole point of our lives. When we draw up our personal budget, is our pledge to the church at the top of that list? When we evaluate our pledge, do we base it on what's left over, what we can afford, or do we base it on the abundance in our lives? When we live our daily schedule, does God have a place in it, or is he only relegated to Sunday mornings? When we evangelize, do we do it with the idea of making disciples, or do we do it with an eye towards having more people and more money in the church?

As we continue to grow, we need to remember to not get caught up in James' and John's ambition for glory; but we need to continue focusing on God and his kingdom as being manifest in this valley. There are a variety of things yet to be done around here. A new roof and handicap access at St. Paul's, a walkway and new carpet at Christ Church, and window restoration at both places are all on the list. We can look at doing these things egotistically and do them in order to show ourselves off. Or we can look at doing them in service to future generations of parishioners to ensure that they will have a well-cared for house of worship.

But we can also get too internalized and forget to look outside ourselves. There is a stack of ERD catalogs in the parish hall, are we looking for ways to serve internationally? We received a UTO grant, are we returning that generosity and donating back to UTO? We have too many hungry people in this valley, are we remembering to donate to the food bank on a regular basis? And we were given a $300 gift to purchase turkeys for families at Christmas, are we willing to match that and see that it happens?

Being a Christian is more than desiring to see your family name on a stained glass window. Being a Christian means more than striving for the status of attending the largest church in town. And being a Christian is certainly more than attending a place that strokes our egos to tell us how good we are.

Being a Christian means following Christ in such a way that God takes precedence in our lives, leaving our desires, selfishness and ego behind so that God can work through us to reflect his kingdom in this place. In other words, do we desire to be the winning big-name quarterback, or will we be happy as an anonymous offensive lineman?

Let us remember that the power, honor and glory we seek isn't ours, but belongs to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And let us also remember that the way his power, honor and glory are revealed is in our service to others. Amen.


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