Knowing What We want

“Knowing What We Want”

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, October 21, 2018

Scripture: Mark 10:35-45

A song came to mind after I read today’s scripture: “I’m in with the in crowd.” Remember that? Dobie Gray had a big hit with it in 1965 and it was featured in his performance on Shindig! A lot of people liked that song, which tells me a lot of people wanted to be in with the in crowd. Why? Why would anyone want to be in with the in crowd? Oh – popularity. I guess that’s important.

What did the followers of Jesus want from him? Apparently, James and John saw following Jesus as the hip, in crowd thing to do. They wanted what he had. Popularity. Crowds cheering them on.

And authority. And power.


They thought it would feel great – that they’d be looked up to, maybe even the way they looked up to Jesus. Wouldn’t it be cool to be the ones the crowds followed? You can see their minds working. They wanted to be famous? They wanted to be rock stars. “Hey, Maybe it rubs off. Let’s go ask Jesus. When you come into your kingdom, Jesus, can we sit on your right and your left? You’ll still be number 1, but we’d sure love to be number 2’s. That would be super.” That’s the Rob Standard Version translation, of course.

So Jesus gives them what we today would call a reality check: Can you drink the cup I will drink? Can you be baptized as I will be baptized? In other words, can you suffer the way I’m going to suffer?

Sure, Jesus, no problem. We have it covered.

Tunnel vision, I think it’s called. You see what’s in your focus and nothing else registers at all. We learned at our Active Threat workshop a couple of weeks ago that active shooters have that kind of tunnel vision. It’s their blind spot, and their blind spot covers everything except what’s right in their sights. It’s why any given usher could take them down in a heartbeat. Their blind side is everything except that one tiny area of their attention. It’s their weakness and it’s a BIG weakness. Did I just compare Jesus’ disciples to active shooters? Well, yes, but in a good way.

You see, Jesus’ disciples had that same kind of weakness. They saw only the glory. They didn’t see the cost of discipleship. I wonder how many of us really do understand what it is we’ve joined when we’ve joined a church. Like Jesus, I try to make it clear. And we have a little refresher as part of every Communion service when we read together our UCC Statement of Faith.

Yes, there’s joy in discipleship. But there’s still a cost. And whatever you put in the offering plate doesn’t even begin to cover your commitment. But, like the disciples, how clear are WE about what that commitment really is?

Ever hear of “Jesus-Wejus” prayers? They go like this: Oh, Jesus, we just want this, we just want that.” Jesus-wejus. Even if it’s, “Jesus, we just want to thank you, praise you, worship you,” who are these prayers really about? They’re what we say we want to do. Well, what about Jesus? If we just want this or that, what does Jesus want? What does he expect? What does he assume you understand when you start calling yourself a Christian? See the Statement of Faith. It says what God does. It says what Jesus does. It says what the Holy Spirit does. Then it lays out what God expects from us: “God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the power of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.” End of quote.

Jesus was pretty clear about what he was asking of those who followed him. Go forth and make disciples. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Give up what’s keeping your attention from God (see the parable of the rich young man), Go and do likewise. Go and sin no more. What does Jesus want from us? Put his teachings into action. Apply them in our own lives, our own times, our own situations, with ourselves and with the people we meet. Of course, it helps if you know your Bible well enough to know the stories where he tells his followers what is expected. Don’t give me this “I can be spiritual without church” baloney if you haven’t even read your Bible well enough to know what being spiritual means.

So in today’s story, Jesus asks James and John, do you know what you’re asking? Do you know what you’re getting yourself into when you follow in my footsteps? They say, “Of course we do.” And Jesus, to my wonder, takes them at their word. I guess. What are you supposed to say to responsible adults who insist they understand their commitments and insist they will follow through?

Last week: I gave you 15 descriptions/ titles/ names for Jesus. Here’s what you told me you believed most strongly about Jesus. We had over forty adults in church last week. I got 28 surveys back, a couple of them blank. Some didn’t turn it in at all. I don’t know what that means. That you don’t know WHAT you think about Jesus? That you aren’t here because you care about Jesus? That it ain’t nobody’s business but your own, as the old song goes? I don’t know. But for those who did take part, here’s what you told me.

The top three with multiple hits were:

1 Son of God – 16 accepted and prioritized this claim with 12 seeing it as their number 1 understanding

2 Light of the world – the title we hear most at Christmas seems to have registered with 11 people, 8 as their third choice

3 Next came a tie – 10 each saw Jesus as their friend – what a friend we have in Jesus – and 10 also see him as a great moral and ethical teacher – the tiebreaker here is that of the ten who saw him as teacher, 4 were number 1’s and 5 as their number 2. For the friend voters, that was almost all their third choice.

There was a smattering of other choices, with the paschal lamb who takes away the sins of the world a close 4th place, and choice M, very human with doubt about his journey a strong number 5.

Then there were a few who made choices, but edited the wording a bit – substituting “activist” for rabble rouser in one case, and “spiritual” for “political” rabble rouser in another. Finally, there were some side comments which I would probably do well to pass on to Council.

What’s it all say about your beliefs as a church?

Here’s my take: as a congregation, we’re all over the place. From high Christology to low – Son of God to very human with doubts about his journey. From highly focused on taking away the sins of the world to highly focused on political change. And there’s the sense that these are not either/or descriptions, but a continuum, since a choice of one would be accompanied by overlap on another choice. Justice is a spiritual issue; to act spiritually has political results. There was no strong sense that you disconnect spirituality from living in the real world. To be a Christian is to engage with the world, not to withdraw from it. All in all, I think Jesus could work with you, at least as well as he did with that first collection of followers.

From the time of the twelve disciples and the many others who were part of that first inner circle around Jesus, there has NEVER been uniformity of belief or steadfastness when it comes to commitment. Jesus worked with them anyway if they’d let him, with Peter being the prime example – Peter who denied he knew Jesus three times in one night, Peter is the one Jesus trusted most with the future of his movement and the founding of his church. Peter – the Rock. You’d almost think Jesus was joking when he gave him that name. But no – he meant it. He saw in this volatile, unreliable guy – what? Leadership potential. The best of the bunch. Interesting, isn’t it? Maybe it’s passion that makes a great member – not consistency or even reliability. Scary if you’re trying to run an organization, but that’s not what Jesus was doing, was it? He was trying to build a movement for the long term – from here to heaven – not maintain a building or meet a budget, both of which take up so much of our energy and time. So every church, if it’s blessed, has its Peter. And every church, blessed or not, has its Doubting Thomas in the house. How about Judas? There’s always someone ready to throw leadership under the bus, if not get them killed outright. Or a Mary Magdalene? Mary Magdalene? What’s she famous for? Right. Showing up. Cleaning up the mess when everyone else bails. What’s church without a Mary Magdalene? You see, there has always been that spread of people, that disparity in understanding and commitment throughout the life of the church.

Maybe that would be a good survey, too. What follower of Jesus do you most identify with? And how does that guide what you do all week? Or what you ignore? Does your faith have anything at all to do with what you do all week? That would be a question for some, I suppose. There were those who came to Jesus, then turned away because he was asking more than they wanted to give.

James and John knew what they wanted, or at least, what they thought they wanted. They were clearly focused, not on serving God, but on taking care of themselves. Jesus, who was ALL about doing God’s will, not his own, was willing to work with them anyway. Sometimes, despite ourselves, God finds ways to help us be the people God knows we CAN be. God doesn’t write us off just because we’re not consistent or reliable or always at our best. That’s God’s grace applied in real life. No matter how we come to Jesus – or avoid him – or let him down – God loves us anyway. And there’s no church apart from that mix of people.

It’s good if we know what we want. James and John had that much of their act together. It’s even better to know what God wants of us. If we can even begin to act on what God wants from us – then we are doing exactly what Jesus taught all of his friends to pray: that THY will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Let it be. Amen.