Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sermon: Wednesday of Judica (Lent 5)

24 March 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 10:32-45

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The impulse to be rich and famous is nothing new. The desire to be seen and respected and admired by others is not something novel to our age, as though this phenomenon were born only after the age of “reality TV.”

St. Mark’s account of James and John’s request is quite an embarrassment. It is an indictment of the sinfulness of these two brothers. Here they are on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus has just told the twelve something shocking and sobering, something that amazes and frightens the disciples. He says: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.”

And having heard this horrific prophecy, this shocking revelation that Jesus is headed to a painful death by torture and humiliation, James and John respond by asking Jesus to make them famous and important.

It’s as though they were so absorbed by themselves, by their wants, by their daydreams of fame and fortune – that they completely missed the stunning words that the Lord had just told His followers.

These apostles, the men upon whose foundation the Lord built His holy church, these great bishops and preachers of the kingdom of God are behaving more like giggling Hollywood starlets than saints of the Church and disciples of God Most High.

Our blessed Lord recognizes their delusional state when He bluntly tells them: “You do not know what you are asking.”

They are so blinded by sin that in spite of following our Lord for three years, and even considering that these two brothers, along with St. Peter, formed the inner circle of the apostles, the three most privileged who witnessed Jesus at the Transfiguration – they remain utterly clueless as to what the Kingdom of God is all about. They seem to have bought into the collective, vulgar misunderstanding of our Lord’s kingdom as a worldly state, a political movement of violent overthrow of the Roman Empire. And seeing themselves as the inner circle of the future King Jesus, they seek the highest positions of honor in His throne-room – one to sit on His right hand and one to sit on His left.

How foolish and how selfish they were! For at the enthronement of King Jesus, He was placed on the seat of a bloody cross. And at His coronation, His head was crowned with painful thorns. His scepter was a club belonging to brutal Roman soldiers who bashed and battered His face into a bruised and bloody mess. And instead of a bejeweled signet ring by which to seal His royal decrees, King Jesus bore blood-dripping nail-prints in His holy hands, using His creative Word and His redemptive blood as a seal and guarantee of our salvation instead of mere decorative wax.

But nevertheless, there are James and John, whispering their selfish request to Jesus.

Our blessed Lord, having just explained to them of what His enthronement and coronation would consist, asks the petitioners: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” He asks them if they are willing to drink the same cup the Father will place before Him, the chalice of wrath that He must drain, the same cup He earnestly will ask His Father to take away from Him – all the while Peter, James, and John will be dozing, unable to stay awake even an hour.

Yet, “We are able” they promised.

Our Lord prophesies to them that in the fullness of time, they would indeed suffer for the sake of the Kingdom. But as for who is given honor and rank, that is not for our Lord Jesus to decide.

And how extraordinary!

The King, the almighty ruler of the Universe, God in the flesh Himself, tells them that this is not His call. For our Lord Jesus, being God in the flesh, does not consider His divinity a thing to be grasped. Rather He empties Himself, drinking that horrid cup of the Father’s wrath in our place. He lovingly and obediently submits to the Father. And this He does voluntarily, out of love – love for His Father and love for His creatures that He is redeeming by drinking that cup of sacrifice, by being crucified, and by rising from death to destroy death.

And in the process of saving us, our Master teaches us how to live. For no student is superior to His Teacher. Even as the Lord Jesus Christ submits, so do we. Even as we are heirs with Christ in the Kingdom, so should we strive to be humble, to be servants, to give our lives as a ransom for many – not by dying for the sins of the world, but rather by living for the sinners of the world.

And we are able to live this new life by the Lord’s grace, by way of the Lord’s blood, in the Lord’s love, and through the Lord’s faith which He gives to us as a free and eternal gift.

In spite of our own selfishness, our pouting when we don’t get our way, our indignity at the bad behavior of others, our sense of entitlement and our desire not to serve but to be served, the Lord is patient with us, and merciful. He came to serve us, with His redeeming grace and with His forgiving body and blood. He cleanses us with His salvific waters of baptism and raises us to new life with His death-defying absolution – all of which He gives to us without limit and without price.

For in spite of James and John’s selfishness and foibles, they are truly saints. They have been ransomed by the blood of the Lamb, they have been served by the Servant of all. And instead of our Lord being indignant, He is patient.

James and John would never be rich or famous. Their lives in service of the Kingdom were difficult and trying. And indeed, they would drink the cup of suffering for the Kingdom. St. James would be put to the sword as a martyr, and St. John would be exiled to Patmos for the sake of the Gospel. Both men achieved greatness through being servants. Both men, though not destined to die rich, were predestined to live eternally in the fullness of the riches of the Lord’s grace.

Their sinfulness and selfishness were all forgiven by the Lord’s death and resurrection, and they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to a different kind of greatness and glory – that of confessing the very words they previously ignored about Jesus: that He truly did suffer, die, and rise the third day.

And by the same token, dear brothers and sisters, our embarrassing desire to serve ourselves, our sinful need to be noticed and loved and fawned over have also been forgiven. For like James and John, we too are saints: forgiven sinners who have been called to serve our different kind of Kingdom and its different kind of King, confessing His death and resurrection, and offering ourselves as ransoms of service for the sake of those who, like us, like James and John, and like the entire world, urgently need the good news of the forgiveness of sins.

And in that, we are rich beyond measure. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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