Sermon for the 21st Sunday of Trinity Season - Mark 10:35-45 "Glory and the Suffering Servant"
Over this past season, Major League Baseball teams spent $3.955 billion (that’s with a “B”) on team payroll. As of right now, with the playoffs underway, $3.591 billion of that was wasted. That’s the sum total of money paid by teams to players that won’t win the World Series this year. The kicker is that the San Francisco Giants, a team my family has supported off and on over the years, spent the most money of all teams, $221 million, to finish fourth in their division. That’s twelfth out of fifteen teams in the National League. I guess the bright spot is that they aren’t the Baltimore Orioles, who spent $148 million dollars to win 47 games and have the worst record in the major leagues. Makes me want to call them up and say, for 10% of your lowest contract, I’ll lose for you. I can do that. I was pitcher in 6th grade.
I say all of this because we are a people who like winners. The top teams in the world, by most fans and most value are teams that have won championships. We like value for our money, and to get what we pay for. All of us have those insufferable friends who are fans of the Packers, Cowboys, Lakers, or God-forbid Yankee fans. Those miserable people who have no problem reminding Viking fans of 41-donut, or that 1991 was almost 30 years ago (That one’s for you Twins fans).
Take this obsession with competition and move it to the realm of politics and one of the many struggles we have right now with our government, our politicians, our division, is that we have so many in our country who want power so badly, that they will do anything to win. Maybe even WE will do anything to win. Doesn’t matter if the other side is right, or good, we want to stomp them. Thump them. Destroy them. To return to the sports analogy, we want to run up the score. We ain’t gonna play our freshman when we are up by forty at halftime. We’re going to continue to pass from the shotgun. That’s the mentality.
Now, what do we do with this winning mentality and James and John? James and John were part of Jesus’ inner circle. Not only of the twelve apostles, but also this group of three, which included Peter, that got to witness things like the Transfiguration of our Lord and the raising of a little girl from the dead. So, they really must have thought, “We. Are. In. No matter how things go here on our way to Jerusalem, we are in. James, you can be Vice-President and I will be Speaker of the House and we will get a corner office with windows. Name on the door. Big business cards. Special pillows for us to sit on those thrones with. Country Club membership. Private jet. It. Will. Be. EPIC!”
So…”Jesus, we want you to do whatever we ask of you.”
That is a dangerous statement in and of itself. How many of us think that we can come to God in this way? “Jesus I want you to do what I want. Give me what I want.” Like we have the gall to think we have any standing before God to tell him what to do. And yet, I do it all the time. It may be in bargaining, right? God if you’ll do this, then I will do that. So often forgetting that our conversations or, as what happens here with John and James, our demands come to God and the results are like talking to someone who works for us. As though we have the right to tell God, who is not our employee, what he can or cannot do.
You can just see Jesus though, rolling his eyes. Him being the one asking, not them. “What do you want me to do for you?”
That is the $1 trillion question. Christ coming to us and asking us, what do you want me to do for you? While he hangs from the cross. While he rises from the dead. Freeing from sin and death. Bringing us freedom, and yet we can’t get much more gospel from Jesus than this question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
But they tell him - “Allow us to sit at your right and left in your glory.” Sounds humble. But they don’t know what they are asking. We very rarely know what we are asking. Especially of God. Jesus pulls no punches and lays it out plainly.
“You seek glory? Is that what you think I am about? You want my type of glory? Are you ready to drink the same cup, and have the same baptism? Well I have news for you. Glory is not cheap. Nor free. Nor really glorifying. You will drink of this cup and receive the same baptism, but what you ask is not mine to give, but is there for the one it has been prepared for.” With these words he opens up the upside-down Kingdom. The fact that in Christ victory comes through losing. In Christ, glory is bought through blood shed for the world. The cup for which we become willing to drink, is not one of fine wine or choice beer, but that of the very sacrifice that removes from us any need for glory. Any need for reputation. Any need for winning. Because in Jesus winning looks like the crucified Savior. Winning looks like the San Francisco Giants. Winning looks like one who has taken upon himself all your bad qualities and sins that should disqualify you from having any position within any Kingdom, let alone THE Kingdom, and Jesus says to you – “You are in. You thought you could get it by some other way. But it only comes through me, and I say to you, you are in.”
What the Kingdom of God comes to us as, what it shows us in the cross of Christ, is that all of God’s glory dwells hidden in suffering. In death. In pain. The promises of God being found in one who lost in order to win. Where our entire life comes back to that. In your baptism, you were buried with Christ. Drowned. Killed. You died and were raised to new life in him. Not because he thought you had been good, or you were a great candidate, or the missing piece to his winning football team. No. It is because the very nature of Christ is one to seek out the losers and bring them into his glory. To take the backward, the non-glorified and hand them the keys of the Kingdom in his promise. In his good news. In his Gospel.
Continually we must be reminded of this new life. We must be reminded. Jesus has explained to the disciples three times already. My Kingdom is going to be inaugurated by my arrest, trial, flogging, cross-bearing, death, burial and rising. But they are dense. They want a Kingdom now. They want it to look like whatever the best they imagine that could be in this world, and how does Christ come to us? In grandeur? In glory? No. In weakness. In death.
So these words of Christ, his promise, his word has to be preached again and again because the James and John in us will look at society, will look at the church and want to bring about our glory in it. But Jesus the preacher steps forward again and again. Making clear his promises, “You will drink from this same cup. You will be baptized in the same way as I suffer, die, and am raised for you. You will die. Both spiritual and physical. Dying to self, living only by my blood. Having one’s identity outside of yourselves, and found in me – this suffering, dying Jesus. But you will also die for real. You will stop breathing. But I promise that the ransom has been paid to death. The promise being that I am the resurrection and the life.”
Dr. Paulson calls this upside-down Kingdom the backwards life. Most of us think life is made of living now, dying later. Eat, drink, be merry for tomorrow we die. Anyone or anything that gets in our way of that living becomes collateral damage.
But in Christ, he has promised you, you are dead. You already died. Death has come to you in Christ and now you live your life marching forward into eternity looking to the culmination of the age. So that the working of the Spirit in you, against your will, moves you away from that collateral damage of those who get in your way. Instead, the working of the Spirit makes the servant in you come forth to grab those who get in your way and say – Let me tell you of this promise. This good news. You have no need of glory. No need to win. Let me take you to the One who brings freedom to you by killing you and raising you. The Lord. The Suffering Servant. Thanks be to God. Amen.