Monday, October 19, 2009

The Wrong Question

Text -- Mark 10:35-45 (Preached on Oct 18, 2009 Christ Church Greenwich)

Parts of this Gospel, sound very familiar, doesn’t it? I can only imagine that a lot of this happens every day down at mid-town and lower-Manhattan.

Two up-and-coming team members take their successful Hedge Fund boss aside and ask to be named senior executives, right on the spot - while everyone else looks on.

You can only imagine what that return look is going to be like…

Maybe these disciples thought Jesus wouldn’t see it this way. After all, he had a really “cool job” and clearly it was easy for him to preach, heal, and feed.

People often assume that a genius is someone who does things without much effort. They make everything look so easy.

But, somehow, the disciples forgot the old cliché – the one that says, genius is about “10-percent inspiration, and 90-percent perspiration.”

They all knew that following a person can be exhilarating. The roar of the crowd, preferential treatment, rubs off on those who walk in the shadow of the great.

In fact, our current UN ambassador Susan Rice just recently wrote about this feeling in Newsweek. Nevertheless, this happens and it certainly happens here in the Church. We’ve all met people who get their excitement and sense of empowerment by being on the vestry or some controlling committee. These folks get away with behavior that would not be tolerated in corporate America, or anywhere else, for that matter.

So, Jesus’ answer to these two disciples is ironic, perhaps even a little bit sarcastic.

These Zebedee brothers, nicknamed the “the sons of thunder,” were clearly into power. But the other 10 wanted Jesus to call down God’s anger on a group of seemingly disrespectful people. They wanted a share of the power Jesus seemed to exercise.

Jesus assured them all that they will indeed share his ministry. They will be baptized as he was baptized and drink of the cup from which he will drink.

But, when the other disciples hear of all this, they are annoyed.

This is interesting…because whether their annoyance is at the brothers’ boldness, or whether they had hoped to make the same request, we are not quite sure.

In any event, what happened for them and for us, too is this – Jesus gives power a whole new meaning. And this is exactly where our church words and business vocabulary need to be separated…Because if we get the vocabulary wrong, we often find ourselves asking for the same sort of “justice” James and John sought. We go searching for selfish empowerment. But the trouble is – Jesus tells us that our baptisms have given us power…dynamic power – power enough to lay down our lives.

He says, the cup we drink, the bread we consume, gives us all the strength we need to be servant-leaders.

But surely that’s not the deal, is it? Servant-hood is exactly the deal. Bernie Madoff didn’t have a clue about this deal…many don’t. The deal is this -- To be great in God’s eyes is to be a servant modeled after Jesus’ own life of service.

But it is true, the story of James and John is disconcerting. Because if James and John, who knew Jesus personally, couldn’t get it, how on earth are we to do so?

This story is a reminder to me that, try as I might, all too often my actions reflect more of motivations from the secular world than the divine.

So how do we become better servants?

Here is what has made the difference for me…looking for this in others -- I found it in my long time friend Frank Fallon at Baylor (explain).

Every person he met, he did his best to make them feel special. He modeled servant ministry over and again. When he died his son Steve, spoke at the funeral and said “I never heard my dad say a bad word about anyone.”

Now, maybe for some of us, this is a work in progress. But we can change the way we treat people. and this can transform the world, not from the top down, but from the bottom up.

The ultimate trickle-up effect, as Barbara Brown Taylor likes to say. (Bread of Angels)

The power God has given us is the strongest deal in the world…the power to serve, the power to turn the Zebedee brother’ question upside down.

And say, “Teacher, we want to do for YOU whatever you ask of us.”