Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sitting in Padded Chairs Next To Jesus - Sermon - October 18 2015, 21st Sunday After Pentecost

James and John (source)
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” -Mark 10:35-45

To argue about “who’s the greatest” 

or who should get more honor

or who should sit in the special seats with the padded cushions up in the front, next to somebody special, 

in this case 
next to the-Jesus-that-the-disciples-imagine- 
(rather than the one who’s right in front of them)…

To argue about this kind of stuff,  
these kinds of things,

is a luxury

I’ll say that again. 

To argue about “who’s the greatest” 

or who should get more honor

or who should get the special seats with 
padded cushions up in front, next to Jesus,

is a luxury.

And it’s a luxury 
owned (I think) 
by those who’ve had the privilege of following Jesus for a pretty long time—like, those who’ve gotten used to it, almost even “got it,” like they are somehow comfortable with the Jesus thing: 

they’re “good at faith,”

it’s, you know: what they do. 

They do Jesus stuff. 

It’s a luxury for that kind of people—it is a luxury for disciples. 

I don’t know why the disciples followed Jesus. 

out of desperation (maybe)? 

maybe he made them feel calm or focused? 

or maybe he gave them hope? 

or maybe it was because the faith they were raised with didn’t seem to be enough anymore? 
and neither (frankly) did the one they switched over to, 
even though, I mean, really, the people there were really nice, and it was a good community, good people you know—yeah, community!…but maybe that wasn’t enough, still? 

maybe that’s why they followed? 

or maybe they followed Jesus from a sort-of, 
“well-I-don’t-know-I’ve-tried-everything-else-why not this?” perspective?

Maybe they responded out of an 
“I-was-hungry and Jesus-gave-me-free-food,” kind of thing, 
or maybe 
“I-was-hungry-for-meaning, for purpose, 
in a time of meaninglessness, or confusion, 
or the death of a loved one, 
or a separation from a life-long friend,

and maybe (maybe) following Christ at least gave me 
‘some sort of direction?’”

maybe joining the group of disciples made me a little less alone? 

Who knows? …right? 

… … 

Who knows why anyone chooses to follow? 

… …

Whatever shape that thing called faith 


that thing that made them take 
the risk of following 
this Rabbi 
whose Law was Love…

Whatever the shape of their faith, 

“The Twelve,” the close disciples of Jesus in today’s Gospel 
(at this point in Chapter 10)
had been following Jesus for a long time.

(They were his disciples). 

… …

And James and John, 
the men who were with Jesus from the very beginning, 
who left their father in the boat 
with a broken net 
and the hired hands 
to follow Jesus (MK 1:19-20), 

were, well, it seemed to them, 
kind of a big deal. 

I mean, after Simon and Andrew, they were the first two disciples to be called. No wonder they wanted to secure a good seat when the future they imagined arrived!

They were first!

And they called dibs. 

(After, all, they deserved it). 

No wonder they wanted to sit at the right and left hand of 
[point to carved wood altar]

rather than the Jesus-that-was-right-in-front-of-them. 
[point to the people in the congregation] 

Rather than the Jesus who was heading to the cross. 
[point to crucifix at center of the table]

Rather than the one who had called to them 
at the lakeshore 
when they were mending nets in the boat,
in their desire for something new. 

… …
… …

To argue about who is the greatest, who get’s to sit next to future-imagined-Jesus on the padded chairs, in glory, 
[point to padded chairs net to the altar] 

is a luxury. 
… …
… …

It’s a luxury because in the beginning it wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about “Who’s on top?” or “Who’s looking down?” 

It wasn’t about who was in the castle, or who was looking out at the masses below, or who looked back in awe, in honor and in praise. 

It wasn’t about glory or fame or exaltation. 

No, in the beginning, it wan’t about much of anything. 

Because in the beginning, all the disciples were at the bottom.

They were all down-and-out.

They were all looking for a savior to lift them.

In the beginning there was simply the desire 
to go somewhere, anywhere (it seems), 
with this rabbi 
whose Law is Love, hoping it was not a terrible decision,
hoping they might find fulfillment, 
hoping they might be filled, 
hoping that rebirth was possible, 
and that new direction might lead to something (maybe), 
to a way, 
to a life much more, 


And it seems, in some way, in some manner, somehow, they found it. 

Or they found the beginning of it. 

Or Jesus found them. 

They were found by Jesus. 

“Come and follow,” he said to James and John at the seaside. 

And they did. 

And they left everything behind. 

And so (very simply) something new began. 

… … 

I wonder how they’d describe that call? 

Maybe they’d describe that moment, that event, (that week?) as re-birth, 
or new life, 
or even ‘justification.’ 

Maybe they felt rescued or redeemed or delivered or ‘saved.’ 

Maybe even “born again.” 

Maybe not. 

Maybe they used a different word. 

Or maybe they didn’t have words yet, because everything was so new, and so about-to-become-different. 

Maybe they were just afraid. 

Terrified they had left their families and possessions behind, terrified that their risks might be in vain… 

… … 

Who knows how to describe such moments? 

… …

Who knows how to really articulate, that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less? 

Who knows how to adequately talk about unconditional love or grace or whatever-it-is we’re trying to talk about when we speak of faith? 

Who knows how to describe a God who calls us even when we’re not looking for God, even when we’re not paying attention, even when we’ve kind of given up on “the whole God thing?”—or at least given up on “God’s people,” (especially the Church)?  

… … 

Who knows? 

It seems to me, 

(as I have the luxury of hearing about many of your faiths—

and the shape faith takes in many of your lives)…

It seems to me 

that in the privilege that is following Jesus, 

the rabbi whose Law is Love, 

It seems to me that faith takes shape

faith looks differently at different times—

and sometimes it doesn’t even look like following!—

It comes in seasons, winters, springs.
It comes in bright days and dark nights. 

And sometimes
faith leads us to something new,
sometimes it moves us out of a rut, and gets us back on our way. 

And sometimes it doesn’t. 

If we come to Jesus—or if Jesus comes to us (whatever our experience, however we wanna say it); we all come with different reasons, with different needs—or Jesus comes to us in our multitude of ailments, afflictions, possessions, circumstances. If Jesus comes to us, Jesus comes to us in all of our infinite variety for whatever reason is a good reason for Jesus.  

Who knows how Jesus reasons? 

But is seems clear that in Christ: There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you less. God loves you. Period. And there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God.

A couple of more things about faith: 

Sometimes, when we first perceive a call (or maybe we don’t?—many of us were simply raised in the faith, and that’s cool, but regardless), sometimes, at the beginning, when we come to faith or faith comes to us, all we need is healing, or belonging, or recovery, or sanctuary, or home. Sometimes we just need to sit. And that’s awesome. Sitting is essential. It’s important. Rest and relaxation is key to healing, to recovering, to gaining strength for the race that lies ahead. In the Bible, Jesus praises Mary for sitting at his feet when Martha’s doing all the dishes (LK10:38-42). Sitting and receiving is an important, praiseworthy call from God. 

It’s necessary. 

And, by the way, this call to sit might be there when we first hear Christ’s call—but, to be clear, faith isn’t a linear progression. Sometimes it’s more of a labyrinth, or an ocean we’re simply floating in. We might find ourselves in this place a lot. In that call to sit and heal; to meditate, pray, to be quiet and listen for a voice that just might whisper in the silence or in a song or in the eyes of your newly born child. Or at the bottom of a little plastic cup filled with wine or grape juice, and a little chunk of bread.  

And sometimes, when we’ve gotten some healing, or some meaning, or some direction, or maybe just some better questions, (clearer questions?) then, maybe, we might hear the call to follow in another way,
maybe this time by serving—
helping the poor, perhaps, a central call of Christ’s ministry and Christ’s call for this community (even if we, ourselves are still poor). No matter, we can still help others—we can still help feed somebody, or help them find an apartment, or get some counseling, or whatever; we can still help sort clothes in the clothing closet, or share our company, our smile, our prayers, right? We can still do something. 

Or maybe we get called to lead a Bible Study, or a prayer group. Maybe we get called to take the streets and speak out against injustice and inequality, anything that possesses or oppresses God’s children and God’s creations. 

Who knows how God calls? 

Who knows how God is calling you? 

Then, maybe we need a break again. 

And more healing. 

And so the cycle goes. And it doesn’t stop. It just goes and goes. And goes. 

And wherever we are, however it is we follow at the moment, 
there’s nothing you can do to make God more
and there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less. 

God loves you, period. 

And there is nothing that can separate you from the Love of God. 


On our fortunate days, when following seems to become a habit, and we’re getting pretty good at loving our neighbors, 
maybe because we’ve been taking time to thank God each morning and night—to exercise gratitude, and to be mindful of God’s other creations all around us—when the burden of Love becomes our right, our duty, and our joy, in all times and in all places;

when we get pretty good at this Jesus thing,

you know, when it becomes just something-we-do:

We do Jesus stuff. 

And we follow this Rabbi whose Law is Love…

If you start wondering if you might be greater, better, whether you might deserve a padded seat of honor next to Jesus,

On those days, pause.  

Give thanks. 

And remember. 

These things come in cycles. 

And to argue about such things, to even entertain the idea, is a privilege for those who’ve been following Jesus for a pretty long time.

Faith has seasons. 

It has bright days and dark nights. 

Who knows? 

Tomorrow might be the day we need to go back and sit and receive, and listen for that quiet voice in the silence or in a song. 

And the next day may bring something entirely new.  

No matter, in the meanwhile, 

There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. 
And there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less. 

God loves you, period. 

And there is nothing you can do to separate you from the Love of God. 


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