October 17, 2021
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
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.”
| Centering Prayer |
I was a big fan of the HBO series, The Sopranos.
Tony Soprano was a New Jersey crime boss who ruled his criminal empire with an clenched, iron fist.
His captains: Christopher, Sil, and Paulie …
Each climbed their way to the top of the organization.
All three of them were constantly maneuvering to be Tony’s favorite and successor.
A good boss has a succession plan.
Tony Soprano was no different.
He was constantly testing and grooming his captains.
On numerous occasions Tony and one of his boys
Would get into a BIG DOG confrontation.
Tony would emerge triumphant.
Enraged, he’d ask, “You want a piece of me?”
Then he pinned them to the floor and showed him his clenched fist.
“You want some of this?”
The message was clear: if you want to be the Boss, you have to best the Boss.
I must confess,
Our Gospel message for this morning made me think of The Sopranos.
1. You want some of this?
You must be baptized into Christ, and tempted by the Devil.
“So, John and I were thinking,” James stammers.
<Eyes shift left and right>
“Can we ask you a favor?”
“What is it?” Jesus asks, knowing full well the answer to his question before he asks it.
<Eyes roll back>
“Can we sit at your right and left hand when you are crowned king?”
James and John had expectations that didn’t include a cross.
They were hoping for a throne instead.
“If you want some of this” Jesus points to himself,
“You have to join me in my baptism.”
On the surface, this sounds like a simple request.
James and John fall for it without thinking it through.
“We are able.”
They were probably thinking of that glorious moment
When Jesus rose from the water,
The heavens parted,
The dove descended and
The voice of God spoke from the heavens,
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
“We are able,” they boldly proclaimed with sugar plums dancing in their heads.
<Jesus closes his eyes and shakes his head>
This probably was not Jesus’ intention.
My guess is that Jesus was thinking about what happened after his baptism.
The launch of his public ministry began
With him driven into the wilderness,
Cold and hungry for 40 days,
Enduring multiple, repeated, merciless temptations from the Devil personified.
You want a piece of me?
Those who are baptized in Christ,
As each of us are here today,
Will face the same severity of trials and temptations Jesus did.
We will not be sheltered, protected, or hidden away by God.
Rather, being baptized in Christ,
Disciples of Christ are given the assurance
That the same Jesus who bested the Devil in the wilderness
Will be the same Jesus who is right by your side when you face your 40 days with the Devil.
I’m counting on it.
I don’t know about you;
But I’m not strong enough to endure the world’s pain and suffering, trials and temptations alone.
The only way I’ve been able to survive to this point in my life
Is by keeping Jesus by my side.
During a formative period in life
I swam laps three times a week
At the local High School.
My goal was not to lose weight or count laps.
I was the slowest swimmer in the pool.
Others sported fancy Speedo’s.
I wore high drag cargo suits.
I was there for other purposes.
My goal was to discipline my mind and focus on Jesus for 40 minutes at a time.
No cell phone.
Just the silent sound of rushing water.
I had two strategies.
The first was to say the Jesus prayer one time for every two or three strokes:
“Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
Have mercy on me.”
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Pull, breath, glide, repeat.
The second strategy was to recite in my mind as much of the Gospel as I could remember:
Starting in Matthew with the descendent list from the line of Jesse, and
Ending with “Low, I will be with you always, to the end of the age” as the risen Jesus ascends into heaven.
There is a lot in between.
There is great treasure in the details.
It would take me multiple days to complete even snippets of a narrative.
Recall, recite, rinse, repeat.
It is amazing how much can be reconstructed after a lifetime of reading, studying, and preaching the Gospel.
As you go through your regular routine,
give it a try.
Feel the river,
Watch the fire,
Walk the trail,
Hike the woods,
Peddle your bike,
Paddle your kayak forward
With Christ at your side.
2. You want some of this?
You must drink of the cup that Christ drinks, and die with him on the cross.
“Yes, we’d like to sit at your right hand and your left hand,” James and John requested.
You want some of this?
Then “you must drink of the same cup that I drink,” Jesus responds.
One thing about Jesus,
Is that when he hosts a gathering and he shares a meal
He does it nearly the same way every time.
Remember when he fed the crowds with five loaves and two fishes?
He took the bread,
Gave thanks to God,
Broke the bread, and
Shared it with the people.
It was the same formula in the Upper Room.
It was the same formula after a day on the road to Emmaus.
And it was the same formula remembered and written down in Paul’s first epistle to the church in Corinth.
Undoubtedly, Jesus had fed his disciples, including James and John,
Both recorded and not recorded,
Following the same Sacramental formula.
James and John had expectations that didn’t include a cross.
They were hoping for a free meal instead.
“We are able,” they eagerly replied.
Their response reminds me of
A candidate for ordination
Giddy with anticipation
Of the new privilege about to be entrusted to them;
Celebrating the Sacraments for the first time.
What an incredible privilege it is to
Baptize a baby and
Celebrate the Eucharist.
36 years later,
It remains a humbling, fearful, exhilarating, awe-filled experience.
“We are able,” James and John declared.
What a guy.
What a pair.
When we share in the cup of Christ,
We also share in his death.
Death is not nearly as cool or glamorous as giving thanks, breaking and sharing bread and cup.
Twelve hours is a long time to hang and bake in the hot Middle East sun.
Hands and feet pierced.
Flies buzzing around.
The crowd watching for that final breath.
Twelve hours is a long time to hang there and think
About what you’ve done and what has remained undone.
It is a long time to have a dirty sponge filled with vinegar shoved into your face.
It is a long time to be all alone in the middle of a crowd.
Have you ever set vigil with someone dying?
It is an experience that can’t be forgotten.
There is fear of what is coming.
Anxiety grows as
The diaphragm weakens,
Pain medication is applied.
Often, there are words that need to be said.
There may be good-byes to be made.
There is darkness that descends.
And the abyss comes into view.
I’m a pretty brave guy
– except when it comes to snakes and heights and death.
I don’t fear dying.
I fear dying alone.
I would be a mess of anxiety and depression
If I only had my thoughts with me
When I’ll step through the curtain that defines the end of life,
Hoping on a wing and a prayer that eternal life is waiting on the other side.
My guess is that I’m not alone in very natural mortal fears.
This is what I know:
I know I must have Jesus with me.
That is why I drink of his cup.
When we share in Christ’s cup
We welcome Jesus into our lives.
We walk side-by-side.
We become companions and friends.
Christ is right there,
Present with us when we face our final breath.
Jesus died the death we fear.
He has stepped through the curtain to the other side into God’s glory.
Jesus knows the way.
Jesus is the one I have to have with me when I die.
I hope and pray that you do, too.
The Apostle Paul and many others tell us
To live every day prepared to die.
That means inviting Christ to journey with us,
Right by our side,
Every moment of every day of our life.
Regardless of the circumstances of our death;
Quick and painless,
12 hours in the hot sun, or
12 years suffering greatly from the agony of a terminal disease;
By our side,
Is the only way to step through into eternal glory.
3. On the right and left of Christ in his glory, is reserved for servants, who like Christ, have given their life for many.
You want some of this?
“Are you able …” Jesus says,
To become a servant and slave of all?
Oh, yes! “We are able!” James and John proclaim proudly.
‘One will sit on the right-hand side of the throne,
The other will sit on the left.
We’ll even arrange for some scantily clad Egyptian women
To stand behind us and cool us with palm branches,’
They are probably thinking to themselves.
Not so fast!
Jesus cools their jets.
“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,” Jesus tells them,
“And whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
Dismiss the Egyptian slave women,
Pick up their palm branches,
Start cooling the air.
Oh, yes, we want Jesus to be at our side,
Right by our side,
Every moment of every day,
Because, well, you know;
“That time” will eventually come.
God’s grace might be free, but it isn’t cheap.
Jesus tells his disciples,
And those of us who are here today,
That if you want Christ by your side,
Then dedicate your life to be at the side of others.
As Jesus serves you,
So must you serve others.
As Jesus taught us,
So must we teach.
As Jesus showed us how to live,
So, too, we must follow in his example.
As Jesus forgives,
So must we forgive.
As Jesus loves,
So must we love.
Live a life dedicated to living at the side-by-side serving others:
Don’t pass by on the other side of the road; stop, come to the side of the bloodied man in the ditch and see to his recovery.
Don’t ignore the hungry; stop and feed them.
Listen to the blind calling out from the side of the road, stop, and heal them with God’s love.
Reach out to the prostitute who wants to be made clean, and offer her living water.
Cast out demons from those who have the Devil in them.
Give your life, and I’ll give mine, for the service of others,
Just as Jesus has done for us.
‘You want some of this?’ Jesus asks.
If you want some of Jesus, invite him to your side.
Invite Jesus to travel life’s journey with you.
He will be with you during good times and the dark nights of your soul.
He will be with you when you step through the divide into God’s eternal glory.
Journeying with Jesus
Means dedicating our lives
To the service of others
That, all of us
Might taste and see
God’s grace and eternal glory.