Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sermon: Mark 10:32-45, March 22, 2015

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text this morning is from the Gospel according to Mark, the 10th chapter:
…And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “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 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up 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 do 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.” …And 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” …And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “”…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 
Thus far the text.

My dear friends in Christ,
     James and John had no idea about what they were asking.  Jesus says as much.  They  desired seats of power.  That’s what “to sit at one’s right or left” means.  The right hand is a sign of power and strength, and to sit at the Ruler’s right hand would mean to rule with His own authority, to rule in the stead of Jesus Christ.  To sit at his left hand is a seat of much lower power than the right, but still higher than those who are not seated with the Ruler.  

     James and John think they are so clever.  “Quick, let’s get our request in before anyone else.  Let’s do it together so that no one can accuse one of us of being power-hungry.  In fact, let’s let Jesus choose which of us sits at His right and His left.  We’ll be humble.  Let’s show Him we don’t care… so long as it’s us brothers together forever.”  They think they’re clever, they think they’re showing a bit of humility.  But they’re not.  They’re showing the greed and the arrogance that sits in each of us, especially me.

     If you think about it, it makes sense that a pastor tends to think of himself more highly than he ought.  There’s always a bit of ego involved in being a pastor.  You think you’ve got it going on, since, after all, he works in the stead and by the command of Jesus.  The pastor wields a lot of Jesus’ power in the Church because Jesus Himself has given that pastor such power through the Church.

     But this power should not be the power that corrupts, but the power to serve.  After all, that’s what Jesus says at the end of today’s passage.  This power is not the political power of a president.  This power is not the churchly power of the Herr Pastor, the old-style pastor who ran the congregation with an iron fist.  This power is not the power of the ridicule, or humiliation, or anything that is not according to the Word of God.  And all of that is what every pastor, including myself, seeks, because we’re sinners.  And because of this, because this is sin, I confess my sin to you.

     Instead, the power of the pastor, the power given to the pastor is the power of the Law of God, and the power of the sweetness of the Gospel of Christ.  This power the pastor works to make subservient to you.  The Law was made for you, for man, not man for the Law.  The Law is there to serve you, first in that, if you obey it perfectly, and you cannot do so, you will be saved.  Second, the Law serves you by then showing you the need of a Savior in light of the fact that you are as great a sinner as I am.  Third, the Law serves you by guiding you into the right response of love toward God and neighbor.

     But, what is missing from this Law that serves you?  Any good news that the Savior, Jesus Christ, has come for you.  The Law, because of your sinfulness, cannot save you.  Only Jesus saves you.  And indeed He has.  He has rescued you and redeemed you from the very same sinful state that I have.  And the pastor is to preach this to you.  Any pastor should preach to you the full counsel of the Word of God.  He should preach to you stinging Law, but also life-giving Gospel.  The Law he preaches should kill you where you stand, but the Gospel he preaches should be as comforting to you as a warm blanket on a cold night.

     This is the power, the authority, the responsibility of the pastor.  And for my failures, I confess I need your forgiveness and I need God’s.  If there is any success, it is not me, nor my works, but the power of Christ in me that drives me to my knees in thankfulness for any time God’s Word comes to you clearly.

     But this is me.  That is my burden.  The Law tells me clearly that I’ve failed you in my vocation, even while continuing to do my job to the best of my ability.  That is my vocational sanctified life.  But what of you?  This is what James and John were trying to get to.  You see, James and John would drink from the cup of death that Jesus would drink from, and they would be baptized in the same trials and the same Holy Spirit that Jesus was.  They would be heralds of the Good News, they would be pastors to Christ’s Church.  That’s why we can see the role of the pastor-servant here, not the pastor-master.

     But, can any of us, can all of us be baptized in this way?  Can we drink from the same cup?  Yes, we can.  And yes, we will.  For here, we see the trials and temptations that come to us when we fail to live out our vocations.  When we fail to serve our neighbor, we fail to love God.  James and John failed to serve their fellow apostles, their fellow Church, and so that Church, the other apostles, became incensed at that, grumbling at them, becoming indignant.  This is what happens when we sin, yes?

     And when this happens, we and they, we the sinners, those we sin against, we lose sight of the love of God and we begin to serve ourselves, which is the ultimate sin.  To serve ourselves, and we all do this, and I do this a lot, is to sin for it ignores the needs of the neighbor, which is the demonstration of our love for God.  Instead, it shows us that the god we serve is ourselves, setting ourselves up as our own little gods.  This is what James and John show us.

     For Jesus has just been telling them about how He is to go and die and be beaten, be mocked, be spat upon, be flogged, and be killed, and on the third day rise.  And James and John listened to this awesome and yet horrific news, and they worry about themselves.  Don’t you do this?  Don’t you leave this Lord’s house each week and go off and serve yourself?  I do.  This is my problem.  Yes, sometimes we get lucky and we do the right thing.  We feed our kids.  We honor our parents.  We praise those who work for us.  We work hard for those who are our bosses.  We give aid when needed.  But, if we’re honest with ourselves, and I’m asking you to be honest with yourself, and with your brothers and sisters, don’t we all go out from this place and look after numero uno?  Don’t we try to appease ourselves first?

     Jesus tells us instead that our lives, the life of the pastor, the life of the wife, the husband, the child, the doctor, the teacher, the parishioner, the elder, the youngster, the farmer, the retiree, should be one of service.  In fact, He goes further.  He says our lives should be one of a slave to all.  When you see someone, become their slave.  Take that any way you want, but Jesus is telling you that you should become as one who would literally break their back in service to the neighbor.  Read your Small Catechisms.  This is what Lutheran Christians believe , teach, and confess.

     But, instead, we buy what we want.  We ignore the needs of our neighbors.  We’re annoyed when someone interrupts our me time.  We hate when people don’t do things when we want them, how we want them.  We grumble about our needs.  We gossip about that one guy.  We hold our grudges.

     We don’t behave like Christians, any one of us.  We don’t.  We’re rotten sinners.  We deserve hell.  We sin because we like it.  We like it when we sin.  We don’t seek after the love of God.  We hate our neighbors.  We are guilty of breaking the Law that is supposed to be good for us because we want to live by our own rules.

     This is why I know I have sinned.  And this is why I know you have sinned.  We have all broken the Law.  We don’t want to obey it, according to our sinful nature.  But, the Good News is that despite this, despite your sin and failure, Christ has yet come for you.  He has come, the Son of Man, to take on your flesh.  He came to live perfectly according to the Law, for you.  He came to give you the promise of everlasting life in His resurrection.  He came to give to you the righteousness He Himself earned.  He didn’t want or need His righteousness.  He would go to hell for you.  He gives it all to you and takes all of your sin.

     When you are greedy, Jesus has died for this sin.  When you are a gossiper, Jesus has died for this sin.  When you fail in your duties as parents, Jesus has died for this sin.  When you hate your parents, Jesus has died for this sin.  When you pass by the needy, Jesus has died for this sin.  When you have a grudge, Jesus has died for this sin.  Doesn’t that make you want to let these things go?  The love of Jesus Christ motivates us to stop sinning.  It shows us how deep our sin really is that our sin would cause Him to die.  And, for me, it makes me want to do better.  I want to be a better pastor, because I see how I fail.  I want to be a better husband, because I see how I fail.  And yet, I see the love of Christ, that even when I fail, and I will always fail in everything I do with this sinful flesh, Christ yet comes to me.

     He came to me, and He comes to you, in Baptism, where He washes you clean and puts Himself in you by the power of His Holy Spirit.  He comes to you in His Word, when you hear the words, “I forgive you.”  He comes to you in His Supper, strengthening you to do better, to love your neighbor, and to forgive you all of your sins by the very body and blood of Christ.  Here, He takes my desire to be greater than all, and makes me a servant to all.  And He doesn’t just do it to pastors, but He does this for husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, all.  He puts us here so that we may be forgiven by His blood to go and be a slave to all people.

     And how do you receive that strength?  You receive the crucified and resurrected Lord in every way He has given you here.  You do.  Because here, in this place, and only in this place, in the Church, does Christ come to serve you.  Here, He is the servant to you.  He is your slave.  He serves you.  He washes you.  He speaks to you.  He feeds you.  He is the servant, and here you are placed first.  To Christ, you are of first importance, He is of last.  Here, to Christ, you are the lord of the Church, and He is the servant.  Here, to Christ, you are the ransomed one, the one who was so important the Son of God came to ransom you back home.  After all, who dies for a slave?  No one.  One only dies to save the kidnapped child.  

     And here, in this Church, to Christ, you are His brother and His sister.  You are children of God.  And if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.  Walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.  And know, that even when we break the light, when we act as children of the night, children of darkness, yet Jesus still calls us brother and sister.  And He begs you to look to the light beaming from His cross which calls to us the Good News of the salvation that has been won for each of us.  There you find you are still in the light of Christ, walking in His light, for He has redeemed you, He has saved you, He has served you, and He will not let you out of His sight.  He paid His price for you, ransomed you, and He will not waste that gift ever.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

     Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord!  Amen.

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