SCRIPTURE READING 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.” “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]
MESSAGE “Better Together” James R. Renfrew, Teaching Elder
“We’re all here.” That’s what the Apostle Paul shouted when the Philippian prison walls came crashing down during the earthquake. “We’re all here”, the prisoners, the jailers, everyone. We’re all here and we’re all in this together. In this community of faith we belong not just to a church or congregation, but we belong to a vision in which the world is turned on its head. No longer a world divided between haves and have-nots, between ins and outs, between the welcomed and the rejected, but a world in which we are better together.
So much of what we experience in this world divides us and sets us in opposition to one another. But here as members and friends we give and receive with generosity and love. When we’re all here it’s not just to maximize what we can get but also what we can give. Food, clothing, love, peace, these are the things we give and receive. During a stewardship season you might be expecting to be pressed or urged to give more. But think for a moment of a stewardship in which we are pressed and urged to receive more, from Jesus Christ and from each other. Being better together means that we have so much to receive from each other.
Now we have a story about two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John. Here’s a picture of how a modern artist imagined their appearance. We first met them at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel when Jesus approached the fishermen, the two sets of brothers, Peter, Andrew, James and John. I like this picture because it reminds us that James and John were probably teenagers at the time, not the wise older men we often see depicted. So James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were fishermen. One of my favorite imaginings is the expression on Zebedee’s face, when his two sons James and John announced they wouldn’t be fishing anymore because they were going to follow Jesus instead. “You’re going to do what!” In the story of the fishermen, Jesus gives James and John the nickname “Sons of Thunder”. Not sure if that is a testament to their strong faith, or whether it was more an observation of their impulsive behavior.
Here’s some other pictures of James and John with Jesus. And as you heard in our story today, one day they bring up a question to Jesus: Can we be the ones to sit next to you in heaven?
The way Mark tells the story, it’s clear that they have been pondering this for some time, and were waiting for the right moment to ask it. It’s interesting that in Matthew’s version of the story, the question doesn’t come from James and John, it comes from their mother, Mrs. Zebedee. So here’s a picture of Mrs. Zebedee asking Jesus to give her two sons the privileged seats in heaven next to Jesus. Ah, just like a mother to be watching out for her children!
Just like the rich man in last week’s story their question is all based on me-me-me. Not how we can get everyone to share in your glory, your justice, your peace, your love, but just us two brothers. The thing I most love about being a part of a church is that we’re better together. It just doesn’t happen when were alone and isolated from each other. We offer support and encouragement, we challenge each other, and we grow together, better together. It doesn’t matter how we got here, but here we are and we’re better together!
Here are some pictures of the heavenly throne chairs that James and John may have been imagining in their dreams of glory. Mighty throne chairs and a castle in the clouds.
In this picture you can see the beginning of Jesus’ answer. It’s not just about you, James and John, it’s about something else. And in the next two pictures you can see what Jesus is pointing at. It’s not to James and John or throne chairs or castles in heaven. He’s pointing at the cross. So this becomes a lesson about where true greatness lies. It’s not in our selfish desires to be ahead of others. As Jesus says, true greatness comes in serving others. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life for others.
So I found this final picture to share, not showing James or John perched on their heavenly throne, but as broken pieces of pottery scattered on the ground.
But this is the picture for all of us. As Paul writes, we have this treasure in common clay pots to show that the real power comes from God, not from us. We are at our best not when a few of us achieve those heavenly thrones, but when we’re better together. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life for others