5 Lent, Proper B5
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 10:32-45 Sermon
March 25, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 475 "Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones"
TLH 118 "Father Let Me Dedicate"
TLH 242 "Father In Heaven, Whose Love Profound"
WOV 721 "Go My Children With My Blessing"
GLORIFY GOD, OR GLORIFY OURSELVES?
TEXT (Matthew 20:20-23): “20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
One of the television programs that has been popular over the last decade or so, is "Funniest Home Videos." This is a program where viewers submit videos they think are funny. It may be kids or animals doing something amusing. It may be adults making fools of themselves in one way or another. And in many cases, you'll see videos where something just didn't go as planned, and there is some sort of mishap or foul-up that has been captured on video.
Probably the most popular type of videos that are submitted to the producers of the show, are a wide variety of wedding videos. In fact, I don't think that I've ever seen one of those shows where there hasn't been at least one, and most of the time several wedding videos. It almost seems like weddings are situations that are particularly prone to things just not going right.
I know that to be a fact. I've lived it before. I can't even begin to count the number of weddings where I've been involved in one way or another. As a young boy, my parents insisted that we had to go to every relative's wedding, even if it meant driving halfway across the country. So I've attended more than my share of them. I've been in wedding parties before. I have been the organist at a number of weddings. And in the years that I've been a pastor, I've performed I don't know how many weddings in a wide variety of situations, all the way from a trailer deck in a mobile home park to a large lavish church wedding.
When I meet with a couple and we are discussing wedding plans, the one thing that I impress upon a couple over and over again, is that we are conducting a worship service where we are giving God all of the glory. Anything and everything we do when it comes to the actual wedding ceremony absolutely must serve that end. The music, the words, the solos, and everything else must be appropriate for a church worship service. And as a pastor, it is my job to see that this indeed happens. Perhaps I have to be a bit rigid at times, but I know from experience the various recipes that spell disaster at a wedding. And I'm going to do my best to see that it doesn't happen, and that the whole event is done to the glory of God, at least as far as I have anything to do with it. Certainly there are areas where I can be flexible, but there are the times when I have had to put my foot down rather firmly to avoid a complete fiasco.
Thankfully most of the time, those involved are inexperienced enough so that they are more than willing to look to me as to what to do and when to do it. But I have had those times where people have become rather adamant about something. I've seen mothers in particular turn into "mom-zillas" as they try to run things their way. I've seen bride's mothers and groom's mothers almost start to brawl. And I've seen couples that are just too timid to tell their mothers to simply back off. It can be a nightmare sometimes, especially when I get dragged into the middle of a situation in which I normally wouldn't get involved.
Now this might seem like sort of an odd way to introduce our text for this morning, but I hope you can see sort of a parallel with what is happening between Jesus and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John.
In our Gospel reading for today, we are provided with Mark's account of this situation. Mark reports that James and John approach Jesus with a very open-ended question. They ask Jesus in verse 35, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” They want Jesus to agree to something, even before they tell him what it is that they are asking. I don't think that's something that any of us would agree to do if we were asked that same question.
James and John are seeking some self-glory. They have no doubt as to who Jesus is, so they want to be assured of a position of power and glory in God's kingdom. They want to stake a claim before any of the other disciples beat them to it. And they feel that as loyal and faithful disciples, that they have earned this position for themselves. Talk about an attitude!
But now, if we look at the parallel account that Matthew records about this same incident, we see just a little bit more come into focus. Even though James and John are fully responsible for making this request, Matthew introduces us to their mother, and what her part is in all of this. It is quite evident that a lot of this was her idea in the first place, even though James and John are in full agreement with her. Perhaps they wouldn't have initiated this had she not urged them to do so. But James and John are not shy and retiring individuals either. Jesus even refers to them as "the sons of thunder." Their mother was playing the role of "mom-zilla" quite well, and Jesus is in the position where he has to deal with all of them at once.
By asking Jesus to sit at his right and left hand in glory, they were seeking to glorify themselves, and not God. They wanted those positions because they would be places of honor and power. And if they were holding those positions, well, they would be able to see to it that their poor old mother would be well looked after. For the whole Zebedee family, this would be a win-win situation. All Jesus would have to do would be to agree with this request.
The problem is, that this position wasn't going to be an easy one. Jesus counters their question with one of his own in verse 38: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” The road upon which Jesus was about to embark was going to be anything but easy. He was going to suffer and die for the sins of the whole world. Would James and John be willing to be at his right and left hand while the Roman soldiers were pounding nails through them? Would they be willing to give themselves in the same way that Jesus was giving himself? Would they be willing to take upon themselves the responsibility Jesus had?
Remember the first part of Jesus' response to them in verse 38 was, "You do not know what you are asking." They just hadn't put everything together. Just shortly before this, our Gospel lesson records Jesus' words to his disciples in verses 33 and 34: “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 deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him." He also promises that he will rise on the third day, but there's a lot he would have to go through before that would happen. And I don't think that any of them were ready for that, especially considering what "mom-zilla" wanted for her two boys.
Self-glory is definitely a problem in our society today. People are always looking to elevate themselves to higher positions. People want power. People want respect. And people want this without any sort of sacrifice. People feel that the world owes them something. People are more than willing to trade in the glory of God in exchange for the glory of themselves. And in effect, they want to make themselves into their own gods.
But we also know that Jesus has a way of taking situations and turning them completely upside-down. In this instance, he goes against all forms of human logic when he explains what it means to be great according to God's standards. When the world would seek glory for themselves, Jesus responds in verses 43-45 of our Gospel lesson: 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We fall into this trap too. We like to receive glory for ourselves. We might feign a sense of modesty and humility, but we are always looking for earthly glory. It feels good. It makes us feel important. It gives us a sense of security and safety. And who amongst us doesn't like to be appreciated, especially when we've done something noteworthy?
But when we look at what Jesus defines as being great, it causes us to take another look at our priorities. And when we do this, we see ourselves to be the sinful individuals that we are. We can see how we've fallen short of what God wants to see in us, and how empty and hollow those earthly positions of glory really are. And that's what we are chasing after, time and time again.
Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many, according to our Gospel lesson. To make this personal, he gave his life as a ransom for you and me. He gave his life to pay for the world's sin. He gave his very own life as a servant, so that through faith in him alone, we will indeed experience what it is to be great in his eternal kingdom. Through faith in Christ Jesus alone we have a guaranteed future in heaven, and not because we have achieved some sort of earthly greatness.
Jesus is looking ahead at what is to come, and that isn't glorious in the least. The cross is ugly, gruesome, and painful. To be agonizingly nailed to that cross in anticipation of death is not to seek glory in the eyes of the world. But that was not the mission Jesus was on. In John chapter 12, verses 27-28, which is an alternate Gospel reading for today, Jesus says: 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
Jesus came to this earth to do the will of his Father in heaven. He set aside his heavenly glory, and took on human flesh and blood. He became one of us, and entered into our sinful world. And that is anything but glorious.
But by his ministry amongst us, he brought glory to his Father in heaven. He brought his Father's kingdom to the people on earth. His entire ministry was such that it paid the price to redeem all of humanity. This was his life of humble service. And because of that humble service, we shall live in eternal glory, through faith alone in our Saviour.
This morning, I began with a rather negative description of some weddings. I'm not saying that all weddings are nightmares for pastors by any stretch of the imagination. The majority of the time, weddings are very happy occasions as a man and woman pledge themselves to each other, and seek God's blessing upon their union. Weddings are indeed a very good thing, and it has always been a privilege for me to conduct them.
The unfortunate problem is, that weddings so often become something that glorifies the bride instead of God. Even walking down the aisle, everybody's eyes are on the bride, all decked out in her lovely flowing dress. Hardly anybody is looking at the groom in his rented tux, standing up in front and sweating bullets. And God just seems to get tucked away in the corner somewhere, waiting for his time to get mentioned. Yes, it's hard to keep the focus upon God and his glory, even in the best of times.
In doing my job, I try my best to be sure things go smoothly, and God is the focal point. Because of this, I have certain things I require. For example, I ask that there is no flash photography during the service. One time, a photographer was in the chancel and took a picture of the ring exchange. A flash went off in the bride's face, and she dropped the ring. That's not good. Any photographer that's worth their salt is able to do natural light photography, and that is always acceptable.
Some of the biggest horror stories have to do with flower girls and ring bearers (or pageboys), and there are many of them. I require that there is an adult responsible for each of them, and when their function is done, they go and sit in a pew with that adult. For example, one time a flower girl got loose, and decided to swing on the communion rail and play hide and seek behind the altar, while people in the wedding party were trying to catch her. That's not good either. You know that every eye was on her, and nobody was paying attention to anything else that was going on.
I do not allow people to write their own vows either. There are several services from which to choose, that have various options available. If the bride and groom have special words for each other, then the wedding reception is the place for this.
And the music has to be suitable for a worship service, so secular music is not permitted in the wedding service itself. The reception is also the place for this.
I've even known some senior pastors in congregations who have turned all their weddings over to the associate, and refuse to do them at all. I don't ever see myself going quite that far.
I could spend a long time on this, but I think you get the idea. God is the one who absolutely must receive the glory here, and not the bride or groom. It's the same for a funeral; God is glorified for his gift of faith and eternal life, and not the deceased. At a baptism, God is glorified for what he is doing through baptism, and not the person being baptized.
So, do we glorify God, or glorify ourselves in what we do? In our Gospel lesson for today, James and John and their mother were seeking glory for themselves. They wanted positions of power and prestige in God's kingdom, simply because they felt they deserved it.
But Jesus sets the record straight. God is the one who is glorified. He is glorified in this congregation through Word and Sacrament. He is glorified by our acts of humble service done in faith, and out of love for what he has done for us. And he is glorified as we come to Jesus our Saviour through faith alone, who humbled himself, and became obedient unto death on the cross, so we could enter into God's heavenly glory for all eternity.