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Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sermon from July 25, 2010

"A Grasp of the Future"
Mark 10: 35-45

Today is special day for us, we celebrate St. James the Apostle, oh, and there is also something else going on today, we get the name of the person who may be called to serve as the next pastor at Mount Olive. I feel like a school teacher trying to teach in the final days before summer break. I know all minds wander a bit during sermons, but I wonder, with this long anticipated excitement before us, how much tracking will be going on today?

It is easy to get distracted with thoughts of the future, both known and unknown. That is what is going on in the minds of students before summer break. “What will the coming summer be like?” “What does this future have in store?” So, too, as a congregation we may have thoughts of our future in our minds this morning, if it is not for the future of the congregation and the future pastor, it might be a focus on our personal future, or our family’s future, or our friend’s future. The prospects of our future can be scary or exciting or both. But even if our future may be exciting there is so much unknown of the future that we want certainty, we want a grasp of the future, just a little control of what it might be.

With that in mind let us turn back to this festival day of St James and our gospel. The brothers James and John are looking for certainty. They want Jesus to do whatever they ask him. They are looking for a grasp of the future, something they can count on or control. They want to share in Jesus’ glory so they ask for positions of power in Jesus’ glory.

James and his brother John were ambitious. They appear to be from a family with a higher social status, because their father was well enough off to employ hired servants (Mark 1:20). They were seeking for the highest place in Jesus’ earthly corporation.

It is interesting to note that Mark’s telling of this story differs from Matthew (Matt 20:20-23), in that version James and John’s mother requests for her boys to receive the places of honor. Maybe Matthew thought the request was unworthy of a follower of Jesus. But in Mark’s version we see James and John as ordinary people. They are people with whom we can identify. If we could ask Jesus the question, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask you” what would it be? Do we want positions of power, money, control, certainty, security?

Even though James and John had followed Jesus for a while they failed to understand Jesus. This request takes place right after Jesus’ third passion prediction. They just didn’t understand what we has saying that this is not an earthly thing. However misguided they might have been they still believed Jesus, their hearts were in the right place. They never doubted Jesus’ ultimate triumph.

Jesus tells them they do not know what they are asking, but using two Jewish metaphors, he asks them a question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

It was the custom at a royal banquet for the king to hand the cup to his guests. The cup therefore became a metaphor for the life and experience that God handed out to people. "My cup overflows," said the Psalmist (Ps.23:5), when he spoke of a life and experience of happiness given to him by God. "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup," said the Psalmist (Ps.75:8), when he was thinking of the fate in store for the wicked and the disobedient. Isaiah, thinking of the disasters which had come upon the people of Israel, describes them as having drunk "at the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath" (Isa.51:17). The cup speaks of the experience allotted to people by God (William Barclay.)

Jesus speaks of the baptism with which he was baptized. The Greek verb (baptizein) means "to dip." Its past participle (bebaptismenos) means "submerged," and it is regularly used of being submerged in any experience. For instance…a grief-stricken person is said to be submerged in sorrow. A student before a cross-examining teacher is said to be submerged in questions. The word is regularly used for a ship that has been wrecked and submerged beneath the waves. … The expression, as Jesus used it here, had nothing to do with technical baptism. What he is saying is, "Can you bear to go through the terrible experience which I have to go through? Can you face being submerged in hatred and pain and death, as I have to be?" He was telling these two disciples that without a cross there can never be a crown. The standard of greatness in the Kingdom is the standard of the Cross. It was true that in the days to come they did go through the experience of their Master, for James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa (Ac.12:2), and, though John was probably not martyred, he suffered much for Christ. They accepted the challenge of their Master--even if they did so blindly (William Barclay).

But the ultimate end (future) belongs to God, our density is in God’s hands. Jesus knew his role as God’s son, who sits at his right and left hand is not for Jesus to grant. His own life was a long act of submission to God’s will and he knew in the end that it was God’s future into which he was being called. And this is what makes difference for those of us who follow Jesus. God is calling to is into God’s preferred future, it is God who takes care of the future for us, and that future is wrapped in the grace of Jesus by his death, resurrection, and ascension. We may not know what that future is but we do know the One calling and ultimately it is that One who has the last word, not us. We can and will request but it is God who gives.

Dear friends in Christ, we may want a grasp of the future but God has the future in his grasp, meanwhile Jesus teaches us that greatness is not in being served but in serving, it is humbling but it is also mighty powerful.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

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