Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost
35 [a]James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to [b]Jesus, saying to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” 36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 They said to Him, “[c]Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “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?” 39 They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 40 But to sit on My right or on My left is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 Hearing this, the other ten began to feel indignant with [d]James and John. 42 Calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles domineer over them; and their [e]people in high position exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not this way among you; rather, whoever wants to become [f]prominent among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wants to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His [g]life as a ransom for many.”
“What do you want from God?”
Sermon on Mark 10:35-45
Donovan A. Drake
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
October 17, 2021
In the Book of Judges there is a reoccurring statement: “Because there was no king, everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” in her own eyes, in their own eyes. (Judges 21:25) Not much has changed since way back then. We live in days of multiple truths. People doing what is right in their own eyes. There was a day when the Flat Earth Society was a joke. Now, the flat earth is fact!
We live in days when “what I want” is more important than “what you want.” We live in days in which everyone is on a hair trigger. You go to a fight, and a hockey game breaks out. You go to a hockey game and a fight breaks out, not on the ice, but in the stands. And on and on.
So it goes, the theme for this season is from the lips of Joshua, “Choose this day whom you will serve, you can serve the gods of these days, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” So it is we’ve been hanging close to the Gospel of Mark and what it means to serve the Lord.
35 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.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 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?” 39 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; 40 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.”
41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 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. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus asked, “What is it that you want me to do for you?”
What do you want from God? I’ve got a plane ticket for Tuesday to fly up to see my mom, who is 97. You know her as the “Comeback Kid.” She’s been kicked out of Hospice twice; one more time and she’s in the Guinness Book of World Records. She’s down to 91-pounds and isn’t eating or drinking, and hardly responding. So, I’m asking God that she stop the fight and “…go gentle into that good night.” What do you want from God? It is that which you cannot do. It is beyond your reach, beyond anyone’s reach. I just have a plane ticket.
What do you want from God? I’ve asked a few folks. One said, “I’m either depressed or angry or both. I don’t know what’s wrong. I’m praying about it. ”
One said, “I’d like that peace that surpasses all understanding.”
One said, “I’d like to know, really know, that my sins are behind me.”
One said, “I’d like to for my daughter and son to let me back into their lives.”
I asked a lot of people, and everyone had an answer as to what they wanted from God. So I’m asking you, what do you want from God? If you have an answer, I guess that’s just about everyone who wants something from the almighty.
Guy read from the Book of Job. It’s a “Once upon a time” story about a man named Job whose claim to fame was that he wanted some justice from God. You see, his life wasn’t fair. His life was deep in suffering, and suffering wasn’t in the plan. The plan was that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. Most of Job’s life went according to plan. He had it all. Then suddenly, everything turned. No fault of his own as it turned out. He lost everything. His friends came by and for a few days (you have to give them credit), they just sat with Job silently in his suffering. There are no words for tragedy. No words.
But then, you have to take back the credit you just gave to his friends, because after a while, their theology got the best of them, and they couldn’t keep themselves from expressing it. “Buddy, there must have been something you did to tick God off. Now, think! Think! What did you do?” But, Job said, “There was not a thing I did to deserve this suffering.” Who deserves suffering? Suffering is like that.
There are people in this world who are born in Puerto Prince, Haiti, who didn’t ask to be there, they just born there, suffering there. There’s a woman who wakes up in Kabul Afghanistan. She didn’t ask for that, she just got it. Suffering. And they discover that they’re on a hate list for being different. Not a thing they did, they were just born. What do you think they want from God? Justice. And justice is another name for God. What Job wanted was justice. He wanted God to show up so that he could prove his innocence.
What you heard from the passage that Guy read was God showing up, not as some sweet friend who might walk with you “while the dew is still on the roses.” No. It’s God showing up as a Tennessee tornado. God says, “Gird up your loins like a man! Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”
Job got what he asked for, just not what he wanted. God just blew away his understanding of God. That’s the way it is with God. God shows up and it’s always a surprise.
You may remember, in the darkness, near the Jabbock River, there was Jacob. And in that darkness, he felt a hold upon him, and he spent the night wrestling with a stranger, or an angel, or maybe it was God. Who knows? Well, after it was all over and Jacob was broken, Jacob said, “I’ll name this place, for I have seen God face-to-face, and my life is preserved.” God showed up in a wrestling match. Surprise!
Moses was surprised to find God in a burning bush. Sarah and Abraham were surprised by some strangers who stopped by for tea, and as it turned out, they were entertaining angels unaware. Surprise! When God showed up in (of all places) a house of worship, Isaiah was surprised, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.” Ezekiel was surprised God took an uber to Babylon, God there, a wheel inside of a wheel.
Do you see the surprising trend? It’s a surprise theme throughout the Bible. Except in Mark’s Gospel with these disciples, no surprise at all. Why is that? God has shown up in Jesus Christ, and they look at Jesus, but they can’t see God. Imagine being in the presence of God and not understanding the presence. Like that time when I was at Starbucks minding my own business, waiting on Nancy Falls to meet me there. Nancy came in and she softly spoke, “Do you know you’re sitting next to Nicole Kidman?”
And sure enough, suddenly I was surprised.
I don’t know if I sat next to Nicole, I call her Nicole now, or if Nicole sat next to me. I kind of like the thought of Nicole looking over the Starbucks full of empty chairs and then seeing me, so she pulled up a chair. But the point is, Nicole was next to me, and I didn’t know. She was just another person in world full of people. If Nancy hadn’t come in, I wouldn’t be telling this story because it would have just been a story of me in a Starbucks. No story there. I don’t know what my meeting with Nancy was all about. Nancy doesn’t remember, she was sitting next to Keith Urban. Not sure who he is, but apparently, he was there, too.
James and John are talking to Son of God. And they are oblivious to who he is. Well, they know that he’s something. They know him to be Jesus, someone. A teacher. A powerful guy. A successful guy. Popular. With popularity there is power and if you can get near the power, some of the power can be transferred to you.
Every so often I will tell colleagues in ministry that I have Barbara Brown Taylor’s cell phone number. That name may mean nothing to you, but among clergy, that means something. I don’t really like to bring up to my colleagues that I have Barbara Brown Taylor’s phone number, because as Paul McCartney once said to me, “It’s never good to drop names.” Power is transferable if you can get close enough.
“Teacher…,” the brothers say, imagine addressing almighty God as “teacher.” “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask you.” Imagine asking almighty God to do whatever you want. Ordering God around like God is your personal servant?
Apparently, you don’t have to imagine. Because this God, called Jesus, understands himself and proclaims himself to be a servant. Surprise! “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask you.” So, it is that Jesus, being a servant, responds to such a request. “What do you want me to do for you?” ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’” Power is transferrable.
The irony is that they’ve just been told, just prior to the text I read you, about the Glory of Jesus. He just told his disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over and will be condemned to death; handed over. And they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” That’s some glory!
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask you. Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Jesus says, “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?” “Sure!” they answer, having no idea that the “cup” that Jesus is to drink is the cup of his death. The “baptism” is the baptism that will drown him in his death on the cross. Jesus’ glory is on the cross. Where he hangs between two thieves, one on his right hand and one on his left. He didn’t make that choice; we chose it for him.
Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? “We are able!”
I wonder if Jesus paused for a moment and pondered their answer. That without knowing it, they were right. You can be baptized in the water and drink the cup and be oblivious to the grace that has a hold on your life. You can have his baptism and drink from his cup, and skate by, oblivious to the power of it all, the salvation of it all. This is how life is lived. We have freedom that we take for granted every day, but every now and then, we encounter the widow or parent of a soldier lost who says, “Pay attention.” We have nice clothes, nice things, but somewhere along the line we find out that they’re made in a sweat shop.
I mean, we can skate by oblivious to our good fortune. But there is a word from God, that if our ears were open, that might change the way we live and move and have our being. Our lives can be driven by asking, NOT, “What do you want from God?”. But rather in the prayer, “God, what do you want from me?”
In the middle of the fight… “Lord what do you want from me?
In the middle of our sadness… “Lord, what do you want from me?
In the middle of our worry… “Lord, what do you want from me?”
In the middle of our wants… “Lord, what do you want from me?
And in that prayer, God will show up, as a servant, as a suffering servant of love. I’ve seen it in you. In the end, what you want from God, and what God wants from all of us, is the same thing. A servant – and the light of the world is so bright – that you can’t tell the difference between God and the ones who serve.
Copyright©Donovan A. Drake 2021