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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
October 21, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Mark 10:35-45
Pentecost 22B

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: October 21, 2018 – Pentecost 22B

Mark 10:35-45


Someone Special


            When she was ten, Lizzie’s parents told her and her brother that they were moving. Lizzie’s father, a teacher, had a falling-out with the administration and had been offered a ludicrously low contract. So, they were going to move to southwest Minnesota from their home state of Kansas, some five hundred miles away. Five hundred miles away from grandparents, from aunts and uncles, from life-long friends.


            It was a tough adjustment.


            Lizzie had trouble adapting to a new school, to new people, to a new church. She had trouble making friends, incurring the dislike of some of the more popular girls within the first week. She threw herself into her schoolwork, making straight As, but that made her more of an outlier. She developed a tough, steely exterior, but that made her seem stuck-up to the other kids. Inside, she was lonely. Desperately lonely. It wasn’t until the end of sixth grade that she had several good friends – friends who weren’t part of the “inner circle” of cool kids, but were genuinely caring and loyal.


            But despite these friendships, she never forgot the feeling of being excluded from the inner circle.


            Lizzie’s story doesn’t just play out in elementary school. It plays out in every single human interaction within groups. I have some bad news for you kids. Those cliques you have in school? They don’t just go away when you graduate. New cliques form. New insiders and outsiders are defined all the time. Sometimes all we want is access to and recognition by an inner circle of people; a group that can give us an identity, certain powers and privileges. And perhaps most tantalizing of all – the chance to define oneself as “in” against others who are “out”.  


            I wonder if that’s what happens with James and John in today’s Gospel reading.


            Right before our reading, Jesus makes his third passion prediction – the third time he has told his disciples what awaits him in Jerusalem. He will be arrested by religious leaders, who will hand him over to the secular powers to be tortured and killed. After three days, he will rise again. And yet again, this seems to sail over the heads of the disciples. Immediately after this, James and John make their request. They want to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands when he comes into his glory. Now, this is an odd saying for us in the twenty-first century. We don’t ask people if we can sit at their right or left hands anymore! But the gist of it is that common human desire to be part of the “in” group. To be closest to Jesus, closer than anyone else. While power and privilege is part of it, I think James and John are echoing a deep, inherently human desire to be someone special. They want to be somebody.


            Now, most of us raised in the Midwest were taught not to express this desire, or at least not too openly. I can still remember the sneering tone behind rebukes like, “You’re getting a bit too big for your britches, aren’t ya?” or “Look who thinks he’s somebody special!” But don’t all of us want to be deeply known and loved for who we are, without any strings attached? Don’t all of us want to be part of somebody’s inner circle? Maybe we’re content with being in the background, but it seems to me that James and John are simply expressing what many of us desire. They want to be part of Jesus’ inner circle. After all, when Jesus called them from the lakeshore, they dropped everything and left their father in the boat. They want to be sure that Jesus is the real thing, that they will be somebody when Jesus comes into his glory. They even tell Jesus that they can drink his cup and be baptized with his baptism, an indication perhaps that some of Jesus’ words about suffering, dying, and rising are sinking into their skulls. There is sinfulness in the sneaky way they do it, and in their request which seems to exclude the other disciples. But the desire for there to be some kind of reward for their fidelity is only human.


            When the other disciples get angry with James and John, Jesus, once again, goes over a lesson he has gone over at least twice before. Who is Jesus’ disciple? The one who says no to herself, picks up her cross, and follows Jesus. Who is greatest among the disciples? The one who is like a little child, vulnerable and open. And who is the insider in God’s kingdom? The one who acts like Jesus himself, who doesn’t come to be served but to serve and to give his life to free many. The insider in God’s kingdom is the one who is confident that she is loved by God for who she is. Who knows that he has been saved from sin and death by Jesus’ death and has been united with Jesus in baptism. This person knows that she is somebody special in God’s kingdom, just as all of the baptized are. This is the person who is able to be a servant to others as Christ was because he knows who he is. That is what makes Christian discipleship and service the farthest thing possible from being a doormat, from being walked on. Because of Christ’s innate strength and self-knowledge, he was able to serve humanity. So it is with his disciples.


            The church is to be different from the world in how we exercise leadership and show greatness. Much of the time, we fail. We fall into the same patterns that Jesus describes. “You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around.” Two thousand years later, this is still the usual pattern for the exercise of authority, even within the church. We are still sinners. We are still insecure in who we are to God. We are still weak in faith and clutch to anything else to give us some identity, some uniqueness, some privilege. But in God’s kingdom, everybody’s somebody. And the one who is the greatest is the one who has faith in that truth and can serve as Jesus served.


            Let us pray.


            Holy God, we all want to be known and loved, but sometimes we use that desire to exclude and look down on others. Help us to realize that it is when we know who we are in your Son that we are strongest, for it is in him, the One who came to serve, that we are known and loved most of all. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.