Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Where do YOU want to sit?

Sermon Preached for St. James the Elder, July 25, 2010.

    We are constantly faced with seating choices – at home we have living rooms but kitchens seem to be where folks gather; in restaurants we want a good table and not one back by the kitchen; in theaters we each have our own favorite spots... Even in Church we face a seating choice?  Pews or chairs, right side or left, near Pastor or as far away from Pastor as possible (the usual choice). Or, in case of incense, smoking or non-smoking.
    Today we consider one of two brothers who came to Jesus with a seating choice – "Lord, make us to sit at your right and at your left when you come into your glory.  James and John could not have been Lutheran because they did not want the last pew.  They wanted to be as close as they could get – down front, next to Jesus – but they wanted these seats when the cost had been paid, the victory won, and the sacrifice was over.  These were seats of glory but with such seating choices came consequences that James and John were not fully prepared for.  James would soon find this out since he was the first of the apostles martyred and the only one whose death is recorded in Scripture.
    They wanted to sit with Jesus.  Now you may not want to be this close to Jesus but you have to admire those who do.  The other disciples admired this request – in fact they were jealous of it.  Why didn’t they think to ask Jesus first for the same thing.  When Jesus cautions them, insisting that they do not know what they are asking, they jump in where wise dare to go.  They wanted to be marked for Jesus.  It is just that they were thinking only of the glory and not the suffering or death to come which Jesus had clearly spoken about.  Still and all, you gotta hand it to them.  They wanted to be next to Jesus... and I am not so sure we want the same thing today.  Oh we might say we want it, but like James of old, we are not ready for His cup or His baptism.
    To sit with Jesus means to drink His cup.  What does that mean?  Holy Communion?  Well, no, not the cup of blessing.  What Jesus has in mind here is the destiny of sacrifice for which He was born, to which He willingly cast His lot, and through which He would pay the price of redeeming the whole, lost, sinful world.  To sit with Jesus means to learn to say with Jesus: "Not my will, but Thine be done."  Are you ready for that, Jesus asked James and his brother?  Are YOU ready for that, Jesus asks us today?
    To sit with Jesus means drinking His cup of suffering and pain.  The disciples thought they had signed on for the glory road but Jesus was blunt and forthright in telling them all along that the road He would walk was the path of suffering and pain.  He could not and would not avoid the cross.  If this cup could pass from Him, He would not drink it, but if it must be drunk, He would drink it for us and our salvation... for the joy that was before Him enduring the cross and scorning its shame.
    You and I also tend to think when we signed with Jesus it was for the good stuff – for forgiveness, for blessing, for life abundant now and life eternal later... We are not so sure about the path of suffering and pain.  But the cross is in our cup just as it was in His.  Ours is not the redemptive cup whose sufferings purchase salvation but the cup of witness and discipleship through which we identity with Christ.  He calls us to stand with Him, to bear the cross, and to walk with Him – even amid suffering and pain.
    I meet a lot of people who like Jesus and even admire Him.  I do not meet as many folks who are ready to bear the burden of suffering and pain that accompanies our lives in Christ.  Saying no to self, no to the ways of the world, no to instant gratification, and no to self-indulgence is the cost of our discipleship.  Its pain is real and so is the suffering in this cup which we drink by faith.
    To sit with Jesus means drinking the cup of death and sorrow – giving up the life we have now for the new life He born in us in baptism, the life which is Christ living in us and through us.  Here is where it gets tough.  We tend to want it all.  We want a happy, carefree life, filled with all the good things money can buy and experience can provide.  AND we want heaven, too.
    We do not want to pick and choose – we want it all.  Which is why the obedience of faith is to hard for us.  We like being recipients of gifts; we do not like bearing a cross, or being marked for Jesus when it is unpopular or requires painful choices from us.
    So I ask you today.  Where do YOU want to sit?  If you sit next to Jesus, be prepared to drink His cup of sacrifice, suffering, pain, and loss.  It you sit next to Jesus, be ready to be splattered with blood – and not just His blood in which you were washed in baptism but your blood, too.  The blood we shed dying every day to the life which is at enmity with God and rising each day the new person Christ has made us to be. This is the cup we drink – dying with Christ and rising in Him to become the whole new person only He can make us.  Jesus has many admirers but what He calls us to is faith and discipleship – the faith and discipleship that trusts in Jesus for all things and walks where He has led the way.
    Christian life in this world is not the glory of the world's success story but the glory of service, putting others before self... it is the glory of sacrifice where the only thing we cannot not let go of is Jesus; where everything else comes after this relationship... it is the glory of faithfulness to Christ before the world’s approval and the glory of standing with Christ when the world rejects us as it did Him.
    We all come to Jesus ready to drink the cup of glory, but we are not so sure we want to drink the cup of pain.  Every day is this same challenge to us. How close to Jesus shall we sit?  Long ago James was heady with glory but his faith was tested by suffering and martyrdom – all because He wanted to sit close to Jesus.  Every day we face the same temptation and the same struggle.  Will we be close enough to Jesus to drink His cup and walk in His steps or far enough away so that we can avoid the consequences of belonging to Him.
    I don't understand why people sit where they do in Church.  If I had my way I would make everyone sit close together and close to the front.  But if I had my way, life in Christ would not include any suffering or pain.  Jesus was asking James of old what He asks us to day: Are you willing to pay the cost of faithfulness.  I cannot speak for you and you cannot speak for me.  Today we pray that by the aid of the Holy Spirit, our faith may be living and active, our faithfulness true and bold, our confidence and courage strong, and connection to Jesus as close as possible – for our journey of faith in this life and for the eternal victory Christ has prepared for us...  Amen.

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