Monday, March 18, 2024

Jealousy does not become you. . .

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent (B), preached on Sunday, March 17, 2024.

The king is not even crowned before people are vying for position.  James and John live up to their nickname, the Sons of Thunder.  Jesus is talking about the crown He will wear – not a crown of gold adorned with jewels but one of twisted thorns but no one is listening.  They hear king and kingdom and crown and they think only of grasping a share of the glory for themselves.  They do not get the King who is come not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.  Are we any different?

We take the ways of the world and incorporate them into the way we think God works.  So like the parents who fight teachers so their children can get ahead without doing the work, we are jealous for our place in the kingdom and our portion of the glory pie.  Who cares if you are on the right or left hand of Jesus or in the nose bleed seats of heaven.  If you are there, is that not enough?  But, sadly, it is not enough. We try to work God the way we work the system here on earth and to figure out the easiest way to glory.  It sounds terrible, doesn’t it?  None of us would ever admit to having those kind of jealous feelings but that does not mean we do not have them.

Maybe it is too much to expect a people so rooted and planted in this world and in the ways of this world to think and behave differently when it comes to the Kingdom of God.  Maybe it is too much for fishermen with smelly and calloused hands to think past how to get ahead of your competitors in the marketplace and get the ways of Jesus.  Maybe it is too much for us to leave behind the well worn ruts in the path of getting ahead at the expense of others to presume that we get the cross or understand what God’s love is.  Maybe we are too wedded to right to recall that love is gift and not the reward for merit.

If we were Jesus we would have smacked them down hard.  But Jesus does not.  He is shockingly kind to them and patient beyond all expectation.  They could not have known what the were really asking but that does not mean they were so far off either.  They believed the Lord had a kingdom even if they failed to see His crown had thorns.  But they would drink from His cup and be baptized with His baptism of suffering.  Maybe they did not realize what they were asking but that would not prevent them from sharing in what Jesus would drink and be baptized.  James was first and John the last.  One died quickly in martyrdom at the hand of Caesar and the other slowly, watching his brothers in the faith give up their lives for the Lord.
In the economy of God’s kingdom, the king ends up the slave of all, the slave ends up the heir, the strong become weak, the weak become strong, the first are last, the last are first, the confident doubt, the doubter believe, the victors lose, the losers win, the masters serve, and the dead live.  It is no wonder that James and John did not get it.  None of us do.  We are daily blessed with mercies new that we do not deserve and once for all with salvation unearned by those who benefit from it.

The Lord is not angry with James and John for their arrogance.  He is a good Lord and a generous Savior.  His mercy endures forever so it can endure a moment of bald greed from disciples who should have known better.  Jesus even forgives the rest of the disciples who are offended that James and John thought to ask what they had all wanted for themselves.  They all wanted what we want still – our place in the Kingdom, our moment in God’s Son, our fifteen minutes of fame, and a little glory to make up for all the crap life shoves your way.  They did not know what they were asking for or how to ask for it but at least they asked.        

We live in a world which no longer wants to be with Jesus or share in His glory.  In our world, the glory is being the doubter or the skeptic.  Whatever the weaknesses and shortcomings of James and John, in their heart of hearts they wanted to be with Jesus through difficulty and in glory.  Give them that, at least. What of you and me?  Will we drink of Jesus’ cup or turn up our noses at the prospect of serving God and others in His name?  Will we embrace the baptism of suffering or will we choose an easier and less painful path to glory?  The answer to these questions you and I are now writing by what we believe, how we live out that faith, and what values accompany us into the Kingdom of God.

Maybe James and John were fools but they continued to serve the Lord, preaching and teaching right up until their death.  Maybe James and John were filled with thoughts of pride and ambition but the glory they sought included Jesus and did not exclude Him.  What about you and me?  Do we serve without counting the cost or do we count the cost of serving too high?  Are we faithful or does our faithfulness wear out as soon as it begins to cost us something?  Are we fools for Christ or just fools?  

Let James and John be an example to us.  Their bravado and their foolishness was not hidden behind a pious exterior.  They were glad to be fools for Christ.  Christ died for them.  He rose for them.  He forgave them.  He worked through them.  They waited upon the Lord even when it was made clear to them that at the end of their waiting no seats of glory on the right or left were Jesus to give.  They were happy to have whatever the Father ended up giving them.  The glory of salvation was all the glory they needed.  This little incident only reminded them of that.

We are fools for Christ with them.  We look at water and see in the font the womb that gives us birth to everlasting life.  We hear a pastor stand in front us and say “You are forgiven” and we believe it.  We hold up a book in gold plating believing that it speaks God’s Word to us.  We open our mouths to receive bread that is Christ’s flesh and the cup of His blood.  We pray trusting that God will give us the right answer even it is it not the one we want.  We open our wallets to surrender the money to the Lord.  We walk out the door with the blessing of God on us and believe that will carry us through week and right back here.

Jesus comes for sinners and if you are one, He is your Savior.  That is what shocks us most of all.  God loves us not with the tenuous love that will give up as soon as we screw up but with the enduring love that forgives and restores us as often as we need it.  You know what would be great?  If when we open our eyes in heaven and see that James and John are on the right and left of Jesus – not because they asked but because the Father willed it.  For then we would know why we were there.

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