The Place of Honor – October 21, 2012 – Mark 10: 35 – 45

I have to brag on my little brother Bryan and his wife Esther.  They were just baptized in the Spring and have immersed themselves in the life of the church they attend.  My sister-in-law Esther has been leading the fundraising efforts for their feeding program.  Their church is currently feeding over 100 families.  Once a month they provide fresh produce and healthy meals to nearly as many families as attend the church.

A woman came to the church to receive food for her and her son last month.  Her husband had died last year.  When he lost his job and health insurance, he stopped taking his diabetes medication and died of complications.  Now, the woman, Amanda, is left alone to raise her son, Larry, who has Aspergers.  Amanda was happy just to have a box of food.  She asked for someone to come to her house to help her carry out her TV that no longer worked.

When my brother Bryan went to her house, he noticed how dilapidated her trailer had become.  The floor boards were rotted out and the floor shook when you walked on it.  The furnace, stove, and refrigerator didn’t work.  The utilities had been turned off.  The plumbing didn’t work properly and the locks on the doors were broken.  The carpet was stained from water leaking through the roof.

My brother considers his ministry one of helps.  This weekend he organized a team to help Amanda improve her living conditions.  Someone donated a night’s stay at a hotel and a gift certificate for dinner and a movie for her and her son so she and Larry could get out of the house while the crew worked.  Yesterday morning, my brother’s crew went to work.  He has a friend who is a plumber who came to fix her plumbing problems.  Another friend came to fix the furnace.  A carpet store in town donated carpet for all the rooms and linoleum for the bathroom.  A hardware store donated all the caulking to seal the windows and other parts needed for all the repairs.  Someone donated a used but working stove.  Someone has donated their time to re-roof the trailer.

They’re not just giving Amanda a hand out.  The church members also helped her apply for social security disability for her son and food stamps.  They found her money to get her utilities turned on.  Best of all, someone was hiring nursing assistants and Amanda just passed her STNA exam – so, now she has a job.

That’s enough to make a big sis proud, not that I wasn’t already proud of him for being a great father and husband.

He knows he can’t do that every weekend.  He realizes he would quickly exhaust his resources and burn himself out.  And, he’d neglect his own home and family.  For this weekend, he and his team are glorifying Christ gifting Amanda and her son with a better home.  As they glorify Christ they stand with Christ in His glory.

I think that what James and John were asking for when they asked to sit at the right and left hand of Christ.  Historically, it has been agreed that the brothers had been asking to be with Christ in His glory because they wanted a place of honor.  Tradition asserts that they didn’t understand what they were asking for because being at Christ’s side in His glory was given to the criminals hung on either side of Christ’s cross.  It is common to view the Disciples as students who are just not getting what their teacher is teaching and that the culmination of the story is the cross.

We can think about this in a different way.  Christ’s glory was not on the cross alone.  What if the time of His glory is the empty tomb and the ones at the right and left of Him in his glory are the women who found the empty tomb?  Or what if His time of glory is the table in Emmaus when the Disciples recognize the Risen Lord and those at his right and left side are the ones eating with Him?  Or what if His time of glory is His Ascension into Heaven and the ones on His right and left at His glory are the witnesses to His ascent to Heaven?  What if there is more than one time or place of His glory?  What if the place of honor at His time of glory is more than just one to His left and one to His right?

I think the brothers James and John were affirming their desire to be His Disciples by asking for the places of honor in His glory.  The Gospel writer Mark is concerned with discipleship in this text and in recent weeks.  Mark has been focused on Jesus’ teaching about servanthood and this text follows that line of teaching.  It is quite possible that the brothers had accepted “Jesus’ divinely appointed mission and its implications for their own lives.”[1]

Jesus asks them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”  The brothers replied, “We are able.”  Jesus assures them that they will drink His cup and receive His baptism.  James and John were among the first Disciples to be called to follow Jesus.  They have had time to hear and understand His teachings.  After following him for three years, they say, “we are still willing to be your Disciples.”  Jesus says, “you will be my Disciples.”

They already know from His teachings that discipleship requires servanthood.  Still, Jesus tells the twelve again that “whoever wishes to become great among you bust be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”  Being a servant is not to serve Jesus; being a servant is to serve beside Jesus.  If what I assert is true then James and John’s real question is, “Jesus, can we serve with you, one on your right and one on your left?”  Hmm.  Maybe they were seeking greatness.

Martin Luther King Jr’s last sermon was called “The Drum Major Instinct”[2]which he preached on February 4, 1968.  Dr. King acknowledges that within every human being is the desire to be first.  “He says before we judge others for their selfishness, “let us look calmly and honestly at ourselves, and we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance… We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade… It’s a good instinct if you don’t distort it and pervert it. Don’t give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love.  (here’s where Dr. King’s congregation would give him an ‘amen’.)  I want you to be first in moral excellence.  I want you to be first in generosity.”[3]

“… everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.[4]

“If you want to be important—wonderful.  If you want to be recognized—wonderful.  If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.  That’s a new definition of greatness.”[5]  (I think Dr. King deserves another ‘amen’.)

I believe that Christ’s glory is everywhere He is proclaimed Lord and Savior so everyone who claims to be a follower of Christ and serves in His name are at his right or left hand in His glory.  We fulfill our own desire for greatness best when we seek to be the best servant of all.

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