As we move through our series of questions for Jesus, this text is an exchange of questions.
Jesus asks, “What can I do for you?”
The Disciples James and John ask Jesus if He’ll allow one of them to sit at His right and the other at His left when He is in His glory.
Jesus asks, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
James and John have been with Him from the beginning. They were among the first called Disciples. Jesus called Simon and Andrew then walked a little further down the shore of the sea of Galilee to find James and John. These brothers had been with him the longest. If any of the Disciples understood Jesus’ mission, it would have been these brothers or Simon and Andrew. But, the question James and John ask of Jesus let us know that they don’t understand.
Recently I said, they couldn’t understand yet. Jesus has now tried to explain to them 3 times that glory comes from servanthood in His kingdom. They just don’t get it, because they can’t understand Jesus without the cross and resurrection. Peter had confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, but they weren’t supposed to tell anyone. They didn’t know what it meant to call Him Messiah. He has been trying to teach them what it means for Him to be called Messiah, but they’re not getting it. They still think Jesus as the Messiah is going to give them a renewed Davidic kingdom so a place of honor at His right and left means the brothers James and John want positions of status in this new kingdom.
Jesus has a question for them. He doesn’t yell at them for not understanding. He doesn’t rebuke them for their ignorance. He has patience even though they seem to not be listening. Jesus asks, “do you think you can drink the cup I will drink and be baptized with the baptism I will be baptized with?” His real question is: “do you think you can endure what I am about to go through?”
Ignorantly, they respond, “yes.” We know that they can’t even stay by His side during the final days, let alone go through it with Him. But, you have to give them credit. They think they’re willing to do what it takes to obtain positions near Him during His glory. Traditionally, the Church teaches that the men who take the places of honor at Jesus’ right and left in His glory are the 2 men who hang on crosses next to Him when Jesus is crucified. The Disciples will each face martyrdom, but they don’t realize during this conversation that glory requires radical servanthood. The only thing they are sure of is that they want to be near Jesus in His glory so they can receive honor.
Martin Luther King Jr’s last sermon was called “The Drum Major Instinct” 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. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity.”
(There’s where Dr. King’s congregation would give him an ‘amen’.)
“… 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.”
(Can I get an ‘amen’?)
“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.”
(I think Dr. King deserves another ‘amen’.)
I do believe there are some people, a rare person, who doesn’t want attention. This is someone who doesn’t like attention in any form, let alone glory and praise for their good works. They want to be quiet church mice doing things behind the scenes for the pure joy of serving others. I don’t think they are more humble than others, but they are truly humble servants.
On the other hand, there are many of us who like to be seen doing good works. I don’t want to seem judgmental of such people, because I count myself among them. As Martin Luther King, Jr points out in his sermon, it is human nature to want to be noticed. MLK says don’t deny that instinct to lead the parade. He says, if we want to be recognized, we should set out to be the greatest servant, for being the most giving, most loving, most compassionate, the best servant. We shouldn’t do just enough to get noticed. We should do enough to be noticed as the best servant.
I think the Church today is looking for status and privilege, a status and privilege once enjoyed. The Church was once a major factor and consideration in one’s life. People once oriented their week around Sunday mornings plus Wednesday and Sunday evening activities. There was nothing on Sundays to distract a family and Wednesdays were open. Wednesday evening youth groups didn’t compete with other school activities.
Now, churches compete with many activities on Wednesdays and Sundays. They are just more time to fill with opportunities for fun and family time. Family time doesn’t always include going to church as a family.
The real question for Jesus is, “what must we do to once again have be honored?”
I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not very optimistic. I don’t think the church is one day going to be the dominate voice in the moral and ethical thought of our world. I don’t think the church is going to be the center of people’s lives. I don’t think our churches are going to be full like they once were.
The church will endure. For more than 2,000 years, there has been a church of Christ. There has always been someone to preach the Gospel. There has always been people to be servants. As long as there are servants, there will be a church, but I don’t think the church in 20 years is going to be anything like it is today or has been in the past.
A few weeks ago, you shared that half of you have talked about your faith or invited someone to church who doesn’t believe or doesn’t go to church. With that much evangelism, we should be growing. We put a lot of time, energy, and resources into ministries reaching out to our neighbors. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) yearbook info asked this year how many people we reach with our outreach ministries. I talked with a couple elders and we came up with 250 people conservatively. With that much outreach, we should be growing.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why we’re not growing. I’ve talked to other churches who have spent big money and lots of energy on coaching and participation in transformation programs. I haven’t heard anything about those programs that we haven’t done. I’ve talked to pastors of growing churches and pastors of dying churches. We have so much life compared to the dying churches. We’re not not doing what growing churches are doing.
We all want to be noticed for our service, because we want people to know Christ through our ministries. We want the church to be honored in our village, because we want people to come and know the love of Christ through our fellowship. We have the right motives. We’re giving a lot of time and energy.
We need to do something different. I just don’t know what that is. As much as the drum major in me wants to have all the answers, I don’t. What are we going to do to once again have a place of honor in our world? I don’t know. I need all of us together to ask Jesus what we need to do. I want to challenge all of you to seek God’s answer and share it with us.
Jesus, we are a fellowship of humble servants seeking to glorify you. We don’t do what we do to glorify ourselves. We do what we do because we want others to see how much you love them and how much you’ll do to save them. We want others to know the grace and redemption we have known in our lives. Give us ideas, Lord, for what we can do to grow in our witness, to draw others to belief, and to increase our fellowship. Guide our steps so that we may fulfill the command of making disciples. We pray to our Holy Father, in your precious Name. Amen.