The Competition of Being

 

 

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

Psalm 104:1-9, 25,37b

Mark 10:35-45

 

10: 35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:35-45, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: O God, in your Son Jesus Christ you richly bless us with all that we need, bread from the earth and the bread of heaven, which gives life to the world. Grant us one thing more: grateful hearts to sing your praise, in this world and the world to come. Amen.

 

This is a stewardship sermon. It will not include any charts or graphs or statistics or percentiles. While financial metrics may tell the story, they are not our inspiration for giving.  Likewise, I’m not going to talk about the 2016 budget or how well our church has used your money to accomplish God’s purposes during this year. Money is not the foundation of stewardship. Stewardship is not fundraising. Stewardship draws from a much different and a much deeper well.

 

The kind of stewardship I am talking about is the giving of our lives and by that I mean what we do with our time, talent and our money.  This giving is driven by gratitude.  And gratitude is inspired by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  We give because our hearts have been stirred by God. We give because we have been forgiven.  We give because God is faithful.  We give because Jesus first gave, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 

 

This stewardship is based on gratitude. Gratitude to God for what God has done for all of us.  You will be asked to pledge next Sunday morning. You will be asked to give your money to God.  Why would you do that?

 

I suppose pledging could be counted among other social obligations; you know, like a gift to The United Way or to your college’s annual fund drive or perhaps like a gift to the Symphony or the Cancer Society or some other “worthy cause.”  How do you rank your church pledge?  Is it a social obligation like other social obligations?  It is certainly voluntary.  Unlike paying taxes, you won’t go to jail or pay a fine if you don’t pledge to the church.  You don’t have to give.  You won’t be turned away at the door for not giving. It is purely voluntary. So why do it? Why give your money to God through the church?

 

Here is the theological basis for stewardship. We give because Jesus, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 

 

You may be wondering, must someone (Christ) die in order for others to live? How can the death of Jesus (another) remove my guilt, my offense, my sin? Do I really have any guilt or offense or sin to be removed? Is there a limit to what God can forgive? Why can’t God just forgive, you know, with a wave of the hand? Why can’t God simply declare that we are forgiven? Why must Jesus die? Why must he sacrifice?

 

These are deep and perplexing questions. They also rest at the very heart of stewardship. You’re being asked to make a pledge to the church and return it next Sunday morning. You’re being asked to give your money to God.  Why would you do that?

 

We give because Jesus, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 

 

In reading the Gospel of Mark we get the impression that Jesus’ disciples are not paying attention.  At least three times Jesus tells them what is going to happen to him and each time the disciples fail to understand.[1]

 

The first time, in chapter 8 Jesus tells them that he will suffer and be rejected and killed.  But Peter, you remember, will have none of it.  Because Peter imagines a messiah that will conquer the world by sheer brute strength, not as Jesus describes by in a sign of ultimate weakness by dying on a cross (8:27-33).

 

The second time Jesus tells them, is in the very next chapter. When he tells them about his impending suffering, rejection and death. Again, they can’t understand because as Mark tells us the disciples are too busy arguing over who is the greatest (9:33-37).

 

And, as we just read this morning, even after Jesus tells them for a third time that he is going to suffer and die they are not paying attention.  Because as Mark tells us, James and John ask him if they can sit next to him when he comes into his glory (10:37).

I don’t think the disciples wanted to understand, or to hear what he was saying. It is as if they were tuning him out.   Jesus called them from their fishing nets and tax table, from their homes and families to follow him. But not just that he is calling them to follow him to suffer and to die… they suddenly can’t hear.

 

What makes me think they don’t want to understand is a comment that Mark makes about them.  Mark says, “They did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask.” They listened to what Jesus said but they were afraid to hear what he meant.

 

It is just like the annual stewardship campaign.  When we talk about stewardship we listen but we don’t always want to hear.  We do okay with sermons about discipleship and love and grace and forgiveness; but when it gets to how much money it is going to cost us when don’t want to listen do we?

 

But of course, the financial part of disciples is just the tip of the iceberg. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who was killed for his faith states the true cost of discipleship—“When Christ calls us, he bids us to come and die.” [2]  Bonhoeffer was born into an educated and affluent family in Germany, he eventually became a pastor and theologian who opposed the activities of Hitler and the Third Reich.  He was very vocal in his opposition to the Nazi’s and was even part of two plots to assassinate Hitler.  Both of the attempts failed. Eventually Bonhoeffer was arrested and put in prison.

 

While he was behind bars he wrote many letters to friends and family and to his beloved fiancée. His letters bear the powerful testimony to his courage, his faith and the peace that sustained him for years.  Right up to the end he was hopeful that the Allies would liberate the prison camp where he was captive. But that liberation came too late for him because he was killed in a Nazi death camp.  Now, I certainly cannot compare Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s faithful following of Christ to James and John confusion about what it means to follow Jesus or to what it means for us today. Obviously we are not called to literally lay down our lives, as Bonhoeffer did.  So, I have been asking myself, “What is required of us? What does it mean for us today to follow Christ?”

 

Few of us are called to give our lives for our faith.  But, all of us are called to give something.  We are called to give of our time and our talents in service to others, and we are called to give of our money.  That is what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Christ. Bonhoeffer’s last words were about his physical death. Yet, they apply as well to the symbolism of being a disciple.  “This is the end – for me the beginning of life. And so it is for all of us who seek to answer the call to follow Christ.”[3]

 

We give because God first gave to us.  We give because we are called to.  We give because to follow Jesus means serving others.  We probably won’t be honored at some fancy banquet.  We probably won’t get the best seat in the house.  We won’t get any special treatment.  But we will still give, and we will accept the invitation to walk into abundant life.

 

Let us pray: God, you have called us and we are yours. Send us out again and again knowing that the place of honor is at the foot of the cross. Show us the joy that is found in serving your beloved people. Amen.

 

 

[1] The Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr. Homily on Mark 10:35-45, First Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN October 22, 2006.

[2] The Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr. Homily on Mark 10:35-45, First Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN October 22, 2006. He is quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: Simon & Schuster [Touchstone Book], 1995) Page 89.

[3] The Reverend Dr. K.C. Ptomey, Jr. Homily on Mark 10:35-45, First Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN October 22, 2006. He is quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, (New York: Simon & Schuster [Touchstone Book], 1995) Page 89-90.

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