A sermon from St Paul’s Beaconsfield, WA, on Sunday 17th October, from Mark 10: 32 – 45 – you can read a link to it here… https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=501465079
I received a card from a wonderful friend back home this week and in it she wrote… ‘God gave me a message for you and said this: God is with you in Australia but speaks with a different accent, so you’ll need to listen carefully’. Then Craig and I were in Bunnings and he had this super fast conversation with the shop assistant and I think I caught about 20% of what they were saying, so I’m definitely trying to fine tune my listening skills, but on Tuesday evening I went along to the bible study that John runs each week – 7:30pm in the meeting room, highly recommended – and God spoke, right there, in many and clear ways and I need to share some of those holy riches with you this morning.
We began the study as they do each time – reading the gospel passage twice through and then going around the room, asking ‘I wonder’ type questions: things like ‘I wonder what Jesus meant by drinking the cup he drinks’, ‘I wonder what sitting at the right and left mean, and what glory really is’ and ‘I wonder what being baptised with the same baptism as Christ means’. And nobody offered answers or explanations, we just wondered for a while – just sat with the mystery instead of rushing ahead to the answer. And then we kind of wandered through our wonderings and thought together about what they might mean.
And. God. Was. With. Us.
And it was wonderful – wonder FULL, literally – and also deeply unsettling, really quite uncomfortable.
So, James and John spit out this request that is really quite rude and also pretty familiar, isn’t it? Jesus, we want you to do for us whatever we ask. Can you relate to prayers of your own that might sound similar? Shopping list prayers! Jesus, heal my dad, stop it raining, find me a parking space, give me this job? Some of them are really good requests, but more often they are my will be done prayers, rather than thy will be done.
James and John do it in spectacular style here, but I think it was ever thus. Jesus, teacher, do for us whatever we ask. And Jesus replies, in Jesus’ infinite grace and mercy, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ What is it that you want? And they tell him – let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory. When we fast forward through the death, flogging, spitting, and mockery you speak of, can we have our own comfy thrones next to you, either side?
And Jesus says, ‘you don’t know what you are asking’. And I think they kind of do know what they’re asking – they want to be seated in full view in glory. They want a reward, to look important, they do know what they are asking. What they don’t know is what it takes to get there, what the path of discipleship really is. And let’s just wonder about that for a few minutes…
Can you drink the cup I drink?
Can you be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?
Friends, listen to that because these two questions of Jesus are not just to James and John. They’re not just questions for 1st century Palestinian followers of the itinerant Rabbi Jesus. They are questions for all of us who are tentatively trying to walk this path of discipleship
Can we drink the cup? Can we be baptised? What does it even mean?!
Well, here’s the thing: it is an invitation to certain death. It really is. Last week we were invited to give up all we had, sell all our possessions, and follow Jesus. And today, we see where that road goes. It is the road that leads to life, never forget that, but first it is the road that journeys through death. It costs us all we are and all we have, even our very lives.
Can you drink the cup I drink, Jesus asks? That’s not just the cup of wine from the last supper, but the cup of suffering that Jesus begs God to take from him in the garden of gethsemane: if it is possible, take this cup from me: yet not what I will but what you will. Can you drink from that cup James? John? Can you? Can we?
And can you be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with? Baptism is the sacrament in which we die – we don’t tell that to parents who bring their little babies in their frilly hats to the font – but it really is the sacrament in which we enact our death – we drown our old lives, drown our sins in those waters of baptism and rise again to new life, to freedom, healing, forgiveness. Can you take that baptism, Jesus asks. Can you die, will you die, for me, that you might live?
And what about this glory James and John ask after? Can we sit beside you, one on your left and one on your right in your glory? Doesn’t that resound with painful images of Golgotha – where our Lord hung on the cross with two criminals, one on his right and one on his left – and where his true glory was revealed, where the centurion declared, on behalf of all humanity for all time, ‘surely this man was – is – the Son of God’.
When James and John make their demand, Jesus is so right when he says, ‘you don’t know what you are asking’. Can we sit beside you? Well, I don’t know about that, Jesus says, that’s up to God, but if you really want to be counted there among the glory, this is the way the road goes to get there – it goes through suffering and unto death and then, onwards to resurrection. But to reach glory, the way there is the way of death.
And for those of us who are committing our lives to bear the name Christian, for those of us who are daring to believe that this Jesus stuff is real and has something to say to 21st Century living, we are signing up to death. And how we are also signing up to life!
It is an upside-down kingdom where the first are last, where the greatest are the slaves and servants, and where we only gain life by embracing death. It doesn’t make sense and the world calls it boring but Jesus’ message, Jesus’ call is not for the fainthearted. It is fierce, all encompassing, life changing, REAL. And, as that great hymn reminds us, it demands my soul, my life, my all.
As I said last week, and will say often, it is costly and compelling. And it is for you.
I wonder, will you follow? Amen.