I have noticed that in most of what I ask Jesus for, I have asked that others would not suffer and that I would not suffer. Time and time again, I ask to be relieved from whatever is causing me pain, confusion, or hardship. Like the disciples, I want to ignore and bypass the cross of suffering. I want the good stuff of life without the pain. And who doesn’t?
21st Sunday after
Pentecost; October 21, 2012
Isaiah 53.4-12; Psalm
91.9-16; Hebrews 5.1-10; Mark 10.35-45
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from God
our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I invite you all to close
your eyes and keep them closed until I invite you to open them again. Get as comfortable in the pews as you can and
relax. Imagine that you are on your way
to a place you love. You are on your way
to a place that gives you a sense of peace every time you go there. Think about where you are going and hold it
in your mind, still keeping your eyes closed.
Now you have arrived at the
place. You look around and feel the
sense of peace it gives you. You are the
only one there. You see a place to sit,
so you sit down to rest. You start
thinking about the things that are going on in your life. After some time you feel the presence of
someone next to you. It is Jesus. He sits down too.
You start telling him what is
going on in your life. You tell him
about your fears and the ways in which you have been hurt. You tell him about your struggles and
frustrations. Jesus simply listens as
you talk to him.
After awhile, he asks you one
question gently and sincerely, “What is it you want me to do for you?”
You tell him what it is you
want him to do for you.
He continues to sit with you
and you feel the peace of the place you love.
I invite you now to open your
eyes. Whatever conversation you just had
between you and Jesus is yours, but I ask you to keep it in mind as we think
about what James and John asked Jesus for when presented the same question:
“What is it you want me to do for you?”
James and John’s answer is. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and
one at your left, in your glory.” Their
answer makes me wonder what they really thought Jesus’ glory was going to be. We come to find out at the end of the Gospel
of Mark that Jesus’ glory is really his death on the cross. Jesus tells them that they do not know what
they are asking and that the places on his right and left in his glory are
already prepared for two others.
At the end of the Gospel of
Mark we find out that these two others are criminals who are crucified and
killed along with Jesus. And James and
John, the ones who asked to be on his right and left had fled the scene and
went into hiding as Jesus died.
The rest of the disciples
react no better. When they rest hear
about James and John’s grasp for power and rank, they get angry because they
too have also been trying to determine who is the greatest among them. And they too abandon Jesus when he’s hanging
on the cross. They all want the good
stuff of following Jesus, but not hard stuff.
Jesus is surrounded by his
closest followers who continually believe that real and good life in this world
means that you have power, wealth, and authority. Over and over again he tries to teach them
that those things are not what actually give life or make a person happy. They
want the glory without the cross. They
want power without suffering. They want
eternal life without death.
It is easy to look down on
the first followers of Jesus, but I don’t know that we are all that different
from them. I imagine that sometimes we
ask for things from Jesus that we haven’t thought really hard about…things in
which we don’t know what we are asking for.
Or…Perhaps we’ve never asked Jesus for anything because we don’t think
he listens or is real or can even do anything about our situation.
This story in Scripture today
got me thinking about things I have asked for from Jesus as I have grown up. I used to ask to not have bad dreams. I used to ask to get A’s on tests. I asked to win the state basketball
championship in high school. I asked to
have better skin and another dog after my first one died. I’m pretty sure I even asked to win the
lottery at some point.
These things seem trivial,
but they were significant to me at the time. I asked for other things too. I asked that my grandparents wouldn’t suffer
as they were from cancer and Alzheimer’s.
I asked what I should do with my life as I pursued college. I asked for God to use me to serve others.
In my darkest times, I ask: Where are you God? Do you even care? Where are the dead? Bring my husband back. Help me have faith in your promises.
I have noticed that in most
of what I ask Jesus for, I have asked that others would not suffer and that I
would not suffer. Time and time again, I
ask to be relieved from whatever is causing me pain, confusion, or hardship. Like the disciples, I want to ignore and
bypass the cross of suffering. I want
the good stuff of life without the pain.
And who doesn’t?
What Jesus wants his
followers and you and me to understand is that life is not without pain and
that everyone dies, including him. Obvious. Yet, he also wants us to understand that he
has been to the depths of suffering and death first and that he is not afraid
of it. He is right there with us sitting
next to us asking, “What is it you want me to do for you?”
This is a tough question and
it is worth thinking hard about. At the
end of our Gospel reading, Jesus drives home what really makes this life worth
living. It is not glory and power, but
Jesus, the Son of God, models
what it means to live a life of service even to the point of death. It is inevitable that when we open ourselves
up to care for others we too will suffer.
It really stinks the way that works.
But if someone you care about is having a tough time in life, whether
that be because of a disease, an addiction, mental illness, death, or loss of
purpose, and you walk with them in their suffering, you will also hurt because
you love them. So you can run from it
all, or you can say, “I’m right here beside you. What is it you want me to do for you?”
And Jesus says, “This is
where real life is and is the life worth living. A life of service. And when life is hard, and when you walk with
others who are hurting, you are not alone because I am right there with you.”
Yes, James and John were
foolish to ask Jesus what they asked him for.
Yes, the rest of the disciples were just as guilty when they lashed out
in anger, revealing their same desire for power. However, as the rest of the story unfolds, we
learn and know that each one of them ends up giving their life as servants to
Christ and the good news. It is in their dying to their need for status,
selfish desires, and power that they are able to truly live and experience what
a life of faith truly has to offer.
Sometimes we don’t know what
to ask Jesus for as if he is really listening or going to grant us our
request. We know from our reading today
what he wants of us…to be servants.
There is a prayer written by
Saint Francis of Assisi. It’s a pretty
good answer to Jesus’ question: “What is it you want me to do for you?” Perhaps
it’s what all of us can ask Jesus for today:
Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much
be consoled as to console,
be understood as to understand,
be loved as to love,
it is in giving that we receive,
is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.