“Understand What You’re Asking” Mark 10:35–45 10/21/2018
When a little boy tells his parents he wants a puppy, he usually has no idea what having a puppy really means. So his parents ask him if he will take care of the puppy by feeding it and giving it water to drink. He eagerly agrees to do that.
Then they ask him if he will clean up the messes the puppy makes in the house and teach it not to chew on the furniture. The little boy says he will, but he doesn’t realize what that involves.
Nevertheless, the parents get him a puppy. He brings it home and plays with it. But that first night when the puppy cries and wakes him up and wants to play, he discovers that having a puppy is not all the fun he thought it would be.
And then when he has to let the puppy in and out of the house, take it for walks, clean up after it and re-do his homework after it has chewed it up, he complains to his parents. They remind him that before they got him a puppy, he promised to take care of it.
But he says he didn’t know what that would mean.
That is his first lesson in the importance of understanding what you’re asking before you ask. In all likelihood, it is not his last.
- As the years pass, he asks for a guitar, only to find that playing it requires a whole lot of practice.
- He tries out for a sports team, but then he discovers how exhausting and time consuming it is to practice every day after school, and in some cases, even on weekends.
- He gets a job while in high school, but soon finds out how difficult it is to balance homework, projects, sports, social life with his new job. Something has to give.
- He goes to college and finds that the honors courses he registered for are consuming every minute of his spare time.
- And he discovers that he really has to study now.
- He gets a job, but soon finds out that that is not what he wants to be doing.
- Then he marries, only to realize that family life is not as easy as he thought it would be.
- Then he and his spouse have children, and they discover that children require even more care and cleanup than puppies.
- Finally, he retires, but the leisure he expected is fraught with disappointment, because all of a sudden he feels as though no one needs him any more the way his company did before he retired.
- Retirement has brought a whole new set of obligations different from the ones he had before.
- Retirement is not what he thought it would be.
All of us have experienced or are experiencing this sort of thing on some level. The glitz and glamour of what we want hides from us the obligations we will incur from having it.
You’d think we would learn, but we don’t. All of our life we repeat the mistake. We tend to overlook the duties that go along with the privilege we seek.
We don’t truly understand what we are asking for.
We find ourselves stuck with new responsibilities and a whole lot of work we didn’t realize we would have, when we actually get what we so naively sought. That is what happened in today’s gospel reading from Mark.
Two disciples who are brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, the “Sons of Thunder” walk up to Jesus and say to him “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (10:35).
Are they being presumptuous? Yes. Narcissistic? Probably. Out of line? Absolutely.
They are like little kids asking for a puppy.
Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am drinking, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am being baptized with?” Or to put it in today’s language Jesus is saying, “You don’t have a clue.”
The two disciples assure him that they are able for the undertaking; for what they are seeking, namely, to sit one on the right hand & one on the left hand of Jesus. Then Jesus tells them that they will indeed share his cup and his baptism, but he goes on to say that granting them places of privilege is not within his power at this time.
When the other disciples hear of this, they are angry and jealous with James and John, probably not so much because the brothers had done this, but because they beat the others in making a similar request.
Then Jesus explains to them the role of being a disciple.
- It is a role which entails serving, not just being served.
- It means being a slave, not a master.
- It means giving away one’s life, not hanging on to it.
When we are baptized, we are in fact baptized into the self-expenditure that characterized Jesus himself. Baptism brings us not only the privilege of living with Jesus in the resurrection; it also brings the struggles, and sometimes the suffering that comes with sharing our very life with others, including our possessions, to the point of exhaustion.
- Baptism is not merely some nice and cute thing we do for people.
- It is more like a funeral conducted for them before they die.
In baptism we are buried with Jesus in his suffering servanthood, so that we may be raised with him and have life eternal.
In baptism we enter all the wrath and sorrow of Good Friday, in order that the joy of Easter may be ours.
- But there is no Easter without Good Friday.
- There is no glory without sacrificial self-expenditure.
- There is no life without death.
So it is that every Christian is indeed baptized with the baptism of Jesus, just as Jesus promised in today’s gospel.
When we share in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we drink from the same cup from which Jesus drank.
- It is like drinking a toast to the kingdom of God that has come and is coming.
- But it is also like drinking the cup of suffering when you face the certainty of your own death.
Communion brings the obligation of bearing the weight of the world’s criticism and indifference.
It commits us to the daily task of serving a world that in its disenchantment does not know what it needs and scorns those who offer it the grace of God.
So it is that every Christian indeed drinks the cup that Jesus drank, just as he promised in today’s gospel.
Now if little children want puppies without realizing all the work involved in having them, so also older youth and adults often want salvation in Jesus without always remembering the suffering and self-expenditure that entails. That’s why we have the sacraments of baptism and communion regularly in our services of worship.
- These sacraments are like reality checks, because they not only point us to heaven, they also bring us down to earth.
- They remind us of our future, but they also remind us of the present.
Regardless of our chronological age, we are forgetful. So the Word of God that is preached and the sacraments that are administered and shared prompt us to remember the duty that goes with the privilege of discipleship. The sacraments remind us of the Holy Week that precedes Easter.
One of the privileges I have had throughout my years as a professional church worker is talking with persons of all ages and genders about their interest in working in the church. Much of what I share comes from not only from personal experience, but also the wisdom of others who have gone before me, as well as others I serve with today.
As I counsel with these people who are interested in some type of church work, I remind them of the hard work the challenges, and the suffering that is involved in being in this profession.
When I speak to them specifically about their wanting to be a pastor, I explain to them that what they see pastors do standing in the pulpit and at the altar is only a small part of the overall task of being an ordained minister.
In other words, I do everything I can to discourage them from entering the ministry. I do this because I want them to understand what they are asking.
I tell them in private . . .
- The stole that is laid on your shoulders when you are ordained symbolizes the yoke of Jesus Christ.
- This stole also symbolizes the slave’s towel, showing that you will do many thankless tasks in your ministry.
- You will counsel people who may not always appreciate what you have to say or have done.
- You will turn out lights, lock up buildings, move chairs and tables, carry out garbage, answer the phone, fix the office machines, and try not to complain.
- Sometimes you will speak and be misunderstood, love and be rejected, save lives and be forgotten.
- You will keep confidences and be criticized for not telling all you know.
- You will make mistakes, lots of them, which will be too long remembered, and achieve successes that are too quickly forgotten.
- You will be ignored at times for brilliant sermons but praised for sermons prepared in haste and with too little care.
- You will seldom see the results of your work.
- And as often as not, you will not know when your day’s work is done.
Now when all of that has had time to sink in, I continue.
On the other hand, I tell them . . .
- You will be there with people at the great turning points in their lives—birth, baptisms, the period of adolescence, marriages, divorces, illness, and death, to name only a few.
- You will laugh with them, and cry with them.
- Those are times when God has their attention, and God has a Word for you to bring to them at those times, and maybe not always in direct words, but sometimes only in deeds.
- Of yourself you may not know what to say or do. That doesn’t matter.
Be there; be present; be faithful. And the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say and do.
In some measure what I say is understood, yet it is not fully understood until the time comes when the individual is actually a pastor. Then the Easter glory of ordination is tempered by the Holy Week disgrace of suffering servanthood. It is then that the feeling of being triumphant finally gives way to the Theology of the Cross, which is the only theology by which true Christians live.
What applies to ordination and being a pastor also applies to every one of us here today. We don’t always understand what we are asking.
We are called to share with Jesus in his glory and yet we are reminded again and again of the suffering servanthood that precedes that glory. Whether you are a little child who wants a puppy, or a student who wants a degree, or a single person who wants a partner, or an adult who wants a child, or a retiree who wants some peace and good health, the same thing is true.
With the privilege of discipleship comes the obligation of servanthood.
And yet for Christians, that obligation of servanthood is not an isolated experience, nor is it altogether lonely. In every obligation we have Jesus Christ not only as our model, but also as our companion and our guide. For we are not called to be anything other than what Jesus himself was, a person who lived among us, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, October, 2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 10-21-18” name of the sermon.