Thoughts for Sunday

Graced, We Give: The Zebedee Brothers and Us

“Graced, We Give: The Zebedee Brothers and Us”

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“And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus, and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’” (Mark 10:35-37)

In these rather embarrassing, ballsy opening verses for our gospel text this weekend … the Zebedee brothers, James and John, seem to believe that “God’s kingdom come” will be set up just like the old one. You know, with all kinds of power and bling … only, with new leadership in place. The “swamp will be drained in Jerusalem” with Jesus in the number one position and the most loyal members of his campaign staff on either side of him. Once this change has been accomplished, then—finally! At last! The good people will commence to redeem the world from top to bottom—beginning from the top, of course. The ultimate trickle-down effect.

Jesus tells James and John, as well as us, that God’s kingdom come doesn’t work that way. The new world is not remotely like the old one (Mark 10:42-44). It’s rather turned upside-down. The number ones are not the powerful ones having their pictures taken at the head table; no, they’re the ones slipping in and out among the guests at St. Francis House or The Banquet, refilling water glasses or stirring the pots in the kitchen, testing the temperature of the soup. James and John want Jesus to hurry up and get to the head of the table. But Jesus has other things on his mind. “Has everyone been served? Is all the food on the table? Does anyone need anything?” “For the Son of Man came,” says Jesus, “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). That’s not only the last verse of our gospel text for this weekend, it’s the bottom line.

We’ve heard this teaching about servanthood and stewardship so many times before that it’s all but lost on us. It just sort of goes in one ear and out the other. As though we kind of hear it as some quaint metaphor. You know: “The end of the line is the best place to be. Or by losing your life you’ll gain it.” But it doesn’t really sink in because it’s so contrary to the world of power we live in. So, what is Christ’s Word that we need to hear again this weekend at worship … as a people who are so richly blessed, graced … those called to give for the sake of God’s kingdom come.

Now whether we can make sense of it all or not, this much is for sure: serving, being stewards of God’s grace-upon-grace, is how Jesus calls us to transform God’s world and creation. No. Not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. That’s the ultimate trickle-up effect. All leaders—all who are part of the body of Christ as his church, are called to lives of humble service: to listen and not always be jabbering, to give and not worry about reward, to look to the cross not a crown. Yes, to look to the needs of others, not one’s own agendas.

The power of grace that God has given us is the strongest stuff in the world: the power of salvation to serve, which is the power to turn the Zebedee brothers’ question and ours upside down: “Teacher, we want to do for YOU whatever YOU ask of us.”

“Graced, We Give.”

Pastor John Christopherson
Senior Pastor

Beware this Week

Philip Ruge-Jones cautions preachers who tackle Mark 10:2-16 in their sermons on Sunday. “As soon as you read the word ‘divorce’ aloud, a whole sermon will appear in people’s heads. Some will hear early sermons that were launched at them or someone they loved when a divorce occurred. Pain will make it difficult to hear the words you actually speak. Others will conjure up their condemnation of others based on this single word.”

I’m a bit unnerved as I think of preaching for our community this Sunday. These words of Jesus will be tough for those whose lives have been touched by divorce and/or remarriage to hear. The Pharisees want him to speak about the law’s allowances concerning divorce, but Jesus will not play such games with them. He draws their attention back to creation, where God gives marriage to the human in order to bless them, not as a way to introduce heartache and strife.

Ultimately, the Pharisees did not raise the question of divorce with Jesus because they were concerned about husbands, wives, and children. They broached this subject with him in order that they may test him (v. 2). Therefore, it is the sin of self-righteousness that is ultimately exposed in this passage, and it will be the sin of self-righteousness that will receive the “fire and brimstone treatment” at First Lutheran this Sunday, not divorce. 

If you come to this text feeling condemned and exposed, it is my hope you are reassured in the forgiveness, love, and mercy Jesus has for you after you hear the sermon. If Jesus’ condemnation of divorce causes you to feel proud and arrogant in your own ability to “keep the law,” then I hope God will use my sermon to expose your self-righteousness and your need, too, for a Savior. Married or divorced, single or widowed, we all have that—a blessed, gracious Savior—in Jesus Christ.

Pastor Katherine Olson