Sermon for Proper 24B
Today we get the story of an interaction between Jesus and his disciples. On the surface it looks like yet another scene where the disciples get it all so wrong. Here we have James and John approaching Jesus and essentially asking for top billing once the Kingdom of God is established. Jesus questions them about whether they know what they're getting into, and they answer that yes indeed they do. They know that to follow Jesus means to be willing to suffer like he did. Jesus takes the opportunity of the grumbling of the disciples to talk to them about the economy of power in the kingdom, namely that it is the servant who is considered first in the Kingdom of God. This whole chapter in Mark, chapter 10, is punctuated by this one teaching: that to be considered first in the Kingdom of God is to be a servant, just as Jesus was, and is.
The problem comes when we notice that the lectionary has done some editing between last week and this week. Last week we had a reading from the same chapter. It ends with the words, "the many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." And then today our gospel begins with James and John, but three verses are cut. Here is what we missed: "they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘see, we're going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand them over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’" It is after this retelling of the plan that Jesus must follow: of his arrest, torture, death, and then his rising; that we get James and John.
But here we have Jesus giving out all the information about how things will go for him. Earlier in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had done the same thing after the Transfiguration and of course you remember that Peter rebuked him because Jesus was not playing by the Messiah rules.
But here in today's reading we have James and John. James and John who respond to Jesus speaking of his death and resurrection, they respond to his inauguration of the kingdom of God and they ask to be closest to him. It is my reading of this passage along with the verses that precede it that leads me to the understanding that James and John get. They understand what Jesus’ life and teaching is all about: that Jesus is inaugurating the Kingdom of God, and they want to be part of it. Usually when we read this passage we tend to think of James and John as doing some kind of power grab but I think that when they say, "we are able." they do so solemnly, with clear eyes: “We are able.” In response to Jesus' question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the same baptism that I am baptized with?" They get it; they understand that to participate in the Kingdom of God will mean to serve, and to suffer.
A very important Christian thinker, Soren Kierkegaard, said, “There is no lack of information in a Christian land; something else is lacking, and this is a something which no one can directly communicate to the other." “There is no lack of information in a Christian land.” As usual Kierkegaard was talking about several things at once but for today this speaks to us, and speaks of James and John. There is no lack of information for James and John Jesus is just, once again, described that he would suffer and die and then be raised. This is all the information that is needed. Jesus died and was raised. Period. Now, the church and the world has of course tried to come to terms with what all that might mean; and what we have are the various traditions of Scripture, theology, sacramental practice, and prayer. But all of these are ancillary to the core of the Christian information: that Jesus died and was raised.
Kierkegaard went on to say that something else was lacking, besides information, and this is a something which no one can directly communicate to the other. But it is what James and John do which is that something that Kierkegaard wondered about. It is their ascent to what Jesus was and was about, and their desire to enter deeper into relationship with him that makes the difference. It is a saying yes to Jesus. What Kierkegaard puzzled over in communication is resolved in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We must enter into a relationship, it cannot be merely a study, cannot be any theoretical supposition. We must enter into relationship with Jesus. And that means to question, to be angry with, and yes even to fall in love. James and John have the information and they are able to enter into deeper and deeper relationship with Jesus.
Now, in the fevered nonlinear wasteland that is sometimes referred to as my mind: we naturally go from Holy Scripture to Kierkegaard; the next stop is of course Yoko Ono.
Apart from her well known project of breaking up the Beatles, Yoko Ono is a modern artist of some renown. In one of her most famous works she set up a white ladder in the middle of the gallery floor and those who attend the exhibit are encouraged to climb the ladder up to the ceiling, and hanging there is a magnifying glass which one can take and read a very very small work written on the ceiling. The word is "Yes.” Back in 1966 when John Lennon participated in this piece of art, he said that he would have been disappointed if the word had been “No.”
There is a participation, a relationship, in saying yes. When we say yes to someone or something we are allowing it to become part of our life.
Through Jesus we have all the information we need. Jesus Christ, became God incarnate, to live and die as one of us to reconcile all creation to God. Jesus Christ: who brought the day of the Lord that the prophets have always spoken of. And this same Jesus, through his Holy Spirit continues to call us into relationship with him. He gives us all the information, but there is one thing lacking which no one can communicate directly to another. It is relationship, and the quality of that relationship and how we might be in relationship with Jesus.
Jesus has always been climbing the ladder of your life. When he gets to where you are now, right now in your seat, in your life, in your mess, in your success. When he gets to you and reads your word, what word will he read? “No? Maybe? Not yet?”
It is my prayer for all of us that our word to him will always and ever be “Yes.” Yes lord we know what you have done and are doing and we bring all of our lives to you: our whole lives: the days, the thoughts, the feelings, our bodies, our work, our money, all of it.
Yes Lord. Yes.