WORSHIP SERVICE October 17, 2021 – Welcome Pastor Emily
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35 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to him. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.”
36 “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.”
37 “Arrange it,” they said, “so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.”
38 Jesus said, “You have no idea what you’re asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?”
39-40 “Sure,” they said. “Why not?”
Jesus said, “Come to think of it, you will drink the cup I drink, and be baptized in my baptism. But as to awarding places of honor, that’s not my business. There are other arrangements for that.”
41-45 When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”
This passage is a part of a series of teachings that help us figure out what a Christ-following community needs to look like. Just like we have systems laid out about how companies should function, with CEO’s, presidents, boards; just like we have systems for our schools with principals, counselors, school boards; just like we have systems for our churches with bishops and pastors, councils and committees – who is in charge and how we function. But I think a major part of understanding these systems and how they function is by understanding who has the power …and who doesn’t. That’s what it always comes down to in the end. Who has the power to govern, to make the rules, to set the policies that order our world? James and John – they’re a bit antsy for this power, I think. Maybe they want to help make the rules. Maybe they just want the recognition. Maybe they want a pat on the back and power by association to the one they’re sitting next to.
They approach Jesus: “Hey Jesus, we’ve been following you. You know us. We’re pals, right? Put one of us at your right and one of us at your left, will ya?” And Jesus responds, “You have no idea what you are asking.”
And they really don’t. If they did, they wouldn’t be asking their question. Hence the teaching moment that ensues.
Similar to the phrase, the first will be last and the last will be first, Jesus reminds his followers and students, his disciples, that the power we’re told we should want – the powers that rule this world, pushing us to compete, to be the best, to make the most money – this isn’t the power that Jesus even comes close to claiming. Instead, he claims a life filled with passion for serving and liberating.
There’s a version of the Bible called “The Message” that finishes off today’s passage by saying, “He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” Jesus’ life is given in order to set free. This is the part that hits home for me: this idea that something is holding us hostage, even as Jesus desires more than anything for us to be liberated, to be set free from worldly bondage. But what do we need to be liberated from? We often use the language that Jesus frees us free from sin and death – that those two things no longer have such a hold on us. Sometimes that language is filled with a little too much air. I need something a more concrete – something I can grasp and hold onto. So, I ask you: What do you feel you need to be liberated from? Where does our community seek liberation? Our world, even?
Sometimes I think I need to be liberated to feel all the feels. I have high-functioning anxiety and part of that for me, at least, is that I will try to avoid the really big highs and the really big lows. I’ll try to avoid some of the strongest feelings because the fear is if I feel those things too strongly, particularly the lows, I won’t be able to come back from them. And this is where my spirituality intertwines with my mental health: Jesus liberates and walks alongside to help me feel the feels; to help face the truths and realities, to take in the highs and the lows and receive them for what they are because those are the things that have taught and allow me to empathize with others. They are the things that lead us toward acceptance rather than judgement; that guide our feet toward one another instead of apart and into the safe corners where we like to hide from the world for fear of feeling and seeing the world for what it is. Jesus’ liberative work calls us out and says, ‘Yes, see the world for what it is, and now be a part of this liberative and creative movement!’
As my husband Joe and I were moving out here to California, we heard the song “What it’s Like” by Everlast come on the radio multiple times. I think it was really popular back when I was in junior high and high school, so I was surprised to hear it when I did. The song goes through 3 anecdotes – a story of a man who begs for change outside the liquor store and gets rejected, a woman who has to make a decision after she gets pregnant from a ‘boyfriend’ who ends up leaving her and she gets judged for it, and a young man who gets involved with drug deals, gets caught in the midst of a gunfight, winds up dead, and now his family grieves the loss of a partner and father. Each story ends with, “God forbid you ever have to walk a mile in his/her shoes; then you might know what it’s like.”
That song kept ringing over and over in my brain as I read this passage because I feel like Jesus is turning to James and John saying, quit trying to sit at my right hand or my left and turn toward each other and the people all around. God forbid you focus so much on me and this power you think I have over and above the pain and suffering of your neighbor who needs you to walk alongside them. This faith – this life – isn’t just about walking with Jesus. It’s about walking with one another. Learning one another’s stories, learning one another’s pains as well as joys. Being with one another, serving one another. This is what we’re getting ourselves into. Jesus turns James and John around. Instead of judging and lording your sense of power, your expectations of what is good and right over others, take a step back.
With Indigenous Peoples’ Day and National Coming Out Day being this past week, we are reminded to put on another lens – to honor and to relearn Indigenous Peoples’ history, to recognize and acknowledge the land upon which we gather, the land of the Chumash people; we are reminded not to assume someone’s sexuality or gender identity based on their looks or behaviors. This beautiful work is the true liberative action that transforms communities.
We don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into, but deep down I think that’s why we’re here – to figure it out together; to be reminded that to feel it all and to see the world for what it is can be painful. AND it is passionate and gracious. It is liberation. It is resurrection. It is new life. Amen.
-Pastor Emily Ebert