“MADE TO BE GREAT”

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MARCH 31st, 2019                                                                                        PASTOR DON PIEPER

Right on the Mark                                                                                        MARK 9:30-41; 10:28-45

 

                                                            “MADE TO BE GREAT

 

            I've got good news and bad news. When I share the bad news, everyone over here say, 'Awww!'  When I tell the good news, this side say, 'Hooray!' The bad news is that one day, you're gonna die. Aw  The good news is that odds are it won't be by an avalanche or falling coconut.  (Hooray!)  I don't have stats on the coconut ordeal (Aw) but I read that only thirty people a year are killed by avalanches.  (H)

 

            The bad news is that over 80% of those deaths occur here on the west coast. (Aw!)  The good news is I'm going to give you an avalanche survival tip. (Hooray!Here it is: Spit first; dig second. (?)

            Turns out one of the biggest mistakes people make when caught in an avalanche is that they dig blindly to get out.  (Aw!) The dig part is a good idea.  (Hooray!Blindly, not so much.  (Aww!)

 

            Popular Science magazine wrote about one such victim who had dug some thirty feet deeper. In such a moment the person winds up seriously disoriented, literally not knowing up from down. (?) The only way to know for sure, is to clear the snow in front of your face and spit.  This is the only time you'd want to spit in your own face because if you do, you're facing up. 

 

            So now you know.  When buried deep in snow – spit first; dig second – it could save your life.  All that to say this: When Jesus came on the scene preaching the Good News of God's kingdom, there was a lot of directional confusion.  Up seemed like down.  The dark was mistaken for the light.  People thought life was about being successful and impressing others instead of pleasing God. 

 

            People were trying to find the light but wound up only digging themselves down deeper and deeper.  It was a time of tremendous confusion.  Sound at all familiar?  Jesus came declaring that “The time (for clarity) promised by God is finally at hand!”  (Mark 1:15)  Jesus was setting the compass straight.  But if that's so, why does it sound as if he's holding the map upside down? 

 

            Mark records throughout his gospel Jesus saying things that sounded like the way down is up and the way up is down.  “I have not come to call those who think they're righteous, but sinners” (2:17)  All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  (8:34)  If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.  (8:35) Those who are considered the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.  (10:44)  Those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.  (9:35)  Whoever wants to be a leader must be your servant.                                                                                                                                               (Mark 10:44)

            Over and over again Jesus seems to suggest that the way up is down.  Greatness is achieved by giving.  Success through service.  Notoriety by humility.  This kingdom of heaven that Jesus preached  is a topsy-turvy world!  His final word of instruction, prior to his entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey's colt, reads like an upside down mission statement: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:45) 

                                                                                   

            There are two parts to that mission statement.  The second half, the part about giving his life as a ransom for many, Jesus repeatedly, prophetically foreshadows: “As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him... 'The Son of Man will be betrayed ....  They will condemn him to death..., mock him, spit on him, flog him and kill him...'”  (Mark 10:32-34)

           

                                                                                    -2-

 

            It's the third time Jesus has pointed to his coming passion, his suffering and death on the cross, but his disciples are only seizing on to the parts they like.  His response to Peter about receiving a hun-dred times what they've given up got their attention!  Their ears waxed over tho' during the persecution bit, and the first being last and the last first, and his prophecies about his being betrayed, spat on, flogged and crucified – that all fell on deaf ears as well - even though Jesus shares this prophecy three times! 

 

            James and John are clearly zoning, no doubt their experience up on the mountain, got them thinking that they could replace Moses and Elijah, because the very next story Mark tells us is that the brothers Boanerges come to Jesus with a bold and brash request: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  (Mark 10:35)  Really?  Whatever you ask.  And what is this humble request? 

            Some help feeding the poor?  A gift for your mother? A new fishing net for your dad?  “Uh, no, Jesus, actually we want you to make us your top guys when you’re crowned king!  We want the power!” 

 

            What amazes me is that Jesus doesn't let them have it right then and there.  “You knuckle-heads, haven’t you heard a single thing I’ve said, noticed anything that I’ve been doing?  And how about your friends?  What's their reaction going to be to this lame-brain idea of yours?”  

 

            Mark doesn't leave us guessing.  He tells us straight out: “They were indignant!” (Mark 10:41) 

I bet they were!  They were indignant not because James & John were so full of themselves but because they'd beat the rest of them to the punch! After all, it was just the other day, on the road to Capernaum,  that the lot of them had been arguing, again, about who was the greatest!  (Mark 9:34)  Jesus, mean-while, shows amazing patience and resolve.  It's a teachable moment.  It reminds me of Calvin/mom.  

 

Calvin:            Can I run the vacuum cleaner? 

Mom:               No, not until you're older.

Calvin:                        I'm old enough!   I could do it! 

Mom:               Well, maybe just this once, if you do a real good job. 

Calvin:                        That suppressed smile worries me.                  (from It's A Magical World, p.28) 

 

            I sense Jesus is suppressing a smile too.  He suggests that they're behaving like the rulers and officials they detest, who treat guys like them with an air of superiority and contempt, saying in effect, do you really want to be like them?   “They lord their authority over others.”   Is that what you want?                                                                                                                                                  (Mark 10:42)

            Can you see them shuffling their feet, eyes glancing about, as the truth sinks in that they've been thinking and behaving just like the world around them, a world so consumed with privilege and prestige that poverty is prevalent, prejudice is commonplace and religion has been perverted.   No, that's not what they want.  They signed up with Jesus because he was so different than all that.  He brought out the best in people – even in self-serving, competitive, uneducated men like them! 

 

            “So Jesus called them together and said, 'Come on you guys – we're a team!  You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, (how the Romans treat us like dirt, and our own king lives an immoral, self-indulgent lifestyle), how officials flaunt their authority over those under them, (how our leaders look down their noses at guys like you).  If you let them influence you to think and act like them, how is anything ever going to change?  No, I'm telling you, among you it's going to be

different.  Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you, must become your slave.  Don't you see? For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many.”         (Mark 10:42-45)

 

                                                                                    -3- 

            Jesus was breaking through the ice of an avalanche of selfish thinking, to reorientate their sense of direction.  It was a vision statement articulating why he said and did the things he'd been doing.  He was answering the unspoken question of why he had come.  I came not to be served but to serve!    

 

            If they wanted to be men of influence, if they wanted to follow his lead, this was the way God had chosen.  Only by joyfully serving others, starting with one another, would their influence multiply. Later that very week Jesus modeled this vision when he removed his cloak, wrapped a towel around his waist and got down on his hands and knees to wash his friends' dirty, smelly feet.  When he was done, he got dressed, sat down in teaching mode, and said to them:

 

            “Do you understand what I was doing?  You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord, and you are right, because that's what I am.  And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other's feet.  I have given you an example to follow.  Do as I have done for you...”  

                                                                                                                                    (John 13:12-15)

            Notice whose proverbial feet they are to wash, too. Each other's feet.  This is key!  It's here, in a community of loving commitment not only to Christ, but to one another, that we are called to train our-selves.  It is here that we practice his teaching about putting our needs last and the needs of others first. 

 

            This is why I urge people to go beyond simply showing up to worship here but to make a com-mitment to join the Redeemer family as a member, to be in a covenant relationship not only with Christ but with the body of Christ here in this time and place.  We are in training, learning from Jesus and one another what he meant by following his lead, seeking not to be served but to serve.    (Mark 10:45)

 

            Consider the attitude and conduct of Nik Wallenda.  A few years ago Nik got huge TV ratings and became a celebrity of sorts when he walked across the Niagara Falls on a high wire on prime time television.  Then the following year, in 2013, he became the first man to walk a wire across the Grand Canyon.  Knowing that Nik is a strong Christian, a fan wondered aloud how Nik managed to stay so humble when he was receiving such acclaim for being the best at something, an ability and talent that prompted millions of people to tune in and still others to show up and cheer his every step. 

                                                                                   

            Nik responded by sharing how he humbled himself, that after the crowds had dispersed and the cameras had been packed away, he walked around picking up the trash his fans had left behind.  As he put it...:   “Three hours of cleaning up debris is good for my soul.  Humility does not come naturally to me, so I have to force myself into situations that are humbling.  I do it, because it's a way to keep from tripping.  As a follower of Jesus, I see him washing the feet of others.  I do it because if I don't serve others I'll be serving nothing but my ego.  As a wise man once put it: “Better to walk humbly... then to share plunder with the proud.” ” (Nik Wallenda) / (Proverbs 16:19)           

 

            That's why we have cleaning crews instead of a janitor and no shortage of sign up sheets in the back– because we embrace Jesus mission as our own, following the lead of he who “(I) came not to be served, but to serve others...”  (Mark 10:45)   Jesus gave us the church, each other, in part as a training ground for serving those in need.  To do so well requires a partnership of servants. 

 

            It's an area where we can grow..., that each of you can grow, in the likeness of Christ.  Some of the key opportunities to so serve include: the altar guild, children's church, cleaning crews, the Alpha cooking and cleaning teams, Easter events and our nursery. Wondering how you can serve?  Pick one!