Whoops - a busy week, so here is what I preached this morning:
Mark 10: 35-40 ‘The baptism Jesus is baptized with’
I am very lucky in having two big brothers. I love them both very much, but neither of them would dream of coming anywhere near a church. One, Frank, refers to my faith in God as a ‘teddy bear’ to make me feel better about life, and the other, Paul asked me once ‘if Jesus is meant to be God why is he so cryptic in what he says?’.
I thought of both my brothers as I read today’s gospel reading. James & John are brothers, and they don’t get it either.
Jesus is a homeless teacher and healer but they believe he is the son of God and they see a chance of grabbing a bit of the limelight which is surely to come. ‘Allow us to sit with you in your glory, one at your right hand and one at your left’ – they want the prime places of honour with Jesus.
And then Jesus seems to get cryptic ‘Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’.
But if we think about it for a moment we know what Jesus means.
We are quite familiar with speaking about drinking from a cup to mean experiencing some sort of suffering – as when we use the phrase ‘poisoned chalice’ to mean that someone has accepted a difficult or even impossible task.
And we also use the phrase ‘baptism of fire’ to mean a tricky, even overwhelming time of our life – reflecting the form of adult baptism where a person is entirely immersed in water.
So much for my brother Paul’s charge against Jesus – it’s not so cryptic after all.
Jesus is trying to tell James & John that being his right & left-hand men is not all glory & honour, but that there will be suffering and difficulty in following him – because his path in life is leading to death on the cross and only through the pain of crucifixion will Jesus gain the glory of resurrection.
And here, too is a message for my other brother Frank – Jesus doesn’t offer his followers a cuddly-teddy-bear sort of discipleship. Following Jesus means accepting the gritty reality of life but seeing that through it we keep company with God in Christ, until we receive eternal life.
When Jesus talks about ‘dying’ he means not only facing the prospect of actually being killed for their beliefs, as he will be.
James & John need to learn that thet will also need to die to the sort of life that looks for recognition, or honour, or glory. They will need to put to death their desire for security and identity – at least the sort of security and identity that the world can offer.
Having been put straight by Jesus on the sort of lives they are to lead – looking to be faithful, rather than looking to be glorious, James & John find, not too surprisingly, that they are in trouble with the rest of Jesus’ disciples. So Jesus says something to them all about how they are to work together as a community.
‘You know that …recognized rulers Lord it over their subjects... it shall not be so among you.’
Jesus is pointing his followers to a new way of relating together, where whoever wants to be great must be a servant.
This is how Jesus has always lived his own life – serving people, not trumpeting his own importance. So there is to be another sort of death – the death of the self as the focus for all life.
The followers of Jesus then, as now, are called to leave behind selfish thought and action, to help and support each other, to serve other people and so to serve God. Jesus has formed a new community where the lowest and the least are to be treated with as much honour as those who think more highly of themselves.
And the sign of this new community will be their sharing in this communion meal.
There is a place at this table for everyone – we are all honoured guests of the Lord himself. In this simple act of sharing bread and wine we remember how Jesus died to selfish ambition, died to seeking honour and glory, died a villain’s death to offer life to the whole world.
As we all seek to follow Jesus, we remember that he came to earth to serve others, and we try, in following him, to serve in his name and to his glory. Amen.