A sermon for One World Week: Hebrews 5: 1-10; Mark 10: 35-45
Thanks to the BBC show about famous people’s family trees, it’s maybe not so bad as it used to be for someone to say ‘who do you think you are?’.
But it’s all in the tone: ‘who do you think you are?’ can be a warning that you’re thinking too highly of yourself, that you’re putting on airs and graces. Like James & John in today’s gospel reading.
They want to be great: they want places of honour in this kingdom Jesus keeps talking about. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
But what does this glory look like? What does Jesus think greatness looks like?
IF James & John think they want to be Jesus’ right and left-hand men, perhaps they should have listened more carefully to Jesus talking about who he is.
Jesus warns the 2 brothers that he cannot grant them the positions of honour they long for – though he can promise them they will share in what will happen to him. Then the others disciples get angry with James and John: ‘who do they think they are?’ , trying to grab the best places in Jesus kingdom…
Jesus makes it clear to all of them “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Who do you think you are? Well, if you’re a follower of Jesus you are someone interested in being ‘servant of all’, as Jesus is.
The letter to the Hebrews also deals with this question of who we think we are: the issue of our place in God’s kingdom. Is it a place of honour? Or a place of servanthood?
Chapter 5 verse 4 is clear ‘one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was’. If we see ourselves as deserving a place of honour in God’s kingdom, we might want to grab the goodies for ourselves, as James & John try to. But if instead of seeing our role as priests in God’s kingdom as a reward, we see it as a responsibility, then we arrive again at a position of servant to others.
The high priest referred to in Hebrews was one who helped to bridge the gap between God and God’s people – who presented prayers and offerings from the people to God and who led the people in worship of God.
Jesus, our great High Priest, offered himself, his own life as the offering to God the Father – he did not try to grasp power or status.
And having given himself for the world, Jesus gives us a place in the kingdom – a share in the work which he has begun. This is One World Week, when we remember our responsibility to caring for our planet and all God’s children on it. Caring for one world is not just about ‘being green’ but recognising that it is all God’s world – the world Jesus came & died for. We have the honour of being precious children of God, but we also have the responsibility of caring for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
As priests – as part of the body of Christ – we have to offer worship to God which is not just about what we do in church, but is about how we live our lives.
The link between One World Week and our Christian faith isn’t just that as Christians we want to support a Good Thing. The words of Jesus to James and John and the letter to the Hebrews each remind us that one expression of following Christ is to realise our true place in God’s kingdom as servants who care for and cherish the world.
Just this week I was talking to a colleague who spent some time in the late 1990s as a missionary in the Pacific islands. He said he was faced by the question ‘What does gospel look like in the Pacific, where the Christian West is blamed for global warming and the destruction of land?’. Concern for One World is central to the good news there, not just an extra or and add on to the ‘real’ message of God’s love.
The Good News is that God loves the Pacific islands as much as he loves our islands – that Jesus lives and died and rose for the whole world.
If you love your neighbour, that means accepting responsibility even for our brothers and sisters who are far away.
Who do we think we are?
Hopefully, we see yourselves as servants of the world, as Jesus was. We are loved children of God the Father, with a responsibility to the whole of God’s family. And hopefully, too, we see yourselves as people who can be helped by the Spirit to invigorate our imaginations to see this as God’s world, and to live our responsibility to this One World. In Jesus’ name.