Sermon for March 22, 2015

Sermon for Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2015

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Mark 10:35-45

Sermon Theme:  “What?!  You’re Asking for the Best Seats in the House?!”

 (Sources:  Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; Believer’s Commentary; Nelson’s Three-in-One)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

           Let me tell you about the two cattle ranchers who were bragging to one another.  The rancher from Oklahoma said, “Well, I’ve got 15,000 head of cattle with an ‘A’ branded on them.”

“An ‘A?,’” said the rancher from Texas, “heck, my spread is called the Bar T, Circle L, Cross Creek, Flying Z, Bent Fork, Double Back, North Canyon Ranch.”

“Wow,” said the first rancher, “how many head of cattle do you have?”

“Well, confessed the Texan, “not too many survive the branding.”

We human beings like to brag, don’t we?, because we want to be Number One.  Too often we want to be greater and better than anyone else.

Such an attitude could be applied to the behavior of James and John in the incident in today’s sermon text.  These two disciples tell Jesus they want Him to do something for them.  When He asks what that is, they tell Him that when He comes into His glory, they wish to sit on His right and left, the places of highest honor.  This request shows that James and John had really, really missed the point.

I say that because three times in the weeks preceding this incident, Jesus had plainly told the disciples that He was going to be made to suffer and be killed.  In fact, the last of those three conversations took place only minutes before James and John made their outlandish request.  That they asked what they asked showed that despite Jesus’ straightforward report of what was to occur, they had only heard what they wanted to hear.  They blocked out everything that didn’t fit in with their dreams of glory.

Had they listened better, they would have realized when Jesus talked of glorifying God, He meant that He would do it by going to the cross.  And those places on His right and left?  Those were crosses also, and they ended up being occupied by common thieves.

James and John remind me of people who have called me occasionally over the years.  They call the office, and ask something to this effect:

“Say, Pastor, can you do me a favor?”

“Well, I’ll see.  What is it you would like me to do?”

“Well, you see, Pastor, my boyfriend and I would like to get married this weekend.  Would that work for you?”

“Ah, no.  I’m sorry.  I have to brush my cat this weekend.”  (I probably wouldn’t say that, but I would indicate as politely as I could that their request was not reasonable.)

James and John were asking for something much bigger and more impossible than an instant wedding.  They wanted “the best seats in the house” when Jesus entered His kingdom.  It’s pretty clear they really had no clue as to what they were asking, and perhaps that is the lesson for all of us in this text.  Since we are finite human beings, we ask God for some pretty crazy things at times, because we just don’t have a clue what we are really asking for.

What are some of the things that you ask God for?  Are you asking Him for the best seats in the house so that you can have bragging rights?

It’s interesting what happened to these two disciples as a result of their big request.  Their prayer was answered, all right.  The answer was, “No.”

Along with that, they got something they hadn’t asked for but needed more than they realized.  They received knowledge about Jesus, learned something about themselves, and had their eyes opened in regard to their relationships with others.  It’s an understatement to say that the other disciples weren’t happy about their request.

Perhaps this is the best thing that could happen to us as a result of our wild and crazy prayers.  They don’t seem wild and crazy at the time we pray them; in fact, they seem quite legitimate.  But as time goes by, and we realize more and more that the answer seems to be, “No,” we start to learn some things that we didn’t know before.

We learn more about God.  We learn about His patience and that He really has our best interest at heart.  We learn that He must have a sense of humor (He has to in order to put up with us!), and is very loving toward His children.

We learn more about ourselves.  We learn that we aren’t as smart as we thought we were.  We learn how selfish and proud we can be.  We learn how impatient we are with God and other people.  We learn that we’re always learning how to pray.

We learn more about others.  We learn what it means to serve, rather than be served.  We learn that everyone, no matter how much they irritate us, is created in the image of God and we are to look for that potential in them.  We learn that people are not rungs on the ladder to success, but are the ones who will help us be successful if we love them, care for them, and put their interest and needs before our own.

Consider for a few moment today that God sometimes says, “No,” to us for the very same reasons He said “No” to James and John.  Not because God is mean, or because He wants to exert His authority, but rather, because God loves the ones in His care, and our very lives are dependent upon Him.  Wherever you are on life’s journey today, may you know God’s tender touch upon your life – in the days when prayers are answered – and in the days when you think they are not.

This is a way of bringing me to the topic of prayer.  Those times when we get down on our knees and cry out to God a demand that sounds strangely similar to that of James and John.  “God, I want you to do whatever I ask.”  Heal my friend . . . give me that job . . . make her love me . . . help me win this game . . . bring me safely home.  Prayers come in all shapes and sizes and degrees of urgency, but essentially, they are all the same.  “Lord, I want you to do whatever I ask.”

I’ve prayed those prayers, haven’t you?  And they are not bad prayers, please understand.  In fact the Apostle Paul says to pray in everything, and Jesus Himself has invited us to do so.  But, you see, the fatal flaw comes when we wait to see if God will answer those prayers; if God will answer those prayers.

God, of course, always answers prayer, but when the answer is one we don’t want, we tend to think it’s a non-answer.  Which is more difficult, — when the answer is “No’ or when there is no answer?

So what’s a good prayer, you ask.  A good prayer would be:  “Lord Jesus, we go through this life thinking that we know what’s good for us.  May you interrupt such self-sufficient thought, and guide us to those things that are not simply good for us, but those which are the best.  In your name we pray.  Amen.”

In our sermon text, the other ten disciples were greatly displeased that James and John would try to get ahead of them.  But their indignation betrayed the fact that they had the same attitude.  This provided the occasion for the Lord Jesus to give a beautiful and revolutionary lesson on greatness.

Among unbelievers, great men are those who rule with arbitrary power, who are overbearing and domineering.  But greatness in Christ’s kingdom is marked by service.  Whoever . . . desires to be first should become a slave to everyone.

The supreme example is the Son of Man Himself.  He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.  Think about it!  He came as a tiny baby through a miraculous birth.  He engaged in humble ministry throughout His life.  And in His substitutive death He gave His life.

To be sure, before we ask God for the best seats in the house, we need to hear the words of Proverbs 25:6, 7:  “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman.”  Stay humble and you will not be humiliated.  Amen.


The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.