The Rev’d Roger Elks
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Hello. What if you stood in a checkout queue at a supermarket and as you join the queue, you try to work out which is the shortest queue, which is the one that’s going to get you out of the shop as fast as possible. You’ve taken the choice. You’ve queued up, but your eyes are just going either side just to see if the other queues are going faster. How frustrating it is when a queue that is joined by someone who joined it after you is going faster and that person is getting nearer because your queue is going slower. You’ve made the wrong decision. You were happy when you joined the queue. You thought you joined the shortest queue. But then unhappiness and discontent and insecurity comes up. When we find that we’re in a slower queue, we’re happy until we start to compare. Well, the disciples were comparing with each other in our reading in Mark Ten. So let’s read about that.
32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,’ he said, ‘and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’
36 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.
37 They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’
38 ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’
39 ‘We can,’ they answered.
Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
The disciples were quite a mixed bunch, and the Bible is very good; it’s honest about its heroes and we read that all the way through scripture, people falling short of those things we would expect of the heroes of stories. And here they are squabbling like children amongst themselves. It seems so petty, doesn’t it, when we read it? Now, this text here is included as a teaching point for the church, for lots of reasons and there are lots of sermons within it, as are most passages.
But this raises the question, what is your position in the kingdom of God? Are you secure in that position? Are you happy in that place until you see other people being insecure and then of course, that makes us want to compete and feel insecure as well?
At the very heart of our faith is our relationship to God, a personal relationship between Roger and God, between you and your maker. I like to think of my relationship with Jesus. It’s sometimes easier for me to understand a human being than whatever God the Father is like. But I understand more of what Jesus is like, and so I think of myself and my relationship with Jesus. And fundamentally, it’s a one to one relationship. It’s worked out in my relationship with others and part of God’s people, but ultimately I look to Jesus. It is through him and to the Father that I pray in my relationship. It is from Him that I receive support and comfort and love. It is because of Him that I have the experiences of faith that I have, and it is to Him that I give thanks.
The relationship that we have is one-to-one with Jesus, and we build on that each day. And as we do so, our relationship with Jesus gets stronger and stronger and more and more secure as we continue to look to Jesus. We’re happy with that. Until we are tempted to look at others and their relationship with Jesus and their position in what we might think of as the kingdom of God. Just like being in a supermarket queue, we’re happy when we’re looking forward. But when we start looking sideways, we realized that things are different or could be different. We are insecure when we look at others being insecure.
The 10 disciples here were angry with James and John, they seemed to be getting preferential treatment or at least asking for it to sit at the right and the left of Jesus in his glory. It reminds me of the story of the elder brother of the prodigal son, you remember, who complains when the great feast is put on for the younger son. And there’s this dialogue between the older brother and the father.
“Look, all these years I have been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends”. The father replies, “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours”. Be secure in your relationship, older brother, don’t feel put down because someone else is getting a feast.
This is also shown in the parable of the workers in the vineyard where those who work all day get the same pay as the ones who have only worked a few hours.
And of John’s Gospel, where St. Peter Is reinstated by Jesus after he has disowned Jesus. John 21 verse 21, ‘When Peter saw him, he asked: “Lord, what about him?” (As he looked at another disciple) and Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
So we are not to be distracted by other’s relationship with God. It is you and Jesus, me and Jesus, that Jesus is most concerned about. That’s our security, not in comparison, but in looking to Jesus. Jesus calls you for who you are, not for who you are not. And He calls you because He loves you. And He loves you no more and no less than anyone else, whatever blessings they may have in their life. He loves you wholly and if you were the only one, He would have died for you.
So, our Collect for today.
O, Lord, from whom all good things come grant to us, your humble servants, that by your holy inspiration, we may think those things that are good and by your merciful guiding may perform the same; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.