Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—October 21, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
I’m sure that at some point in your life, each one of you have called shotgun or at least been the one to lose but on the front seat of a car because someone else called it. I remember when I was finally old enough and tall enough to sit in the front seat, I was always trying to get the front seat from my brother by calling shotgun first.
And that is pretty much what James and John, the sons of Zebedee are doing, they are calling shotgun in hopes of getting the best seats that Jesus can provide. And the rest of the disciples are jealous; they are kicking themselves that they did not think of doing so first.
However, none of them actually realize what they are calling shotgun for. For centuries, the Jews had been expecting a messiah: a powerful figure, a military hero, maybe even a king, and so they want the best seats in the house. But as we know, that is not how things play out. We know more of the story, so we know that it is actually two criminals who end on Jesus’ right and left, on the cross, but James and John, at this point, still do not understand that being at Jesus’ right and left hands might not actually be such a great thing. And that is why you have to be in sight of the vehicle to call shotgun. But the disciples do not wait, and they keep missing what Jesus is trying to tell them.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has now told the disciples three times what is going to happen to him when he gets to Jerusalem. However, the just do not understand, and so they continue to prepare for what they have been taught to expect—great power. They do not yet understand that God’s idea of power looks very different than theirs.
Jesus will show great power, but will do so in the least expected way.
Jesus wins victory over death…by dying.
Jesus shows his power…by not fighting back.
Jesus takes his throne…on a cross.
Jesus is countercultural; he does not play by the rules and expectations of the dominant culture. Instead of coming to earth to conquer, to rule, to win, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”
Jesus’ ministry on earth and in his death is the ultimate labor of love.
In Isaiah, we recognize Jesus in the description of the Suffering Servant. And in Hebrews, Jesus is likened to a high priest, of the order of Melchizedek, a king who was also a priest. These are only two ways that Christians now talk about Jesus, try to describe the role that he fills for us. There are many others, but all include the element of Jesus service to us and intercession for us that springs from God’s love.
We are not all called to die on a cross, to “give [our lives as] a ransom for many;” we are not called to be Christ FOR one another, but we are called to be Christ TO one another, to embody Christ in the here and now, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. We together are the body of Christ, and as such, God calls us, like Christ, to “[offer] up prayer and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” We are called to serve one another and all of humanity, and not always expect to be served. We too are called to a labor of love, by the ultimate labor of love.
God has freed us from the power of sin and death, so that we can focus on one another and their needs instead of always having to feel like we have to put ourselves first, worry about number one, call shotgun without regard for the needs of others.
It took me a while, but I ultimately realized that it probably actually did make much more sense for my older brother to sit in the front seat of the car. He is much taller than me, and so even though I like having the extra legroom, he has more need of it. Finally I realized, letting him sit in the front seat, was not admitting that he was somehow more important than me, or that the parent who was driving loved him more, or that he was better just because he was older and taller and male. I did not become any less of a person, less of a loved child of God, by letting someone else have what society had arbitrarily decided was a place of honor.
But this logic does not just apply to the front seat of a car, or the best seats in a throne room. God creates each of us equal. No one person is anymore loved or blessed by God, but this fact does not always translate to real life situations and circumstances. And so, we are called as Christians to a labor of love that strives to make this life look a little more like the kingdom of God, and all the equality and love that that entails, everyday. Part of this is being good stewards of the gifts and talents and assets that God has entrusted to us. These gifts were not simply meant to make our lives better, but were given in order to spread the kingdom to all the corners of the earth. Christianity is not just about what God can do for you individually, but it is what God is doing in and among us to make the world a more just place to live.
I mean, come on, be honest with yourselves, what is it about Christ that hooks you? Is it he promise of eternal reward for you, or is it the love that Christ has for humanity as a whole? Could you imagine what would happen if we always called shotgun, and kept that blessing to ourselves?