Serving – Our Experience of Heaven
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.
You know this line, right? You have heard it countless time, correct? And yet, it is a thought or message or instruction which we find difficult to take to heart.
But don’t lose heart – even those who physically traveled with Jesus found it to be a difficult lesson too.
Mark 10 – open your bibles or look at the verses in your bulletin. (I keep saying, get a Bible app on your cell phone. There are free copies, but for $9.99 you can get a version that allows you to do a word or phrase or verse search. If you can’t afford $9.99 come see me.)
The appointed verses for today are Mark 10:35-45. Last Sunday’s reading had ended at Mark 10:31. Almost the same ending. Last week the closing statement by Jesus was “(M)any who are first will be last, and the last shall be first.” See the similarities to “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”?
For some reason, the designers of the lectionary skip over verses 32-34 in Mark 10. Probably because there is also a redundancy here.
Mark 10, verses 32-34, contain what is often referred to as Jesus’ third prediction of his crucifixion. The first announcement is in Mark 8:31. The second starts in Mark 9:30. Check it out, in your Bible app.
Three chapters, three encounters in which Jesus tells the disciples that when they get to Jerusalem, all chaos is going to break loose. “I am going to die,” he tells them in Mark 8. In Mark 9 he adds that this death will come as a result of “betrayal.” The disciples don’t seem get it; they don’t seem to comprehend.
This is the context (and the outrage) at the request made by James and John to sit at Jesus’ right and at his left. They are fixated on their own visions of what awaits them in Jerusalem. They cannot see what Jesus sees and they do not share that draws Jesus to Jerusalem.
Mark, the Gospel writer, puts these three of these statement of Jesus in a sequence because he knows that it will remain difficult for any of us to grasp what Jesus is saying, and accept it as the way of discipleship.
In the first of the predictions of his death, Mark is sure to point out that Jesus says all this as clearly as he possibly can. Mark 8:31ff is the statement. Verse 32 is where Mark records, “(Jesus) said all this quite openly.” There ought not to have been any doubt about this – but there was.
A little time passes, the disciples come to realize that they are incapable of doing what it is that Jesus is capable of doing (there is a foreshadowing in that phrase) and after he tries to make them feel better about their inability to cast to the demons which Jesus so easily dismisses, he tells them, again, about what will happen in Jerusalem.
Mark 9:30-37 includes the warning that their inability to grasp all this will bring additional hardship and heartbreak. Jesus speaks of being “betrayed.” He will be betrayed, by the one disciple who leads the guards to him; by all his disciples as they flee.
But the disciples still don’t get it. Even after a third clear, unambiguous statement, James and John are so dense that they come to Jesus to ask him if, when all this ugly business is behind them, if they might have the honor of sitting, one at his right hand and the other at his left.
Sometimes we hear what we want to hear, no matter what is actually being said. Sometimes we do not hear that which contradicts what we desperately want to believe. Sometimes we are unable to hear even when the words leave no ambiguity.
It is interesting that Jesus doesn't tell them, "No, you can't have those positions of authority." In the end he simply notes that those spots will be given to those to those for whom it has been prepared. He doesn't turn them down, rather he works to change their focus. He wants to move their eyes from the possibility of future glory to the road which lies between here and there. He wants to shift their view from the seats of glory to the cup and the baptism which is Christ's.
The concern Jesus has is that his disciples do not allow themselves to think there is an easier way than the one he is about to take. Jesus wants to prevent any notion from forming in their heads which would allow them to believe they can come to those seats some way other than offering themselves. "If you want to flank me," Jesus tells his disciples, "you must be prepared to lay down your life for others."
So often, when we tell the Jesus story we begin with the payoff. We speak of Jesus as the one who saves us from our sins; as the one who saves us from death and hell. We talk about “heaven.” Don't you find it interesting that Jesus speaks of one who serves? It is service, not saving, which Jesus so often highlights. He speaks of action, not of the payoffs; he describes the sacrifice, not the reward.
I have long since given up on being asked to sit at the right or the left of any truly important individual. The gifts to obtain such recognition are not mine - and besides, I don't have the right kind of clothes for that kind of a job.
But serving others is something I can do. It is something I have experienced and understand. It is in losing myself in the midst of service that I also get those fleeting images of true calm and tranquility. Being a servant to others has a power which can only be described as the peace of God, the peace which passes all understanding.
I have had such experiences over the 25 years of building those Habitat houses on Bowman Field. Working alongside the thousands of students, I didn’t give much thought to a better place which might someday be mine. The opportunity to lose oneself in service is such a sweet gift that I have no worries as to the beauty and joy associated with future gifts.
"The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve."
"Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all."
This is the way of our Lord and Master.
It is the way of Peace and happiness.