St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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Lent 5b slide

Fifth Sunday in Lent
Mark 10:32-45
March 17, 2024

“Glory…hallelujah…Glory…hallelujah.” Tell story of the X-Files episode.

This is also what the disciples were after. Glory and power in the now. They wanted to tri-rule over nations, people, decisions. Maybe they thought their motives were good; maybe they thought they could rule more wisely than others, but ultimately the desire for “glory…hallelujah…,” glory and immediate needs met and power desired was not a good motive. Jesus had to correct their understanding.

Jesus sees and hears the grumbling and peevishly going on and how the other disciples are gritting their teeth at James and John and this supposedly eccentric leader who doesn’t know what He’s talking about, He steps in to correct the misguided understanding of these men, a misunderstanding that’s been there from the beginning.

He says that it’s the worst sort of people who argue and fight over worldly power – the rulers of the gentiles – and that their lust for worldly glory is an obsession for them. Jesus isn’t being exclusionary here; He’s not saying that such obsession doesn’t exist among the Jewish rulers and leaders, but He uses the Gentiles to contrast between the lust for worldly power and status, and what His disciples should seek after instead.

He tells them that true glory and true leadership isn’t about power and control over nations, but it is about servitude, humility, and being a slave to all.

James and John, they didn’t know what they were asking, did they? They thought it was all about power and immediate glory, and the other indignant 10 thought it as well. But Jesus says, “No, this is not the kingdom for which I came, and it is not the kingdom to which I am going for my kingdom is one of servitude where the cross is the throne and ridicule fills the lips of the mighty.”

Jesus’ true and only kingdom is here NOW, and it has been here since the incarnation, since God took on flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary and suffered under the Gentiles ruled by Pontius Pilate and died. And His kingdom today is the same kingdom of 2,000 years ago and the same kingdom that shall reign forever and ever, a kingdom built upon the death of God, a kingdom with the king’s throne established at Golgotha, outside of the earthly palace with an unbelieving robber and a humble, repentant thief dying at the left and right of the King of glory, Christ Jesus.

Christ GAVE His life for you, and you are now a child and a citizen of the eternal kingdom of God. And unlike all the kingdoms of this world, including the kingdom called The United States, compared to kingdoms that rise and fall, that are here one day and gone the next, the Kingdom of Christ shall stand forever which means you are forever in this kingdom.

But as you study His Word, as you attend church, as you hear His holy Law preached, you also become very much aware that, in spite of the fact that you are a member of His great and eternal kingdom of service and being a servant to all, that you are still a sinner, still interested in glory now, power now, wealth now. You’ve been promised eternal glory in life everlasting, but you grow impatient, and it seems that the rest of the world is enjoying itself in its pursuits of position and status and immediate and carnal needs met, so you also grow jealous and even indignant for not having it all for yourself.

This is, I believe, why people are so attracted to churches that emphasize the experience, the emotion over the teaching and the doctrine. It’s called Pietism, and people flock to such churches because they want to feel something…now. Glory…hallelujah! It’s so very much like when you watch TV and a commercial pops up. They have 30 seconds or less to sell you a product so the last thing they want to do is waste that 30 seconds on product details. They instead spend that time selling you an experience, a product or service that will give you immediate results, pleasures, answers, blessings, or fulfillment, and at the bottom of the screen, if you get a magnifying glass, you can see what’s really going on with that product. Pharmaceutical ads are well known for their over the top sales pitch, but then spending very little time and saying it as quickly as possible the potential side effects.

I was in sales for years, and I was the top salesman; I could sell a Maintenance Agreement at Sears at the snap of a finger. But I sold the IMMEDIATE BENEFITS, and stayed away from the costs and the fact that Sears depended on customers forgetting they bought a service contract in the first place.

Well, when we try to re-invent the church, worship, education, Sunday School, whatever to be something it’s not meant to be, when we try to sell an experience rather than be humble and seek to serve the neighbor as Christ, is it not because of the same desire for “glory…halleluiah,” right now, in the moment, experiences, glory, to have our needs met at the expense of faith strengthened and sins forgiven…?

Folks, the pursuit of glory and power is among the most devilish of sinning. Yet as we gaze into the world it is what everyone does, isn’t it? Everyone is looking for that edge, that platform, that venue where their names, their works, their successes might be seen by the world so that they might be praised and honored. But it is purely sinful and evil because in the one true and everlasting Kingdom, citizenship is never about such things, it’s never about power or honor or success but it is about servitude and humility, two words which none of us are so eager to exhibit.

Who of us WANTS to be a slave to all, willingly and joyfully serving others and placing everyone else as higher than ourselves? Who of us WANTS to be humble and to…”know our place?” IS IT NOT our nature to instead be a people who boast in ourselves, who try and draw attention, who maybe even elevate our works so that people give us praise? I mean, come one, we like the attention, don’t we, we like when people look at us and smile or pay honor or call us great and helpful and a joy to be around, don’t we? We like to feel good about ourselves and feel like we’re as good or better than others.

Perhaps we even fall for this sinning when it comes to our church. We judge our church by looking at other churches and wanting to compete, to have more people, more money, more influence in our town, to make our church’s brand the go-to brand for church, because if we have more people in our church than the church down the street, then we must be successful. Only how successful is a church that “attracts” the whole town, but to do it they strip away every teaching and practice which makes the Christian church…a Christian church?

I’ve seen plenty of churches over the years that, on the outside, appear successful and have great influence in a community, but on the inside are corrupt, godless, preach and teach anything but the Scripture, the Gospel of God, and have compromised everything just to get people in the pews. That’s not success – it’s utter failure.

We must not be like that.

Look to Jesus and see what success looks like. At his crucifixion, there were only a few people around Him who cared, who believed. Everyone else fled and hid, and come the 3rd Day, not even the women remembered what He said. They went to the tomb as people with no hope and my how shocked they were when they saw the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.

But that’s what sin does; that’s what a longing for earthly power and prestige does. It blinds us from what’s real, what’s truly good, what’s important, and what’s best. It makes us a people who become jealous for things that really don’t matter all that much. And in the end, it leads only to death because the wages of sin is death.

So as our Lord said to James and John, He also says to you: “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.”

Jesus’ baptism was His death on the cross for the sin of the world. Your baptism is dying with Him in baptism so that your sins and love for power and wealth die daily, so that they be drowned under the flood and taken from you as far as east is from west.

Jesus drank from the cup of suffering and death so that you might drink instead from the cup of salvation which He gives to you every time you come to this altar with repentant hearts and faith in the words, “Given and shed for you.”

Jesus doesn’t humble Himself and die on the cross so that you can have your “Best life now” or have power and prestige in this life. He died for you so that you will never die on account of your sin. And being a citizen of His kingdom, you receive the benefits of His servitude and humiliation.

And by His Holy Spirit, we also learn to be humble people who serve, who bear His cross for others, and who daily remember our baptisms and repent of our sins. We serve one another first by faithfully engaging in God’s Word and Sacraments, growing in wisdom and understanding and our sin is covered in His blood. We serve one another by submitting to our Lord’s teaching and trusting in His Word even when inconvenient; even when the culture around us calls His Word evil and unwelcome. And we serve by living this Gospel every day, throughout every week, serving the neighbor by whatever gifts and talents God has given. It may not be glorious work, but it is godly work because it draws sinners to repentance and faith, to the font of salvation, and to the cup of blessing.

This is the Christian life, and in this life, we seek not glory or power, but we seek to serve others and to humble ourselves. It is a life we can only live because of Christ who lived it and died in our place, and who now lives and reigns forever. Amen.