Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Power to Serve

October 21st, 2012        “The Power to Serve”      Rev. Heather Jepsen

Mark 10:35-45

One of my favorite things to do every morning is to sit down with a cup of coffee and the day’s newspaper.  I am certain that many of you share this ritual as well.  As I sit down to read the Kansas City Star I always have a hard time with the front section.  I often find myself reading only the first paragraph of articles.  Now when it comes to the comics, I read every one, even Zippy the Pinhead; but when it comes to the news I just can’t make myself read it.  Over the years I have learned that I just can’t handle that much bad news.

          The front page these days is dominated by pre-election hype.  From reports and opinions about the latest debate, to the current amount of fundraising dollars, to the latest poll numbers, for better or worse everyone seems to have their mind on the election.  I have to admit that this is not my favorite time of the year.

          Turn the page and it’s economic news.  How are unemployment numbers, how is the stock market, where are the job creators, and whose fault is it that we are in such an economic slump?  More bad news and more folks complaining about and blaming each other.

          Get deep enough in that front section and we turn to the Middle East.  What once held hope for the revolution of freedom; now seems to be nothing but constant violence in Libya, Syria, Egypt and beyond. 

          And of course, that’s just the big stories.  We all know that the front section is host to plenty more bad news.  From the shooting of that 14 year old Pakistani girl, to the murder of that child in Denver, to the daily list of violence in Kansas City, there is plenty of bad news to go around.

          The one theme that links all the bad news in the morning paper is power.  Humans seem drawn to power.  Some people are drawn to the power found in politics; making laws, controlling weapons, and setting the ways of nations.  Some people are drawn to star power, obsessed with the lives of movie stars and music celebrities.  These folks become caught up in every detail or scandal of a life that is not their own.  Some people are drawn to a more dangerous power, power over others in an unhealthy or hurtful way through abuse or neglect.  Throughout the paper you read of those who will use whatever means necessary to elevate themselves above the rest of the world.

          All people have a desire to get close to power, or to get some of their own.  All people are willing to attack or befriend those in power, to do whatever they can to get closer to those that have more than them in the hope that some influence or authority may rub off.  Power over people, money, or things is an attractive force and I think that even the best of us succumb to its alluring draw. 

          Our human fascination with power has been going on since the beginning of time.  Throughout history we read of those who make a grab for power and succeed or not.  Plus, we know that it is the powerful themselves who write our history books.  To the victor go the spoils, including the right to tell the story. 

          We always hope that when a new person rises from the ranks into the head chair that they will be less tyrannical than the last – but nothing can corrupt the hearts of people like power.  During election time especially we are thinking of those that are in power and those that we wish could be in power.  If only our man was in the head chair – then the world would be different, there would be change, and things would be made right.  But we all know that as one November after another passes, little change actually occurs and the big power machine just keeps on grinding, and running over the little guys in the process. 

          In our gospel lesson this morning, the Zebedee brothers are thinking about power.  It is near an election time of sorts and their heads are full of possibilities for the new regime.  They want to support their candidate, Jesus, and are also hoping to get some nice cabinet seats in the process.

          Now it is easy for us to wonder just what the Zebedee brothers were thinking.  At this point we are a fair ways into Mark’s gospel and we would hope that by now the disciples would have a clue as to what Jesus’ reign will be like.  Sometimes we wonder if they have even listened to his teachings at all.  Plus, he has just finished his third statement foreshadowing his own death.  He has just told them again about the condemnation and torture that is soon to come.  But of course, the disciples do not have the ears to hear that message, any more than we do. 

          Right now the Zebedee brothers are focused on Jesus’ power.  It has been apparent from the beginning that this man had something special, something different.  Even when he wasn’t performing miracles there was a certain gravity in his presence and teaching.  This guy was sure to be the new ruler in God’s kingdom.  The Zebedee brother’s request, though a little off, can be seen as a profession of faith.  James and John really believed that Jesus would come to power, and they wanted to have a part in it.

          “Teacher,” they ask “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  Along with Peter; James and John have been Jesus’ closest friends, part of his inner circle, his biggest fans.  Even when Jesus tries to make it clear to them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” they respond in unison “We are able.”  They are so wrapped up in their confidence in Jesus and their desire to serve him, that they seem unaware of what they are saying. 

          In the minds of the Zebedee boys the new kingdom will be much like the old.  Jesus and his crew will kick the old rulers out of power and take their seats.  They will bring in the kingdom of God from the top, changing the world from the head of the table; a divine trickle-down system of sorts.

          But Jesus again says “no, that’s not the way it works.”  The kingdom of God turns our world on its head.  The best seats are not at the head of the table, heck they are not even at the table at all.  The best seats belong to the servants, those who bring the food and pour the wine.  Jesus says that this is the place to be.

          It is hard for us to understand that this is the kingdom of God.  Power is found at the bottom and not at the top.  This is incomprehensible to our world, yet it is the example that Jesus sets before us.  James and John are concerned about who gets to sit where at the table.  In contrast Jesus’ concern is whether everyone has enough food and if there is a place for everyone to sit. 

          Jesus is a servant through and through.  The head seats at the table are not his to give out; he doesn’t even have one himself.  The best seat he will find on this side of the grave is a lonely cross on the hill of Golgotha, at his right and left, no more than two bandits.  “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

          This is the kingdom of God, where the last shall be first and the first shall be last, where God’s concern is for the poor and outcast.  It is a kingdom of sinners and lowlifes, not a kingdom of powerful rulers.  And it is among these ranks that we cast our lot. 

As you know, our church is entering a season of stewardship.  This is a perfect time to think a bit about power in the world around you.  No one can deny that money is power; where you spend your money and what you spend it on, is one of the ways that you are able to influence the world around you.  There is a reason we call it “spending power.” 

          Jesus challenges us to consider a new way to handle money.  Rather than using our money to buy the head seats at the table, we are asked to consider using our money to help those who have no seat at all.  To give our money away, is to leave behind the top-down world of power.  To give our money away, is to participate in the bottom-up world of power that Jesus talks about.  To give our money away, is to become a servant of the servant God, the one who preached an empire where power is found in the lowest ranks, an empire where the first will be last and the last will be first.
Like the Zebedee brothers, we are longing for a place beside Jesus, we are longing for a place in the kingdom.  Jesus teaches that if we are to join the kingdom of God, than we must come in as servants.  We offer ourselves in caring service to our neighbors near and far understanding that there is no divine trickle down, rather the divine kingdom is one that trickles up.  We will not transform the world from the top down; instead we will change it from right where we stand.  We will change the world from the bottom up. 
          The power of God is the power to serve.  It is the power to transform the Zebedee brother’s question from “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” to “We want to do for you whatever you ask of us.”  Amen.    

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