Aquality of our sacred scriptures that I find refreshing, is that the scripture don’t give us sanitized versions of the heroes of our faith. Many times the models of our faith are shown to be confused, flawed, judgmental , often holding on to false ideas of God,- even as God engages them to think, and act differently. This is a good thing!! For in the dysfunctions of these holy people of God, we the modern day reader of scripture see their humanity and we understand that they are often just like us! Human beings struggling to understand our relationship to God and doing our best to live lives as God’s people in our time.
So today we hear the story of the Zebedee brothers, James and John in the Gospel of Mark. Christian scripture and tradition shows them as brothers who initially worked their father Zebedee’s fishing business. But they left all that behind as they decided to follow Jesus. Scripture tells us that Jesus calls them the “sons of thunder” most likely because of they were ambitious, impetuous, loud, filled with fiery passion which could be often be seen as anger. Today in the Gospel lesson we see James and John and their raw ambition which causes them to make a power play. I can’t help but think of some of the fishermen I l know from Rhode Island – you know the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society and Even fishermen from Fulton Fish market in the Bronx. I can image salt of the earth type of guys—calling Jesus to the side and say, Jesus- rememba we left everything for you, all we need is a little small favor- when we get into the kingdom- you put us a the right and left”
Or even more funny is the same story in the Gospel of Mathew Chap 20 vs 20-24. But this time, these sons of thunder ask their mother, their mother to ask Jesus this same question of siting at his right or left. I can imagine the conversation” Ma….”
And in both these passages the reaction from the other disciples is anger. From the Gospel we can understand that they weren’t angry because the sons of thunder asked for something inappropriate. But because as Jesus recognized they too wanted special consideration from Jesus. Jesus reminds all of them that the Kingdom of God
is not one that is built on power and influence and but on commitment to service.
The more I think about this passage I am sure you might be left with questions? Such as- Why would James and John ask for the ability to sit at his right and left? I imagine they understood Jesus coming into his own Kingdom and they wanted a place in his court, and traditionally those who sit at the right and left of the king were people who had the power to influence the king. Yes, but why would James and John want power anyway?
Well, All of us have a need to feel respected; this includes the need to have self-esteem. The need to know that we are needed, significant, worth something. And some of us may feel the need for others to see us, to feel significant. Perhaps, James and John were fearful that they aren’t recognized as important or worthwhile and this is why John and James wanted to be at the right and left of Jesus. The position would boost their self-esteem, everyone would know that they were worthy or more worthy than everyone else, But wisdom gives us the understanding that fame won’t help them build their self-esteem until they accept who they are internally. In the passage Jesus reminds James and John that they are called to a ministry, a baptism and through that baptism they are accepted as children of God not because of their position in life. Jesus reminds them that their call as disciples to serve God by serving the world not Lording over it!
In my mind Jesus confronts their fears with a call for them to trust in a God that loves them and will provide for them even their need for self-esteem.
Todays passage helps me to remember that I need to trust in God to provide for every need that I may have while I am committed to building a better world through the Kingdom of God.
Today we begin our fall stewardship campaign Deb Dunham our Stewardship Chair will introduce a Stewardship talk by one our own Youth Group members, Peter Kemalis. He is an amazing young man with a heart and mind nurtured in faith in our community. It will be a blessing to hear what he has to say. I find it inspiring to know that Peter’s parents, Judy and Ed, among all the various choices they had in raising their son- chose to trust in God, chose to raise him in this community of faith. And by doing so- I believe that our community has helped to shape Peters ideas of God and community.
But I know it was not easy. It would have been much easier to stay in bed, to not commit to following Jesus on this road to the Kingdom.
But In our call to follow Christ, we are called to move through our fears and insecurities, we are called to Trust even if following God’s plan in establishing the Kingdom is difficult.
This past year has been a wonderful one for me and my family. I know that God has led us to this wonderful community! And it is a powerful community in which the energy of God is causing sparks. I see miracles happen here. This year when my wife and I fill our pledge card we will be thinking about presence of God in our community. We will be thinking about the energy in this place. We will be thinking about young people like Peter, who are being nurtured in faith. We will be thinking about all the people who are who continue to be nurtured in faith in our community.
I know that thinking and praying about giving the talent and treasure you have earned-- to God, might be a difficult process for many. I understand that at the core of this difficulty is fear - fear of not having enough, fear of sacrificing some of our luxuries or maybe even fear that the money we give away to God may not be used wisely.
I understand these fears. They are present even in my mind as I too fill my pledge card but I also understand that just like James and John who worked through their fears by trusting in Jesus. I will also remember the energy, passion, and miracles happening in this place and I will remember that we are called to trust and invest in God. And just like James and John- God will use my faith to continue to build a Kingdom and just like James and John I will participate in that Kingdom with great joy!
And my hope is that you too will trust and participate in that Kingdom with great joy and hope ! Amen