Pentecost 8, July 25, 2004
Ambitions - Yours and Jesus'
Has someone ever asked you: Will you say, "yes" to what I am going to ask? Perhaps it was a child, maybe your wife, your husband--a friend who asked you that question.
We almost sense that something is that we don't know about. Or, this is going to be something I'm not sure about. It was about like that when James and John, the two sons of Zebedee asked: Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask! Wow! What were they up to anyway?
Well, it was a pretty good case of simply being ambitious. They wanted place of honor, of control, of authority when Jesus took over and became what he really is: the King of the universe, or, well, at least Palestine, the land that rightfully for so many reasons belonged to God's people, Israel.
It was a pure-d case of ambition. They wanted to be ahead of others, the other disciples, the followers of Jesus. They wanted position above the others, positions of control at the right and left of Jesus. They were going to be his right hand (and left hand) men.
You see they believed that Jesus truly was the Christ, the Messiah, the promised One who was going to be King and sit on the throne of David (as God had promised David). He would get rid of the enemy, the Romans. He would be fair, honest, restoring all the injustices that were taking place. He would be what they were looking forward to. They believed, so why not be in there, in the lead, ahead of others?
The other disciples were indignant, indignant that those two schemers had gotten ahead of them, pulled a fast one on them. Perhaps they had thought of it, perhaps not, makes no difference, those two were rascals, opportunists, just waiting to catch Jesus alone.
It is pretty easy to see that ambition creates a lot of tension in whatever situation it is found. The American plan is to get ahead! Ahead of what? Ahead of others! Be that financially, socially, on the corporate ladder or whatever ladder is around. It takes place in family, where someone always wants to be ahead of the others. That can be physically--stronger than the others, brighter than the others, more advanced in skills than others.
We plan in our lives to get ahead, that is whatever we think "ahead" is. I thought for a while that I should like to be a District official of the church, going around everywhere, observing, helping, being a critic, in general, being a mucka-mucka in the church. Well, no way for that to happen to this abrasive, caustic fellow that I am. I always had to watch out that with all the success that I found coming to the church where I served, I would not boast about how far out this church was above others. Generally all that created was what the ten disciples of Jesus felt--indignation, resentfulness, envy, and picking faults.
Now Jesus had ambitions also. He had the ambition of laying down his life for others. His goal, his purpose, his mission was not to be recognized as the great person that he was. It was not to surround himself with those who would reflect on his greatness as a healer, miracle worker, preacher, teacher, and he was all of that and much more. His ambition was to give up his life, use it up and finally die to give it in service to others. He had spoken about just that in the words that are right before the Gospel for today.
Because they wanted what they thought was best, and the other ten of these so called disciples of his thought the same, Jesus had a confab with them.
He told them about CEOs, about rulers of those who are not his people, of high officials of every kind. Their method of management is to exercise power and authority over people. They control others; they get them to do what they want. Others are to serve them and follow their orders, regardless.
The first job for which I was paid, I was fired from. I had asked for a 10 cents an hour raise, from 40 to 50 cents an hour. The who fired me had the authority not to pay 50 cents an hour. He could find plenty of persons willing to take 40 cents an hour. The reason teachers are feared is because they have the almost absolute power to fail a student, and I have recently been a teacher in the position to do that. Tried to make myself loving, but.... with all the rules laid out, I felt that the student was the one who would make or break himself in the class I taught. From very early on, I studied the teachers, professors, and instructors I had. I found out what they wanted, and I gave it to them, because they had control, authority, the tyranny to make or break me. I was, I must say quite successful at doing that, even in the Seminary.
Jesus' word on that: NOT SO WITH YOU! Not so with us! The "us" refers to those who are followers of Jesus. "Us" is those in the church, who call themselves by the name of the Anointed One of God, Jesus the Christ!
If you have ambition in the church, if you want to be great, then you must be a servant to the others in the church, and in the community. A servant, no, that's too mild, a slave of all!!!!
The greatest in the church are the servants, those who care for others, help others, and do what needs to be done for them. The greatest is the one who prepares and cleans up after others. The one who gets no recognition for doing that which needs to be done.
So often, well, pretty often I suppose, two things take place in the church. One, people complain that they are never thanked for their service. Well, as Jesus put it why should you be thanked for doing what is expected of you?
Two, is that some people do all the work in the church. You know the rule, 20% of the people do 80% of the work and giving, and 80% do 20% of the work and giving. The result is burn-out and a great reluctance to ever do anything in the church again.
I know a Sunday School teacher who taught for 50 years! Wow! Great, you say. Sure, now try to recruit a person to take that servants place! You want a job that is going to last that long?
Sometimes, we distance ourselves from being servants to others. We have so much going on ourselves, that we do not even see the work, or worse, we do not want to commit to be a servant.
We do not want to become like our Savior, the Son of Man who did not come to be served, but to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus did not come for accolades, for praise, for glory (his glory is the cross!), for honor, for high position. In fact, it goes something like this. He humbled himself, this King of the universe, this One and Only Son of the only God and became obedient, an obedient servant to his heavenly Father, obedient to death, even death on the cross.
Now catch this: therefore, God has highly exalted him and given him a name that is above every other name. At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, humble himself, herself and have to confess either happily or reluctantly that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God his Father.
This is the day we honor St. James, the Apostle and Martyr. He did indeed drink the cup that Jesus had to. But in quite another way, he was baptized into this Jesus and he drank from all the goodness Jesus won for him on the cross and through the empty tomb.
And how about you and me, we are here today? What will the Savior's word be to us? For us who have been servants, the word of God will be: come, blessed of God, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was in hunger, I was thirsty, I was naked, I was cold, I was in prison and you, by being a servant did it to me!
Now what is your ambition, as a child of God by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ through faith in him? Amen.
Walter W. Harms, Pastor Retired