Having The Heart And Hands Of A Servant
(The Ambition Of James And John)
Pentecost 20 Mark 10:35-45
The greatest. Who is the greatest?
Let’s play a guessing game. Which sporting event had the greatest viewing audience ever? The 2004 summer Olympics, 3.8 billion people.
Who won the greatest number of Olympic medals ever? 18 medals. Larissa Latynina, the gymnast from the USSR, won 18 medals between 1956-64.
Which American won the greatest number of Olympic medals? Mark Spitz, the swimmer who won 11 medals from 1968-72.
Who do Americans say was the greatest boxer of all time? Mohammed Ali. Better known as “The Greatest.”
Who is the greatest golfer of all time? Jack Nicklaus who won a record 18 majors? Tiger Woods who may surpass even the great Jack Nicklaus?
Who do Americans say was the greatest scientist of this century? Albert Einstein?
Which singing group sold the greatestnumber platinum albums? The Beatles.
Who do Americans say was the greatest American president? Abraham Lincoln in today’s polls.
The list of “greats” and “greatests” goes on and on.
It is one thing to BE the greatest Olympian, to BE the greatest boxer, to BE the greatest golfer, to BE the greatest scientist, to BE the greatest president.
It is quite another thing to have a need to be great, to have a need to be number one, have a need to be a big shot, a need to be better than others.
None of us really like those people who need to be THE greatest.
That is what the gospel lesson is all about today. Some disciples needed to be number one, the best of the disciples, better than other disciples. Some disciples had a need be top dog, religious big shots, da leaders of da pack
It amazes me that some followers of Jesus spent so much time with him, saw his miracles, walked with Jesus, walked with Jesus but still didn’t “get it” what Jesus invited us to be servants. Some people who had walked really closely with Jesus still didn’t “get it” that the greatest person in the kingdom of God was the person who had the heart of a servant.
Let me tell you two stories about James and John, two of Jesus’ first disciples, two brothers, two fishermen, who didn’t “get it” for quite a while. JJ. James and John. That is who we are going to focus on today. JJ. JJ didn’t get it.
The stories go like this.
Jesus invited Peter, James and John to go up on a mountain. While on that mountain, the three disciples experienced the transfiguration where Jesus was transformed into the Christ of glory. Jesus’ face shown like the sun. Moses and Elijah were there. Peter and JJ were on top of the world. They had the greatest religious experience. Meanwhile, the other nine disciples remained down there in the valley where there was a mentally sick boy who kept throwing himself into the fire. The nine disciples tried to heal the sick kid, but couldn’t. Jesus then came down and healed the boy and upbraided those nine disciples for their lack of faith and healing power.
Shortly after, the disciples were walking home to Capernaum. It was a long walk and there was plenty of time to talk. While they were walking along, the twelve disciples got into an argument about which disciples were the greatest. Yes, the disciples were in a heated argument about who was the greatest. The Bible text doesn’t say it, but I think it was JJ, James and John, who were causing the conflict. I have a feeling it was JJ who had been on the top of mountain and had the great religious experience of the transfiguration. The other nine disciples were down in a village and couldn’t heal the sick kid. JJ, with their mountain top experience, felt that they were superior to the other nine disciples who couldn’t heal a kid in the village below.
Jesus heard the disciples arguing with one another. Jesus asked them, “What are you guys talking about?” Initially, everyone was a little embarrassed and didn’t say anything. They were silent. Why were they silent? Because they were arguing with each other about who was the greatest disciple. I suspect that they were ashamed of their conversation.
Then Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, if anyone would be great, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Then Jesus took a child up into his arms and said, “Unless you turn around from your self centered ways and glory seeking ways and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this little child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Did the disciples “get it?” I think not. JJ didn’t get it. James and John didn’t get that simple lesson what Jesus was trying to teach them. Jesus said so clearly, “If anyone would be great, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Unfortunately, JJ continued to follow Jesus but didn’t “get it.” They didn’t get what Jesus was all about.
We come to the story for today. It is JJ again. James and John. James and John approached Jesus and said, “Jesus, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Is that not a selfish and self centered statement? Jesus, “we want you to do what for us whatever we ask of you?” What an arrogant attitude.
Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked these two disciples that question and asks us that question as well, “What do you really want from me?”
JJ, James and John, answered, revealing their self centered and self serving hearts, “Grant us to sit at your right hand and at your left when you come again in glory.” What!!! Talk about sick. Talk about warped thinking. Talk about glory hounding. These two disciples wanted to be the number one and two guys on the judgment day when Jesus Christ came again in glory.
The truth finally came out. JJ, James and John, wanted glory. They wanted power, status, and authority. JJ still didn’t “get it” about what Jesus was teaching that the Son of man would suffer, be killed and on the third day rise from the dead. James and John had visions of themselves in the future: one at the right hand of Jesus in glory; one at the left hand of Jesus in glory.
Obviously, James and John still didn’t “get it.”
Jesus said, “Do you know what you are asking? Are you able to be baptized as I am going to be baptized?”
“Yep,” they replied. Not understanding that Jesus was going to baptized into his suffering and death on the cross.
The text says, “The other ten disciples became angry with James and John.” The other ten disciples became angry at JJ for their inflated, selfish, brazen ambition.
Jesus then taught them. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
And JJ??? They still didn’t get it.
Which goes to prove that you can be a follower of Jesus Christ and still not “get it.” Eventually, JJ did. They finally learned the lesson that Jesus was trying to teach them.
The same is true of us. We too can be followers of Jesus. Walk with Jesus. Talk with Jesus. Hang out with Jesus’ friends and still not “get it” about being a servant of others. We can use the right religious buzz words and to church and attend confirmation, but still not get that basic lesson of life that Jesus was trying to teach JJ and all of us. The greatest person in God’s sight is a person who has a heart of humble service towards God and others.
Let me tell you a few stories about people I know who have the hearts and hands of a servant. Where these people are an illustration of the kind of person that God wants us to be: servants of God and others. Just as Jesus was a servant of God and others.
I went down to the hospital in Puyallup the other day and saw Bill Grant. Bill Grant is fighting pancreatic cancer and is losing the battle and is going home soon to die under the care of his loving wife and Hospice. You may not know it, but Bill was the owner of the Des Moines Creek Restaurant for years and his wife Mary made those luscious, homemade, red raspberry devon shire pies. After he had been living with pancreatic cancer and its treatments, Bill still went down to Mississippi to with a mission team from our congregation to work on devastated homes that were wrecked by the hurricane Rita and Katrina. As it turned out, Bill ended up running a kitchen and feeding 200 –300 volunteer workers per day. People in our parish remember Bill with his outstretched hands up in triumphant and with a smile lighting up his whole face as he fed that mass of volunteers another meal. Nobody knew that Bill was sick. Nobody knew that Bill was fighting cancer and didn’t realize why the color of his skin was that color. Bill not only went down to Mississippi to rebuilt houses only one time; he went down a second time. To be with his adult son as they worked on this project together. Bill, in the eyes of our team who was with him down in Mississippi, was an inspiration, a source of encouragement, a mountain of motivation that energized and touched all who saw Bill in action. Bill had and still has the heart and hands of a servant.
A servant always has loving heart and working hands. Both the heart and the hands. Not just the heart of a servant who sees the needs of others. Not just a heart who feels the pain of those who lost their homes to hurricanes. Not just a heart who empathizes with those who have lost their jobs, income and insurance.
Servants always have good, loving and generous hearts, but they also have hands to do the dirty work. Hands that make all the meals. Hands that clean up the tables. Hands that do the dishes. Hands that actually help people in their needs.
Heart and hands.
In the gospel text for today, Jesus said that whoever is great among you, MUST be a servant.
You cannot be a disciple of Jesus without being a servant, without having the heart and hands of a servant.
Being a servant is a MUST, a demand, like water being wet and fire being hot and ice being cold. So a follower of Christ MUST be a servant.
If fire is not hot, it is not fire.
If ice is not cold, it is not ice.
If a follower of Christ is not a servant, he or she is not a disciple.
Jesus said, “Whoever follows me, MUST be your servant.”
One day, when down seeing Bill in the hospital, I told him and his charge nurse that we were in the presence of greatness when we were in Bill’s presence. I told his charge nurse about what Bill had done in Mississippi while sick with pancreatic cancer. I told his charge nurse that both Bill and Mary had raised 24 foster children and infants in their home, before they owned the Des Moines Creek Restaurant. I told his charge nurse that we were in the presence of greatness when we were in Bill’s hospital room. I just wanted to make sure that she understood that. I knew it to be true. I just wanted his hospital staff to know who they were caring for.
Being a servant has to do with attitude and actions, the heart and the hands, the mind and the motions.
Bill and Mary are the most humble of people, not showing off their life of love, not making any big deal of it, not drawing attention to themselves or their involvement in Mississippi nor taking care of their 24 foster children. You gradually find out about these things if you listen and ask. Bill and Mary aren’t about to broadcast their big heartedness not to grandstand their generosity. Not at all.
Notice in the gospel text for today, that Jesus invites us to be servants OF ALL, and we focus on the two words, OF ALL.
It is so important to have heart of a servant in one’s marriage. In anticipate the needs and desires of one’s life long partner and to do things that help one’s partner. In the old days, it was the women who were thought of as being servants of men, not realizing the Biblical injunction is that the Lord God invites us to be servants of one another. In your marriage, what would it mean for you to be a servant of your wife, your husband? How would that work out in practical ways for you? What would it mean for you to look out for the needs of your spouse?
How about your parents being a servant of your children? What does that mean for you in your family?
How about your kids being servants of your Mom and Dad? What does that mean for you? Actually. Humor me and answer the question in your mind. For your parents, your grandparents, your siblings.
If it is water, it is wet. If it is fire, it is hot. If it is ice, it is cold. If you are a disciple of Christ, you are a servant within your family. What does that mean for you? Practically. Actually. In real life.
I know what it means for me to have the heart and hands of a servant to my wife. She would really like that. What does that mean for you?
Jesus invites us to be servants OF ALL. Not only servants within our marriages and within our families. But at work. How about on your job? Actually? In real life? To be the heart and hands of a servant whose primary concern is NOT to serve one’s own self but others around us. What does that mean for you when at work, your job, your place of employment.
Jesus’ words, “You MUST be servants OF ALL” includes the whole human race.
There are things in life which are more important than others and Jesus’ invitation for us to have the heart and hands of a servant is central to being a disciple of Jesus.
But for me, living a life of a servant, is also the essence of what it means to be a human being, whether one is a follower of Christ or not. All great human beings throughout the history of the planet are those people who have served the needs of others, that they discovered the gem for living that it is in giving that we receive, that it is in dying to self that we find ourselves.
I love Jesus Christ. He was profound in the way he lived and died. He was profound in all that he taught us about God, his heavenly Father and our heavenly Father.
The words that Jesus gives to us today are the best advice that anyone could ever give: Whoever would be great MUST be a servant of all.
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