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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service – click on the video camera icon.
October 17, 2021
Twenty-first after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’re gonna start today with a little bit of audience participation. Name a person, or people, who are in power – or who have power – in our country or world today. Say their names loud enough so that we can hear them. And for you at home, put their names in the chat log.
It’s no secret that, in our society, we like people who are in power. In fact, we more than like them, we admire them. Even if we don’t like them, we still want to know all about them – their past accomplishments and achievements and how they got to where they are today. If we do like them, we gravitate toward them in public. We want to be like them and sometimes even be them.
They’re on top of the world, sometimes literally. In their fields of expertise they have privilege and prestige and they’re well-thought-of. Who wouldn’t want that, right?
Ideally, people in power live their lives in such a way that they don’t expect anything from others. That doesn’t always happen, though.
So when we admire people in power, and find ourselves wanting to be more like them, as people of faith it’s important that we hold that in tension with who Jesus is.
For the last several weeks, the focus of Jesus’ teachings in Mark’s gospel has been on how we’re called to live – the way we’re supposed to be with each other and care for one another. And we’ve been talking about how that isn’t always as easy as we hope it will be.
And that all came to a head last week in the story of the rich young ruler. And I know Pastor Chelsea gave a different perspective on what Jesus might have been referring to when he talked about a camel going through the eye of a needle – and I’d never heard that before, either, and it’s fascinating to think about.
But whether it’s actually a camel, or a thick rope that has to be unraveled, going through the eye of a needle – living the way Jesus calls us to live, isn’t always easy. We know that.
But in today’s reading, things are beginning to shift.
Pastor Priscilla Austin notes that, at this point in his story, Jesus moves the focus away from how we are called to live to who we are called to follow. And that’s important, because without that distinction this reading – and also the one from Hebrews – can easily become tools of abuse.
In the gospel reading, despite having just heard Jesus speak about his impending suffering and death, all James and John hear is that he will rise again, and they want to sit in glory with him. Because we’re on this side of history, it’s easy for us to laugh at them for making that demand because we know they didn’t know what they were asking.
It’s important to remember, though, that they were living in a time of tyranny. Both they, and the people who first heard this gospel when it was written, had witnessed firsthand the strength of the Roman military. So they were faced with the constant temptation to align with tyranny because that type of strength and might, having power over someone, seemed like a very secure place to be.
But it wasn’t as secure as they’d like to think – because in that type of situation, someone else is always jockeying to try to take that power away and hold onto it for themselves. So Jesus reminds the disciples that tyranny, and aligning with it or following it, is always going to be a temptation. And it’s understandable to want to follow that way because of the perception it gives us.
But following Jesus is different; following Jesus is about self-sacrifice and service. It’s the way that redirects our focus to Jesus. It’s power that Jesus gave his life for us to live into. It frees us from the systems that limit us – and from worrying about whether we’re the best or the most famous.
It frees us to live in grace and love and compassion and mercy. It frees us to simply follow Jesus and to serve one another in response to his sacrifice for us.
As with so many things about Jesus, the freedom he gives us to serve is counter cultural. We’re taught to seek achievement, to seek the admiration and regard of others, to focus on those things and push everything else to the side.
But when our focus is on following Jesus, our lives are changed. And we experience the power of the freedom that can only come from him, and we recognize that that freedom came out of his death and resurrection. So as people of faith, instead of seeking fame, we follow Jesus. Instead of wanting to be large and in charge all the time, we follow Jesus.
Instead of being concerned with who’s the most popular influencer this week, we follow Jesus. Instead of being consumed by the desire to excel and succeed, we follow Jesus.
When we follow Jesus, our lives are changed. We follow in his footsteps of abundance, joy, and blessing. We experience the freedom in him to simply serve one another. And as we do, we recognize Jesus in one another.
So we serve as we’re able, without worrying about whether we’re the best at it or whether we’ll become famous for it. And we do it without expecting anyone to serve us in return. That’s the key. Because to follow Jesus is to serve others.
When you think about the people in your life who follow Jesus, your friends, your family members, your colleagues – or the people in your life who followed Jesus and who now rest with God – who comes to mind for you? At home, please put their names in the chat. And in here, who are they?
When we think about these people and the way they follow Jesus – they likely don’t seek notoriety or recognition, or expect to receive anything in return. Whether they prepare a meal for someone in need, or take someone to a doctor’s appointment, or volunteer in some capacity, or pray, or even sit and listen as a friend tells them about their day – they just serve.
And they do so faithfully, with joy and love – teaching us to also serve as Jesus did.
When we follow Jesus, our lives are changed. He frees us to follow in his footsteps and to live into compassion, love, mercy, joy, and abundance. And he frees us to simply follow him and to serve one another in response to his sacrifice for us. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 The Stewardship/Service Connection (stewardshipoflife.org)