Sunday, October 21, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
What really matters in life? For James and John, two of the early disciples, they wanted a place of honor at Jesus’ side. They wanted to be his right and left hand man so to speak. Their priority was to be in positions of power. That’s what really mattered the most to them. And when the other disciples heard this they were understandably angry. Why did James and John think they deserved more than everyone else? Jesus and the disciples were heading to Jerusalem. Jesus knew what he was getting into. He was heading in to a place where people were angry at him for upsetting the status quo. People wanted him dead. And in Jerusalem he knew that he would suffer and eventually be killed. Jesus had a lot on his mind. He was concerned about people hearing God’s word. He wanted people to understand who God was and what their mission was before he was no longer with them. Jesus had matters of life and death on his mind, yet all the disciples had on their mind was who was going to be the greatest among them. You might shake your head and think, “How could they be that near-sighted?” Jesus was right there with them and that’s all they could think about? That’s what mattered the most to them?
Before we get too carried away, we have to take a look at ourselves. Jesus is still right here with us, and yet we all at one time or another do the same as the early disciples. We worry, and stress, and get angry over what seems to us like very important matters, but in the grand scheme of things are very insignificant. We do this in our personal lives when we worry about every little thing. We do it in our relationships. Sometimes individuals don’t talk to each other for long periods of time over things they don’t even remember why they are fighting. It happens in it our places of work when people try to be the greatest, more valuable than their coworkers. It happens slowly and in subtle ways. And it happens in congregations too, where individuals or groups of people are angry or fight about any number of things that are not going their way. Church members in congregations all over the country fight over any number of things from the color of carpets, to the correct way to light the candles, the placement of certain objects, a dislike of certain hymns, ….the list is endless. Individuals want their own desires granted just like James and John. We can easily forget who’s church this is – Christ’s, and why we gather together as a community – to worship God, to be refreshed and renewed by God’s presence, and to live lives of service like Jesus. When we forget that we push to have things our own way. And when things don’t go according to the way we want them too we can get angry like the first disciples and treat others unkindly. It happens all the time.
That’s why Jesus asked his disciples the same one he asks us today, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” Are you able to be truly awake and engaged in life? Are you able and willing to focus on what really matters in God’s kingdom? The things that we so often think are so important, those things we worry about as if they are life and death are in reality only distractions from what life is really about. Ask anyone who is going through cancer treatments – like several of our members – or ask someone going through some other life-threatening illness, or someone who has experienced the great loss of someone they love, and they will tell you that their priorities in life are different now. They have a new clarity on what is important. When these kind of things happen you realize what really matters in life, and it’s not the small things we so often get distracted by. What matters is our relationship with God and with one another. What matters is not how much we get, but how much we give. What matters is not individual gain, but collective kindness and love.
There are thousands of people right now in Florida and other places in the south that are devastated by losing their homes from hurricane Michael. Many lost their lives too. And there are the families of those who died in the recent limousine accident in Schoharie. There are families fleeing for their lives from war-torn countries; I’ve known some of them personally. There are families who are separated from those they love. The list is endless, and yet, so often like the first disciples James and John, we focus on the wrong things. We focus on ourselves instead of the immense problems that are going on around us. Life is too short to focus on whether or not things go our way all the time. Life is too short to let the small things in life tear us apart. Jesus came, and suffered, and died, and rose from the dead so that we would have life and have it abundantly.
What Jesus offers to us is the cup of life overflowing with God’s forgiveness, mercy, love, and grace. In God’s eyes we are all equal. We drink this cup together in community with one another not for our own personal gain, but in gratitude for what God has done for us in Jesus. We drink this cup of life so that filled with God’s grace we can then share that grace in service with and for one another. We drink this cup so that others can experience God too. Isn’t that what really matters? Amen.