The Gospel: Mark 10:35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and 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.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: If you have been coming to Christ Church for any amount of time you will realize that I speak about and encourage us all to consider grace as a central attitude and expression of our understanding of Christ's love for us and our love for others.
Shortly after I arrived you would have noticed that I added the tagline "A Place of Grace" to our signage. I began to speak and teach about grace regularly in our Weekly Update and my Sermons each Sunday morning.
I realized this week that I have talked a lot about grace in many and various ways. But I am not sure if I have ever given us all a succinct definition of grace. So today I am going to do that.
The dictionary provides three definitions with three ways to understand grace in society. These are:
1. simple elegance or refinement of movement.
2. courteous goodwill.
3. do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one's presence.
Now those are helpful. But what we, as followers of Christ are interested in is a theological understanding of grace. So let us take a look at that concept.
The first definition I have is: Grace is the divine influence which operates in humans to regenerate and sanctify, to inspire virtuous impulses, and to impart strength to endure trial and resist temptation; and as an individual virtue or excellence of divine origin.
The second is: Grace, in Christian theology, is the spontaneous, unmerited gift of divine favor in the salvation of sinners, and the divine influence operating in individuals for their regeneration and sanctification.
Phew! That is a power-packed concept isn't it? "the unmerited gift of divine favor" In other words we don't do anything and we can't do anything to earn grace or gain grace. It is an unmerited gift. It is a gift of divine favor. So perhaps I could distill all of those thoughts and ideas into this brief definition: Grace is a gift we don't deserve.
Now the Britannica dictionary does go on to say this about grace: "Christian orthodoxy has taught that the initiative in the relationship of grace between God and humanity is always on the side of God. Once God has granted this “first grace,” however, an individual does have a response to give and a responsibility for the continuance of the relationship."
So, as followers of Christ, who have experienced grace, we have a responsibility, to respond to God out of that grace. We should also respond to others out of that grace. We have a responsibility to continue to live in, or live into, grace.
That's what I was speaking about last week when I talked about our motivation or, our reason, for doing and saying the things that we do as Christians. When we understand that we are living in grace - that unmerited grace, grace that we have done nothing to earn, or can do nothing to gain - then we will be motivated to respond out of grace.
Perhaps I can illustrate this by sharing a concept that I was reminded of this past week: God loves us so much that he will meet us exactly where we are. He will accept and pour his love into our lives, just as we are when we meet him. BUT, and this is a very important but, he loves us too much to leave us where he finds us.
We must remember the second part of the definition of grace: "the divine influence operating in individuals for their regeneration and sanctification." Grace is at work in us. Changing us into the creation that the Lord longs for us to be.
This is not just "a societal politeness." We can't create grace by our own power and determination. This is an ongoing interior change and growth. It only happens when we understand the gift we have received and how we have been blessed.
Now, this leads us to another theological concept that runs through each of the Scripture readings for this morning: Mercy.
Mercy is like the twin or the "opposite side of the coin" to grace. In Scripture, they are often used together to describe our relationship with the Lord. Mercy and Grace. Grace and Mercy.
A definition of Mercy is: "compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm."
There is an interesting thing about that definition, did you notice it emphasizes the person with the power or authority in the situation. They are the ones who have the opportunity to punish or to show mercy.
I believe, most of us hear and see this, as meaning that we are the agent of mercy. We can show mercy to someone else. We might say something like: "I will show mercy, I will allow you to go without me inflicting punishment on you."
My question for today is how have you experienced mercy? In particular, how have you experienced the Lord's mercy in your life? Remember, Mercy is not getting the punishment we deserve.
In our readings this morning we see some wonderful examples of how the Lord does not exercise his "right or authority." He doesn't exercise his opportunity to punish, he shows mercy.
Job gets his audience with God. God speaks to Job "out of a whirlwind." It is a great illustration of the awesomeness of God. We can imagine the noise and the power exhibited in that storm. Living here on the side of Lake Erie we have experienced what it is like when a storm stirs up the wind. Living in the Rectory we have felt our house shake and rattle as the elements pound and batter the front of the house.
Job constantly pleads for the opportunity to plead his case before God. He gets that opportunity and God responds, out of the whirlwind, asking a series of questions that show what he could do to Job if he chose to. Instead, he shows mercy to Job.
The picture of God's awesome power is continued in the Psalm. I asked Mary to print it in your Bulletin so that you can read it for yourself.
Then in the reading from Hebrews, we see mercy in action. Jesus steps in, he takes our place, he allows us to experience God's mercy in the most effective way possible. We do not experience God's power or punishment because Jesus takes our punishment on himself. He becomes the ultimate "High Priest" making the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of his people.
Then we get to the Gospel. This time it is James and John who come to Jesus and ask him to favor them over all the other disciples and all the other followers. They want the prime position available. They ask that when Jesus "comes into his glory" that they would be allowed to sit alongside him in the place of power and authority, one on his right and one on his left. They want to be his chief lieutenants. Power brokers in the kingdom. At least in Mark's version of this story, they do it themselves, in other Gospels they have their mother do it for them.
Now, before I get into Jesus' merciful response to this request I/we need to recognize that James and John make their request right after Jesus has talked about what is about to happen to him in Jerusalem. It is important to know what Jesus says in Mark 10: 32b-34"He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
He takes the disciples aside and tells them these agonizing details and James and John's response is basically: "hey Jesus can you tell everyone else that we are your favorites."
I don't know about you but I would think that Jesus would have been justified in giving each of them a "good clip upside the head." Instead, Jesus, in his mercy, says: "you don't understand what you are asking." They continue to push him and claim they are ready for whatever they have to go through. He again shows mercy by saying: "well that is not mine to give." Then when the other disciples hear what has happened and they get angry, Jesus once again shows mercy and says to them this is not what it is all about. Don't be like everyone else, in power in the world, be different. Follow my example and be willing to be a servant.
How have you experienced mercy this past week? How has God's mercy and grace flowed into your life? How have you exercised mercy and grace with others?
May we consider the words from Romans 12: 1-2 "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.