Summary: In Christ, we are free to be the people we were created to be.
Who are the truly great?
Probably not those whose names quickly come to our minds…
…because the truly great don’t tend to make the headlines, the tabloids or the evening news.
In our Gospel Lesson for this morning we see that two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, came to Jesus with their mother and, “kneeling down, asked him” if one of them could sit on the right and the other on the left in Christ’s kingdom.
This certainly is not a new motivation.
They assumed Jesus would soon initiate a kingdom, and they were lobbying, if not for crowns, at least for thrones.
And they may not have been embarrassed by their less than noble motives.
The other disciples, once they heard of James’s and John’s request, were probably more jealous than angry.
Because seeking rewards is part of the nature of humankind—our pride demands it.
Of course, this situation allows us to get a sneak peek at how the disciples thought of Jesus.
They believed in Him.
They were sure that He had the power to establish the messianic kingdom.
But their concept of the kingdom was worldly.
They thought Jesus would triumph over His foes, both domestic and foreign, and then would establish an empire with ranks and thrones.
As most of you know, I love basketball.
As a kid, growing up, I would play basketball morning, noon and night.
It was so much fun.
My dream was to someday play in the NBA.
But, when I started playing organized basketball—that is competitive high school basketball…
…my perspective on the game changed.
I competed with my teammates for the starting positions and for play time…
…instead of an enjoyable game, basketball became a stressful, competitive venture…
…with a coach’s anger always waiting to explode at the slightest error in judgment or ability.
I remember one game, with the bleachers packed, I became so afraid of making a mistake that I threw the ball away about 3 or 4 times in the first two minutes of play and was benched for the rest of the game.
For me, basketball lost its fun when it became a competition with high stakes and threats.
Well, this is the world we live in, is it not?
It is a competitive world, with the so-called great people standing at the top and most everybody else scrambling to reach the next higher level where there are fewer equals and more subordinates…
…and for what?
…and for what?
One Sunday morning, before church, Walter Goode told me about a teenager he was concerned about.
This teenager had told Walter that he wanted to ‘be somebody’ someday, and therefore wanted to move to Hollywood and become a famous actor.
Walter looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “If only he could know that he already is ‘somebody’ because Jesus loves him.
And this is true for all of us—we already are ‘somebody’—every single one of us!
We are all ‘somebody’ very important—we all have sacred worth!
Because Jesus loves us—that’s why.
This is what we call grace.
There is nothing we can do to earn Christ’s love…and there is nothing we can do that will cause Christ not to love us.
We are all equal in His eyes.
There is no competition in the kingdom of God!
Instead, God’s kingdom is an opportunity for an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and all those who follow Him…
…and also an opportunity to serve the church and the world.
Christ’s kingdom is not a manipulative calculation designed to assure power and prestige!
Jesus challenged His disciples and Jesus challenges us:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus takes the accepted order of things in this world and turns it on its ear!
Surely He had watched the Roman governor pass in procession through the ranks of a servile population.
He saw how the poor served the rich, and how the weak served the strong.
Can we say that our world is radically different today than it was 2,000 years ago?
Can we say that our church is radically different today than the idea that the first disciples had in Matthew Chapter 20?
Let’s pray that it is.
Because our church has a very important mission.
We have been called into existence in order to witness to the world and to each other the good news of God’s love that is shown to us in Jesus Christ.