Inverted Kingdom of God: The Greatest

Hebrews 5:1-10 (NRSV)

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3 and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4 And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6 as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever,   according to the order of Melchizedek.” 7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.


Mark 10:35-45 (NRSV)

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 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?” 39 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; 40 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.”

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 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. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”


Over the last few weeks we have been reflecting on the Kingdom of God and how it is so very different than that of the kingdoms of our world. And we began this series by understanding first that the Church, us, the people of God are called and not only called but are commanded to be the first fruits of God’s inaugurated Kingdom. And as those who are commanded to such a place, we first must recognize that this entrance, this acceptance into the Church is not something that we have earned or by any means something we have done to gain, but it is a gift from God. Just as a child wholly and fully must rely on that of a parent for life and sustenance, so we too must rely on God for our salvation, wholeness, acceptance, and place within the Kingdom of God.

To have a bit of comparison and contrast learning today, last week we discussed The Least in the KOG are the wealthy, the privileged, those who are more likely to place their trust in themselves than in God. And today, we are going to cover now the Greatest in the KOG.

Today’s Gospel passage begins with James and John coming up to Jesus. Now, to get the picture in our head, this story is a continuation of the past two weeks. Jesus teaching about divorce and the little children come up to him, then last week Jesus sets out on a journey, on his way to Jerusalem, and the Rich Young Ruler comes up to him to ask him about what he must do to inherit eternal life. And then after that teaching, there are a few verses between last weeks lesson and todays. And those verses have to do with Jesus speaking to the disciples about what is to come concerning himself. He tells them that he is going to be handed over to Chief priests, they’ll condemn him to death, ridicule him, spit on him, torture him, kill him and three days later he’ll rise again. It is with this in mind, as they are heading to Jerusalem for all of this to take place, and after being told this is what will happen does James and John come to Jesus and asks that when Jesus comes into his glory, when Jesus has gone through all of this and has inaugurated the KOG here on earth, that they sit on the right and the left of Jesus. Jesus responds with the whole you don’t know what your asking for bit. But sure enough Jesus says, you will go through the trials that will be required of you if you follow me, but to the giving of those places of honor, he could not. This left a very sour taste in the mouth of the other disciples as I am sure we can all imagine. Who does James and John think they are to have the places of honor above me? I have left my house, my wife, my children, my job, my home to follow Jesus just as they have done. And as Jesus heard the grumbling, Jesus comes and teaches this powerful lesson about the greatest in the Kingdom of God.  “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.”

Jesus sets the bar for what it means to be great. And to understand what it means to be great is not to be the person in charge, it’s not to be the one who calls all the shots, but it is to be the servant leader Jesus was, is, AND continues to be. In Hebrews, it speaks of Jesus being the High Priest, the one who serves the needs of all by making sacrifice on behalf of others. And there is a really neat understanding that also comes from this letter, that Jesus still to this day, as he sits on the right hand of God, continues to intercede on our behalf. And not only that, I recently heard a friend of mine, Jason Micheli speak about the early church father Augustine, that when Jesus was on the cross in Jerusalem, the place to which he and the disciples are currently travelling towards, when Jesus cries out, “My God My God Why have you forsaken me.” Jesus wasn’t speaking about himself, but Jesus still in so much love for the other that Jesus was crying out that prayer on behalf of all those of us who have ever cried out that prayer of Where ARE YOU GOD? Jesus is SO much a servant, that at his death on the cross, Jesus was not crying out on behalf of himself, but on behalf of all of us who have ever felt alone. This is the model of servanthood in the KOG that we are to imitate, the suffering Christ who became a slave of all.

So how do we become that servant? What must we do? At Bethany, our pathway, our strategy for making disciples of Jesus Christ who are life long learners, influencing others to serve is that we are Seeking God in Worship, Connecting with community through Small Groups, which leads us to be CALLED and PREPARED to serving the world by sharing God’s love. Because you see, it is not JUST the pastor who is called to share God’s love. It is not JUST the staff of a church who is called to shared God’s love. But it is GOD’s people, it is the CHURCH, it is the Laity and clergy together who are called to serve the world by sharing God’s love. Today is Laity Sunday by the way. This is a day in which the church celebrates the ministries of the Laity. For those who are unfamiliar with that word, you as a member of the Body of Christ are either a member of the clergy or the laity. Clergy are your pastors, your deacons and elders, licensed local pastors, etc. And the laity are the body of Christ and both together are called to serve in the Kingdom of God. The ways we serve may be a little different, but we indeed ALL are called to serve in the KOG.

So as we begin to think about serving the Kingdom of God, finding servants is not always easy in the life of the church. There are many many reasons as to why people may be hesitant to serve through the Church. Actually, I came across a list of 29 reasons why people don’t serve in the Church. But let me share with you the top ones that I found that summed up many of the others. 1) I’m too busy, I don’t have time. 2) I am afraid to serve, afraid of not knowing how, afraid of messing it up, afraid of not knowing the Bible well enough. And 3), I don’t know how to serve, I don’t know what is needed or know the opportunities to serve.

So with that list in mind, let me try and approach each of these respectively.

I don’t have time to serve, I’m too busy. To get us going this morning on this point, let me share with you this quote.

“Too busy to serve at your local church? FYI: Every Sunday you attend your local church you are served by very busy people. Get involved!” – Andy Stanley

That’s the not beating around the bush kind of way of responding. But seriously, everyone has the same amount of hours in the day. When we say, “Yes” to one thing, we often say “No” to another thing. And what serving really comes down to, it also comes down to attendance at worship or bible studies or anything else for that matter, is what priority have I made this to be? How important is this to me? And that really is the only response to being too busy for serving. It really is a question about what do I place more value in? Jesus even shares a parable about this, the parable of the wedding feast where the people are invited but they all come up with excuses for not attending, I have just bought a field and must go see it, I just got married so I cannot come. There are many things in life that we can place more priority in over the KOG.

The next reason for not serving, I may have a bit more compassion with. That is the fear aspect of serving. Even Jesus shares in this fear of serving at least unto death part as Jesus cries out in the garden of gethsemane. But many people may not serve because of fear. Fear of not knowing how, or fear of being put into an uncomfortable place, or even fear of something that is new and different. I too can share in that understanding of fear. When I went to China I was too naïve to be afraid, but I remember not too long after graduating seminary I was serving Red Valley UMC and the SPRC Chair invited me to go and be a part of a KAIROS Team. For those of you who do not know what KAIROS is, KAIROS is first a word that means God’s time. Chronos is the time of the world, KAIROS is the time of God’s time. And KAIROS is a ministry that is much like the walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis. It is a retreat for deepening Christian faith. Anyway, the only difference from Emmaus and KAIROS is, is that KAIROS take place in prison. And I remember my first time walking into the compound, home of 1033 inmates or residents as we call them. And I’ll be honest, it is…intimidating to be behind bars, even with the guards among us. But because I went, I experienced God in that place like I would have never expected. At my table I met a young man who went by the name T Dog. I’m not really sure what Tdog had done to get himself into the place he was in, but over the course of that week I really got to know him. And in that place, tears were shed, people from AROUND the WORLD were praying for these guys, and forgiveness and healing was found. And I ask myself, what if I had let my fear consume me? What if I would have never went into this place…I would’ve missed out one of the MOST influential experiences of seeing God’s grace at work happen before my eyes. Today, I brought a poster with me that was made that week by TDog. Sometimes, we must let the call of God outweigh our fear.

And what about fear of not knowing the bible well enough? To that, my experience says the remedy is to get to know the bible. Start reading it every day, join a small study group to learn and discuss it. My number 1 way of overcoming that fear is by stepping up to lead a small group myself. I have personally learned MORE about my faith and the bible through teaching it. And trust me it does not take a seminary trained education to teach. I remember being in this church as a teenager, and because there was no class for me, I assisted teaching the younger classes. And from that I learned more than I would have had I been in a class.

Finally, the last reason many people do not serve is that they do not know how to serve, they do not know the needs for serving. Well after today, that excuse will not work. There are these slips of paper in the back that says “Opportunities to Serve”. I spoke about them during the announcements. We really are in need of most all of these things. Most of all right now, we are in need of people willing to work with our children in Children’s church and children’s sermons. And also, just because you are not signed up to serve that week doesn’t mean you cannot do other things like holding doors for guests, introducing yourself and sharing with them information about the facilities like where the bathroom is. On a rainy day, you do not have to be signed up to take an umbrella and meet people, the elderly and disabled primarily, and walk them in to the building. Here at Bethany you can serve by becoming a volunteer with HW Club which meets every Wednesday afternoon, or serve on a TOP team…that is the Teens Opposing Poverty where every last Sunday of the month we bring food and supplies to people living out of an abandoned motel. By the way, we will be sending a team next week after worship, see Ken Spellman if you are interested. If you don’t know Ken, come talk to me. Next Saturday we are hoping to go gleaning for apples with Society of St. Andrews. A great way to serve right now is by signing up in the back that you are interested in going. You can serve as a small group leader, as a Sunday School teacher, assistant or another small group leader.

And well, many of us are not here today, because they have been out serving all week this past week and are serving this morning at the Rummage Sale. The Ladies Board of Inova Loudoun hospital has been holding an annual Rummage Sale for 80 years. It has grown into a major event for the mid Atlantic region. More than 500 volunteers usually help for the 2 day event!  Proceeds benefit Inova Loudoun Hospital and helps to fund nursing scholarships. This last spring 51 scholarships were awarded for a total of $110, 500. These scholarships are for nurses who either work or live in Loudoun County. In addition, the Ladies Board gave $115,000 towards their one million pledge to the Cornwall Care Campaign for the establishment for the Cornwall Medical Campus and the ladies have almost paid off the pledge! Also, the Board voted $49,000 to fund 5 greatest impact grants for a variety of needs within the hospital. Ten thousand dollars was donated to update the hospital chapel…a chapel for all faiths. It is truly amazing the generosity as the donors as all is donated for the Sale.

PS: The Board operates a thrift shop in Leesburg, the gift shop at the hospital and sponsors a Lights of Love program in December which profits help with all these gifts to the hospital. And many of our members here help out with that ministry.

Today in closing, we serve because well we have been served by God. And in being served by God, loved by God, saved by God, we are God’s. Today, I’d like to close with a prayer that was adapted by John Wesley. It is called the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer and is often used by Christians at watch night services recommitting themselves on New Year’s Eve worship services.  I am going to read it first, and then if you feel that you can make that prayer be your prayer, I would invite you to pray it with me.

“I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

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