21 Pentecost B—10/18/15
Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Pr. Scott Kramer
Imagine being a teacher in a classroom, when two of the students stand up and say, Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. What were James and John thinking!?
On the other hand, maybe they knew Jesus better than we do! In John’s gospel, chapter 14, for example, Jesus says: I will do whatever you ask in my name… If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. (John, chapter 15): You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. (John, chapter 16): Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
What are we to make of Jesus’ promise to give his followers whatever we ask? Well, actually, he didn’t make that promise, did he? James and John wanted Jesus to do for them whatever they wanted. But Jesus said, Whatever you ask in my name I will give you. God has a purpose—a mission—for each of us, and all of us together. To ask “in Jesus’ name” means to ask for what we need to accomplish that mission.
Knowing God’s purpose for us is the key to knowing what to ask for. Why would God give us a purpose but not give us what we need to accomplish that purpose? As Jesus himself once put it, Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Just as each individual has a God-given purpose in life, so also do congregations. A congregation with a clear understanding of its God-given purpose might be called a Mission Congregation. A congregation confused about its purpose might be called a Maintenance Congregation. In your bulletin you have an insert that describes each type of congregation. To understand the chart, it might be helpful to consider James and John’s bold request: Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask you. What is each of the following types of congregations asking for? (Compare 1 to 1, 2 to 2, etc.)
1. The maintenance congregation asks, “How many pastoral visits are being made?
2. When contemplating some form of change, the maintenance congregation says, “If this proves upsetting to any of our members, we won’t do it.”
3. When thinking about change, the majority of members in a maintenance congregation ask, “How will this affect me?”
4. When thinking of its vision for ministry, the maintenance congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our past.”
5. The pastor in the maintenance congregation says to the newcomer, “I’d like to introduce you to some of our members.”
6. When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the pastor in the maintenance congregation asks, “How can I meet this need?”
7. The maintenance congregation seeks to avoid conflict at any cost (but rarely succeeds).
8. The leadership style in the maintenance congregation is primarily managerial, where leaders try to keep everything in order and running smoothly.
9. The maintenance congregation is concerned with their congregation, its organizations and structure, its constitutions and committees.
10. When thinking about growth, the maintenance congregations asks, “How many Lutherans live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?”
11. The maintenance congregation looks at the community and asks, “How can we get these people to support our congregation?”
12. The maintenance congregation thinks about how to save their congregation.
1. The mission congregation asks, “How many disciples are being made?”
2. The mission congregation says, “If this will help us reach someone on the outside, we will take the risk and do it.”
3. The majority of members in the mission congregation ask, “Will this increase our ability to reach and welcome and serve those outside?”
4. The mission congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our future.”
5. In the mission congregation the members say, “We’d like to introduce you to our pastor.”
6. The pastor in the mission congregation asks, “How can this need be met?”
7. The mission congregation understands that conflict is the price of progress, and is willing to pay the price. It understands that it cannot take everyone with it. This causes some grief, but it does not keep it from doing what needs to be done.
8. The leadership style in a mission congregation is primarily transformational, casting a vision of
what can be, and marching off the map in order to bring the vision into reality.
9. The mission congregation is concerned with the culture, with understanding how non-churchgoing people think and what makes them tick. It tries to determine their needs and their points of accessibility to the Gospel.
10. The mission congregation asks, “How many unchurched people live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?”
11. The mission congregation asks, “How can the Church support these people?”
12. The mission congregation thinks about how to reach and serve the world.
(Adapted from Harold Percy, Good News People: An Introduction to Evangelism for Tongue-Tied Christians)
Well, what’s the point of all this? Whoever wishes to be 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 be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Our human instincts typically drive us to self-preservation and self-promotion. Remember the rich man in last Sunday’s story? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s not really that different from James and John’s request in today’s story. It’s all about them!
But disciples of Jesus pay attention to our God-given purpose–our mission—starting in our own back yard and extending around the world. Sunday morning is a “practice field.” What we believe about our personal mission and the mission of our church is likely to be what we believe about our relationship to the world. How we engage with one another on Sunday is likely a reflection of how we vote, what we buy, how we use our time, etc., the rest of the week.
Today we have with us 10,000 Villages, an organization that supports ordinary, invisible people around the planet, supporting them through sale of Fair Trade foods, crafts, and other items. Together, with our own congregation’s monthly Fair Trade sales, disciples of Jesus remember that we were not put on this Earth to save ourselves. We were not created for worry about our own survival, or institutional survival. Our lives are inseparable from each other, inseparable even from people far away whom we don’t know and whom we’ll never meet. Bound to one another, we were put on earth for something much bigger than ourselves.
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Gracious God, continue to show us how to learn from Jesus, your Son–to dream your dream, to hold your vision, to give our lives away, for the sake of the world.