32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 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; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again." 35 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."
I wrote and wrote on this sermon, I think that I have written more on this sermon than any other sermon IÕve ever written, certainly more than any five minute sermon IÕve written.
I would write and I would write and I kept running into a roadblock and just have to stop where I was.
It wasnÕt until this morning, almost too late, that I realized what the problem was. And you know how once you can identify the problem it suddenly becomes much easier to see the solution?
Well, not so much.
It just lead me to more problems.
The big problem is that I have been trying to write two sermons.
ThereÕs the sermon that goes with the question by itself.
It goes something like this:
As I was looking at the syllabus, thinking about the questions and about preaching one of them, this one leapt off the page at me demanding my attention.
Can you drink the cup I drink?
In one way it seems so simple, of course I canÕt do what Christ has done, face what he faced, or walk the road he walked. ItÕs a patently stupid question.
Who am I, who are any of us to think that we have the stamina, the fortitude, the courage to do what he did?
It was the idea of courage that made the question jump out at me.
I have heard a lot about courage in the last year or so. People tell me all the time about how courageous I am, how they find my courage inspirational, or how proud they are of me for the courage I have shown.
Those comments always make me uncomfortable, because I donÕt feel like I have done anything courageous.
All along the way, the decisions I have made that other people call courageous, I made because I had reached the point where it hurt me too much to not make that decision.
As the years went by the pain of hiding who I am and of keeping my distance from everyone in order to keep up that disguise simply became too much for me to bear. I couldnÕt do it anymore, I had to do something about it, and that meant coming out, that meant trying to live into my true self.
I didnÕt and I donÕt do those things because I am brave, I do those things because I canÕt stand not doing them.
So, since I had a question of courage on my mind anyway, ChristÕs question of courage jumped out at me. It brought many other questions to mind:
n How can any Christian make a claim to courage in the light of ChristÕs sacrifice?
n What do we mean when we talk about the courage of Christ?
n And one more: Would Christ say that he was courageous?
The first two could lead to some interesting philosophical discussions, but it was the third one that grabbed me and that got me in trouble. You always know that youÕre in trouble when your sermon comes around to the point that youÕre saying something like, ÒJesus was just like me.Ó
But when I thought about that third question, that was the answer that I came up with.
Because as far as I could tell, the answer to the question Òwould Christ say that he was courageous? Is, Òno he wouldnÕt.Ó He wouldnÕt for what seem to be the same reasons that I donÕt.
Christ made his sacrifice, not for the sake of courage, but because of pain. The pain of creation and the pain of humankind had become too much for God to bear, and God had to do something.
So, there you go, IÕm like Jesus, and Jesus is like me.
Good night every body, try the veal and donÕt forget to tip your waitress!
Then thereÕs the sermon that goes with the question in itÕs textual context. ItÕs a sermon, not about courage, but about not trying to lift ourselves over other people, about how in the kingdom of God, the one who would lead needs to serve. It goes something like this:
So, Jesus and the boys are on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus is just walking down the road and all the disciples are scared, and Jesus calls them all together to calm them down.
He says, Òsee, weÕre going to go to Jerusalem, and when we get there IÕm going to be handed over to the priests, and their going to condemn me to death and then give me to the gentiles who are going to beat me, mock me and kill me. But, itÕs okay because three days later IÕll come back to life. There, everybody feel better? Okay, letÕs go.Ó
Maybe not the best way to calm everyoneÕs fears.
They walk on for a while, and James and John come running up to Jesus and say, Òteacher, we want you to whatever we ask you to.Ó Because that always works, doesnÕt it? Next time your on a job, I want you to go to the boss and say, ÒI want you to do anything I askÓ, see how far you get.
LetÕs try it now, ÒAnna, Teacher, I want you to do anything I ask, okay?Ó
Jesus, being fairer than any of us, at least has the patience to say, ÒWhat is it you want me to do?Ó
And they respond, Òwe want a promotion. When all this is over we want to sit at your right hand and at your left.Ó
And Jesus response is the origin of the phrase Òask a silly question, get a silly answer.Ó
He says, ÒGreat, can you do what I am going to do, face what IÕm going to face? Can you drink from the cup that I drink?Ó
Now, if James and John were paying any attention at all, the answer would be, Òyou mean with the beating and mocking and dying? No, thatÕs okay.Ó
But instead, they just look at each other, shrug and say, Òsure, we can do that.Ó
Then Jesus springs the punchline on them: Ògreat, you can do everything I do, go everywhere I go. But, that wonÕt get you what you want, sorry.Ó
And while James and John are standing there stunned, the other 10 realize whatÕs been going on, and they want to get in on the sitting on the right and left action.
Then Jesus has to call them all together and say, ÒNo, no, no, you just arenÕt getting it. Yes, I know, that hierarchical thing is the way it has always worked, but do you remember when I said, the kingdom of heaven had come? That meant things had changed, I didnÕt come here to be the boss, but to serve the people who need to be served and to die so that others wouldnÕt have to.Ó
So IÕve got the first half of two different sermons. Where do I go with either of them?
Neither one of them by itself seems to go anywhere. I donÕt have a conclusion for either one of them.
But maybe together there is something important to be said.
Maybe what the second sermon has to say answers the questions in the first sermon.
What is courage?
Jesus describes in the text what he is about to do, and we know in our hearts that what he is about to do is the greatest show of courage in the history of the world.
But, it is not how we are called to be courageous. You canÕt just follow in someone elseÕs footsteps and call it courageous.
We need to notice, when Jesus tells us what he is about to go through, he doesnÕt say, Òand you guys have to do that, too.Ó
ItÕs not until James and John come to him and ask for glory that he asks if they are willing to go through what he will go through. But even then he tells them it wonÕt do them any good, it wonÕt get them what they want.
Courage is deeply personal. What was courageous for Jesus is not courageous for John and James. We need to find our own way.
If, then, courage is not about the particular action, what is it about?
What courage is about is not the what, but the why.
We all make painful, difficult decisions, what matters is why we make those decisions, and for whom. James and John made their decision to drink from JesusÕ cup for themselves.
I have made my decisions that others have called courageous for myself and for my reasons.
But Jesus, Jesus drank from that cup, not for himself and his pain, but for us and our pain.
And thatÕs courage.