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Lectionary 29B (Pr 24)      
Grace Lutheran Church    
Lakeland, FL      
October 17, 2021                

Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:32-45

Dear ones, I speak to you in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Please pray with me. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Over the past several weeks, we have been considering what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus.  We’ve noted that, unlike membership that has its privileges, discipleship has its responsibilities.  We’ve looked at how we, having been marked with the cross of Christ forever, are called into Jesus’ ministry of healing – ministry to a world that is broken, relationships that are broken, spirits that are broken. Into this we bring Jesus’ words of wholeness and health. We have heard Jesus say that we are not called to be the greatest and flaunt our status, but instead are called to be servants. We have considered what our relationships look like as followers of Jesus – how that fundamentally changes things in our lives. 

When we look at the times that Jesus called his disciples, it really was an invitation – an invitation to come and see and then to follow. This invitation was extended to all manner of people who crossed Jesus’ path. It was not an invitation for only the socially acceptable, only the rich, only those who had it all together. It was expressed to all – to the weak as well as the strong, the poor as well as the successful, to the sick as well as those able-bodied. 

And in responding to this invitation, what did these new disciples of Jesus see? They saw the kingdom of God in whole new ways. They saw the kingdom of God unfold as the blind could see, the captive were released, the dead raised, the lame made whole. They learned of the kingdom where children were welcomed and the widows cared for. They lived in a kingdom in which they were relieved of the legalistic burdens of the minutia of the law and instead invited into a new loving relationship with God and with one another. As the disciples came and saw Jesus, they experienced a new life in the grace of God, a new way of living together.

And upon seeing this, they did indeed follow Jesus. Follow him over the countryside of Galilee into Capernaum down to Jerusalem to the far shores of the Sea of Galilee and back again. Following. Walking together. Amazed at the crowds. Even more amazed at some of the things that Jesus said to them and dumbfounded at the fact that sometimes they didn’t understand.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus speaks with his disciples of his coming arrest, trial, suffering and death three separate times as they are traveling toward Jerusalem where all of this will happen. Each time, Jesus’ words are very simple – the time is coming when the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of the authorities and he will be rejected and will be tried and will suffer and will be put to death and will rise again.

After he said this the first time, Peter was outraged – “No Lord! It will not be.” Jesus listened to Peter’s tirade and then taught the disciples saying, “If you want to save your life you will lose it.”

Then after he told them this again some weeks later, they didn’t say anything to Jesus about it because they were afraid. But among themselves they were debating who it was among them who was the greatest. They ‘fessed up to Jesus who said to them, “Whoever is to be first, must be the last and must serve all.”

And today we hear of the third time in much more detail and directness – we can almost hear him say, “Listen to me! We’re headed to Jerusalem. When we get there, the church leaders are going to pass judgment on me and hand me over to the civil authorities who will sentence me to death and they will make it so bad for me that I might even wish that I would die. And three days after dying, I will rise.”

And after hearing this, two of those closest to Jesus, James and his brother, John, looked at one another and then come to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” And they went on to tell Jesus that they want positions of privilege – being seated at Jesus’ right and left hands respectively. They tried to create a ranking order among the disciples, according to their plan, with themselves being at the head of the order.

So, today as we read this story about James and John, don’t we just kind of shake our heads at their presumptuousness? Who do they think they are!!?? Who indeed.

In response to James’ and John’s request,  Jesus’ response is very much like the other responses he made to the disciples as they tried to figure out what to do or say in light of Jesus telling them what was awaiting him in Jerusalem. Jesus said, “You don’t get it yet. But let me tell you again – things in the kingdom of God are radically different from how things are in our society.   You want to be great, do you?? Well, pick up a mop! You want to be first in the Kingdom? Well, go wash the dishes.”

Following Jesus, they were learning that the Kingdom of God was radically different from the kingdom of the world. Jesus said: Follow me and learn from me, grow in the vine life rooted in me, grow together and stop trying to be top dog, get rid of all false humility and self-pride. Follow me on this walk to Jerusalem.

Come and see and follow.

While over these weeks, we’ve talked about the first disciples and Jesus’ words to them to come and see and to come and follow, now I’d like us to think about what it looks like here at Grace to come and see and follow.

When one comes to Grace, whether in person or online, I believe that they will see a community of faith worshiping joyfully and faithfully, a community of faith open to the authentic welcome of all who come and join us, a people who know who and whose they are so that we may reach out into the community around us with care. 

And so we see the individually packaged bags of food, “backpacks,” for the students and families of Oscar J. Pope Elementary School, faithfully assembled and delivered each week. “Backpacks” filled with gifts of food and nourishment, backpacks filled from the generosity of this community of faith.

We see the hands of many tending to the servant tasks of caring for our campus and property – repairing and cleaning and weeding and planting so that this place may be a reflection of the Creator’s love for the world.  

We see cat food and dog food and towels and treats and toys piled up to give to the SPCA that cares for the four-legged ones of God’s good gift of creation. Given of your generosity.

We see tables full of food – canned goods, rice, beans, pasta, snacks, all manner of things – loaded up to be distributed to ministries and missions in our community. Food for the hungry here in Lakeland, the elderly, the poor, and in Dade City at Rez House, a partner in ministry.

And the school supplies gathered and packed and delivered to teachers caring for the youngest in our society; teachers who have labored under the most difficult circumstances over these past two years. Teachers who then know that we have seen them and their labor and their challenges.

We see our partnership with Talbot House over the years, a partnership evidenced by the provision of food and personal care items; and even by the cross that is the center of our worship space, crafted by people at Talbot House.

And there is our work with partners of the ELCA – Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Immigration Relief Services, Lutheran World Relief and others – partners that we support financially and prayerfully. And even with personal care kits so that people who otherwise have nothing can brush their teeth and wash their face.

You know, we often hear about how important it is for a church to have a mission statement. And I don’t disagree with that. But, please remember this – it is not so significant that a church has a mission statement as it is that God’s mission has a church. Think about that for a moment. We here at Grace are participants in God’s mission modeled and taught and lived by Jesus.

And so then, we come and see and follow. Following Jesus means that we are servants, that we grow in relationship with God and each other and our community and world. That we pick up a mop, chair a committee, embrace a friend who is weeping. We listen with loving hearts, care for those too often unseen. Our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton tells us that we are church, we are Lutheran, we are church together and we are church for the sake of the world – not for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of the world. Have you ever wanted to be part of something big and important and significant?? You are. As participants in God’s mission, you are. This is the life of discipleship. Living for the sake of others because of Jesus’ love for us.

This is not an easy task and in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us how to do it – be baptized with his baptism and drink of his cup. Two sacraments. Two mysteries. Two gifts freely offered and gratefully received. Two outpourings of God’s grace to us. Two unfathomable ways in which we are strengthened and equipped and nourished to come and see and follow.

Thanks be to God.