Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Trinity 20
October 22, 2012, 4:31 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, Sunday 21st October 2012

Once again, Mark shows us how little the disciples understood Jesus, even though they were with that him day after day. They had grasped that he was the Messiah, the long-awaited King and Saviour who would inaugurate the reign of God over the earth: but they still had no idea what this meant in practice. They were, to be fair, mostly young men, full of dreams of glory. They pictured something like the days of David and Solomon- very idealised in Jewish tradition- but even more so. Thrones, palaces, wonderful robes, and lots of people bowing and scraping. When all this comes about, James and John asked, let us sit one on each side of you, your trusted lieutenants and counsellors!

And look at the way they ask! “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Not even a please! But Jesus mildly replies (as if he couldn’t guess) “what is it you want?” When they tell him, he simply says that they don’t know what they are asking. He speaks obscurely of his “cup” and his “baptism”, and they still do not take the hint that there may be more to this than meets the eye. Finally, Jesus has to tell them that, in any case, it is not a matter for his decision: the places they desire are reserved already for “those for whom it has been prepared.”

At this point, the other ten disciples weigh in, probably more concerned that James and John have been trying to steal a march on them, making requests behind their backs. So Jesus has to spell it all out: all this striving for glory and honour is a mark of heathenism. It simply is not what the Gospel is all about. To follow Jesus is to embrace a life of service, content to be unappreciated, unthanked and even cast aside.

The Letter to the Hebrews expands. Christ the High Priest, the “go-between” who brings God to us, and us to God, did not presume to take this honour, but received it from the Father. He submitted himself to suffering and death, and thereby brought life and salvation to all who unite themselves to him. He is the “Suffering Servant” of whom Isaiah prophesied.

The practical lessons for each of us are obvious. What we should be aiming at is closeness to Christ, imitating him by showing kindness and gentleness even to those who do not value us, by seeking to serve rather than be served, and not worrying when all this leads apparently to a dead end. At the human and worldly level, all life leads to a dead end. The Christian hope is not to avoid that dead end, but to pass through it with Christ to the life that never ends. As the Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Easter prays: “Grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest and desire that which thou dost promise, that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”


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