Sitting in Glory
Sitting in Glory
What does it mean to sit in glory with God? I’m not sure James and John know the answer to this question, however they are more than eager to claim this honour. The request of James and John as found in Mark’s gospel contains a reference to baptism that is missing from Matthew’s gospel. As we explore the request of James and John, lets consider how baptism works its way into the conversation and with that the broader question of what it means to serve.
Scripture: Mark 10: 35-45
Sitting in Glory
We’ve all had someone ask us to do them a favour. Perhaps it was to lend them $5 for lunch. Maybe it was to help them move, watch the kids or some other type of task. Normally, when someone asks me if I can do them a favour I don’t get too worried.
However, every once in a while someone will say, “will you do whatever I ask?” It’s usually kids who put the question that way. Usually, they want you to do something silly or to buy them something they know you will say no to.
My normal response to a question like this is a swift ‘no’. Jesus does a better job, but replying with his own question. “What do you want me to do for you?”
Here is where James and John go off the rails. It’s as if they have been absent during all the times that Jesus has been teaching.
“Let us sit at your left and right hand.”
James and John are approaching questions of power through the lens of this world and not by thinking about the kingdom of God. They see Jesus, the Messiah, and they think if we are at his left and right what power and authority we will have.
I imagine that at this point Jesus lets out an audible sigh. “You don’t know what you are asking.”
You’ve heard the expression don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Here, Jesus is saying, you don’t want to walk in my shoes. Because the glory of Christ, is Jesus hanging on a cross. I don’t think James or John had that in mind when they asked if they could sit with Jesus in glory.
But they aren’t deterred. Yes, we can they reply. We can do it!
Here we have another well none phrase, be careful what you wish for!
What we should note is that whenever the disciples start talking about glory, Jesus starts talking about the cross. Let’s consider that in the next chapter of Mark Jesus arrives at Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. Our reading in Mark this morning is placed where it is for a reason. It is telling us something very important about Jesus and the journey that he is on.
The values of Jesus are not the values of this world. When we think of glory and greatness we think of material success. Riches, promotions at work, the new car. When Jesus mentions glory, he means his death on a cross. These two worlds collide on the cross. Jesus asks that we be mindful.
Too often we are wishing for or rushing off to the next thing. When we are always wishing for something new or the next thing we forget the moment we currently live in. It denies us the opportunity to live in the moment, to focus on what God is calling us to do. This is the mistake of James and John, they are so sure in what they believe Jesus will do, that they forget to look around and check out the signs.
Then Jesus say a peculiar thing that is only recorded in Mark’s gospel. After asking if they can drink from the cup which Jesus must drink, a detail that Matthew’s gospel also records, Jesus says, “[Can you] be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
It’s an interesting detail that we might almost pass over. Instead, let’s stop and examine this nugget that Mark has supplied us with.
Now for the record James and John reply that yes, they can receive that baptism. But can they really?
Let’s think about baptism for a moment. It’s a sign of our relationship with God. A welcome into the body or the community of Christ. Living Faith which is the little Green Book you see in your pews and is one of the subordinate standards of the Presbyterian Church in Canada says the following about Baptism:
Baptism is a sign and seal of our union with Christ and with his church … It is the sacrament not of what we do but of what God has done for us in Christ.
Now, think again about the question Jesus puts to James and John. Can you receive the same baptism that I have received? They reply in the affirmative.
Now, think about the baptism of Jesus. That encounter he has with John in the river Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descends and the voice of God proclaims, “This is my son!”
Let’s take it a step further and realize that up until John the Baptist came on the scene no one went and got baptized the way we think about it. Up until then baptism was something down in private, you did it to yourself and provided absolution to yourself. John the Baptist is the first person who baptizes other people and provides a corporate or public absolution of sin.
In other words once John the Baptist arrives on the scene and this movement begins to follow Jesus, baptism becomes something that is done to you. When we have baptisms here at the church, people don’t approach the baptismal font and pour water on themselves. In our tradition a baptism is only performed once a request is made, then the Session receives the request and only then am I as the minister able to perform the baptism.
We may request, we may desire a baptism, but it is done to us. What it represents is a physical sign for what God has already done for us in Christ. We, as the recipient, are a passive element to the baptism. James and John don’t get this, they want to jump head first into the fire.
And the fire is just what Jesus was referring to. For Jesus, his baptism represents the first step on his journey of passion. The cross is something that you must undergo, it is not something that you choose to undertake. Perhaps, we might say be careful what you wish for.
Each of us in this room knows where the journey of Jesus ends. On a cross, crucified, dead. Yes, we know what happens next, we know the glory that awaits, but before we can get to the glory we must negotiate the cross.
Jesus says to James and John, he says to us, are you sure? Are you ready? He caps this off with words we have heard from him before. “If you want to be great, you must be the servant of the rest. If you want to be first, be the servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.”
Doing this, serving others. Putting others before ourselves, this is what it means to sit at the left and right hand of Jesus. It isn’t glory or accolades that we should be seeking, but humble service that many lives might be redeemed. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.