Yes, I had a wardrobe malfunction on Sunday morning.
The stain that I thought I had rinsed off my shirt got worse by the time I arrived at church early on Sunday morning. So I knew that I knew that I knew that it would be a distraction.
If to nobody else, to me.
Fortunately, I only live three miles from the church, so for the first time in 15 years at Good Shepherd, I raced home, selected a new preaching wardrobe, changed into it, and then drove back to church. All that in time to get prayed over and start the 8:30 gathering on time. Barely.
And here’s the sermon I gave, one that launched our Beyond campaign. Called Beyond Me it landed on this bottom line: a life devoted to getting what you want quickly becomes about hating what you have.
One of the earliest phrased we adopt as children is Me First Isn’t that true? You know this. You remember this. A whole lot of you are living this. Those of you who have pre-schoolers and younger elementary aged children, you’re hearing it all the time now. Whether it’s making a line at preschool (where Me First! meets its dreaded cousin, Line Leader!), or while handing out cake & ice cream, deciding about recess & playgrounds, or even figuring out who gets their turn on the Xbox . . . if I’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times! Of course I developed a strategy at VBX & other church gatherings with kids: whenever anyone raises a hand and says Me First!, I always answer back with, “but Jesus said the first will be last.” Bam. Problem solved.
But when kids get a bit older, Me First! doesn’t go away; it just changes. It becomes Shotgun! And little older, it still doesn’t go away, it just becomes that line to get on the airplane first. Which makes no sense to me: you’re in a hurry to be strapped into a too small seat on a speeding cylinder? It’s as if we have this built in, hard-wired desire to be the first, to have the most, to get recognized. And in that respect, we’re hardly “the first.” It goes back a long way. Today’s story is one of my favorites in all the bios of Jesus. Here’s what is going in Mark: time has been slowed down. For the first 8 chapters, the book moved at breakneck speed, 2 years and 51 weeks in only 8 chapters and THEN comes this climactic moment when Peter becomes the first human to identify Jesus correctly: YOU ARE THE CHRIST. At that point time slows down – the last week of his life takes six chapters! – and Jesus gets very meticulous about showing his followers what kind of Savior he will be. Not a Savior who is going to pummel his enemies but one who will rescue his friends through suffering and dying. A Savior who is about rescue and not revenge and a Savior whose moment of greatest glory will come on a cross. And by the time today’s scene opens, Jesus had just told them that for the third time & obviously his followers are not getting it. Look at 10:35:
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
Ah, 2/3 of Jesus’ inner, inner circle. Do for us what we want. (underline want) Classic! It makes me think right off the bat of people who ask in so many words, “What does your church have for ME?” As it it’s a cafeteria and they want to make sure their favorite dish is prepared just right. Sorta makes me want to say, “nothing.” Because you know the only ones who ask that? Christians. Long time ones! People who don’t know Jesus yet and aren’t familiar with church aren’t presumptuous enough to demand; they’re often desperate to give! Anyway, look at Jesus’ answer in 10:36:
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
And in 10:37, J&J give the answer of all answers:
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
Know what that is? Me First! Squared!! Double Me First! When you come back to pummel your enemies, we want to right there in the place of honor Jesus. We’re used to getting what we want and what we want now is to be your Prime Minister and Secretary of State. We want to be recognized. It’s been about getting what we want and to be seen with you in the moment of truth is it.
And the thing is, we laugh at that as if they are somehow different than we are. But let me tell you something significant: Mark, the author, is a genius. He includes this and other failures of the followers not to show their differences but to highlight their similarities to us. And this one . . . I don’t have to look far. Makes me think of the guy in another church who wanted to give that church a check for $200,000. But there was one stipulation: he wanted to give the gift on the platform, to the pastor, on a Sunday morning, so that “others will be encouraged to give.” If that had been me . . . I’d sure waffle! Fortunately, his pastor said NO. But that Me First, My Honor is just all over the place. I even think of the guy I knew – another church, another town – who had his seat. Right by the entrance. He was the gatekeeper. And if you dared to sit in it, what? Move, you’re in my seat. God help us.
And it’s not like this place, GS, is immune. While we don’t have people claiming seats as their own – if we ever do, tell me! – would you like to know what the irony is here, even the shame? I’ve been thinking out this. We make it so easy to feel comfortable at GS. Dress casual, don’t get singled out, and goodness — we don’t eve pass the plate! You come and you receive. And you know what that can lead to? We make it so easy to start that people take it easy once they’re here. When a church like us plays into the consumer mindset – the best of this, the brightest of that – if we’re not very, very careful, consumers is what we’ll get. And what do consumers say? Me First! I want what I want! When you attract people by catering to them, they will expect to be, well, catered to. I fear sometimes that we’ve had a hand in creating more than a few James & Johns, people who, even if they don’t long for recognition, see their connection to Jesus as a platform to use in getting more of what they want.
Which is why Jesus’ answer to J&J in 9:38 is so great:
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
You have no idea what you are asking for, Jesus is saying. Because even though you say you CAN drink my cup and be baptized in my water, you can’t. Know what he’s telling them? You are so into your Me First!, so much a product of getting what you in life and out of life, that you don’t realize the true cost. The cup he drinks and the baptism he receives is a way of referring to his suffering and his death. Because think about it, GS: in the way Mark tells Jesus’ story, that suffering and death was actually Jesus’ glory. And when you understand that, you realize that Jesus already didhave one on his right and one on his left in his glory in 15:27:
27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.
Ugh. That “right” and “left” language is not by accident (because Mark is a genius!) That’s what J&J were asking for and they were so self-focused there was no way they were ready for the answer.
Because here’s the truth with the brilliance of Jesus’ answer: A Life Devoted To Getting What You Want Quickly Becomes About Hating What You Have. When your life revolves around getting it first and getting the best – whether it is the best seat, the most attention, the greatest honor, the prettiest girl, — once you get it, you hate it. It makes your skin crawl. It’s the nature of an acquisitor! This is so true of addictive personalities! No high is as good as the first, the addiction is this quest for what doesn’t exist, there is a law of ever diminishing returns. I don’t know a single cocaine addict who loves it. They hate it.
Is anyone more vulnerable to this than preachers? When preachers are more about reaching the top than reaching people, A Life Devoted To Getting What You Want Quickly Becomes About Hating What You Have. When we gauge our success versus other preachers … there’s always someone bigger, better, cooler. I have seen more preachers sabotage great gigs and it’s all because they came to loathe the very thing they had longed for. The only way I got out of that kind of malaise a few years ago? Stop trying to be clever, start trying to invite all people into a living relationship with Jesus. Only way. A Life Devoted To Getting What You Want Quickly Becomes About Hating What You Have.
And my gosh: don’t overlook 10:41:
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
Doh! If status is your goal, then jealousy will be the result. A church full of, a family full of, a business full of Me Firsters!will quickly become a church, family, business full of jealous people! People who bite each other’s back and then ultimately hate what they have acquired. Because Jesus’ way is so different than our way; I think that’s why he makes it so our appetites never really get satisfied in anything but him.
Instead, look at 10:42-45:
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
READ. Oh. Upside down. Inside out. Backwards. This is such counter-intuitive thinking. We are under the illusion that more of what we want will make us happier when actually it will make us hateful. But less of us and more of God, less of mine and more of yours, according to Jesus, makes us great. Godly. Like Jesus’ Second Coming great. Instead of hating what you have, you end up loving what you give.
Here’s why all this matters. We’re going Beyond. Between now and February 8, we’re going to be imploring / encouraging / motivating you not to say Me First! but instead What’s Best. When it comes to the Zoar Campus (AV), we’re going to ask you to give to a site/church that most of you will never attend. Did you realize that? We putting a beach head into that rich soil of Fort Mill / Tega Cay / Palisades and we only have room for 50 pioneers! Not all of you who want to go will be able to go. Because we don’t want to just migrate people, we want to multiply them! A seed of 50 reaping a harvest of 400 or more. So the vast majority won’t go to that campus but we’re going to ask you to give generously so that others can. A Life Devoted To Getting What You Want Quickly Becomes About Hating What You Have but you love what you give.
When it comes to The Living Room, we’re, again, going to ask many of you to give who don’t have teenagers. That group of sometimes smelly, often intimidating, but most often beautiful people who for the first time in the history of GSUMC will have their own space connected to every other space here. A lot of you are too young to have teens and others, like me, are too old. But we’re asking you to give beyond me to them and their living relationship with Jesus Christ. And also when it comes to the Living Room, we’re going to ask you to give when you can’t really conceive of wanting to attend church at a coffee table while watching sermon onscreen . . . but a lot of people do. And at 10, they will. And finally when it comes to The Living Room, we’re going to ask you to give when you no habla espanol. But our Latino Community does and for their first time in the history of GS, they won’t have to risk their lives to cross Moss Road and check their children in and out of ministry. We’ll be connected, together. You’re going to help elevate a worship service you’ll never go to because you couldn’t entender una palabra, but as you move beyond you, you will. Why? A Life Devoted To Getting What You Want Quickly Becomes About Hating What You Have you love what you give.
And we’re going to ask you to give well on Feb. 8 and beyond knowing that we will never name a building, room, window, or bathroom stall after you. Zip. Zero Nada. We don’t do that. Because it’s not about you. It’s beyond you. You don’t give to gain recognition. You give to have Jesus’ kind of greatness. The greatness that comes through anonymous service. Like the guy at our own church who first connected here because a group called the Hope Team adopted him. And what does the Hope Team do? It helps bring people from homelessness into housing. From dependence to sufficiency. From despair to hope. From religion to a living relationship with Jesus. And what does he do now in this church? He serves on a Hope Team, sharing with others what was given to him. Here he is: