I've got a new post (OK -- this one is a modified version of a sermon I delivered in 2002) in the "Opening the Bible" section at i.ucc. It's about the seductiveness of power -- and it focuses on James and John from Mark 10:35-45. The entry is called "Power."

James and John had the nickname "Sons of Thunder." Jesus gave them that nickname. Once a Samaritan village rejected Jesus. The Sons of Thunder wanted to bring fire down from heaven to kill everyone.

These two were wildmen.

In one of the bible reading for this week, Mark 10:35-45, there's a less extreme view of James and John. They wanted positions of authority when Jesus took power. The same story as found in Matthew (20:20-21) says that their mother, Salome - who was likely Mary's sister - making The sons of thunder Jesus' first cousins.(If you read Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; and John 19:25 it looks possible.) They came to Jesus to plead their case for importance.

Would they do anything for power? Maybe they thought that the family connection made them shoo-in's. No wonder everyone was mad at them. They wanted power and fame that would make them more important than the other 10 disciples.

Yes, Jesus scolded them and told them they didn't know what they were asking. They wanted power -- Jesus knew that what they were asking for meant suffering. These two weren't ready for that. He told them about being humble. He told them about greatness only comes in being a servant to others.

Yeah -- that's all good. The last shall be first. Turn the other cheek. Blessed are the meek - for they shall inherit the earth. Great spiritual directions.

What do they have to do with real life?

I remember the movie "Risky Business." A group of friends sat around a table talking about what they wanted to do with their lives. Almost all agreed that they wanted to make a whole lot of money. One, the central character, Joel, played by a young Tom Cruise, said that he wanted to serve his fellow man. Everyone threw their fries at him and laughed.

Another Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report, shows how a person can get so caught up in keeping power that even good intentions turn into an endless competition where the goal is self victory at all costs.

The news is filled with stories about the endless pursuit of money and power. Stock prices tumble because corporations hid huge losses to give the perception of profitability. Insider trading rumors send other stocks lower on fears of corruption and criminal investigations.
Life is all about competition. Who comes up with the better product quicker? Who can sell their product at the lowest price? Who can convince the buyer to stop buying from company "A" and instead buy from company "B."

I know -- it's not all about sales. But it is about competition. To be the best means that you do better than all the rest. It means that you take home the prize. Maybe the prize is recognition. Maybe it is lavish gifts. Maybe it is lots of money. Maybe it's power.

Maybe I'm painting too harsh a picture. Maybe it's OK to want the best. Maybe it is OK to want to win.

But wants like that can and will go very wrong. They can lead a person into insensitivity. Then insensitivity can lead to rudeness. Rudeness can lead to arrogance. Arrogance can lead to callousness. And callousness can lead to ruthlessness.

Jesus said "Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."

When he said that I don't think anyone threw fries at him and laughed. Do you know why? Because Jesus modeled what he said to do.

Jesus came from very humble beginnings. He worked with his hands. He lived the life of a peasant. He healed people. When he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he rode on the foal of a donkey instead of a proud stallion. He gave food to the hungry and he visited the sick. When he made miracles happen he ran from the ones who wanted him to become a powerful ruler. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus let himself be crucified on a cross.

Look -- I don't think it's wrong to have money. I don't think it's wrong to have fame. I don't think it's wrong to have nice homes and cars.

Jesus didn't model all of that though -- did he?

Philippians 2:5-8 says this: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, {6} who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, {7} but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, {8} he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.

Having the same mind that was in Jesus is not about the competition -- it is about losing. It is about emptying ourselves of the things that we make more important than God.

James and John probably didn't have money -- but they did crave power. And they were followers of Jesus Christ. Like we so often do, they lost sight of what it meant to be a true servant. Jesus reminded them that true greatness does not come from power. True greatness comes in our emptiness and in the knowledge that we are weak -- and it is from God that we gain strength.

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