I often wonder how incredible it must have felt for those early followers of Bill Gates at Microsoft or Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google when they realized that not only were they in the company of entrepreneurs but their devotion to these men and their ideas was going to pay off big time. When they started Microsoft and Google, you couldn t have found three more seemingly ordinary men then Gates, Page and Brin. They weren t all that personally impressive and they certainly weren t wealthy or powerful. It took a certain amount of risk to tie your wagon to their star. What an unbelievable feeling it must have been when their earliest and most faithful investors realized that because of the work of these men they were going to be very, very wealthy.
I think this is perhaps a good modern analogy of how the disciples, as confused as they were, must have felt after some time traveling with Jesus. These men and women they too were entrepreneurs. Not commercial entrepreneurs but spiritual entrepreneurs. They had taken a big risk hooking their wagon to this preacher from Nazareth (can anything good come out of Nazareth?). He wasn t a member of any famous family. He didn t have any impressive credentials. He had never been seen as anything other than the son of a simple carpenter. And yet he had ideas that the disciples found impressive and a passion they found contagious. In fact, they were so impressed they dropped what they were doing and joined up with Jesus and his traveling road show.
Now after many months on the road with Jesus they knew they had found the real deal. They had seen how Jesus held the crowds, how his words touched hearts and changed lives. They had seen him heal the sick, feed the hungry masses, and even calm the stormy seas. Jesus was no flash in the pan; he was no one hit wonder. They begin to realize that he was indeed the one, the Messiah, the promised of God who would save Israel. They must have felt like major stockholders the day Google went public. They believed they had hit the spiritual jackpot and all that was left now was to count up the rewards that would come their way.
In our lesson for this morning the disciples were feeling good, confident, and self-assured. And who could blame them. They had given up a lot to follow Jesus and it had been worth the risk. They had been ridiculed by their families and their friends for investing so much time and energy in this preacher. But they had made a good investment and now as they walked along they talked about who would be CFO and Senior VP when the Kingdom went public. James and John in particular wanted to know who would sit on Jesus left and who would sit on his right when the Kingdom came. In essence, they said Jesus when you set up shop can we have two nice corner offices and keys to the executive wash room? We ve earned it haven t we, after all we ve been with you from the beginning.
But they don t get it; they don t realize what they are asking for. Jesus has already told them that his messiahship is about suffering, sacrifice and ultimately death; it is not about glory, fame, and power. And when they ask to be part of Jesus Kingdom they too are asking for the same fate. It would be like Bill Gates telling one of his initial investors after taking Microsoft public See all this money I ve made, well I am giving it all away and if you want to be part of this company then you have to do the same thing. Definitely not a message they expected to hear.
Well, you and I and all the other souls on this earth who claim the title Christian, we are the disciples now and for the most part I think we are just as confused, just as ambivalent about Jesus message today as the twelve were so many years ago. We still don t get it. We still approach the faith with the notion that there has to be a reward for following Jesus, there must be something in it for us, some kind of prestige, power, or importance. Certain preachers and churches twist the Christian message so much that they are not at all ashamed to say that if you give your life to Jesus then you will be successful both personally and financially. That s the reward for belief and the more you believe the more you will succeed. Therefore, the most successful among you, the wealthiest, are also the most faithful. Usually it is important for the preachers in these churches to have the biggest houses, the nicest cars and the fanciest clothes. For many this message is very attractive, but what they are peddling has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
What Jesus tells his disciples over and over again and what he tells all of us is that to be powerful in God s Kingdom you must give up power, to be successful you must live your life for others; in order to lead you must do nothing but serve. Jesus came to give his life for others. If we want to follow Jesus, it is very simple we have to do the same. There is no other way. There are no loopholes, no exceptions, no other means to be part of the Kingdom.
Dorotheos of Gaza, a sixth century teacher once preached a sermon for the monks in his monastery who were grumbling that they could spend much more of their time in prayer and contemplation trying to grow close to God if they didn t have to spend so much time taking care of one another in their community. Each said that he could become a holy man except that the needs of the others were a constant distraction. In short, they were unable to love God properly because they had to put up with one another s ordinary, irritating presence. Dorotheos told them they had it all backwards. He said they had to think of the world like a great wagon wheel where the center hub is God, and all human beings lie along the outside of the wheel. Imagine now, he said, that there are spokes running through the hub connecting from the outside of the circle all human lives to God at the center. Can t you see, he told them, that there is no way to move toward God without also drawing closer to other people, and no way to approach other people without coming nearer to God. In other words, you can t love and serve God without loving and serving others and whenever you love and serve others you are in fact loving and serving God.
The simple fact of the matter is if we want to follow Christ then we have to strive to live like Christ. If we want to be Christians then we have to draw closer to other people in order to serve, in order to sacrifice, in order to love them the way we proclaim God loves us. That s Jesus way and that s the only way into the Kingdom. Amen.