The perfect pastor- wouldn’t that be great? (It seems to me that the closest to perfection a person ever comes is when they fill out a job application!) We want everything to be perfect…don’t we? We want perfect kids, the perfect spouse, the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect life. And we want our religion to be perfect, too. Sadly, that puts us in good company. In the Gospel of Mark, disciples James and John want the perfect religion. And they have the chutzpah to ask Jesus about it.
Read Mark 10:32-45– “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33″We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” 35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36″What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 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?” 39″We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42Jesus 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. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
A story about the Perfect Husband- Several men were in the locker room of a golf course clubhouse. A cell phone on a bench rang and a man engaged the hands free speaker-function and began to talk- everyone else in the room stopped to listen. MAN: “Hello?” WOMAN: “Honey, it’s me. Are you at the club?” MAN: “Yes.” WOMAN: “I am at the mall now and found this beautiful leather coat. It’s only $1,000. Is it OK if I buy it?” MAN: “Sure, go ahead if you like it that much.” WOMAN: “I also stopped by the Mercedes dealership and saw the new 2004 models. I saw one I really liked.” MAN: “How much?” WOMAN: “$60,000.” MAN: “OK, but for that price I want it with all the options.” WOMAN: “Great! Oh, and one more thing- the house we wanted last year is back on the market. They’re asking $950,000.” MAN: “Well, then go ahead and give them an offer, but just offer 900,000.” WOMAN: “OK. I’ll see you later! I love you!” MAN: “Bye, I love you, too.” The man hung up the phone. As the other men in the locker room looked at him in astonishment, he asked: “Anybody know who this phone belongs to?”
James and John- gotta love this request. Think about it. They’re following Jesus. They’ve watched him teach, heal, perform miracles. They say they’re convinced He’s the real deal- the Messiah. They seem to show great faith by recognizing that He’ll be sitting on the throne of power. But they miss the boat when they want Him to put them on His left and right. They think big- you HAVE to give them that. But they make a selfish request- asking to have power, authority and prestige in the new kingdom. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” How’s that for a definition of perfect religion? But at some point, isn’t that really the kind of relationship we want with God? “God, I want you…to do whatever I ask!” Wouldn’t that be awesome- God wouldn’t make any demands on us. He’d just do whatever we wanted. It would be like having a genie in a bottle. Rub the lamp, get your wishes. That would be perfect. God would be like a good waiter at a fancy restaurant- invisible until you needed him. And then he’d efficient, discreet, helpful, and polite. Sound crazy, far-fetched, almost blasphemous? I think we sometimes live our spiritual lives like that. We pray for exactly what WE want, thinking all things revolve around us and our needs. Winston Churchill said, “They say nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds.”
We think it’s like the Superman story- Jimmy Olsen has his special watch. When all is well, he has no need for Superman. But when times are tough, he pushes a special button on the watch that emits a high-pitched sound that only Superman (and apparently all the dogs in an 8-block radius) can hear. And Superman flies to the rescue, red cape streaming behind him. When we’re in danger, we call for help. And it’s GREAT to call on God when we’re in trouble, but if our relationship with God is always lived on that level, it’s really no relationship at all. We want God to do what we want God to do. And if He doesn’t do it, then we think God is being mean or perhaps doesn’t even exist. Is God really like that? Is God so…open-ended, so wishy-washy, so easily manipulated that He’ll do anything we want? If that were the case, we’d have God zapping people out of existence who cut us off in traffic!
Perfect religion- what is it? What’s your definition? What would it look like? Is there such a thing? Does it mean we get whatever we want? We never do that, do we? “God I want you to do whatever I ask!” It’s great to have faith in the power of God, but if we think the nature of our relationship with God ends up being getting God to do what we want- we are going to be disappointed…at best. Although God meets our NEEDS, you simply can’t always get what you WANT…but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. James and John knew Jesus could do what they wanted. What they missed was that they expected God to do something FOR them before God was through doing something IN them. They
wanted God to work FOR them, before He worked ON them.
Notice Jesus’ answer. They make this outlandish request and His answer is, simply, “no”. There’s no, “I’ll pray about it” or “I’ll talk to my Father about it”- it was just a solid, “uh uh!” Why? Because there are bigger fish to fry. God has greater things in store. They want to be with Jesus in glory, and His response is, “will you be with me in the suffering, too?” If we really want to follow Jesus, we’ll receive the same challenge from Him, “will you stay with Me? Really? Will you stick with me in the suffering as well?” We seek the power of the Holy Spirit because we want to be more like God. You might call that “Bruce Almighty” religion. We want to be large and in charge. Michael J. Fox said, “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” We want to make things be the way WE want them to be. And so, sometimes, that’s why we pray. But when God answers our prayers, He gives us the power alright- the power to be more like Jesus. He gives us the power to walk through the suffering, to withstand it, to serve other people, to give…and forgive. He says even the Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. So faith isn’t something we have to outgrow- but something we have to grow deeper in. The measure of greatness is service. St. Augustine said, “the very perfection of a man is to find out his own imperfections.”
We’re great when we serve the poor, the weak, the friendless, when we love the unlovable. These are the things that make us most like Jesus. Perfection is achieved NOT when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. That serving heart is in all of us. I’ve seen it. One of the greatest rewards of being a pastor is when I am able to see Jesus in people as they serve each other and serve the world beyond their walls. God’s plan for all of us is to be more like Jesus- to be servants of a sinful, needy and often thankless world.
When we sincerely come to God with our genuine needs, we discover 2 things: God takes our needs seriously, and God has plans for our lives. We come to God asking Him to change our situation and instead God uses our situation to change us. Perfect religion isn’t when we get whatever we want from God, but when we give God what we have and He works a miracle through it. James and John started with selfish ideas, but were challenged to be more like Jesus and follow Him no matter what the cost. THAT’S what perfect religion is. Not when we get everything we want from God, but when God provides us with what He wants us to have, when God works in us to make us more like Jesus. We come with our own agendas, but it’s the same challenge that comes to all of us. Be like Jesus, no matter what it takes, no matter where it takes you. Are you willing to follow?
Thanks for stopping by today. Have blessed Sunday, please come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!