Fifth Sunday In Lent

S. Lent 5.24 Mark 10:32-45

You simply cannot be too careful about what you ask God to do for you.

This is the blindingly obvious takeaway from our Gospel today. Because, as Jesus promises: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will give you.” But, why would that be a bad thing, a fearful thing? Why wouldn’t we want Jesus to give us our heart’s desire?

I know a woman who had her heart set on marrying a really smart husband. She got him. But she told me “Smart is overrated. It often comes with smart-mouth, which can be a lot.”

In Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer prize winning novel “The Goldfinch”, Theo and his ne’er do well friend Boris have gotten hold of a priceless Dutch masterpiece ‘The Goldfinch’ which has bankrolled a lot of drugs, debauchery, and deadly decisions (but some nice alliteration 😉

After they’ve had a narrow escape trying to steal the Goldfinch back from thugs who’d stolen it from them (having had to murder said thugs to narrowly escape with their lives) Theo reflects on how the ideal of all Disney princesses—that you should just “follow your heart” might be a terrible idea…

“What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted—? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster? Is Kitsey right? If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? …Or—like Boris—is it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?”

You simply cannot be too careful about what you ask God to do for you. But… what if Boris was right earlier, when he wondered: “What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? …What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way?”

Hmm… maybe that’s a question worthy of serious consideration? Maybe now we’re ready to jump inside the head of John the Apostle, this morning, as he asks his heart’s desire of the LORD Jesus. Maybe he can help us figure out if we should be careful what we ask God to do for us, or: just throw ourselves head-first and laughing (with Boris) into the holy rage calling our name…

So, there you are; one of the 12, a band of brothers… the Beloved Apostle of the King of Kings, God Himself, his right hand guy. This surprises your friends and family, your mother, most of all. “God picked you to be… what did you call it, dear?—an ‘Apostle’? What is that, exactly?”

“Uh, well; like chief-of-staff, right hand man, rep him to the world, like for all time. Write Gospels, do miracles, rule over the tribes of Israel, forever.”

“And he picked you? That’d require a great deal of wisdom, tact, and diplomacy. I’m surprised he picked you, sweetie…”

“Well, mom; he has given us the Holy Spirit—super-powers, divine inspiration, and oh!… we can call down fire from heaven to burn up enemies and stuff!”

“Really? Whenever you want to, just like that?”

“Uh, kinda…”

“Ah, interesting; you’ll need powers like that, I suppose. Well, anyway, make sure you get the top spots in this “Kingdom” of his—you and your brother. The rest of that bunch sound like losers to me.”

And you and James have risen quickly to the favored 3. Along with Peter, you’re the ones he takes on special missions because, well… it’s not entirely clear why Jesus favors you, at all.

There you were… minding your own business, fishing with your dad on the Sea of Galilee, making a pretty good living: “Zebedee and Sons, Fine Fish Purveyors” had the high priest’s palace as a customer, all the beautiful people of Jerusalem, when this Jesus shows up, walking by the sea, one fine day.

You know, right away, this is God—Jesus! He says “follow me” so, you follow. Says: “I will make you fishers of men” and you still don’t really get what that is, exactly—or how it’s done. But you followed, been following—what, about thee years, now?

And it’s been a lot, you know. Omniscience, you’ve learned, is, perhaps overrated in a Messiah/Master? Him always knowing what you’re thinking, doing, it’s unsettling, you know? Besides, a conspiracy is afoot (not that you’re a conspiracy theorist, no, not you, not at all! 😉 but they did get him

He’d said, that day, he’d be delivered to the mob, mocked, beaten, crucified, killed, and the third day be raised. And you were wondering what, exactly, “raised from the dead” means. Is it a metaphor? For what, exactly?

Mom’s been bugging you: “Better find some kind of secure spot, just in case he kites off back to heaven. He seems flighty, to me. And remember your brother, too.” It’s really mom making the ask, but you and James catch Jesus when he seems in a good mood:

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,” He smiles. An unsettling smile. You kinda had to be there, see it, experience it. But trust me. It unsettles!

But, full speed ahead! “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

His green eyes twinkle: “You don’t know what you are asking” (and he’s certainly right about that!) “can you drink my cup? Be baptized with my baptism?”. You have no idea what this “cup” and “baptism” are, but you’ve gone too far to back out now; so, you say… “YES!”

You know the rest. Those two thieves—they got the places on his right and left when he “came into his glory”, crossways. We thought, that Friday, we’d dodged the bullet. But then Herod murders James. Peter’s crucified upside down, Paul’s beheaded. Not what we thought we were asking for then, but the glory of it all is how Jesus gives so much more—better, than you’d ever think to ask, yourself!

And here you are… on a little Greek island (Patmos?) writing the story, last one left. You simply cannot be too careful what you ask God to do for you. But, oh; the places you will go, the things you will see—if you throw caution to the wind and ask.

Diving head-first (and laughing 😉 into the holy rage calling your name for the win

Two brothers freely cast their lot with David’s royal son/ the cost of conquest counting not, they deem the battle won./ Brothers in arms, they hope to gain an undivided joy/ that man may one with man remain, as boy was one with boy// James was first to fall, the prey of Herod’s rage/ John linger’d out his fellows all, and dies in bloodless age./ They join hands once more, before the throne above./ God grants prayer; but, in his love, makes times and ways his own.

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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