I Call Shotgun!

drum majorPentecost 21B “I Call Shotgun!”

October 18, 2015

Mark 10:35-45

If you grew up with siblings or cousins perhaps this sounds familiar…

It’s time for us all to get in the car.

As we head out the door,

one of my siblings shouts out “I call shotgun!”

and runs to the front passenger seat

with a huge grin on his or her face.

The rest of us get angry…

we complain…

mostly because we are mad at ourselves for not being the first to call it.

This is what happens to James and John.

They are walking with Jesus and the rest of the disciples.

Suddenly they get it into their heads,

that, hey, if Jesus is going to come into glory,

maybe they could get something out of being the first to follow him.

So they shout, “Jesus! We call shotgun!

We want to be in the front seat next to you!

We call right and left!”

And the rest of the disciples get angry…

mostly because they’re mad at themselves for not being the first to call it…

Jesus says “You don’t know what you are asking…

Can you drink the cup?”

“The cup” according to the Bible can symbolize the cup of joy …

or it can symbolize the cup of suffering.

Later in Mark we hear that here Jesus means the cup of suffering.

Still not knowing what they are asking,

Still grinning with their own cleverness,

James and John nevertheless say, ‘Sure we can drink the cup.’

According to tradition,

by the time that Mark is written,

James has been killed by Herod Agrippa for leading the Jerusalem church.

We don’t really know what happened to John. [i]

They may not have known what they were in for,

but in the end, the disciples indeed did drink the cup.

They and other early Christians suffered..

and they suffered in a way that changed a whole culture.

In the Roman world,

for a free man to get ahead

(and only free men had the remotest possibility to get ahead)

he had to exhibit strength, power, dominance.

Christians changed this culture.

They added the virtue of humility to the mix.

According to John Dickson, an Australian scholar,

humility was not a virtue at the time of Jesus.

By the year 100 AD it was.

How did this change?

According to Dickson’s research,

it wasn’t so much the event of Jesus’ death on the cross,

but rather what happened to his followers.

Christians started to live their lives following Jesus’ example,

and the way they served others – their humility

changed an entire society’s thought.

People outside the church were drawn by

what they saw of the Christian life of service.

They decided that they wanted to live that way;

they wanted to care for others rather than compete with others;

they wanted their children to learn to think of others;

and by living it out, these early Christians transformed the notion of humility from something people scorned as weakness into a sign of strength.[ii]

The possibility that a good leader

could exhibit something more than power and dominance –

the notion of the servant leader was born.

It’s perhaps obvious to make the connection

to these days of presidential rallies and debates.

What many of us are discerning about our candidates is,

“Whom do they serve?”

Do they just want to ride shotgun?

Be up in front where the power is?

Or can they drink the cup after the inaugural parties are over?

Whom will they serve then?

It reminds me of the old Bob Dylan song,

“You’re gonna have to serve somebody
…it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”

This text is not just for presidential candidates…

It’s for us too.

Martin Luther King’s very last sermon

was on this same text.

We know it by its title, “The Drum Major Instinct.”

King said that we might think to condemn James and John

for asking the question about sitting next to Jesus in his glory…

but most of us have some of that “drum major instinct” –

we want to be up in front, leading the parade, we want to be “great”!

But King says,

“Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness.

If you want to be important—wonderful.

If you want to be recognized—wonderful.

If you want to be great—wonderful.

But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.”[iii]

There were some great men and women in this room yesterday.

Nineteen women graduated yesterday from

Guest House’s aftercare program.

These women lived at Guest House down the street

after serving jail time for various crimes.

They completed their program

and we were here to celebrate with them.

But the women also had another agenda.

They were also here

to give thanks to those who had helped them get to this place.

There was thunderous applause for the women…

But the biggest applause came for their families

(many of whom served time in a different way –

enduring the cup of suffering not knowing if or when the cup of joy would be theirs).

The biggest applause came for the staff.

Colin, a young man from George Mason University

who spent a year internship dedicated to serving these women.

Mary, the case worker, who like the good shepherd,  would go out to find those who went off program and brought them back home, calling them her children and loving them as if they were indeed her own.

The biggest applause even came for “the favorite parole officer,”

who stuck by these women, through thick and thin,

and came to their graduation when it was over.

There were some great men and women here yesterday.

King said,

“Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness.

If you want to be important—wonderful.

If you want to be recognized—wonderful.

If you want to be great—wonderful.

But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.”

And he continued…

“…The thing that I like about …that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.

You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.

..You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.

You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.

(You don’t need to run for president to serve.)

You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

And you can be that servant.”[iv]

[i] Mark Vitalis Hoffman, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2641

[ii] http://www.evangelismconnections.org/weekly-evangelectionary-reading-for-sunday-oct-18-2015/

[iii] http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_the_drum_major_instinct/

[iv] http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_the_drum_major_instinct/

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