The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
October 16, 2021
In the past couple of months throughout the gospel of Mark, we’ve heard Jesus predict his death and passion twice – today makes time number three. And his disciples still don’t get it. James and John ask him for the places of honor when Jesus enters into his glory, but to their dismay, Jesus points out that the place of his glory is ironically the cross…and that criminals will sit on his right and left there.
The two disciples seem to sense that their request is misguided. “Will you do for us whatever we ask?”, they inquire. Jesus didn’t buy their trickery for one second. And the other disciples don’t respond any more appropriately than James and John do. They get angry, and Jesus responds using a punchline that you and I have become used to hearing over the past few weeks: “Whoever wishes to becomes great among you must become your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” In other words, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
But before he gets to the punchline, he says, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.”
Being baptized involves going to the cross, with everything that entails. Death. Suffering. Similarly, sharing at the cup at the altar means we share with Jesus in his crucifixion. Both baptism and Holy Communion lead us to suffering and death with our Lord.
Yet this passage must be seen in light of James’ and John’s motivations as displayed a few verses earlier: “Those who followed Jesus were afraid.”
Seen in light of their fear, Jesus’s message is actually one of hope. Yes, you have to die to yourself in order to follow Christ. But the promise is that you don’t need to be driven by your fears and your need for security. Rather, Jesus says to us, you will be given everything you need to be able to take up your cross and follow me.
One of my spiritual mentors is the author Fr. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who spent the most meaningful part of his ministry serving severely mentally disabled people at L’Arche Community in Torono, Canada – feeding them, bathing them, doing whatever it took to take care of them. Nouwen wrote, “The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear. Prayer, meditation, and education cannot come forth out of fear. God is perfect love, and as John the Evangelist writes, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). Jesus’ central message is that God loves us with an unconditional love and desires our love, free from all fear, in return.”
What are you afraid of? What keeps you up at night? What triggers you to the point that you begin to feel insecure and frightened?
Today, Jesus is calling us to face our fears by following him to the cross…by putting aside our own insecurities and living a life of servanthood. By acknowledging that God loves us unconditionally with a love that conquers all fear. Following Jesus means following him right to the awfulness of Good Friday. But in so doing, we are released from our fears and insecurities, and given the hope of resurrection on Easter Sunday. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B ed., vol. 4 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 189.
 Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, meditation for February 29.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!