Sermon preached by Pastor Cliff Hanson at Faith Lutheran’s 140th Anniversary Worship, Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, October 21, 2018
+ Dear Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The stories being told this morning have been a wonderful sermon, and I’m looking forward to hearing more preaching, so let me get right to the heart of the matter with the gospel lesson that we read a minute ago. James and John come to Jesus asking to sit at his right and left in glory. But Jesus tells them that they don’t know what they’re asking, and then he asks them if they are able to drink the cup he’ll drink and be baptized with the baptism he’ll receive.
So, what is this cup that Jesus will drink? Well, the cup of betrayal. And, what is the baptism with which he’ll be baptized? None other than the baptism of his own death. Can James and John handle all this? Well, they say they’re ready and willing to go there with Jesus—like good little martyrs, they know the stakes and they’ve accepted the cost.
But they’ve missed something. They believe that their seats will be ones of glory. But what does it look like to be those who sit on the right and on the left of Christ? If you’re not sure, you’re in luck, because Mark is going to tell you. When Christ is crucified we’re told that “with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left… Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.” Mark doesn’t give us any stories about one of them seeing the light and asking to be remembered—he’ll leave those kinds of niceties for Luke to write. No, here we just get two bandits taunting Christ while dying with him.
And there’s the rub. There’s nothing of bravery or honor about these seats James and John wish to occupy. No, to die with Christ is to be numbered among his betrayers who placed him on the cross. To sit at Christ’s right and left—to be crucified with him—is not to go to a martyr’s death, but a traitor’s. Can you drink that cup? Can you possibly receive that baptism?
On a day such as this one when we celebrate a joyous milestone in our congregation, we speak of and reflect on the great accomplishments of the past 140 years, as well as those of the present, and of bright hopes for the future. And we should do this because there’s much for which we should be thankful. But we do this mindful of the fact that the faith we and those who came before us labored to pass on from generation to generation is not one that casts us as heroes, but rather as villains—as the bandits on Christ’s right and his left.
There’s a great temptation to think of ourselves as the good guys—the ones who know best how our neighbors should live, eat, work, vote, raise kids, drive, dress, procreate, recreate, and on so on. And it’s easy to view those of our neighbors who follow our lead as the good guys and those who do not as the villains. But in Christ, we are all villains who are being made new in him—whether we sit at Christ’s right or at his left.
For 140 years we’ve been numbering people among Christ’s betrayers—men and woman who are saved not by virtue of their self-sacrifice or their merit or their having been “on the right side of history” or any other such thing, but by Christ’s death and resurrection which he suffers specifically for the sake of you, his betrayers, so that you may also be numbered among his elected saints. For because you sit at Christ’s right and at his left in his death, you shall surely be at his side when he comes in his glory. Amen.