Serving Each Other as Jesus Served Us, Not Competing

The Rev. Robert P. Travis Pentecost 21st Sunday Sermon  – 8:00pm and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI. Revised Common Lectionary Proper 24 Year B 10/17/2021

Scripture Text: Job 38:1-7, (34-41), Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45

Sermon Text:

I love the story we just heard.

It is such a human story,

That we can all relate to.

Can you just imagine how it must have been,

To be James and John?


You’re known for your boldness perhaps already,

After all, Jesus nicknamed you both Sons of Thunder.

And Jesus is so kind, and so gentle,

It doesn’t seem too bold to ask for a favor.

He asks what you want, and you tell him you each want a place right next to him, when he gets the Kingdom he has been talking so much about.

“That’s not so much to ask, is it?

I mean, maybe he’ll be flattered that we want to be

Right beside him.”


But on the other hand, Jesus knows very well,

As do you, that being on the right and left

Side of the leader is just about as good,

Maybe even better than being the leader himself.

You know, all of the benefits, none of the misery?


Well, maybe they weren’t thinking that deeply,

But James and John clearly thought

That since they were part of the chosen 12,

Maybe if they got to him early,

Before the others thought of it,

They could get a special place,

Just because they asked first.

To their credit, maybe they weren’t trying to exclude

The others, just get the best they could by being first to ask.


Or what would it be like to be Peter

or one of the other 10 apostles?

You hear that James and John,

Those Sons of Thunder (sarcastic)

Went to Jesus and asked for a special place in his Kingdom.

The nerve of those guys! The arrogance,

What makes them think they’re any better than us?

I think it’s really easy to relate to the other 10.

Because who wants to think that they

Would be so rude as to ask for a special place,

From Jesus no less.


But Jesus’ question to James and John,

Reveals their impulsiveness,


Or at least lack of forethought.


Remember Jesus asks,

“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink,

Or be baptized with the baptism with which

I am baptized?”

I’m most shocked by how easily they respond,

“We are able.”

The only way that bold statement make sense,

Is to think they were just taking him literally.

Of course, we can drink the cup that you drink,

It’s just the same as the cup we drink from!

And we saw you get baptized by John in the Jordan,

So, we know we can do that too.

But Jesus was just talking to them

about his upcoming death,

yet of course they aren’t connecting that

with what they’re asking here.

That’s the way it goes when we talk instead of listen.


When Jesus says, drink the cup that I drink,

We as Christians, as Episcopalians who come to the table

Every week and drink from the cup,

Know that he is talking about the cup of his blood,

Poured out for you and me.

But they didn’t know that yet.

I can clearly imagine how it hit James and John,

Just a short time later,

When he takes the cup, and says “this is my blood.”

It probably hit them right in the gut.

Oh my God! That’s what he meant

When he asked us if we could drink from the cup

That he drinks.

Did we say “we are able?”

But in case you’re tempted to say,

“Be careful what you wish for, as it just might happen,”

That is not what is going on here.

Jesus is not tricking them into saying they’ll die for him.

He’s just telling them the truth,

In a way that won’t scare them off.

But the baptism thing,

That does not come about until even later.

They knew about baptism,

The Jews had ritual washings and even immersions

That they did for all sorts of religious purity reasons.

But what happened at Jesus’ baptism was different.


Do you remember what happened at his baptism?

The heavens were opened . . .

The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.

That’s the baptism Jesus is talking about.

Even later we hear the apostle Paul ask

A group of disciples in Ephesus,

“did you received the Holy Spirit?”(Acts 19:2)

And they say, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit!”

“Then what baptism did you receive?”

And they say, “John’s baptism.”

After Paul explains, they receive

the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

So it makes sense that James and John,

Might have missed that point in the moment,

But you can imagine,

That when they received the Holy Spirit

On the Day of Pentecost,

They must have thought “Oh THIS is

The baptism that Jesus was talking about.”

How hard it must have been for Jesus,

To communicate the truth, to his closest followers,

Before they had experienced what

he is trying to teach them.

So much about leading in religion,

Is about trying to entice people to experience something,

So that you can teach them what it means afterwards.

Since no amount of teaching ABOUT religion,

Can convince someone to live the faith.


But I want to get back to the interaction between the 12 apostles, the competitiveness that divides them

And the way Jesus handles it.

Because Jesus also surprises us,

When he says, “to sit at my right hand or at my left

Is not mine to grant,”


You’re the messiah, and there is something,

That is not yours to grant?

That statement precedes and describes

The important teaching, that James and John,

And, in fact, all the disciples need to hear.


The point is that Jesus, who is King of all creation,

Recognizes and accepts the limitations that exist.

And does not try to manipulate them,

Or change what cannot be changed.


That runs very contrary to what we as Americans believe.

Because we are rugged individuals,

Who believe we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,

And we can do anything, if we put our minds to it.



So, James and John were doing something,

That many of us could see ourselves doing.

Let’s just get in first, and we’ll get our fair share.

Of course, that makes the other 10 angry.

You know, even though it seems to come quickly,

Psychologists teach that anger is a secondary emotion,

There’s always something that precedes it.

So maybe first the other disciples are embarrassed

at James and John’s question, and that makes them angry.

Or maybe they wanted to ask first, they’re competitive with each other and that makes them angry,

for they resent James and John?

Or maybe they are upset because they feel left out,

And it’s like James and John are splitting up the group?

Any of these possibilities are real,

And it could be all of them together.


We’ve all been in groups where one or more of these

Things have happened,

Not least of which is this very church.

It is our competitiveness,

Our arrogance,

Our fear of what the others might do,

That divides us from each other,

And actually, makes us more afraid.

This has been the case with human beings

Since before the days that Jesus walked among us,

And it is still the case today almost everywhere.

But we are called to be different as followers of Jesus.


Jesus teaches us,

That we cannot compete with one another,

For who is best, or first, or greatest,

And then when we succeed,

Lord it over those we’ve beaten.

We have to work together,

In partnership with one another,

And even more than a partnership of equals,

We have to serve the other’s needs first.

That is how we follow Jesus.


That is why was so excited to serve Him among you,

Not because I was excited to have “my own church,”

As people back in Tennessee were saying to me,

When I left that big church where I worked with other clergy.

Heck, if that were the case,

I’d be thrilled because I didn’t just have one,

But two churches!


No, was excited to be serving the Lord among you,

Because here was an opportunity to build a partnership,

Of mutual service to each other,

To the community around us,

And even out into the wider world.

Even though we kept our independence,

There were many ways that our two churches,

Have worked together,

and very importantly, served each other.

We had parishioners from both churches,

Working on the mission in our communities,

That rightly belong to each church.

And we were challenged not to compete

With each other to see whose ministry is better.


Thank God we did not have people leaving one church and going to the other, except in times of grieving.

It meant so much to me when Jim Terry, after his wife died and he was struggling emotionally with the grief in coming to this place where he had worshipped with her.

When I could say to him, you know Jim, you could go to Ascension for a few months, and see if that helps, and then come right back here when you’re ready. You know he did that? It helped him get a little distance from the raw emotions, and when his grief changed he came back here, and then became our Junior Warden!


So often churches in our area try to compete with each other for the small group of Episcopalians in the area,

rather than trying to reach people who don’t have a church,

or who don’t even know about Jesus.


That kind of competitiveness,

where church believes we have to offer everything that every other church offers,

depletes our resources and spreads us all thin.


When I met with the Bishop this week,

he talked with me about how he sees the church rising up

after this pandemic in a very different way.

He wants to encourage more partnership,

and more churches to rely on each other for things

that each excels at.


Maybe one of our churches is equipped to do good youth ministry, and we all send our teens there,

maybe another church does great Sunday school

and our kids can go there at a different day or time.

Maybe more churches can share clergy

the way we have been doing with Ascension?


Over the past seven years,

even though our churches are very different,

we have put our resources

together to serve Christ together.


Sometimes one relied on the other for something like bulletins, or the website,

and then for a season we switched

and the other church helped.

Sometimes one offered a program that people from both churches went to,

and sometimes a different program

worked at the other church.


In every case, we faced challenges not to compete,

Or resent, but to work together,

with the focal point of our shared clergy.

And this may just be the way more churches in our diocese

will work in the future.


I did not come here to have my own church,

But to serve in your churches, in God’s churches.

And my personal challenge,

was to do the best I could for you and for God,

Without trying to compete with the clergy,

In the other churches around here.

For that competitiveness just tears apart the body of Christ.


Competitiveness may be the way our greater society


So it may sound completely impractical,

To follow a leader who says don’t compete.

But Jesus never said his way was the way the world worked

Or that his way would lead to worldly success.


In fact,

What Jesus told James and John,

Was that his way would lead to the cross,

And the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Of all people Jesus, as King of all Creation,

could have come

And demanded to be served.

But he came to serve,

And so if we love him,

We will serve one another as he served us.




The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob has finished his ministry as Head Pastor of the Partnership between the Chapel of St. John the Divine and Church of the Ascension on the Eve of All Saint's Day, October 31, 2021. He thanks everyone involved in More details