Ask Of Me

Delivered June 23, 2002 by Rev. George Antonakos.
Third in a brief series entitled, “Sitting at Jesus’ Feet”
intended to remind us again, in these days of transition, that we are in the arms of One who does not change.

This morning I will be reading a passage which describes a “not so smart” prayer, but first I would like to share a humorous article I found. It’s called “Why ask Why?” :

“Why do noses run and feet smell? Why do we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway? Why does a building burn up, as it is burning down? Why does a person who runs five miles a day for exercise need a remote control for the television? How is it a hotel when you want to sleep, they need to make up the room at 7:00 am, but when you check in they haven’t made up the room at 7:00 pm? Why is it that a newspaper is ten times more interesting when someone across the table is reading it? How come your air mattress springs a leak the first night of the camping trip, but not when you kid was using it as a trampoline in the driveway? Why ask Why?”

This morning’s text is about an inquisitive prayer request. It’s timely because at Central Church there are a lot more questions than there are answers. Who will the next pastor be? When will the next pastor be here? When will this current transitioning stuff end? Transitions lead to prayerful questions and its possible that we all have been praying more lately. In Mark 10, Jesus is approached by two disciples with a request. He responded with a question that he often asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked that of a lot of people who came to him, because it challenges us to explore our real desires. So let’s listen with the Spirit and with understanding from Mark, Chapter 10, Verses 35 to 45.

“Then James and John the sons of Zebedee came to him. “Teacher” they said, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” “We can” they answered. Jesus said to them, “you will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” And when the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “you know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles, lord over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first, must be slave of all; for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In this passage I observe six things about James, John and Jesus. I would like to briefly list them for you. You may want to jot them down and then use these observations by applying them to the present moment in Central Church’s history. The first thing I observe about James and John, is that they were immature in their asking. “We want you to do Lord whatever we ask.” Now let’s stop there for a minute. Think about that. Before we ask, please do it. Are there any parents here today for whom that may sound familiar? That’s a kid question. Mom, Dad I want to ask you something, but first say yes before I do, please. Have you ever come to God with a prayer like that? Quit looking so pious you all. We all have come to God with prayers like that. I have come to God with prayers like that. “Dear God, repeat after me. I will…” We are giving God the answer already! There was a little girl who took a geography test and thought she had gotten one wrong. And she prayed, “Oh, Lord. Please let Boston be the capital of Vermont.” Lots of times, we ask the Lord things that are not so smart, or is it that they are not so mature? That’s what James and John were doing.

Secondly, even though they were immature Jesus was still open to their request and sought to help them think it through. And I love that about the Lord. Even in those moments when we could hear an “Oh Brother” or “I can’t believe that you asked that”, the Lord still graciously listened to their request.

Thirdly, he knew what they wanted. He knew what they were asking. And when you think about the magnitude of their request, it really starts to get into the incredible range. “Lord, we want orchestra seats in the greatest room of the universe. We want to be sitting right next to you in the kingdom of heaven”! But he bore with them and with their request.

Fourthly, they didn’t know the price tag that their request involved. They didn’t understand. They thought it was simple, but there was a major price to pay. Jesus was walking to his death and they had no clue as to what was involved with their request.

Number five, even though they didn’t know the price, they thought they could pay the price. Jesus asked them a question in Verse 38. He said, “you don’t know what your asking”, then he asks, “can you drink from the cup that I am going to drink and can you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” They said glibly, “Oh yes, we can.” One of the signs of immaturity is thinking that you know it all, before you know it all. Jesus tried to get them to understand. They still couldn’t, but let me explain to you what it is that they didn’t understand.

When he asked, “can you drink from the cup that drink…”, the cup is a symbol of accepting God’s will without question. Remember the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus is kneeling and he says, “Lord let this cup pass from me, not as I will, but as you will.” In other words, Lord I accept your will for my life even though humanly speaking, there is a part of me that does not want to do, or doesn’t want that particular thing, but God whatever your will is, I will drink it. It takes an amazing amount of maturity to say Lord I accept your will, even though it’s not the way that I want it to be. And secondly when Jesus said, “Can you be baptized with the baptism that I will be baptized with?” This points to obedience to God’s will without hesitation. The cup is to accept God’s will without question, the baptism is obedience to God’s will without hesitation. It’s not just a resignation, a spirit of resignation, but it’s an act of obedience, even though this is not what I want, I will obey you. It’s not that God’s will is always adverse, obviously it is not. But sometimes when we think it to be adverse, it takes a tremendous amount of maturity to trust and obey. When James and John approached Jesus they were looking at the throne. Jesus was looking at a cross; and there is a major difference between the two. In verse 41, “the other ten became indignant.” Do you think they became indignant because they were more mature than James and John? I think they were not indignant because of that, I think they were ticked off because James and John beat them to the punch. They were no more mature than their comrades. So the whole story, the whole text is a picture of people who ask things of God, yet don’t understand the whole process that is involved.

And then sixthly, Jesus showed them in the remainder of the text, the right attitude. When he called them together he said, “Fellas, let’s huddle up here.” He says, “Look at the way the Gentiles and the leaders, the authorities of this world treat the people that they lead. They lord over them, they exercise authority over them, they come down from on high giving edicts and commands.” He says, “It’s not going to be like this if you want to lead in the Kingdom.” You see, Jesus gave them the right answer, not what they wanted. And often that’s the way it is with God. God will give us the right answer and not necessarily what we want; what they received is not what they expected to hear.

Now, let’s apply all of this to what I trust will be a continuing prayer in the summer of 2002 here at Central Church. It’s a prayer regarding the finding of a new spiritual leader for this congregation. The prayer sounds something like this – “Lord, we would like you to do something for us.” ‘Really, what is that? What is it that you would like me to do?’ We would like for you to send us a new senior pastor”. We need to remember when we ask that, that we need do so with more maturity than James and John and pray with a spiritual sensitivity that’s different from theirs. You say, well what would that look like? Let me share with you six more things that I would encourage you to keep in mind as you pray for the next pastor; things I believe are rooted in this text from Mark.

Number One, Ask God as you pray to help you to remove your personal agenda. James and John had a personal agenda. Don’t come to God like that even though it is a very human approach. Some of us come to God already giving God the answer or the profile of the next pastor. Some may have already told God what you want the next pastor to look like, how young they should be or how old, whether they should preach as long or longer than the present pastor. These are not necessarily wrong things. They are very human. Some say make sure it is the right gender. Instead we should say, “Lord you’re sovereign. You know actually who we need at this time.” Waiting on Jesus in this fashion focuses on the sovereign Lordship of Christ. This is what I am seeing in the spirit of the people of Central Church. I am seeing leaders taking the lead and decisions getting made and I appreciate everybody who is just hanging in there Sunday after Sunday, trusting God, coming to worship each week, believing that the sovereign Christ has big plans for this congregation. But on the fringe of all of that, be careful when you think about a personal agenda for the next pastor. Ask God to help you to remove that.

Secondly, ask God to help you to see the big picture. James and John didn’t see the big picture. They didn’t see that death was involved. They couldn’t comprehend the resurrection. They thought that they could just be part of a kingdom, sitting next to Jesus on the throne that had no cost and no price. Pray that God will help you to see the big picture. What do I mean by that? Well, even when the new pastor is identified, and even when the honeymoon period gets over with, problems will occur. The excitement will wear off. And the new pastor may see and have a vision a little differently than what’s been talked about; there is a partnership that we have to pray for there and believe God is at work. But pray the Lord to help us to see the big picture. What is the big picture? The big picture is loving God and loving each other in spite of the details.

I remember reading not too long ago about a pastor who talked about how he responded when people came to him with different opinions and different ideas. The first thing he asked himself was “is this person as they come and talk with me, open on the subject?” I mean are they coming honestly saying you know I am not sure about this or that or the other thing, and I would really like to chat with you. Or they would ask, and usually it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to know the answer to this, “are they closed?” Do they already have their minds made up? Is there anything that I say that is going to make a difference? He would ask those two questions before he even engaged in those conversations. And at times, if it was the latter and the person was closed and for whatever motivation wanted to engage him in conversation, sometimes he would just say, “I really appreciate your position, but I care too much about our relationship to debate this when really God is calling us to love one another and to love him in spite of the details.” Now that doesn’t mean that details are unimportant, it just means seeing the big picture of loving God and loving one another is paramount at any time in a church’s life. And part of seeing the big picture is to let go of comparisons with all previous ministers. Let go of that. Let this person be their own person. I will say more about that in my last sermon in about a month. I am going to talk to you about how to care for your new pastor. But for right now, ask God to help you to see the big picture.

And then thirdly, pay the price. What does that mean? Well, we can pray God to send us a great senior pastor, but we could also pray “God, help me to be the kind of member that any pastor would welcome in partnership”. There is a mature prayer. Help me Lord be the type of person that any pastor would want to be involved with. Help them grow as they help you grow. Jerry mentioned it last week. It’s true. I say ditto. There is a great growth experience on both sides of the coin, pastor and congregation; pay the price by giving of yourself sacrificially so that you will mutually inspire the pastor as they inspire you.

Fourthly, and I really hesitate to even say this, because I don’t think this would even be a problem, but I know a scripture verse in 1st Peter 5, and you do too – the enemy, the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. And one of the ways that the devil devours people is by this kind of stuff in this text. Who’s the greatest? The fourth point is, don’t become political. Don’t jockey for position, like James and John were doing. Please don’t do that. Maybe you have heard this before but I will share it again, it kind of makes the point. It’s an interesting obviously fictitious chain letter. “If you are not satisfied with your present pastor, mail this letter to six churches listed at the top. Then pack up your pastor and ship him to one of the churches at the bottom of the list. At the end of two weeks you should receive a total of 16,436 pastors. One of them is bound to work. Beware, one church broke the chain and received their old pastor back.” In other words, don’t maneuver, don’t jockey, don’t manipulate, trust God to be helping him lead.

And fifthly, ask God as you pray to help you to trust one another. You know as I look at the model that has been shared with you over the past few months and even today in News and Views, there is a temporary model of leadership, a structure. I look at that and I understand and realize how much trust it takes to adopt this model. I don’t know many mainline congregations that are older than 25 or 30 years, that have done this successfully. There may be congregations that are as old as Central and maybe when they started this is the way that they decided to do things and it has just become part of the DNA. But we are talking about a ministry model where ministry doesn’t simply come from the top down, but it bubbles up from the grass roots. As God gifts people and as they become aware of those spiritual designs, they find each other and they create teams of ministry that nobody in a million years would ever have thought of had there not been permission to allow that to happen. And the session does not have to cross every T and dot every I and figure out how every dollar is spent and the session of this church has said we are going to delegate some authority to a group called The Ministry Empowerment Team and that team is going to try to delegate authority to other ministry teams to the building up of the kingdom of God. That takes incredible amounts of trust. And I don’t think can be done without that. And so pray that God will help us to trust the godly people whom he has called to be in certain positions in the church. It’s like the Three Musketeers – One for all, all for one.

And then lastly, ask God to help you to serve one another. Using those spiritual gifts that God has given to each of us, serve one another. Whether they be gifts of prayer or encouragement or leadership gifts. Think about the end of this text. “For even the Son of Man, (the great God of glory who took on human form), did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The word ransom means to stand in the place of someone else to die. To stand in someone else’s place in this context, is to die. And Jesus is simply saying to us, “Look, you don’t even have to stand in each other’s place to die, I have already done that. How about standing in someone else’s place to serve, to lead, to listen. How about standing there and being a brother, sister, father or mother for somebody in the pew that you haven’t even met yet, and be there to serve them, to welcome them.” Pray that God will help you to serve one another and to serve the next 100 and the next 200 people who are not even members of this church yet.

You know tomorrow night the deacons are doing a Care Team Equipping seminar. Even if you can’t be part of a particular Care Team, here is an equipping opportunity to go to and to listen how to care for people specifically, to develop interpersonal skills, to become the kind of servants that are sharp in the hands of the Lord. So ask God to help you to serve one another.

Immediately after this text we did not read the context that I am sharing from today. But it’s another text about another man with yet another request that Jesus responded to in the same way, “What do you want me to do for you?” It’s about Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus was a blind man and in spite of all of the obstacles that were between him and Jesus, people telling him to be quiet. People telling him – You know you have been this way so long, forget about it. In spite of this, he got to Jesus. And Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, I want to receive my sight” and Jesus touched him and gave him his sight back. As beautiful as that story is, it’s the last verse of Mark, Chapter 10 that is even more beautiful. He immediately received his sight, and followed Jesus along the road. You know sooner or later the prayer for the new pastor is going to be answered and it may be answered in the way you want, or may not be. But the more important thing is to keep following the only one who deserves to be followed, our Lord Jesus Christ, because he is the only savior, the only head, the only leader that deserves our allegiance. Let us trust him and let us pray.

Lord we thank you so much for your grace and mercy to us. We know that any church could not survive apart from your grace. We thank you for the rich ways that this congregation is making a difference in the world and we pray that you would continue to lower our anxiety, to give us your peace, to trust your plan. We ask you this in your Holy name, Amen.