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Greatness through Humble Service

St. Mark 10:35-45

Pastor Mark Schlamann

St. James the Elder, Apostle
Our Savior/Redeemer  
Pettibone/Woodworth, ND

View Associated File

Sun, Jul 25, 2004
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost


So you want to be a disciple. So you want, when it's all said and done, to be in a position of power. All you have to do is drink from this cup. Oh, and, once you drink from this cup, be prepared to suffer and die. Such was the fate awaiting James and John—and the rest of Jesus' disciples. These sons of Zebedee wanted positions of power in the kingdom of glory. After all, they, along with Peter, formed Jesus' inner circle of disciples. They beheld Him in His full glory atop the Mount of Transfiguration. They witnessed Him in His full humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He prayed His heavenly father to remove the cup from Him, for the Lord knew that His was the cup of death. Yet it was the Father's will, and therefore the Son's, that the cup not be taken away from Him. The Lord drank from the cup. He suffered. He died. Such suffering and death anyone who would be His disciple must be willing to undergo. This is the cup from which James and his brother John said they were able to drink.

James and John indeed drank from this cup of suffering, as did the rest of the disciples, except for Judas. The "sons of thunder"—so noted for their fiery tempers—would both suffer much for the sake of the Gospel. John was exiled to the remote island of Patmos for the remainder of his life. James, in the year 42 A.D., was put to death by the sword upon the orders of King Herod. This was Herod Agrippa I, whose uncle, Herod Antipas, had John the Baptizer beheaded, and whose grandfather, Herod the Great, sought to kill the infant Jesus. Herod Agrippa I wanted to placate the Jews, who were scandalized by the Gospel and by the fledgling but growing Christian church. The Bride of Christ, the New Testament church, was less than 20 years old, going through puberty, as it were, and begetting more children for her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Yet the Jews wanted this young bride killed, just as they had killed her Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ, who rose on the third day. Even as they put the Lord's body on the cross, the Jews wanted to kill the entire body of Christ—member by member. So Herod, seeking to please the unbelieving Jews, executed James shortly before the Passover. What was St. James's crime? He confessed the Name of Jesus. He drank from the cup. He became a martyr. Martyr comes from a Greek word meaning "to witness." James was a witness. He was a witness to the Lord's words and miracles. He was a witness to the Lord's resurrection. He was one of the first disciples. He saw it all. He heard it all. He told others the good news of Jesus. Legend holds that James went to Spain and came back, only to make his final witness for Christ with his very life. Another legend has it that James's executioner begged his forgiveness, having seen the faith James displayed on the way to the gallows. According to this legend, James turned to him and said, "Peace be with you," and gave him the kiss of peace, and they were both executed. However, there is no evidence to support either of these legends, but these legends spread as a testament to James's faithfulness, even unto death. Saint James the Elder was so named because he was older than James son of Alphaeus, another of the Lord's disciples. He was also older than his brother John. Being one of the older disciples as well as a member of Jesus' inner circle, James had the awesome responsibility of setting an example for the other disciples. No doubt they looked up to him. Imagine the letdown and disappointment they experienced when James and his brother John asked the Lord to grant them seats of power. This request sparked a clash of egos, a clash of twelve egos, as they argued with each other over which of them was the greatest. Jesus saw this as a "teachable moment." He gathered them around Him and catechized them about greatness, that it comes not through power but through service. If He, their Lord and God, came into this world not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many, then surely they could expect nothing other but to also serve and to be willing to give their lives for the sake of the Gospel. They had to be willing to drink from the Lord's cup of suffering.

James and John said they were able to drink from the cup from which the Lord also drank. They might not have fully understood at that time what the Lord meant, but it became painfully clear to them later. But at the time their pride got in the way of their understanding. They took their inner-circle relationship with the Lord for granted. They were, in fact, abusing the trust the Lord had in them. But they were not the only ones. The other ten began to argue with them over who among them was the greatest. Many are called, but few are chosen. The Lord chose them, and they lost sight of why He chose them. Their pride was hurt. They did not want to be slighted by the Lord. The each wanted a piece of the pie, but this was pie-in-the-sky thinking. They wanted recognition for what they had done, leaving everything behind to follow Him…everything but their pride. They wanted to be recognized, and so do we. Deep down we know we want others to know the good things we have done. We check to see if our names are in the church bulletin or the local paper. We want to be thanked or congratulated in public for the good works we have performed. We like to get that pat on the back. We want to hear "Attaboy!" or "You go, girl!" While it is nice to be recognized for what we do, public recognition is not the reason why we are to serve others. Our lives as Christians are lives of service, serving God and serving our neighbors. Such service is humble in nature, even as our Lord Himself was humble. James, John, and the rest of the disciples forgot that. We forget that, too. When it comes to servitude, we want to believe that it is all about us. However, it is not about us at all; it is all about Christ and what He has done for us. We are unworthy servants, called by God to perform the duties He has given us to do. Even so, our egos jump up and down, screaming, "Look at me! Look what I did!" We crave the prestige that James and John sought.

Yet the Lord kept the sons of thunder, in spite of themselves. They were short-tempered and presumptuous. But the Lord corrected them. He taught them. He gave them the cup to drink. The Lord gave them the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost, that they would with great boldness tell the good news about Jesus. James drank of the cup and realized its fruition at his martyrdom. James, the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in Scripture, received his reward. You might be asking what reward there is in being killed by the sword. His reward came as he passed from death to life, from his leaving this vale of tears and entering into eternal life with his Lord. "Well done, O good and faithful servant," our Lord said to him, for James was faithful unto death, as the Holy Spirit enabled him.

Our God also calls us to be faithful, and He gives us the means to be faithful. We cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified and kept us in the one true faith. Our Lord so greatly desires that we be faithful to him and that we be with Him that He Himself gives the means to do it. He gave you the strength to stand here in the presence of God and of this congregation when you made public confirmation of the faith into which you became baptized. On that day you promised to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it, and to faithfully conform all your life to the divine Word and be faithful in the use of God's Word and Sacraments, which are His Means of Grace, and in faith, word, and action to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death! That day you drank of the cup from which the Lord and St. James also drank. The Lord brought you to that moment, and He gave you the cup. He would not have given you this cup to drink if He had not already drunk of it Himself.

Our Lord Jesus Christ took the cup His heavenly Father gave Him. He prayed three times in the garden of Gethsemane that this cup would be taken from Him, but the Father's will be done. The Lord drank of this cup for you, for this cup led to His suffering and death. He suffered for you. He died for you. He drank of the cup of suffering and death for you, so that you would not have to suffer eternal condemnation, the same condemnation He endured on the cross, separated from His heavenly Father, this same Father to whom you now have access in Jesus' Name. Your Lord Jesus Christ also rose so that you may have life, eternal life, and have it to the full in His Name. He rose so that you would get to tell the full story of His goodness and love. He rose so that you would extend this love of His with others. He rose to prepare a place for you in the mansions of heaven.

Christ gives you another cup to drink, not another cup of suffering and death, but a cup of life—a cup with His very blood in it. He gives us His body to eat and the cup of His blood to drink in His Supper, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. In this Eucharistic meal our Lord gives you His forgiveness, and He gives you life, for there is life in the blood—life in His blood. He strengthens and preserves you steadfast in the true faith, unto life everlasting. As He strengthens you, He equips you to do His work, in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another.

James drank this same blood of our Lord; he took the cup of life and now has received His eternal reward. We thank God for the ministry He gave St. James, the patron saint of Spain—Santiago, as He is celebrated there—and for the ministry of Word and Sacrament He has given His Church today, for through these Means of Grace our Lord equips us to do every good work, to care for and serve one another in Christian love. We love because God first loved us, even as He first loved St. James the Elder, Apostle of Our Lord.

"Lo, th' apostles' holy train 

[Joins Jesus'] sacred Name to hallow;

Prophets swell the glad refrain,

And the white-robed martyrs [including St. James] follow,

And from morn to set of sun

Thro' the Church the song goes on" (TLH 250:3).

God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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