Johannes Weissingers Predigt vom 21. Oktober

Mark 10:35-45

The Request of James and John

35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. „Teacher,“ they said, „we want you to do for us whatever we ask.“

36 „What do you want me to do for you?,“ he asked.

37 They replied, „Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.“

38 „You don’t know what you are asking,“ Jesus said. „Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?“

39 „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.“

41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, „You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 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.“

Sermon

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion and the sharing in the Holy Spirit be with all of us.

Where is my place? Will my place be in heaven? Where should my place be on earth? Jesus answered to the first question: that´s not your concern. Don´t care about. It is a concern of God. Don´t ask for. This case is in good hands with God. That´s all what is to say about this question.

I don´t know if the question about a life in heaven matters for many people in your congregation or in your country. In case that matters, I want to tell you a story from my family. I have this story from my grandfather. His grandmother, my great great grandmother, was a pious farm woman in a very pious village in the South of Germany. She opposed when the other pious people were saying that persons who have no faith to God and make bad things will go to hell after their death. Then a lazy and impious man, a good for nothing passed away. The pious came to my great great grandmother and asked her, smilingly and condescendingly, because they were confident that they know the outcome: What will happen to him now? In which direction will he go – to heaven or to the other direction? Then my great great grandmother told them a very wise story. She said: I could imagine that if he goes to heaven God will call him by his name: Anton, you didn´t know me during your whole lifetime. And then God will invite him: Come to me and sit close at my site.

This story is not a dogmatic doctrine. We have no knowledge. It is an expression of hope and truth that God´s heart is bigger than ours and his steadfast love is greater than our unbelieving - or may be better: greater than all we believe.

A similar answer was given by the most famous theologian of German tongue in the twentieth century – his name is Karl Barth. A person questioned him: Will I see all my loved friends in heaven again? Yes, but all the other you don´t want to see again, too.

I repeat: Don´t ask this question. It is a concern of God.

In the chapter we read the other disciples of Jesus are angry with James and John. Why? May be they have the same desire in their hearts, they want to get a privileged position with Jesus too. And Jesus pointed them to their vocation on earth.

By the way, I want to remark that a book of Dietrich Bonhoeffer about the sermon of Jesus on the mountain has another title in the English edition than in the German. The Book is titled in German “Nachfolge”, that´s “following or succeed”, in English is titled “The costs of discipleship”.

Jesus says to his disciples: Make a difference to the way of living which is used among people who don´t know the instruction of God. “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them.” Jesus used a specific word. The Greek word “katakyrieuein” let call up “kyrios”, the word for God. And the preposition “kata” sign the direction from the top down to the bottom. The same in English: They lord – they rule like God, they rule like rulers over death and life. But: They are recognized as rulers only by the people, they are only called as benefactors according the same scripture with Luke. Jesus is standing in another tradition. He is a son of David. In the Talmud, the big collection of the Jewish questions and answers, is written that David asks: Is this a mighty one who pushes a man standing at the edge of a roof down? Or is this a mighty one who keeps such a man away from falling down?

This opposition to the power using force and violence is deep grounded in the bible. Nimrod was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior, he tried to make himself a great name. Abraham got the promise of God that God would make his name great. The prophet Isaiah described the rulers of the Gentiles. They hold the people together through the economic interest, they help only those who are able to give the help back. This way of holding the people together is represented by the picture of glue – glue hold the several shelves together. And the rulers pressed the people through military force, represented through the picture of nails of iron. But God´s own people should live under the rule of justice, should live together in peace, helping each to another. The Psalm 33 says: The war horse is a vain hope for victory. Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who trust in his steadfast love. In the hebrew language is the word for to trust “batach” - the same word as the word for security “bätach”. Security is promised to those who trust in God. The Psalm 37 says: The meek, that means those who don´t do violence, shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant prosperity. In the times of the Hellenistic empire many monuments were built to the glory of the rulers. But the Ecclesiastes said: All is vanity – you should hear this word in Hebrew: vanity is “Abel”, the name of the brother Cain. “All is Abel.” That means: Look to the history from the viewpoint the victims of the history have. And Jesus refused to think in the same way as the Romans and the Jewish leaders do at his time. Not the Roman Emperor is God, but the God of Abraham, Isaak and Jacob. In the image of God we are created and shall live in his image.

I want to warn ourselves. Let us make our case not too easy. Don´t let us say: In politics there is the issue of how to get power. In the field of politics the ones are ruling over the others. In the church there is the issue of how to serve, in the church the members are servants each to another. But we know: That´s not true at all. In the church there are structures of power too, sometimes very subtle and hidden, and in politics there are rulers who understand their function as a service for the human beings, as a service for justice, peace and reconciliation.

May I give you the following example? The former German chancellor Willy Brandt was an opponent to the Nazis and a political refugee in Norway. At the beginning of his new policy to find a new relationship to the eastern neighbors, 1970 Willy Brandt visited the memorial in the former Jewish ghetto of Warsaw. After his laying wreaths as usual he surprised all men standing around. Without any personal guilt he fell on his knees and observed a moment of silence, conscious of the shame of the German People. His partner on the Polish Side, the Prime Minister Josef Cyrankiewicz has been a survivor of the extermination camp Auschwitz. I can never forget this gesture made by one of the political leaders.

And 13 years later Willy Brandt gave a lecture at the big church meeting called “Kirchentag”. He spoke about power and powerlessness of the powerful. He compared the so called most mighty man of the world, the President of the United States John F. Kennedy and the black Baptist Reverend Martin Luther King junior – seemingly a man without any political power. Willy Brandt met them both in Berlin, when he was the ruling mayor there. At their time both of them, President Kennedy and Reverend King have been bearers of hope, men who inspired other people with hope. Both of them were murdered. In the last two weeks I participated in a seminar about the method of non-violent action of Martin Luther King. I heard a song “A Picture of Jesus”, written by Ben Harper:

“It has been spoken/ he would come again/ but would we recognize/ this king among men/ there was a man in our time/ his words shine bright like the sun/ he tried to lift the masses/ and was crucified by gun.”

We Christians must not segregate ourselves from political challenges. We have a political responsibility too.

I want to finish with two short sentences.

First: Consider: On the one hand we say “to rule over”, on the other hand we say “to understand”. We rule over, but we understand.

Second: Don´t ask for a place in heaven, on earth you ought to live as leaven.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.