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What Do You Want God To Do For You?

“What Do You Want Me To Do For You?”
A sermon preached October 21, 2012
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector, The Falls Church Episcopal

James and John, the sons of Zeb'edee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.  So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:35)

Beginning today, due to the coincidence of the way Rev. Cathy’s and my calendars lined up, and due to the way that the Gospels appointed for this and the next two weeks seem to lend themselves to a theme, I am going to do something I don’t normally have a chance to do, and that is to preach a three-part sermon series.

The reason I think the lessons lend themselves to a theme is that in this and next week's gospel, Jesus says – albeit in very different contexts to very different people – almost the exact same words:

What is it you want me to do for you?”


What do you want me to do for you?”

And two Sundays from now, the Gospel has Jesus telling us what God wants US to do for HIM…what the first and greatest commandment is.

I believe that by taking a closer look at these lessons and applying them in our life,

·         Our prayer life will be rejuvenated
·         We’ll develop a healing-type faith
·         Our lives can be transformed.

Today I’d like to give you a sense for where this sermon series is going the next two weeks, and then focus on this week.

Next week we’ll hear about Jesus walking along the roadside and a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, is sitting there. Bartimaeus starts yelling. He’s yelling out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me!” The people around Jesus start hushing him, telling him to shut up. But the more that the people around Jesus tell him to be quiet, the louder he gets. Jesus hears the man calling out and calls him forward and says to him “what do you want me to do for you?” and he says “let me see again,” and Jesus tells him his faith – his, the man’s faith faith – has made him well and he receives sight.

I think that Gospel leads up to, prepares us for, what we’ll hear two weeks from now, when Jesus is asked “which commandment is greatest of all? And answers “Hear O Israel, the lord our God is the only Lord, love the lord your God with all your heart mind soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself, because I believe that new sight, that in-sight into God’s priorities, can change us, transform our life by transforming the way we relate to God, Christianity, this church, and how we, practically speaking can love God and neighbor as ourselves.

But today: this passage how it rejuvenates prayer life.

Look at the story: James and John come to Jesus and say, “we want you to do whatever we ask,” and when Jesus says “what is it you want me to do for you?,” because what they ask for is to sit at Jesus’ right hand – to have places of honor in heaven – usually, when you hear this passage preached on or when you read any commentaries about it, James and John don’t come off so well.

Usually, the line of thinking/preaching goes, “How dare they! How selfish! How inconsiderate; how egotistical.”  Or at least “how clueless.”

And according to that way of understanding the passage (an understanding I’ve had my whole ministry, I must admit), Jesus is seen as sharing the anger or frustration that we’re told the other ten disciples have toward James and John, and his tone toward James and John is seen as scolding.

But nowhere does the text say Jesus was angry with them. And the Bible does not give us stage directions (i.e., “Jesus [scolding] “You do not know what you are asking.”)

So instead of piling on, I’d like to give James and John a break.

After all – re-read the passage – Jesus does not tell them their desire for greatness is itself bad.

He does not say, “you should not seek to be great. Your desire to be first is bad.”

Instead, he redirects their notion of greatness. He says [essentially], “your notion of greatness and God’s notion of greatness are different. You want to be first? Good, be the first person to serve, the first person in someone’s day, to say “you need some help with that, can I help you, is there some way I can be of service to you?”

In other words, Jesus meets James and John where they are and pulls them to another place.

And so I think that James and John actually model a good (or at least sincere) way of praying: tell God what you want. Even if what you want isn’t a model of purity or holiness.

You see, it’s not as if God doesn’t already know what we want.

God already knows our deepest desires.

Remember the Collect for Purity that we start most Sunday services with.

In it we remember that God is a God “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, from whom no secrets are hid.”

That’s why we need to go onto pray, “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of [God’s] holy spirit!”

So if that’s true – if our hearts are open to God,
If our desires – all our desires, not just the ones we’re proud of or would admit in public,
It’s not as though we can keep a secret from God –
So why not be honest, open, put it all out there on the table?

St. Augustine said, if something is licit to hope for, it is licit to pray for.

If something is licit – legitimate – to hope for, to desire, then it is licit, legitimate, to pray for it.

So what do you want? What do you desire?
Go ahead and pray for whatever it is that you think you want…better, I think, to pray for something that isn't necessarily good or holy or virtuous, but pray for it on a daily basis than not to pray at all,  because again, it's not as if God doesn't know those desires anyway, and if we pray about them, if we keep going to God on a daily basis – if we remember on a daily basis that God is a God unto whom all hearts are open all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid, then God will change our desires...God will "cleanse the thoughts of our hearts" by the inspiration of God’s holy spirit...

and that will rejuvenate our prayer life, getting us over time to pray prayers that will always be answered, because more and more our desires will be in tune with God's desires...

So hear God: What do you want me to do for you?



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