21 PENTECOST, PROPER 24
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
Even a third-grade teacher would be wary of students saying that sort of thing. Heaven knows what sort of mischief the students are brewing. But Jesus goes along with it.
“What is it you want me to do for you?”
Probably asked with some trepidation. They had been with Jesus for over two years, listening to him teach and talk, trying to incorporate what he taught into their lives. They should have known better than to have asked such a thing.
Obviously there were rivalries amongst the disciples -- not something you think about when thinking about the twelve. They always seem to have a pretty homogenous group.
But here are two who are used to being the teacher’s pet asking for special treatment.
“Do for us whatever we ask of you.”
Give us what we want.
In today’s world God is often seen like that. Some divine Santa Claus. Just let me get my list written out and you can give me what I ask for.
Just share this on Facebook and you’ll be blest. As if God won’t bless you if you don’t share something. God doesn’t work through Facebook chain-letters.
So if God isn’t Santa Claus to fulfill our every wish and isn’t a Facebook chain-letter miracle worker, what is God?
After all, we are told: Ask and you shall receive. With no qualifiers on it.
If we are to be mature Christians, and we should all strive for that, then it is up to us to put qualifiers on it.
Something we say every day should weigh into our thoughts here:
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
What we ask for should be in accordance with God’s will. Only then will God’s will be done on earth.
It is up to us to align our wills with God’s will so that we don’t end up thinking of God as a cosmic Santa Claus.
“Ask and you shall receive” doesn’t give us a carte blanche to be children and selfish and ask only for ourselves. It calls us to be mature Christians and align our wills with God’s will.
How do we do that?
Well, it starts with prayer, the study of scripture, works of mercy, and more prayer.
Not just “Our Father” and “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer, but attention to praise, adoration, meditation, intercession and confession.
You can’t know the will of God until you know God and you can’t know God until you talk to him.
We as Episcopalians have an “in” when it comes to prayer because we have our Book of Common Prayer. Our prayer book gives us prayers written by people who might have been better at praying than we and we get to stand on their shoulders and use their words for ourselves.
That is as long as we mean what we say and it isn’t just rote. We also get into the excuse “it isn’t written down so I can’t pray.” We aren’t taught to pray extemporaneously. But we must learn to do that even it it’s just in our personal prayers.
Study of scripture means you have to actually read and think about the Bible. Hearing the lessons and sermon on Sunday is not enough. We have to read and study for ourselves. Not just read and meditate, although that is important, too. We have to find out what other people think of scripture and form our own educated opinions. We also need to be willing to change those opinions when something new comes along -- Biblical study is not a static study that is set in stone. New ideas and thoughts come along and we need to be open to them.
Prayer and Bible study should lead us to works of mercy or good works. Serving others in Christ builds us up as mature Christians.
It is here that Jesus leads us in today’s lesson.
Knowing Jesus leads us to serving others. Jesus teaches us today
“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
We are to be servants of all and slaves of all. We are to do things for other people expecting nothing in return -- no money, no returned gesture, nothing. We are to be servants and slaves of all because that is what we are called to do by our relationship with Jesus.
Prayer doesn’t lead us to a relationship with only God. Prayer leads us to a relationship with creation and all God’s creatures.
Our baptismal vows ask us,
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”
We vow to do that because we serve Christ in Jesus first -- we have our relationship with him and then our serving others. Because we are created in the image of God and believe we all are images of God, we serve Christ in others.
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”
Isn’t so scary to God if the people who are asking are mature Christians who have their wills aligned with God’s will.
If it is we who are asking then we are asking for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven.
But we’re not just asking. We’re doing. Doing God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven.
Prayer leads us to doing God’s will and doing God’s will leads us to prayer. It is a circle of Christian life that we live in the midst of.
The Benedictines knew this when they worked out their Rule of Life. Work, Prayer and Rest balance each other in a well-lived life.
That is the life of a mature Christian, which, with God’s help, we can strive for.
Work, prayer, prayer, work -- they eventually become one in the Christian circle we live in doing God’s will.
“Do for us what we want.”
We want God’s will.