The Best Reward of All

This sermon is using the scripture text, Mark 10:35-45

James and John have been taught since they were children that God would send a Messiah to save Israel, God’s chosen people, to rule over God’s Promised Land. The Messiah would be from the line of David but have even more success than David. The Messiah would be crowned king! The disciples, including James and John, believed this and they believed Jesus was the guy, the Messiah. With all of their heart, mind and life they believed this, so they left everything behind to follow Jesus and become his disciple. They have embraced a life of hardship, living on the road away from family, of poverty, having to accept food and money from strangers, of isolation, separating themselves from their faith to follow the radical Jesus.

They have drunk the Kool-Aid. They believe and served. So, no matter how many times, once, twice or three times that Jesus tells them I am the Messiah, but the ending is not what you are imagining, they don’t buy it. They have given up everything to follow Jesus. There must be some reward for doing that, right? They believed before believing was cool, that deserves a seat, doesn’t even have to be gold plated, a stool would do, as long as it right next to the throne. Is that too much to ask for all they are doing? There has to be some reward, right?

Their words might be a little inelegant. They definitely come across as jerks, trying to do an end run around the other disciples who also would like a couple seats near the throne. But their expectation makes sense. When we do good things, we expect to be rewarded for it. Study in High School, do well on the SAT you get to go to Harvard. Graduate from Harvard you are pretty much guaranteed a good job. Do good things not always but usually you get rewarded. Run every day like I do and you can make a pig of yourself at BW3’s 45 cent wing night. It just makes sense. So, if we do really good things for God, who can give us anything, shouldn’t our reward be even greater?

A Christian book sure to sell is one that promises the reader the secret to financial happiness if they just faithfully follow these practices. Many preachers without shame preach a similar message to huge congregations and even larger television audiences because we want to believe it. If I just give money in the offering plate faithfully, I am sure to be blessed financially later, right? There has to be some reward for this sacrifice, right? This message is popular because it makes sense to people.

Approximately 60% of American Christians believe in a story about the end of the world that cannot be supported by scripture no matter how hard people try. It is the story that Jesus will come again at the end of time not to peacefully bring the world together once and for all, but as a fierce warrior, punishing all of the non Christians in the world in a bloody battle. In this dreamed up scenario Christians are rewarded for their faithfulness by vanishing before the battle begins, safely tucked away in heaven. Even though this is not scriptural, Christians believe it figuring there has got to be some reward for believing in Jesus and not doing the fun things that other people get to do, like lie, cheat and steal, right?

I am preaching to myself, too. Since I have been at Messiah, we have experienced good growth by every measure. Yet, it is not enough for me to receive this as a blessing, I want a tangible reward. Which is why a month ago when I received a call from a large Lutheran church in Nebraska to come and interview for their Senior Pastor job, I was elated. Someone has noticed me. I am getting the honor I have earned. If the thought of me leaving Messiah scares you, or if you are excited at the possibility of shipping me off somewhere, forget about it, I ain’t ever moving to Nebraska. I declined their offer to interview. But just getting the call felt good, like the reward I was due.

When we do good things, we should be rewarded. This expectation is in our DNA. And here is the Good News, Jesus does promise a reward, it just isn’t a man made throne, financial independence, a ring side seat to a bloody battle against evil, or a large church in the middle of a cornfield. The reward for accepting the unconditional love of Jesus and becoming a radical servant unconditionally loving our neighbor, is wholeness, a sense of purpose, fulfillment. Let me say it again, the reward for being loved as you were always meant to be loved and committing your life to loving everyone and anyone you come across is wholeness, a sense of purpose, fulfillment. Let me say it a third time, the reward for being so lit up by the love Jesus offers us that you decide to light up your community, your family, your world with that love by sacrificing your time and money for others is wholeness, a sense of purpose, fulfillment.

No throne. No extra cash at the end of the month. No rooting for an evil bad guy to be bludgeoned at the end of time. No promise of fame or recognition. For giving up everything that the world tells you to value, the reward is wholeness, a sense of purpose, fulfillment. However, Jesus’ reward is nothing to sneeze at. It is the best prize of all.

I visited a good college friend recently. He is a great guy, a successful guy, an executive for a large international company, a family guy, a great parent to four wonderful kids, a good husband married to a woman who is not only beautiful but welcoming to his friends sloppy college friends, too. He is happy. You can see it. He has achieved the American Dream wholly and fully. Yet, he said to me “You know Karl, there is still something missing.”

In a very real way, he has achieved everything that most of us think we want, the thrones to the left and right that danced in the eyes of James and John, but still there was something missing for him. What he was asking about was my faith. He was wondering about the wholeness and sense of purpose that he could see in me that I can rarely see in myself or value for that matter. Even though he has what I think I want, he is wise enough to know there is a greater reward out there, still.

Wholeness, sense of purpose and fulfillment are not a consolation prize because God could not provide the real prizes, wealth, fame and power. God rewards us with the truest prize, the best prize. Until, we radically tie ourselves to the love of Christ, by serving God’s world and dying to our own needs, we will fall short of wholeness, a sense of purpose, fulfillment. Contentment can only be found when we yoke ourselves to God’s plan for this world.

Mary and Rob Sharrett attend with their teenage boys Race and Ryan. Mary and Rob work hard every day at their jobs, in the evening they are active in their kid’s lives. With all of this on her plate Mary volunteered last year to become the Outreach Chair, leading one of our largest ministries here at Messiah that includes oversight over Joseph’s Coat and Furniture, HEART Food Pantry, four feeds a month at local shelters, and numerous annual projects. She has done a wonderful job. We should all be thankful for her gifts.

Mary is stepping down in January as the Outreach Chair but she isn’t stepping down to stop serving. She is stepping down to get more involved in the Joseph’s Coat and Furniture Ministry. In the last year, she has discerned that her gifts and talents and passions would best be used at serving in just this one, large ministry. I asked her, are you sure you just don’t want to step away entirely, take a break? I know how busy your life must be. She replied, I am busy, but serving at Joseph’s Coat is good for me.

Serving is good for me. It is what I need, that is what she said. Wholeness, sense of purpose, fulfillment, she found the reward. The reward that many of us including James and John say yes, but isn’t there more? You do good things and good things sometimes follow. What we need to trust is that the reward Jesus offers is better than anything else, even making a pig of yourself at 45 cent wings night.  Amen


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