St. James the Elder
This sermon was preached by Seminarian Joshua McDonald
Text: Mark 10:35-45
Why have you come to church today? What motivated you to get out of bed, move away
from a comfortable place and travel some distance facing the danger of getting into a
car wreck to be in church at this moment? None of you came here by accident, all of
you made a conscious choice to be here today.
We live in a time where people are afraid of commitment, we want to avoid any kind of
community and refuse to volunteer for almost anything. The big trend today is to hide
yourself at home where you’re safe and in control. Perhaps our timidness to share the
Gospel with others has led the church to no longer be a pillar of society that it once was,
bringing the sure message of the gospel to a chaotic lawless world. Yet, people like you
here today regularly share in the gathered Christian community and support the work of
this congregation with your gifts and many of you toil away quietly to further Christ’s
mission and ministry here at Redeemer Lutheran Church.
Someone once told me you don’t ever want to try to figure out why your people go to
church. It will break your heart. Now, there are a variety of reasons why people attend a
church service. Perhaps they think they will find favor with God or they attend to
appease a spouse or a parent.
Some of you are here for the same reason you visit a shopping mall: you want to get
something. Perhaps you’re here to pick up the spiritual resources you need in a quick
and efficient manner. Others of you came because of a guilty conscience and you need
forgiveness. Many come to church for encouragement when they feel depressed,
confidence when they feel afraid, and inspiration when their lives grow stale.
And if we are being honest, we must acknowledge that some of us come because their
parents make them come even if they have been dead for years now.
In our gospel lesson today it focuses our attention on the two brothers James and John,
the Sons of Zebedee, or as it also translated the Sons of Thunder. Which might mean
they were loud and windy. These disciples wanted important positions next to Jesus.
Matthew tells this story but he has Salome, the mother of James and John, ask Jesus to
give her sons positions of importance in the coming Kingdom. Matthew must have
thought that it was unbecoming for an apostle to make such a bold request. Mark,
however, is more honest. He wants us to understand that the disciples were ordinary
people like you and I.
This lesson also gives us some valuable insights into James and John. They may have
been lowly fishermen, but they were ambitious. These brothers wanted favored
positions – seats on Jesus’ right and on his left. They stand out for being boldly
opportunistic, but all of the disciples were dreaming about a time when Jesus might win
out over his opponents. Clearly they believed in Jesus and placed their confidence in
But the great value of the Gospel is the manner in which it reveals what Jesus means
when he speaks of greatness, a designation quite different from the way the world uses
that word. For Jesus greatness is defined by total, unconditional trust in God. What is
more, Jesus tells James and John … greatness is measured in service, in spending our
lives for the sake of others.
How do we measure greatness? Our world tends to define greatness in terms of power,
privilege, and prestige. We measure the importance of a person by external markers –
the house they own, the car they drive, their lifestyle. We are impressed by the visible
achievement of people: their prestigious honors and academic degrees, the importance
of their profession, and their accomplishments. But when Jesus speaks of greatness he
links it with service. As he said to James and John, what makes us great is not our
ability to rule over others, but, rather, our ability to invest ourselves for the welfare of
others. In a world where most people want to put as little as is necessary into life and to
get out as much as possible, our Lord speaks of a better way.
Jesus calls us to that “better way” today. Only when we are willing to put more into life
than we take out .. to put service to others in a place of honor .. only then, Jesus tells
us, are we worthy to be called his followers.
The Church of Jesus Christ establishes its credibility through its acts of mercy and
kindness – the cup of water to the thirsty, the bag of groceries to the distraught, the life-
giving accompaniment when we walk with someone who can go no farther without a
And Jesus said, Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. [Mark 10: 43,44]
Many congregations have a sign that declares you are now entering the mission field.
This is a great reminder that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Go in
peace to love and serve the Lord. For if that is our intention, then we can truly say and
mean . Thanks be to God. Amen.