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MARK 10:35-45 | STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU

“STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU”

MARK 10:35-45

OCTOBER 18, 2015

JAMES AND JOHN WERE BROTHERS.  THEY WERE ALSO IN BUSINESS TOGETHER – FISHING – AND WERE TWO OF THE FIRST FOUR PEOPLE JESUS CALLED TO FOLLOW HIM.

 

(PETER AND ANDREW BEING THE OTHER TWO, ALSO BROTHERS, AND ALSO FISHERMEN.)

 

JAMES AND JOHN WERE NICKNAMED “SONS OF THUNDER” WHICH SOUNDS LIKE SOME SORT OF MODERN DAY MOTORCYCLE GANG, BUT MAY HAVE ACTUALLY COME AS A RESULT OF THEIR LARGE, LOUD, BRASH PERSONALITIES AND PRESENCE.

 

PERHAPS THIS IS WHY THEY BELIEVED THEY DESERVED A PLACE ON EITHER SIDE OF JESUS – PART OF JESUS’ POSSE, AS IT WERE – LIKE TWO LARGE BODY GUARDS ON EITHER SIDE OF HIM.

 

DESPITE BEING “SONS OF THUNDER” HOWEVER, THEY WERE ALSO A COUPLE OF MOMMA’S BOYS;

 

BECAUSE IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW’S ACCOUNT OF THIS STORY WE READ A MOMENT AGO, IT IS ACTUALLY THEIR MOTHER WHO ASKS JESUS IF HER SONS CAN SIT ONE ON HIS RIGHT AND ONE ON HIS LEFT WHEN HE COMES INTO HIS KINGDOM.

 

THIS IS REALLY A BIGGER DEAL THAN IT MAY SEEM TO US, BECAUSE IN JESUS’ TIME WHOEVER SAT ON THE RIGHT AND LEFT OF THE HOST, SAT IN THE POSITIONS OF GREATEST HONOR.

 

NOW YOU’D LIKE TO GIVE JAMES AND JOHN THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT – THAT THEY WANTED TO BE CLOSEST TO HIM BECAUSE, WELL, THEY WANTED TO BE CLOSEST TO HIM.

 

MAYBE THEY HAD SEEN SOMETHING IN HIM, HIS GREATNESS, HIS POWER, HIS GOODNESS, AND WERE HOPING THAT SOME OF THAT MIGHT RUB OFF ON THEM.

 

MAYBE, IF THEY WERE, AS WE SAID, “SONS OF THUNDER” BIG, BAD, AND BRASH, MAYBE THEY WANTED TO BE CLOSE TO JESUS SO AS TO PROTECT HIM.

 

OR MAYBE, SEEING THE LOVE, ADMIRATION, AND ADULATION JESUS WAS RECEIVING FROM THE CROWDS, MAYBE, AS COUNTRY FOLK SOMETIMES LIKE TO SAY:

 

“THEY WERE HOPIN’ FOR SOME OF THAT GRAVY TO SLOP OVER ON THEIR TATERS.”

 

AND WHO CAN BLAME THEM?  ALL OF US LIKE TO BE AROUND CELEBRITY, SUCCESS, ACHIEVEMENT, AND WE OFTEN BELIEVE THAT IF WE CAN JUST GET CLOSE ENOUGH TO THE PERSON, PERHAPS A LITTLE OF THEIR MAGIC WILL COME OUR WAY.

 

BUT THE TRUTH IS, AND THIS IS EVEN MORE EVIDENT IN MATTHEW’S TELLING OF THIS STORY, JAMES AND JOHN SIMPLY WANTED THE HONORED POSITIONS.

 

IT WAS A POWER PLAY AGAINST THE OTHER DISCIPLES.  THEY WERE CALLING “SHOTGUN” FOR JESUS’ DRIVE INTO HEAVEN; GETTING THEIR DIBS IN FIRST.

 

BUT JESUS TELLS THEM THEY ARE MISTAKEN; THAT THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE ASKING; AND THAT BEING CLOSE TO HIM WILL MEAN SURRENDERING THEIR WILLS TO GOD’S WILL JUST AS HE WAS DOING;

 

IT WILL MEAN SACRIFICING THEIR LIVES, PERHAPS EVEN LITERALLY, FOR THE WAYS OF GOD;

 

AND IT WILL MEAN SERVING OTHERS, RATHER THAN BE SERVED BY THEM.

 

“TAKING UP WITH ME,” JESUS SAYS, “MEANS A LIFE OF DENYING ONESELF, TAKING UP ONE’S CROSS, AND FOLLOWING ME.”

 

“IT’LL BE NO PICNIC,” JESUS SAYS; BUT EVEN IF HE WANTED TO, DECIDING WHO MIGHT SIT ON HIS RIGHT AND ON HIS LEFT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN WAS NOT HIS TO DECIDE.

 

WHEN THE OTHER DISCIPLES HEAR WHAT JAMES AND JOHN WERE TYING TO PULL BY GETTING THEIR DIBS IN FIRST FOR THE POSITIONS OF HONOR, THEY WERE ANGRY;

 

ANGRY THAT JAMES AND JOHN WOULD TRY TO PULL SUCH A STUNT, BUT, PERHAPS, ANGRY TOO, THAT THEY HADN’T THOUGHT OF IT FIRST.

 

SO JESUS TAKES THE OPPORTUNITY TO REMIND ALL OF THEM, AGAIN, THAT BEING HIS FOLLOWERS IS LESS AN HONOR THAN IT IS A RESPONSIBILITY;

 

LESS GLORY AND MORE OF A CALLING; LESS ABOUT THEMSELVES AND MORE ABOUT GOD AND OTHERS; LESS ABOUT LORDING IT OVER OTHER PEOPLE AND MORE ABOUT SERVING THEM.

 

“FOR THE SON OF MAN CAME NOT TO BE SERVED BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”

THIS STORY OF JAMES AND JOHN GOT ME TO THINKING ABOUT OTHER SITUATIONS WHERE WE ARE “STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU;”

 

“STUCK” WITH ANOTHER PERSON IN PLACES WHERE WE WILL BE CALLED UPON TO MAKE SACRIFICES, ENDURE SUFFERING AS WELL AS CELEBRATE OUR JOYS, AND BE OF SERVICE TO ONE ANOTHER.

 

AFTER ALL, THAT’S WHAT THEY WERE ASKING OF JESUS, ONE TO BE ON HIS RIGHT, AND ONE ON HIS LEFT, WITH EVERYONE ELSE THEN ON EITHER SIDE OF THEM.

 

IN THE STEALERS WHEEL SONG BY THE SAME TITLE AS MY SERMON, YOU MAY REMEMBER THAT WHO IT IS WHO IS ON EITHER SIDE OF THOSE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE, ARE “CLOWNS TO THE LEFT OF ME, JOKERS TO THE RIGHT…”

 

“HERE I AM, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU…”

 

AND I GOT TO WONDERING IF YOU CAN THINK OF TIMES WHEN YOU WERE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH SOMEONE, PERHAPS SURROUNDED BY CLOWNS AND JOKERS, OR OTHERS, OR MAYBE EVEN IN THE SAME WAY JESUS MEANT IT – TO BE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH HIM?

 

WE DO A LOT OF DESTINATION WEDDINGS HERE IN KEY WEST – IT IS A FUN PLACE TO GET MARRIED – AND PEOPLE KNOW THAT.

 

THEY COME HERE FOR THE WEATHER, AND ALSO FOR THE BEAUTY, BUT THEY COME HERE BECAUSE IT’S A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN HAVE A LOT OF FUN WITH YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS AND YOUR WEDDING PARTY OVER THE COURSE OF THE SEVERAL DAYS OF THE WEDDING.

 

JUST ABOUT ANY NIGHT OF THE YEAR YOU CAN SEE WEDDING PARTIES, GROUPS OF GUYS OR GIRLS, SOMETIMES EVEN TOGETHER, PARADING UP AND DOWN DUVAL STREET, THE BRIDE OR GROOM CLEARLY IDENTIFIED BY A SASH, A T-SHIRT, OR A CROWN, AND ALL OF THEM HAVING A GREAT TIME.

 

COME WEDDING DAY, AND IF THE PRE-WEDDING FESTIVITIES WERE HELD THE NIGHT BEFORE, SOMETIMES YOU CAN JUST TELL – HERE ARE THE BRIDE AND GROOM – STUCK IN THE MIDDLE, WITH CLOWNS TO THE LEFT OF THEM, AND JOKERS TO THEIR RIGHT…

 

BUT STUCK IN THE MIDDLE AS THEY ARE, THEY DON’T SEEM TO FEEL STUCK AT ALL; IN FACT IT IS JUST THE OPPOSITE;

 

THEY STAND THERE IN LOVE, IN COMPANIONSHIP, CARING FOR EACH OTHER, MAKING ALL OF THOSE RASH, QUIXOTIC PROMISES TO LOVE EACH OTHER NO MATTER WHAT: FOR BETTER/FOR WORSE; FOR RICHER/FOR POORER, IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH; UNTIL DEATH DO THEY PART.

 

AND THEY MEAN IT, AT LEAST IN THE MOMENT, AND IF THEY’RE FORTUNATE ENOUGH, THEY WILL MEAN IT FOR AS LONG AS THEY BOTH SHALL LIVE.

 

AND I GET TO STAND THERE AS THEIR MINISTER, WITH THEIR FAMILIES AND FRIENDS SURROUNDING THEM, AND WE BLESS THEIR BEING STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH EACH OTHER IN THE NAME OF GOD ALMIGHTY, AND BY THE GRACE OF JESUS CHRIST.

 

MAYBE YOU ARE “STUCK” IN THE MIDDLE LIKE THEM.  AND GOD WILL BE THERE – WITH YOU – IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL.

 

WHEN I SHARED WITH KAREN VERY BRIEFLY WHAT I’D BE TALKING ABOUT THIS MORNING, AND HOW ONE OF THE PLACES WE ARE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH SOMEONE IS MARRIAGE – SHE REMINDED ME OF ANOTHER “STUCK” SONG;

 

HUEY LEWIS’ – STUCK WITH YOU – ABOUT MARRIAGE, AND HOW MUCH FUN IT IS, AND HOW IT HAS ITS UPS AND DOWNS, BUT MOST OF ALL, FROM THE REFRAIN:

 

“YES, IT’S TRUE – I’M HAPPY TO BE STUCK WITH YOU; YES IT’S TRUE, I’M HAPPY BE STUCK WITH YOU, CAUSE I CAN SEE, THAT YOU’RE HAPPY TO BE STUCK WITH ME.”

 

KAREN AND I HAVING JUST CELEBRATED ANOTHER WEDDING ANNIVERSARY THIS PAST FRIDAY, I CAN TELL YOU, IT’S NOT A BAD PLACE TO BE STUCK AT ALL!

 

BUT MAYBE LIKE ANOTHER MARRIED COUPLE OF LONG AGO – LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET – MAYBE YOU’RE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE TOGETHER – WITH FAMILIES ON EITHER SIDE OF YOU HATING ON THE ONE YOU LOVE.

 

THIS IS A PARTICULARLY DIFFICULT PLACE FOR TWO PEOPLE TO BE STUCK, AND GOD BLESS YOU IF YOU ARE; STAY STRONG IN YOUR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER; ALLOW GOD TO LOVE YOU AND YOU WILL SURVIVE, AND EVEN THRIVE.

 

AND GOD WILL BE THERE – WITH YOU – IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL.

 

BUT MARRIAGE ISN’T THE ONLY PLACE WE GET STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH SOMEONE WE LOVE AND CARE ABOUT.

 

AS I WAS THINKING OF THIS SERMON, I GOT TO THINKING ABOUT THAT SCENE IN THE MOVIE FORREST GUMP.

 

FORREST AND BUBBA ARE FIGHTING IN VIETNAM, AND IT’S THE RAINY SEASON, AND IT’S BEEN RAINING NON-STOP FOR MONTHS, AND FORREST EVEN TAKES THE TIME TO DESCRIBE ALL THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF RAIN…

 

BUT IT IS BUBBA’S LINE THAT IS MOST ENDEARING – “HERE, FORREST, YOU LEAN UP AGAINST ME, AND I’LL LEAN UP AGAINST YOU, AND THAT WAY NEITHER ONE OF US HAS TO SLEEP WITH OUR HEAD IN THE MUD.”

 

ONLY THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE SERVED, AND IN PARTICULAR, THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE SERVED IN COMBAT, CAN SPEAK TO WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF A BATTLE, LEANING ON ONE ANOTHER FOR SUPPORT.

 

AND GOD WAS THERE – WITH YOU – IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL.

 

THERE ARE OTHER BATTLES IN LIFE, OF COURSE, ONES WE OFTEN FIGHT AS US AGAINST THE WORLD, SOMETIMES WITH ANOTHER WITH WHOM WE ARE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE.

 

HAVE YOU EVER FOUND YOURSELF IN ONE OF THOSE “YOU AND ME AGAINST THE WORLD” KINDS OF POSITIONS?

 

SOME TIME, SOME PLACE, SOMEWHERE, WHEN YOU AND YOUR MOST TRUSTED ASSOCIATE FOUND IT NECESSARY TO TAKE ON THE SYSTEM?

 

PERHAPS, TOGETHER, YOU WERE THE WHISTLE BLOWERS WHO SIMPLY COULD NOT ABIDE BY THE LIES AND DECEIT AND SHADY PRACTICES OCCURRING IN YOUR COMPANY ANY LONGER, AND AT GREAT PERSONAL SACRIFICE YOU STOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL; STOOD FOR WHAT WAS RIGHT.

 

AND GOD WAS THERE – WITH YOU – IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL.

 

PERHAPS YOU, AND THE ONE WITH WHOM YOU WERE STUCK, FOUND IT NECESSARY TO TAKE ON CITY HALL, OR THE CHURCH’S LEADERSHIP, OR SOCIETY ITSELF.

 

I THINK OF THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE HAD TO STAND UP FOR WHAT IS RIGHT, AND JUST, AND FOR WHAT ARE YOUR BASIC RIGHTS; GIVEN TO SOME BUT DENIED TO AND OTHERS; YOU WHO WON’T BACK DOWN UNTIL THINGS CHANGE, AND YOU ARE AFFORDED THE SAME RIGHTS AS EVERYONE ELSE.

 

AND GOD WAS (IS) THERE – WITH YOU – IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL.

 

WHAT OF THOSE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE DOING EXACTLY THE SORTS OF THINGS JESUS TALKS ABOUT IN OUR PASSAGE FOR THIS MORNING?

 

  • THOSE WHO SACRIFICE THEIR OWN LIVES SO THAT THE LIVES OF OTHERS ARE BETTER;

 

  • THOSE WHO SURRENDER THEIR WILLS TO FOLLOW THE WILL OF GOD;

 

  • THOSE WHO SERVE THE NEEDS OF OTHERS, RATHER THAN BEING SERVED BY THEM, SO AS TO PRESERVE THE SELF-WORTH OF ALL GOD’S PEOPLE.

 

  • THOSE WHO FOREGO THE POSITIONS OF HONOR AND GLORY, SO AS TO GIVE THEIR LIVES FOR THE GREATER GOOD.

 

AND WHAT ABOUT THOSE WITH WHOM WE ARE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE AT THE TIME OF THEIR PASSING FROM THIS LIFE INTO THE NEXT?

 

THOSE WHO STAND WITH THEIR LOVED ONES THROUGH ILLNESSES AND SURGERIES; THROUGH TREATMENTS AND REHABILITATION; THROUGH THE ENDLESS DAYS OF SICKNESS AND SUFFERING; OF UNCERTAINTY AND PRAYERS;

 

HOPING AGAINST HOPE FOR THE BEST, WHILE SECRETLY PREPARING THEMSELVES FOR THE WORST?

 

OF THOSE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU, EVEN WHEN THE “YOU” OF THE OTHER PERSON IS NO LONGER THERE DUE TO ALZHEIMER’S, DEMENTIA, PHYSICAL DECLINE, CONFUSION, OR COMA?

 

AND YOU KNOW WHAT?  YOU ARE STUCK IN THE MIDDLE LIKE THOSE TWO PEOPLE IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER STANDING AT THE MARRIAGE ALTAR ARE STUCK;

 

THERE BECAUSE YOU CHOOSE TO BE THERE; THERE BECAUSE YOU LOVE THE OTHER; “IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH, TILL DEATH DO YOU PART.”

 

AND GOD IS THERE – WITH YOU – IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL.

 

WHEN IT CAME TIME FOR JESUS TO DIE, IT TURNED OUT JUST AS HE HAD PREDICTED – HIS DRINKING OF THE CUP OF SACRIFICE FOR THE RANSOM OF MANY.

 

AND IT WAS NOT JAMES OR JOHN WHO WERE: “ONE ON HIS LEFT, AND ONE ON HIS RIGHT,” BUT TWO COMMON CRIMINALS, BETWEEN WHOM JESUS WAS CRUCIFIED.

 

IN FACT, NONE OF JESUS’ DISCIPLES WERE THERE, ONLY HIS MOTHER AND SOME OF THE WOMEN WHO HAD FOLLOWED HIM;

 

EXCEPT FOR JOHN;

JOHN, EVIDENTLY, HAD TAKEN JESUS’ WORDS TO HEART, AND THERE HE STOOD AT THE FOOT OF JESUS’ CROSS; A SUFFERING SERVANT.

 

AND WHAT DOES JESUS DO?

 

HE ENTRUSTS THE CARE OF HIS MOTHER TO JOHN, AND HE GIVES JOHN TO HIS MOTHER TO BE THE SON HE COULD NEVER QUITE BE TO HER, WHAT WITH A WORLD TO SAVE AND ALL.

 

JESUS, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE ON THE CROSS – AND THE POSITIONS OF “HONOR” HAD BEEN GIVEN OVER TO TWO CRIMINALS – ONE REPENTANT AND THE OTHER NOT SO MUCH.

 

AND TOGETHER THEY WERE SURROUNDED BY “CLOWNS TO THE LEFT OF THEM AND JOKERS TO THE RIGHT…”

 

AND WHAT IS IT THE REPENTANT THIEF ASKS OF JESUS?

 

THE VERY SAME THING JAMES AND JOHN (AND THEIR MOTHER) HAD ASKED OF HIM BEFORE, ONLY WITH A TOTALLY DIFFERENT ATTITUDE.

 

“LORD, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM…”

 

AND THIS TIME JESUS’ ANSWER IS SOMETHING QUITE DIFFERENT AS WELL:

 

“TRULY, I TELL YOU,” JESUS SAYS, “TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.”

 

AND SO SHALL IT BE FOR US, AND FOR THOSE WE LOVE, AND FOR ALL GOD’S PEOPLE, EVEN SOME OF US CLOWNS AND JOKERS, ALL OF US GATHERED TOGETHER ON HIS LEFT AND ON HIS RIGHT.

 

AND GOD WILL BE THERE – WITH US – IN THE MIDDLE OF IT ALL.

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