Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sermon: Real Princes Wear Aprons, Not Crowns ~ Matthew 20: 20-28


Preached at Christ Church (Episcopal) in South Hamilton, Mass on July 15th, 2007...
Our passage opens with a Mom and her two boys. And she wants the best for her boys so she makes a bold request: that they sit at the right and left of Jesus when He comes into His Kingdom.
She desires greatness, honor, prestige, position, power. Now it might be easy to look down our noses at Mom and the Zebedee boys here. You know, “The nerve!” Βut we’re culpable too. We may not be as bold as Mama Zebedee about it but we need to admit we all want greatness. It’s something that’s built into the fabric of our culture. What’s the direction we all work towards in our careers or vocations? Up! Promotions. Μore money. Or what about: “I golf every Tuesday with Rick Warren” or “My brother-in-law…he just became CEO of Microsoft” or “I graduated from Oxford”. What do we think we hear statements like these? “Wow, I sure would like to be them.”
So we need to be honest and examine ourselves and ask, “What kind of greatness am I pursuing?” I know I myself struggle with this as a man entering the clergy. You know, I get to wear a clerical collar now and when I put on my collar and my robes and I look in the mirror there’s a part of me that thinks, “This looks good! I like how this feels.” But it’s false. It’s not real. Because real princes don’t wear crowns. And I think each of us needs to look into our heart and figure what kind of crowns we’re chasing after.
Our desire for greatness is fed by our sense of entitlement. We’ve earned it. We’re ready for it. We deserve it. And that’s what we see in this passage. Jesus says, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” And they boldly reply, “We are able.” I think the reason they’re asking this is because they really believe they’re able. If they didn’t think they had some kind of entitlement they couldn’t ask. And how does Jesus respond, “to sit on my right My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those it has been prepared by My Father.” You’re asking the wrong question. They’re asking for something Jesus can’t give them. They want to be princes. And they want to wear crowns. But the problem is real princes aprons, not crowns. In God’s economy you can’t be a real prince and wear a crown. And sometimes we’re asking things of God for ourselves that aren’t possible because they go against the character of God or His will. When we examine our desires we need to ask; “Is this consistent with the character of God??”
So we’ve got the Ζebedee brothers who think they’re entitled to top billing in the kingdom of God. And what do the other disciples do when they hear this? They’re indignant. They get into an argument based on a worldly economy. “What makes them think they’re any more entitled to that than we are?” But Jesus says, hold on guys you’re called to be different. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you” To paraphrase, “C’mon guys…you know that’s how the world operates. But you’re called to be different”. Worldly greatness looks like that, but Kingdom greatness looks like this. And if you want to be Kingdom great you’re going to have to change your thinking. Remember, real princes wear aprons, not crowns.
If we as Christians are going to understand what it means to be great we have to change our thinking from that of the world. And the Lord is saying that greatness looks exactly the opposite of it. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” You want to be a REAL prince? Stop window shopping for a shiny new crown and instead go put on an apron and get to work. And for the disciples and those of Jesus day I have to think his words must’ve had some startling impact. Be a slave? Someone who does the most menial tasks for others? The most humbling, humiliating of all stations in life? Slaves don’t even own the right to themselves? And like a slave someone who’s truly great in the Kingdom of God completely relinquishes their right to themselves and serves others. Jesus tells the disciples that greatness means being a servant and then gives Himself as the example, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve”. And this is exactly what He models for them the night before He died. He stripped down, put a towel around His waste, got down on the floor and washed His disciples’ dirty feet like a slave. Their Teacher, their Rabbi, is doing the most menial task in their culture possible for them. He shows them that greatness is about serving and to be truly great you need to strip down, wrap a towel around your waste and wash dirty feet.
So do we desire greatness? Ιf we do, have we examined that desire? Do we want to be really great for the Lord? Then we need to follow His example. If we want to be a real prince in the Kingdom of God then we need to put on an apron and serve our brothers and sisters. Because real princes wear aprons, not crowns.
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