You are not Jesus: this was a weird sermon

Hello friends! I preached this last weekend at my internship site. My sermon’s based on Mark 10:35-45:

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him [Jesus] and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

I don’t know about you, but I had a ton of fun at the blessing of the pets last week here at Messiah. Did any of you come? It was awesome. So many fun furry creatures // and one snail. But perhaps even more awesome than seeing the animals and their owners, was my triumphant welcome home by my cat at the end of the day. See it was my husband who brought our mildly-social cat, and as I came home our cat scrambled toward me for a snuggle, as if to say “Did you know what he did to me today?” All of the sudden I was the greatest pet owner, and it was an awesome feeling.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are scrambling to be the greatest, and to feel awesome.

Jesus and the disciples are struggling to make this whole discipleship thing happen, and the disciples just want more. Jesus has just predicted his death for the third time, or described what’s to come. The disciples are becoming increasingly agitated and anxious. Their fear is keeping them from listening, which happens to all of us when we are afraid.

So to find some security, James and John ask Jesus a weird request: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus entertains the question, and they go on to say they want to sit at his right and left hand in glory. To this, Jesus asks if they can drink the same cup, and be baptized in Jesus’ baptism. Which to us – a church that baptizes and do communion, it’s like okay – John and James are like ‘Sure, why not!” But Jesus says that these seats of glory aren’t his to grant. Then to all the disciples Jesus says “Whoever wishes to be great, must be your servant… for I came to serve, not to be served, to give my life as a ransom for many.”

Even as I write this, and now preach this, I can’t help but feel for Jesus. Yes, the disciples are lost, figuratively and literally, they hear their leader they left their former lives and former worlds for is really really going to die. But think about Jesus. Once again, his people don’t get it. He’s saying that you can baptize, you can commune, but to sit with me in heaven? To live in the same presence of me, in the paradise, that is now and not yet? That’s not mine to grant. And it’s not yours to grant either. You’re not Jesus. This is where you end, and I start. You do not have the capacity to save people. Jesus says: That’s my role, and not yours.

You are not Jesus.


I think sometimes we get tricked into thinking that we’re Jesus. We’re the saviors. We’re the greatest. We’re the most free. We win.

But we both know, winning, freedom, greatness – is that what a life following Jesus is all about? Jesus says no. Jesus says “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” Whoever wishes to be great must be radically not free. Must be bound. Must be dependent. If this sounds like things you don’t want to be – you’re not alone. This life doesn’t look all that great to me either.

But what’s the life that is constantly marketed to us? Did you know that you see anywhere from 300-3,000 brands or logos each day? They say: Be more free! Be independent! Be perfect with this product! Save all the children!

But we’re not Jesus.

I’m not Jesus.

I can’t say that from now on I will never try to fix or save someone, but I certainly won’t forget the last time the universe told me that saving a person’s soul was not a cure I could grant.

As a seminary student in the Master of Divinity program, this summer I finished a credit or a class in which I got to learn in whole different kind of classroom – a hospital in downtown Minneapolis. I was on the staff of a spiritual care team as a chaplain. I got to visit with patients, their families, their friends, and the awesome, awesome staff of my assigned space – a medical/surgical unit/wing.

At the beginning of the day, the team of our unit – nurses, staff, coordinators, and the chaplain (me) have rounds – sort of like an update meeting of the last 24 hours.

Now as a chaplain, a ministry person, and not really a morning person either, I was lucky if I caught one or two words of medical words thrown around in that fast-paced meeting.

But when I heard the phrase, “…he doesn’t know that yet…” I knew I had to ask. I put my elbows on the table and asked “What was that again?”

We’ll call him John. John doesn’t know upon discharge (healthy enough to go home) he was going to jail. He was found overdosing on drugs while in rehab, and he was detoxing in the hospital on his way to immediate incarceration. John didn’t know that when he was healthy again he wasn’t headed home.

Now, no one told me I had to visit him. But when there’s a 22-year old patient on your unit who is headed on a dark path, who came from a dark path, it’s hard not feel tugged by the Spirit’s call.

The police officer floating on the unit kept an eye on me as I entered the room, and with the encouragement of his assigned nurse, I knocked and entered John’s space.

He was kind. The supervisor in the room quietly read her book as John and I talked about his family and friends, and why he was there.

Now, I don’t claim to be some miracle-worker, but I felt like I was getting through to him. He even brought up his questions about the Christian faith. I felt like the coolest chaplain – even a drug user talked to me about God – awesome!

But he kept asking me if he could take a walk. And his phone rang while we were in there and he tried to talk quietly, suggesting to me that he wasn’t cured of his dealing habits.

But he was just a kid. 22. He just needed someone to believe him, right? He just needed someone to care for him, and love him, and give him everything he needs, right?

The next day, as I talked with my supervisor and other chaplain interns about this interaction, it became clear that I had an intense feeling of wanting to save John.

I just wanted him to feel like someone believed in him. I just wanted him to feel like someone believed him.

I just wanted to save him.

He even told me what he believed about God! Or – perhaps he emotionally manipulated me, because that’s what users do. They search after what they want at any cost, and ultimately, what they want is something deeper than drugs, but the result is often what harms them the most. Because John wants what we all want – To feel loved. To be told he matters. To know he’s missed. So maybe we’re not that much different?

In his disease, I was on the cusp of being swept into his swirl of masking and manipulation.

But he just needed to be saved, right?

And I could save him, right?

The funny part is that no one else was really prompting me to think this. I don’t remember anyone specifically telling me “Allison – you’re awesome, you can save people, you can fix people, go for it!” No – but this does come from messages in our culture that have squirrelled their way into our bank of wisdom. So in some ways, I expect myself to save people. That inner voice is just so loud and I can’t find the volume knob sometimes.

But I bet it’s in you too. You hear inside yourself that you can save people and fix people. That you can be Jesus.

Where does that come from?

The part of you that says ‘I don’t need anybody.’ The part of you that says ‘I’m independent. I’m free. I’m the greatest.’

The part of the disciples that steers their decisions and requests when they’re afraid.

My hunch, is that we’re so afraid as individuals, as a country, as a world that we don’t trust each other or another presence to save us. I’ve got to do it, it has to be me. Jesus saves me? Jesus saves you? That’s nice. I’d rather save myself, thank you very much.

The good news that Jesus gives us – is that we are not bound by the responsibility to save, liberate, and redeem ourselves.

We are free to not be Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we are freed from the task of being the name above all names. Because being the most independent and the most free is exhausting.

But we’re not totally off the hook – It’s not up to us to save the world, but it’s up to us to do the best we can.

We are given opportunities and gifts and strengths not to save people, not to fix people, but to serve.

We are truly freed, or you could say, “freed up” to serve our neighbor.


This is the kind of service that doesn’t involve the expectation that we’re going to get something back

This is the kind of service that makes other people wonder, “Why is that guy so willing to go into these dark places and shine a light of hope, and help people out?” To this he might say, “Because Jesus has freed me from the task of saving myself so I can serve my neighbors.” This is the kind of service that makes other people wonder “Why is the girl so excited to serve a meal or clean tables to people who seem to constantly be out of luck?” To this she might say “Because I get to serve my neighbors since I don’t have spend my time worrying about how I’m going to save myself.”

Out of the darkest moment that Jesus is walking toward in Jerusalem, out of the crucifixion, comes his resurrection, not only of our body, mind, and soul, but a resurrection of this world. This is our joy – that we now live in a kingdom, in a paradise now, and not yet, and we as freed people get to share that joy with the world. That is the challenge and the mystery and the beauty of following Jesus – we get to share the good news that a savior has come and it’s not you. We’re not Jesus. That burden has been lifted and we are free to not serve ourselves but serve our neighbor with this good news propelling us into those dark places where the light is dim, but our hope is fierce and speaks a word of life and light into spaces that we thought deserved left to be dead.

Jesus listens to the disciples request today to sit at his left and right side in glory. A bold request, I’ll give them that. But Jesus doesn’t give them an answer they like – and once again the disciples are at a loss for where they went wrong. They’re so afraid of what will happen next that they want to claim a piece of Jesus before he is crucified. All they can see is Good Friday. All they see is their need to be free and be saved and forget that Jesus is Jesus, and they are not. They are blind to the joy of being a disciple which is being freed up to serve their neighbor – not to save, not to fix, but to serve their neighbor. And that just might be the best news of all.



I’ve been staring at a blank page for a couple days now. I think partly because the days are growing shorter and winter is coming (gasp), and that just doesn’t make me that excited for life. But if I look past those things, there are some big things I’ve been dreaming about lately.

My thinking pose which apparently requires a beach.
My thinking pose that requires a beach.

Yes, this is another, “Allison is going to rant about a church thing” but it’s also not. Because I think there’s something hopeful and constructive about this line of thinking — which I don’t think has been as present in my thought-process for a while now.

Timothy started an interim worship and music directing position, and it’s led us to think about a lot of worship-y and music-y things. I’m trying to be grateful to him and this community and our larger church that’s all over the world, but I can’t help but see things that make me want to rip my hair out.

Surrounded by questions of “Did enough people come to worship today?” and “Where are the swarm of kids that filled up the church during the children’s sermon a few weeks ago?” – I wonder if we’re measuring success in unhelpful ways (great articles herehere, and here). These questions are asked at churches and in church leadership in LOTS of places: East coast, Midwest, West coast, urban, rural, contemporary (whatever that means), traditional (whatever that means). Fear, anxiety, counting heads, and trading in imagination for job protection…. the lists go on, the tensions go on, and they all seem to really be inward looking. Needless to say, I don’t think they’re helpful.

I think we can be imaginative. I say “we” as in people who go to church and people who don’t go to church very often – because we all have something to contribute when imagining about what could be since religion and society are so intertwined and influence each other significantly. There’s no “us and them” in these questions. There’s “us”. Together, we can contribute to the conversation about church. You don’t have to be “Christian-y” enough to speak up, at least that’s what I think.

We can ask: What’s the point of church? What’s the point of communion? What’s the point of baptism? What’s the point of faith?

I know, giant questions. But let’s take a shot.

Pinterest, if you say so.
Pinterest, I hope you’re right.

What if instead of inviting people into church buildings to experience God in their life (most likely once a week, if we’re being honest?), we bring practices and small tweaks to people’s daily lives that encourage an awareness of God in their daily lives – you know, the ugly and pretty daily walk in which God promises to be with us more than just once a week (see Isaiah 43:1-2)?

For instance: Communion. Often happens in a church building, yes? We hear that Christ is for us as we experience God’s presence in daily things (for most of us): food & drink. We remember the last supper, when Jesus had supper with his closest friends, with people he loved (Mark 14, Matt 26, Luke 22, John 13).

Depending on the size of a congregation, this is practiced by handing each person a wafer or small piece of bread and a small cup wine or grape juice. An experience that might last 5 seconds and often includes standing in line and going back to your spot, in a pew (you’re back in a line, but sitting).

Does anyone else see how distant this practice has become from Jesus’ last supper?

What if we actually had supper/dinner together and that was communion? Imagine it: Everyone comes together and brings their favorite dish (see: pot luck). We hear words of blessing from a non-pastor that remind us that it’s not all about us and God is for us, the haves, and the have-nots. We all dish ourselves and sit down with our full plates. As friends, we listen and share about our day today. We look at each other’s faces as we talk (great reflection here). Is this not communion? Sharing a meal we all want to have anyway (dinner) and hearing God is for you, the Christian, and you, the non-Christian?

Eating dinner or some meal together. I could see it!

This is just one idea. But bringing an awareness of God into a daily thing – I think it’s what an honest-to-goodness walk with God looks like – not a once-per-week 60 minute experience on a Sunday morning, but a daily reminder that God is for us! God is for you! I don’t care who you are, that’s news we need EVERY DAY.

My question – could this be church? Is it already church? If so, where is it, because I want to see it! And I think this is so important to me because my research and observations tell me that church needs a major revamp and perhaps needs to get back to what’s important. The church (the people who I associate with it) have invested in me, and I want to give back. I think this conversation about church and success needs some help.

I’m hungry for a church where success is not measured by the number of butts in the pews but the depth at which lives are changed because they know:

  1. You’re enough.
  2. You deserve love and connection.
  3. You matter.

Is that so hard? It must be – because I can’t point a church that’s living these messages out right now. Perhaps other communities are? For-profit organizations? Non-governmental organizations? Creative communities? Online communities? For me, these values are the root of the message I read in the Bible. How might someone learn these messages/beliefs/values?

Because here’s what I think:

If Jesus led you to these beliefs…

If Muhammed led you to these beliefs…

If a “divine spark” led you to these beliefs…

That’s great. These things are still true:

  1. You’re enough.
  2. You deserve love and connection.
  3. You matter.

These values are what Jesus was all about. Saying and being these things over and over again. Not boxing people in; not loving some and ignoring others; not liking — but LOVING, and LOVING – a lot, to everybody. All are welcome, right?

So why do churches (your church, my church, your grandparents’ church, churches that I have worshiped in, led, preached at, you name it) draw lines — physically draw lines to direct people to walk up to the front of a church to receive communion, to experience God’s presence; we play in boxes, we think in boxes, we preach that Jesus is THE answer, implying that other answers are not only wrong but outside of human imagination and experience.


We live in a post-9/11 society. The world has seen many shifts, and we must treat this time in history as a time of significant shift – a shift in political views and policies, economic and social privileges, values and prejudices. Likewise, there’s a shift in religious and spiritual thinking and dialogue. This means the church has a massive opportunity to speak into this new reality. But does it? Will it?

What does it mean to be a Christian in a post-9/11 society? This a huge question, but one whose answer might make or break the future of Christianity — it would surely re-shape it — and I hope for the better. With genuine hope, I believe it could re-shape our values, our vision, our practices, our understanding of leadership and our daily lives that usher in a new way of being a Christian person in the world.

We can’t keep doing business as usual. I’m not saying “The church must stay relevant! Everybody’s forgetting about the church!” We don’t need contemporary bands, traditional liturgy, new pews, or pastors with more experiences at “The Celebration of Biblical Preaching” than they know what to do with (no offence, but when the majority of pastors use their entire continuing education budget on this one event every year, we have a problem. What I am saying, is that if the only answer to “Why are we doing it this way?” is “Because that’s how we’ve always done it,” then we have lost sight of the church’s reason for being. We have lost the vision, the mission, and the values that guide a response to God’s grace — a response that is an opportunity, a celebration, of warmth, humor, vulnerability, courage, and connection. THAT’S a response to God’s UNLIMITED love and grace that I can get behind.

Everyone in my generation has “the story” of where they were on 9/11. I was going into the 9th grade and my mom curled my hair as we watched the buildings burn on TV. On the radio we listened as the Seattle DJs watched the first tower fall as my sister drove us to school. My world didn’t change all that much, 2,800 miles away from New York, but the world changed. The world changed. And it’s changed since. As I write this I can see the flight path out of MSP as I sit here at the nearest Starbucks to Timothy’s work.

On a journey.
On a journey.

Now, all this reflecting and questioning of mine – it’s by no means a guide to make the church healthy or grow exponentially. Like countless church staff around the country (around the world), they (we) face big challenges with often too little support. It’s easy to become cynical, but we must fight that with critical thinking, trust in each other, and faith in Jesus’ unrelenting love and hope.

I think there are just too many good ideas and kind people out there to throw up my hands and say, “I give up.” I see so much beauty and joy going on in the world (God’s created and sustained world), in our own lives and in the lives of neighbors and communities all over the world. It’s happening everywhere, literally, everywhere. I wonder, when will the church see it?