“I Call Shotgun” October 21, 2018


“I Call Shotgun!”

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

Hebrews 5:1-10

Mark 10:35-45


Margie and I were talking awhile back about going to church when we were kids: all the goofy stories, the missteps, and the embarrassing things that kids will do when forced to sit still for any length of time over – oh, say – ten minutes. And we agreed that it was a good experience for us both. We learned the fundamental of the Gospel, we learned the joy and sometimes the agony of singing in a congregational setting, and most of all, we learned how to be patient. It made me think of the story of a woman who took her 6 year old to a church conference. Now this is extra risky because unlike a church service, conferences can go on for hours. Anyway, she noticed her son was getting antsy so she handed him a pencil and paper and said, “Why don’t you keep count of how many times the speaker says the word ‘and?’ That might be fun.” And so he did – for about 20 minutes – when it became obvious that he was bored. “Would you like to listen for another word?” she asked. “Yes,” he replied. “I’d like to listen for ‘Amen.’”

Now as much as I hate to admit it, I have found myself getting restless as well. We have been reading from the Gospel of Mark since before September and have touched on some wonderful lessons for a life in faith: the Syrophoenician woman, the covenant of salt, some interesting views on divorce, and some wise words from Christ about eternal life. But if you got the feeling after hearing today’s text that you’ve heard this story before, you would be right. In fact, it’s a well established pattern that happens 3 times in the Gospel of Mark and it goes something like this:

  • Jesus tells the disciples of his imminent death
  • One of more of the disciples says something or does something that’s kind of dumb
  • Jesus tells them, as my mother used to say, to get off their high horse

But here’s the thing: each time, Jesus uses these moments as teachable moments. (Mk 8:35) he tells his already confused disciples, “Whoever wishes to save his soul shall lose it,” followed by, “Whoever loses his soul shall save it.” I’m sure that really cleared things up. Then later (Mk 9:35) he tells them “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all,” just in case they didn’t get it figured out the first time. And then today, (Mk 10:43-44) after James and John are trying to get dibs on front row seats in heaven, Jesus says to them,  “Whoever wishes to be great…shall be your servant,” and “Whoever wishes to be first… shall be slave of all.” So see what I mean? Like the disciples, we can’t help but wonder what the lesson is to be learned here. “The first shall be last, the last shall be first;” this is headache material. That is, until we work to gain some kind of understanding of the word “paradox.”


Now a paradox is basically a statement that may seem absurd or contradictory, but yet can be true – or at least make some kind of sense. Some easy examples are statements like, “Deep down inside, he was really shallow.” Or how about, “I know one thing: that I know nothing.”  “this is the beginning of the end. What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young.” And my all-time favorite, “I can resist anything but temptation.” If you think about it, the whole premise of our faith is built on a paradox in a way. God came to earth in bodily form to show us first hand the heart and the soul of God. The message was clear: “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you,” but this got lost in translation somehow and when the nation of Israel discovered that this God in the flesh was not going to do what they wanted…well, you know the rest of that story. When God came to us in the flesh it was to save us, plain and simple. But it was not to save us from injury or disease or oppression, but to save us from ourselves. God sent to us his majesty and glory and it was in the form of humility and compassion. God sent to us the Lord of all, who proved over and over to be a servant, a slave, to all. Now there’s a paradox for you.

(Mk 10:35) Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us,” they said. “Arrange it so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory – one of us at your right, the other at your left.” And you know, I had to laugh out loud when I came to realize that what James and John were doing here was they were calling “shotgun.” Remember that? All the kids are heading for the car and no one wants to sit in the middle – the first one to call “shotgun” gets to sit in the front passenger seat? “Arrange it,” they said, “so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory. We are hereby officially calling shotgun.”  And the paradox comes once again when Jesus eventually tells them, “It’s not up to me, but sure – that could happen. But keep in mind that the one who rode shotgun in the old Wells Fargo days was the first one to get shot at. And when you ride shotgun with me, keep in mind that this trip is heading straight for the cross.”

Jesus came to make all things new, at least new to us. We are the lucky ones who believe, we are the blessed who are forgiven, and most of all we have been called to serve the Son of Man who came to serve – not to be served by others. To serve as Christ serves – this is the power, this is the glory and it is power and glory that will never go to our heads because it rests forever in our hearts.


Amen & Shalom


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