Our Gospel reading this morning is a scripture about what do we do with our thirst. For what are you thirsty? That’s a dangerous question to ask in a college town isn’t it, especially right before the big Halloween party.
For what are you thirsty?
James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples knew about their thirsts. They were thirsty for power. They wanted to be chosen over the other disciples and rule with Jesus once he established his kingdom. They were thirsty for power. Hold on to that thought, because I’ll come back to James and John and their thirst for power a little later.
But for now, I want us to think about for what are you thirsty?
Every once in a while, my wife who is an avid reader will say to me, “Read this book!” She says that to me because she knows that it will relate to something in my life or in my role as a pastor.
So during our vacation this past summer, she gave me the book, The Path to Serendipity: Discover the Gifts Along Life’s Journey. It’s actually a book for educators but Penny said that it has value for people in general. She said that it will only take me two hours at the most to read. Two weeks later, I finished the book! It’s actually an easy read but I get distracted.
So here’s the main point of the book. Everyone has different kinds of thirsts in life. And when we realize this, it can help us understand why people, including ourselves, choose to do the things we do.
The book is based on William Glasser’s Choice Theory which involves five basic thirsts that we have to varying degrees. In no particular order, these thirsts are belonging, power, freedom, fun, and survival.
In her book, The Path to Serendipity, Allyson Apsey invites us to think about these five needs in life as five separate internal gas tanks. By the way, see what I’m doing here? I’m working this book into the sermon just so that Penny will know that I did in fact read it. So, basically what I’m about to give to you is my book report that Principal McDowell assigned to me this past summer.
We are all born with these five needs or thirsts, but our gas tanks are all different sizes. Someone can have a larger tank for freedom, and another person can have a small tank for freedom. The person with the larger freedom tank will will need more freedom in his/her life to feel satisfied. We’re all wired differently and that’s OK.
The author of this book goes on to say, “No one can fill someone else’s need tank, but we can help create need-satisfying environments for each other. This is true in a marriage, in a classroom, at work, or at home.” And I would add at church. She then says that, “once we are aware of what other people need, we can help them get it.”
So, here is a quick summary of these five thirsts or internal gas tanks that we all have in various levels. And remember, these are all valid thirsts. We just have them in varying degrees.
The thirst of belonging is simply that. Some of us have a higher need than others to feel connected with other people. For people with a high capacity “Belonging Tank,” they tend to be thirsty for relationships, social connections, and feeling part of a group. These are people who don’t want to feel left out from belonging to a group. That’s the thirst for belonging.
The thirst for freedom is different from the thirst for belonging because this thirst is the need to be autonomous and more independent. If you have a high capacity for freedom, you probably don’t have as high a need for being part of a group. You tend to want to forge your own way.
Then we come to the thirst for survival. If you have a large tank for survival, this means that you tend to be focused on making sure that you have the basics in life like food, shelter, and safety.
So, as Penny and I were reviewing these five thirsts together, she said to me, “Oh this is so you.” And she’s right because one day when I opened the refrigerator door, I noticed that the ketchup container was almost empty. I knew that we had another one in the refrigerator but in my mind, we should always have three extras. So I asked Penny to put ketchup on the grocery list.
She then took me over to the food pantry and showed me the four large containers of ketchup that I had forgotten about. Ketchup is a basic necessity of life in my book! People with the thirst for survival also tend to be fiscally conservative and that’s me as well so I have a pretty big emotional survival tank.
And then, there is the thirst for fun. Penny also said, “That is so you as well!” She’s right. I love to have fun! Having a high capacity fun tank means that you like to laugh and play, and tell dad jokes, and post silly things on Facebook.
It’s important to remember that all of us have these tanks to various capacities, it’s a matter of which tanks are larger than the others.
And last but not least because these are in no particular order is the tank or the thirst for power. The thirst for power is when you have a desire to achieve something, have a high sense of self worth, and appreciate it when people recognize your efforts.
So now I’m going to circle back to those two disciples, James and John when they told Jesus that they wanted to sit at his right and his left in glory. This tells me that based on the five thirsts that we all have, they both had high capacity power tanks. After all, these two brothers were given the nickname, “Sons of Thunder.”
And again, there is nothing wrong that they had this thirst for power. Like I said, having a thirst for power can be a good thing because it can be a driving force to help you to accomplish great things.
So what were the disciples really saying when they told Jesus that they wanted to be seated next to him in glory? Some people interpret this in more of a spiritual way where James and John were wanting Jesus to know that they desired to be seated with Jesus in heaven some day.
I think this interpretation is because of the word, “glory” which some people use interchangeably with the word, “heaven.” We talk about going on to glory or to heaven when we die.
But if you think about the context of this scripture passage, I think the word “glory” is more to do with military/political glory than a heavenly glory. At this point of the gospel, the disciples are still trying to figure Jesus out, his mission, and his purpose. Jesus’ ways are often not our ways.
The disciples, including James and John were probably hoping that Jesus would lead them to be free from Roman rule which tells me that in addition to power, they also probably had a high capacity thirst for freedom.
James and John didn’t know how Jesus was going to pull this off. And so, they decide one day to let Jesus know that if he’s wondering who would be willing to rule with him in this new kingdom, that they would be excellent candidates to rule on his right and his left.
I mean, after all, they had been part of Jesus’ inner circle along with the disciple Peter. They were the big three! Here’s there chance to leave Peter out. That would mean an even bigger slice of the pie for each of them.
James and John had a thirst for power.
And what did Jesus tell them? He tells them that they don’t understand what they are asking. In other words, Jesus knows their understanding of power is very different than Jesus’ understanding of power.
And then Jesus asks the disciples the question of all questions, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?”
That’s a thirst question isn’t it? Jesus knew they were thirsty and he rightly identified their thirst as a longing for power. And it brings us back to our opening question. For what are you thirsty?
The cup that Jesus was referring to would be the cup that he would lift at the Last Supper when he would explain to them that he would be offering his very life for the sake of the world.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus is so cryptic and mysterious in passages like this? Why doesn’t he just come out and say,
“Hey, you have this whole idea of power all wrong. We’re not going to rule over others like the Gentiles do as he mentions later in this passage. The kind of power I’m talking about has to do with sacrifice, humility, servanthood, and even death on a cross.”
Now, why doesn’t Jesus just hit them straight with what the kind of kingdom and power he had in mind? Why be so cryptic?
Well, just like us, it takes time to figure Jesus out and we never really fully do because there is always something new to learn from Jesus, something that challenges us, something that runs so counter to our way of thinking, something that points us to a whole new way of living, thinking, and being.
And so, we have to take Jesus in doses and like James and John, he reinterprets the true meaning of power in this scripture passage. Power isn’t about overthrowing a foreign occupying empire. Power is about overthrowing our own empire of pride and selfishness.
And as James and John and the other disciples will find out, the kind of power that Jesus is talking about is a self-emptying, sacrificial, other-centered power that will lead Jesus to die on a cross for the sake of the world.
That’s the kind of power that Jesus has in mind. That’s the kind of thirst for power when used lovingly, when used sacrificially, and when used in the way Jesus describes can literally change the world from the inside, out.
We tend to define power as how can we get what we want or how I can protect what I have. Jesus shows us that true power is in giving. It’s in serving.
I once heard a very popular rock star say that he loves when his band plays a concert in front of 60,000 adoring fans. He says how that experience feeds his ego. Live concerts feed his thirst for power.
But this same rock star has also said that he recognizes the opportunity that this kind of celebrity status gives him to make a difference in the world. And that is why he has been using his power, fame, and accumulated wealth to work toward the elimination of the Aids epidemic in Africa.
And it’s not just our thirst for power that Jesus invites us to lay at the foot of the cross. It’s our other thirsts as well, like our thirsts for belonging, freedom, fun, and survival.
Well, the good news is that Jesus knows our thirsts even better than we do. He knows what drives us, what motivates us, what inspires us, and what gives us fullness of life.
James and John thought that they were ready to drink from Jesus’ cup of power, but they didn’t know Jesus’ true meaning of power. Jesus will drink from the cup on their behalf through his death on the cross. He will then be raised from the dead three days later.
Eventually James and John will use their thirst for power to tell everyone about the good news of Jesus Christ. They will point people to the living water that never runs dry, the living water that fulfills our thirsts for power, freedom, fun, security, and belonging. Jesus is the living water that quenches all of our thirsts.
In her book, The Pathway to Serendipity, Allyson Apsey offers this powerful, powerful image of channeling our thirsts in such a way that we will be able to appreciate other people’s thirsts and to use our thirsts to be a blessing for others. And this image the author uses is so fitting since we are in the midt of this autumn season.
She writes about how she was going through a particularly stressful time in her life. She was constantly going to visit her mother who had been ill. She was feeling guilty that she wasn’t spending enough time with her family. And she was facing the constant demands in her job as a principal of a school.
One fall day, she pulled into her school parking lot to begin her day of work. Her heart was heavy with the stress of life. Her thirst for life was depleted.
But as she got out of her car, and began walking across the parking lot, she couldn’t help but notice the bright orange and yellow leaves that were falling from the trees all around her. She imagined how each of those beautiful colors represented so many heavy emotions swirling in her mind.
They represented feelings of love and gratitude but also feelings of longing, guilt, and inadequacy. She was empty.
And as she carefully noticed all of those beautiful leaves falling to the ground, she was reminded that it was time to let all of her conflicting emotions fall to the ground as well. Just let them fall.
As she got closer to the school entrance she noticed that her perspective began to change. She felt a bounce to her step and she was surprised when a smile replaced the worried look on her face.
She writes that as she opened the door of her school, she was emotionally ready to be the best Principal she could possibly be for her students and for her staff that day.
Jesus can replenish our thirst for life and uses our God given thirsts to be a blessing to others.
When Jesus asked James and John if they would be willing to drink from the cup that he would drink, they answered, “Yes, we are able.”
But the truth is, sometimes, like the author of the book, we aren’t able to drink from the cup. We overestimate what we can do on our own strength. Our hearts get weighed down with worry, and guilt, and sorrow. Like autumn leaves falling to the ground all around us, we realize just how empty we really are.
And that’s when Jesus can take all our many thirsts and do what ONLY he can do.
Fill us anew.
Small Group Questions
October 21, 2018
In our Gospel reading, James and John reveal their thirst for power when they tell Jesus that they want to be in the top two positions of authority in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus responds by asking if they will be able to drink from the cup that he will be drinking. According to author, William Glasser who wrote the book, Choice Theory, human beings have five tanks (thirsts) that need to be filled to varying degrees. These thirsts (tanks) include 1) power 2) love/belonging 3) survival 4) freedom 5) fun.
Which of these five thirsts (tanks) motivate you most in your life? Which motivate you the least?
Why do you think it can be helpful if we knew which thirsts are most important in each other’s lives? How might this information about our individual thirsts help us to relate to each other in better ways?
When James and John revealed to Jesus their thirst for power, they were probably thinking of political/military power in his kingdom. Jesus had a different kind of power in mind, one that would involve humility, sacrifice, and serving others.
How have you seen someone use their thirst for power in the way that Jesus has in mind? How can you use the power that Jesus has given you to help build his kingdom here on earth?
Sunday’s sermon concluded with a story of how God wants to fill our thirsts anew. James and John thought they could fill their thirsts on their own.
Share a time when God filled one of your thirsts in a way where you felt renewed and restored. Was it a thirst for power, love/belonging, survival, freedom, or fun?