A Reading from the Book of Job (38:1-7, 34-41)
The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?
Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul; *
O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!
you are clothed with majesty and
2 You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak *
and spread out the heavens like a curtain.
3 You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above; *
you make the clouds your chariot;
you ride on the wings of the wind.
4 You make the winds your messengers *
and flames of fire your servants.
5 You have set the earth upon its foundations, *
so that it never shall move at any time.
6 You covered it with the Deep as with a mantle; *
the waters stood higher than the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they fled; *
at the voice of your thunder they hastened away.
8 They went up into the hills and down to the valleys beneath, *
to the places you had appointed for them.
9 You set the limits that they should not pass; *
they shall not again cover the earth.
25 O Lord, how manifold are your works! *
in wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
A Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (5:1-10)
Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (10:35-45)
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
This is the time of year when those of us who are homeowners are busy getting our houses and yards ready for winter. We have cleaning up our gardens, cleaning out our garages, and washing and storing our outside furniture. But sometimes, accomplishing those things makes other jobs necessary.
At our house, we store our outside tables and chairs in a corner of the basement. But, before I carry everything down the stairs to put them away for the winter months, I have to clear out the area where I am going to put them. Over that past six months or so, what was an empty area in spring has somehow accumulated all sorts of things: mostly things that should have gone in the storage cabinets from which they came. But before I do even that job, I first have to clean out and organize (once again) everything else that is in the storage cabinets. (Our basement tends to serve as empirical proof of the scientific concept of entropy.)
Recently, while I was organizing the contents of those cabinets, I came across a whole stack of pictures that our children drew many years ago. I think that a few might have been part of their first-grade “All about Me Week” display. In the school that they attended, like in some other schools, each first-grader gets to have his or her own “All about Me Week.” They make a display for their classroom door: one that includes photos of them and their families along with some personal drawings; they get to bring a snack to share with their class; and, sometime during the week, they get up and tell their classmates a little about themselves. It is a great way for the children to get to know one another, for each of them to have a special time telling about themselves, and to have their first experience of talking in front of a group of people.
“All about Me Week” is wonderful for young children; but unfortunately some people seem to live “all about me lives,” focusing principally on themselves, on their interests, and on what they want to have for themselves. In some cases, that focus manifests itself in conspicuous consumption, as people try to assert their worth and importance through the large and expensive things that they own. In some cases, people allocate all their time and energy to activities that interest them as individuals, instead of involving themselves in forms of service to others in their community. In other cases, their political choices are determined by what might be beneficial for them personally, rather than on what might be best for all the people of their community, state or nation. And, strange as it may seem, even in their spiritual lives, in their lives of faith, some people tend to focus on what is in it for them rather than mirroring Jesus’ focus on serving the needs of others.
I remember reading many years ago that, if you want to know what people say they believe, read the creeds; but, if you want to know what people really believe, pay attention to their hymns. Music forms us in ways that we often do not perceive; and what we sing often reflects our genuine focus.
One part of my current, temporary ministry at St. Paul’s Church is celebrating the Eucharist each Wednesday afternoon at Canterbury Court Retirement Community in West Carrollton. We have a small group of people, about eight to ten, that gathers in their chapel on the third floor. Few of those attending are Episcopalians, but the service is important to them.
One of the residents who is almost always there is a former church organist. Depending on how she is feeling each week, she will play a hymn at the end of the service: one that is chosen by those attending. They each, of course, have their favorites. More often than not, it is some late 19th-century hymn that focuses on Jesus being with them to take care of them as individuals. The spirituality on which they are based is very individualistic and very self-centered. It has to do with Jesus guarding me from problems and struggles and comforting me. “And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own…”
Considering their ages and their current fragility, that approach to a life of faith is understandable. But, if you listen to their comments before and after the service, you find that, for at least some of them, that is the approach to faith that they seem to have had all their lives: “I put my trust in Jesus so that he can take care of me. That is what being a Christian is all about.” While that approach to the faith was, and in some churches still is, the focus for people of all ages, it is hard to reconcile it with the message of the gospel, in particular that of today’s gospel reading.
In that reading, James and John appear again; and this time they are focusing solely on themselves. They want the two top places of honor in the glorious kingdom that they expect Jesus to bring. They obviously have missed Jesus’ central call to pick up the cross and follow him, a call that he has just issued for a third time. Jesus, in response, once again takes the disciples aside and goes back to the basics: to the very foundation of his message. “The way to live in the kingdom of God,” he tells them again, “is not to focus on yourselves, but to focus on serving others and on giving all that you have and are for the sake of others. The way to live in the kingdom of God is to become the servants of all.”
That was apparently a hard message for Jesus’ first disciples to embrace, and it has been a hard message for Christians to embrace ever since. We have an amazing ability to ignore that central message of the gospel and to tame it and water it down, twisting it and turning it around 180 degrees so that it says what we want it to say, instead of what Jesus meant it to say. We reverse it, taking Jesus’ call to live as servants of others and trying to make it a message that is all about us and about him making life safe and easy for us.
But Jesus did not come to make life safe and easy for us. He came to call us to follow him: the one who gave his entire life for the sake of others. And he taught his disciples and us time and time again that that is the way of the kingdom of God.
We, as followers of Jesus, have not been commissioned by God to stay at home or in church, where it is safe, where things are familiar and comfortable. We have been commissioned to do Jesus did: to go out to those who are suffering and in need, to those who are not as fortunate as we are, and also to those who are rich in material possessions in their lives, but who have no deeper purpose and meaning in their lives. It is to them that we, like Jesus’ first disciples and like Jesus himself, are sent as servants: servants focusing not on ourselves but on serving the needs of others. And by that service, we fulfill our vitally important role in God’s kingdom: the role of bringing Christ to the world and of bringing the world to Christ.