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 splendor.
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
On Sunday mornings, we begin our Adult Forum at 9:30 and this celebration of the Holy Eucharist at 10:30; but there is a lot that I need to do before any of that happens. (Our Wardens understand this, because they take care of most of these duties when I am away.) Among other Sunday-morning tasks, I need to unlock the Community Building and all its first-floor rooms and this building as well, to plug in the coffee maker for Coffee Hour, to move some of the furniture in the Lounge and make coffee for the Adult Forum, to check for and handle any messages and mail, to prepare the altar, to turn on our microphones, and to go over once again my notes for the Adult Forum and my sermon. In order to get all these, and a few more, things done before anyone else arrives, I usually get here a few minutes after 8:00.
Depending on my timing, I sometimes get to catch up on the news on the way to church. When I can, I listen to the 8:00 NPR news on WYSO. If I turn on the car radio a couple of minutes early, I hear the end of a program of old, gospel music that they broadcast each week. The songs that I have heard all seem to have the same theme: “doing what I need to do to go to heaven when I die.” They are all about some other world and seem to ignore the gospel’s focus on building the kingdom of God in this life and in this world. And their emphasis is on what the singer supposedly will avoid doing in order that he or she will one day go to heaven. The stress in this approach to the Christian life is almost exclusively on staying out of trouble and on not doing things. As Lamar Williamson (Mark, p. 194) puts it in his commentary on this morning’s gospel reading, “Today the gospel is often presented as a no-risk offer, and persons sometimes follow Jesus in order to stay out of trouble.”
That is what James and John appear to be asking for in the reading that we just heard. Jesus has just spoken with his followers, as he often does, about God’s kingdom and about his disciples’ place in God’s kingdom. And the two brothers try to ensure that they will have the best seats in the house, that they will reign next to Jesus when the kingdom begins.
But Jesus’ response offers, what must have been, a shocking rejection not only of their request but of their entire way of thinking. As the same commentator puts it, “Discipleship will mean more trouble, not less. Though it may be palliative in some respects, following Jesus is likely to be disruptive in others. True discipleship is characterized by a costly pouring out of one’s life for another, whether it be an aging parent, a difficult spouse, a special child, another member of the Christian fellowship who has unusual needs, or any person whose situation elicits neighborly service at personal cost. Anyone who contemplates following Jesus without fear and trembling has not understood true discipleship, according to Mark.”
The notion that “a Christian life” means essentially not doing things runs contrary to the core message of the gospel itself. Jesus consistently calls on his hearers to make a positive difference in the world, to challenge the way things are, and to show a better way of living: the way of the kingdom.
Specifically, in today’s gospel reading, Jesus challenges the commonly held assumption that “being great” means having power over other people and controlling them. Jesus rejects that approach; but the implication of the image that he uses goes even further than that. Being servants of others and slaves of all means also giving up at least some of the control that we have over our own lives. A true servant or slave serves in response to the needs of others, and those needs are the controlling factors in the servant’s life. And sometimes, control over our own selves and over our own lives is the hardest control for us to give up.
We want to be in control of our lives; and, from one perspective, that is a very good and important thing. We need to be able to live by the principles that we profess and not succumb to the values around us: values that all too often tend to degrade other people, to encourage selfishness and acquisitiveness, and to shield us from the needs of others. Yet from another perspective, seeking to be in control of our lives is a direct threat to the greatness to which Jesus calls us, because it tends to put us and our wants and concerns at the center of our world.
But the life to which Jesus calls us and the one that he exemplifies places God, and the work of God, and the needs of others at the center of our world and or our existence. That is a radical change. And that approach not only challenges us but also challenges the values of the society and culture in which we live, for it leads us to holds up to others the hollowness of those commonly accepted values and the shallowness of those institutions and practices that depend on and uphold those values.
That is the reason that Jesus, in today’s gospel reading, warns James and John about the cost of discipleship. The status quo and those who benefit from the status quo resist in the strongest terms those who dare to challenge it. Jesus dared to challenge it in his time, and it led him to the cross. And he warns his disciples that they need to be willing to expect the same response.
“Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it,” warns the old saying. James and John wished to reign beside Jesus, one at his right hand and one at his left, thinking that that meant sitting on thrones in comfort and in glory. Yet the gospels tell us that the throne from which Jesus reigned was a cross, and those who reigned closest to him hung on their own crosses, one to his right and the other to his left.
The message of Jesus is not an easy message. It never consists in not doing things and simply staying out of trouble. Instead it is a call to live in a new and different way and to challenge the world to live in a new and different way. It is a call to turn the world and its values upside down.
To become the greatest, you must become the least. To become the first, you must become the last. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”