Old Testament: Proverbs (31:10-31)
A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed
She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders
of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.
The Response: Psalm 1
1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season,
with leaves that do not wither; *
everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked; *
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, *
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, *
but the way of the wicked is doomed.
The Epistle: James (3:13-4:3, 7-8a )
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
The Gospel: Mark (9:30-37)
Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
I am now in my 11th year as a volunteer chaplain at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, serving at many memorial dedications that take place during military reunions. This summer, I was privileged to be part of an event honoring an air reconnaissance group that had been formed in 1942. The keynote speaker that day was a man who had been one of the earliest members of that unit. He had taken aerial photographs over the Pacific for the use of General Douglas MacArthur and his staff during World War II. Eventually, he rose to the rank of colonel and became the group’s commander. He is now 98 years old.
He began his remarks by informing us that he planned to tell two stories from his early years in the service, and he promised to try to stick to the facts as best he could. “But,” he cautioned us, “you have to realize that, at my age, you tend to remember things that never happened!”
Today, as part of St. Mark’s 80th anniversary observance, we are focusing especially on our past, on our history. That is an important thing to do. But, as the colonel cautioned us, sometimes we tend to remember things that never actually happened, or at least to remember them in only a very partial and not-so-accurate way. Memory — as I have reminded people for many years – memory is kind. It often enables us to remember the good things and to forget the not-so-good. And it enables us to remember things as being better than they actually were. That can tend to happen on occasions like this one.
Here at St. Mark’s, for example, people who have been a part of the parish for many years remember some of the wonderful social events and celebrations that brought parishioners together; but they tend to forget some of the conflicts that at times caused divisions and drove people apart. They remember the hopeful times of new beginnings and new ministries, but tend to forget the times when the parish leadership discussed seriously whether the parish would be able to continue to exist at all. They remember the crowded church services, such as those in 1964 when the average Sunday attendance reached its peak at 221 people; but they tend to forget that, just six years later, fewer than half of those people were still here. That limited remembering is normal. It is one of the ways that we human beings recall and deal with our past.
Memory is kind. But it can also lead us to idealize the past in such a way that we fail to appreciate the many blessings of the present and the hopeful possibilities for the future. And sometimes, it can lead us to concentrate on the wrong things and to ignore those parts of our common life that are actually vital to living out the gospel. At some times in the past, for example, churches tended to inflate, sometimes significantly, the number of members that they supposedly had. You could find churches, of all different denominations including our own, who would brag of having hundreds or even thousands of members. But, when you walked in the door on a Sunday morning, you would find yourself among fewer than 100 worshippers. They rest were members in name only and may not have actually participated in the life of the church for decades. Yet those bigger numbers seemed to be held up as evidence that this was a great and important church.
Churches, like other human institutions, have all too often mistaken what true greatness is all about. Individuals do that as they flaunt, at least subtly, what they own, what their position and responsibilities at work are, what their significance is in their community, and often today how busy they are, as though any of these things made anybody great. Nations and their leaders and entire civilizations do that as they brashly boast about their supposed wealth or their power or as they foolishly assert their own autonomy from the other people and nations of the world, as though these things made them great. But, as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, whom I have quoted before, has reminded us (Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, page 236), in God’s eyes: “Civilisations are judged not by their power but by their concern for the powerless; not by wealth but by how they treat the poor; not when they seek to become invulnerable but when they care for the vulnerable.”
Not surprisingly, that teaching is very much in line with the teaching of another Jewish teacher, one who walked this earth 2000 years ago. According to today’s gospel reading, Jesus watched and listened as his closest followers argued among themselves about who was the greatest, demonstrating that they had no idea what true greatness was all about. And so, he called them aside, sat down, and explained to them: “Whoever wants to be first among you must be last of all and servant of all.” There was the mark of true greatness and the criterion for judging true greatness, whether in a person or in a nation or in a church.
As we look back on St. Mark’s history and on the wonderful heritage that we have received from those who have come before us, it is right and important for us to remember and honor them. But to do them justice, we need to remember and honor them for the right things. We need to remember and honor them not as people who blithely passed through life without having any conflicts with one another, but as people who, in the love of God’s Spirit, struggled to work through those conflicts together. We need to remember and honor them, not as Christians who were always assured of the future of this parish, but as Christians who strove through their uncertainties in order to forge together God’s future for this parish. We need to remember and honor them, not because of some unrealistic number of supposed members in their church, but because of the truly remarkable number of people, both within and especially outside of this church, whose lives the members of this church have touched in a positive way with the Good News of God in Christ and with the church’s self-sacrificing love.
As we prepare during this coming week to celebrate St. Mark’s 80th anniversary, we remember the past and we honor those who have made this parish the wonderful, life-giving place that it is. But we do so in order that we might be as faithful as those who have gone before us were in striving to follow the example of Jesus who became the last of all and the servant of all; for that alone is the mark of true greatness.