Old Testament: 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?
The Response: 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.
The Epistle: 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 Gospel: 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 t 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
Last Sunday’s gospel reading, with its story about Jesus asking a rich man to give up everything he had in order to live in the kingdom of God, was an ideal lead-in to this year’s stewardship program. But Jesus’ instruction in today’s gospel, the one about becoming the servant of all in order to become truly great in God’s eyes, likewise provides a rich source for reflection on what stewardship is all about.
Stewardship is not primarily about meeting budgets and paying bills, although those are obviously important topics. Stewardship is about service. It is about using whatever God has entrusted to us, including our money, in order to serve the needs of all and to help build up the dominion of God in the world. That service should not be an after-thought, something that we do only after we have taken care of everything else that we need and want. Instead, it needs to be a responsibility that we address up-front and that carries a high priority for us. For people of faith, contributing to the work of God in the world and serving the needs of others need to be central issues when we consider the use of whatever resources we happen to have.
Quite a few years back, I included, in a message about stewardship, a story about the great religious leader John Wesley. It is a story that bears repeating.
John Wesley was one of the greatest evangelists of all time. He was ordained as a priest of the Church of England in 1728. Three years later, he began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. The first year, his income was 30 pounds; he found that he could live on 28 of them and could then give 2 to the poor. In the second year, his income doubled, but he continued to live on 28; this allowed him to give 32 pounds to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds, triple what it had been; but keeping his own expenses the same, he gave away 62 pounds.
By 1776, his income had reached 1400 pounds, yet he still rarely let his expenses exceed 30 pounds. The English Tax Commissioners became suspicious and launched an investigation. His written reply to them declared, “I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at the present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want for bread.”
Among other things, John Wesley both understood and embodied what Jesus was talking about at the conclusion of today’s gospel reading. He saw himself as a servant of others, especially of those who were in need. And he viewed whatever income he had, and whatever increase in income that he had, as opportunities to serve the needs of others even more.
John Wesley provided a powerful witness to the gospel and a striking example for us to follow. But we actually don’t have to go across the Atlantic and back to the 18th century to find such an approach to living out our Christian faith. All we need to do is to walk over to the Lounge during today’s Coffee Hour to find a group of people who, year after year, dare to take a similar approach.
The annual meeting of our Parish Action Team is an amazing thing. As Fr. Jim pointed out to us on a Sunday shortly after this year’s Yard Sale, he has been a priest for almost 50 years and has served in seven different dioceses; yet, he observed, he never knew a parish that worked so long and so hard to make money in order to give it all away. Like John Wesley, we rejoice at and are grateful for the thousands of dollars that we make in the Yard Sale, because that means that we have more money to give away in order to do the work of God in the world. That is an example of putting the gospel into practice.
As we focus on our own use of all that God has entrusted to us, and as we prepare to make our pledge to St. Mark’s Church for 2019, these two examples of faithful stewardship challenge all of us to ask us why we have whatever we have, whether we are talking about our time, our talent, or our treasure: our money.
Exercising faithful stewardship for us cannot be something that we do just once a year, when we work the Yard Sale and the Parish Action Team meets. It needs to be a year-round mindset and a year-round way of life for all of us: as a parish, as households, and as individuals Christians. And the pledges that we make at this time of year to the life and ministry of St. Mark’s Church are important first steps in committing ourselves to that mindset and that way of life for the coming year. They are ways of putting into practice our commitment to follow the one who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”