Old Testament: Esther (7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22)
The king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated. Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.
The Response: Psalm 124
1 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
let Israel now say;
2 If the Lord had not been on our side, *
when enemies rose up against us;
3 Then would they have swallowed us up alive *
in their fierce anger toward us;
4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *
and the torrent gone over us;
5 Then would the raging waters *
have gone right over us.
6 Blessed be the Lord! *
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; *
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the Name of the Lord, *
the maker of heaven and earth.
The Epistle: James (5:13-20 )
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
The Gospel: Mark (9:38-50)
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’” (Mark 9:38) Notice what John — speaking on behalf of all the Twelve – what John’s concern was. It wasn’t that the person who was casting out demons wasn’t following Jesus. It was that he was not following “us.” He wasn’t part of “us.” He wasn’t doing things our way. He didn’t have our approval.
To a certain extent, the objection that the Twelve had to this new thing that was happening was understandable. Up to this point in the gospel according to Mark, Jesus had called them and had been teaching and forming them. Time after time, he first spoke to the crowds, but then he took the Twelve aside for deeper, more in-depth instruction. Their whole experience at this point directed their attention to the past, to all that they had learned from him and from the ways that he had taught them. The past was their sole guide.
But now, as the old song puts it, the times they were a-changin. The gospel verses that we heard today, the end of Mark chapter 9, are the last ones in Jesus’ life and ministry in Galilee. In the very next verse, chapter 10 verse 1, Jesus leaves Galilee for the final time and heads toward Judea and, eventually, Jerusalem. As he and his companions journey together, it will become clear to them that everything that Jesus is doing is now determined primarily not by the past but by the future: the future that he calls “the kingdom of God.”
From the very beginning, Mark’s version of the gospel makes it clear that, for Jesus, the coming of the kingdom is everything. But he also makes it clear that, for Jesus, “the kingdom” is not about life in some other world beyond the grave, but about life in this world, only this world transformed to be what God wants it to be. Jesus’ very first words in the gospel according to Mark (1:15) were: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” And in his ministry in Galilee, he showed what that kingdom was all about. He traveled without a concern for himself, healing the sick, opposing every form of evil, relieving human suffering, calling those who were known as “tax collectors and sinners” to be part of this new reality.
Jesus’ teachings and actions proclaim the coming of the kingdom and espouse the values of the kingdom. All that Jesus’ says and does is focused, not on the past, but on the future: on God’s future. The kingdom is everything.
Maybe that is the reason that Jesus responded as he did to John’s, and the Twelve’s, reaction to the man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, even though he was not a member of their group. For Jesus, it did not matter whether that unnamed exorcist was part of his hand-picked group of followers or not, or whether he did things the way that they did and insisted that he should be doing them. All that mattered was that the kingdom of God was being built up, that person-by-person, the world was being transformed to be more closely the kind of world that God intended it to be.
Today, we are celebrating the 80th anniversary of the beginning of St. Mark’s Church. And from the very beginning, this community of faith has been focused on building up that kingdom, that dominion of God in this community and in the world. And, since the beginning, the people of St. Mark’s have done it the way that Jesus, in his response to John, has called us to do it: not worrying whether those with whom we work were “following us” or about whether they were doing everything the same way that we do them. St. Mark’s central focus, whether its members consciously thought of it that way or not, has been on building up the kingdom of God: on touching and transforming the lives of the people in our community and in our world with the love of God and with the message of their worth and dignity as children of God.
Over the past eight decades, the people of this parish have partnered with countless other people who were working toward the same goals. Some were members of other Episcopal churches. Some were members of other communities of faith. Some were members of no faith tradition at all. It really didn’t matter. All that mattered was that the work of God was being done, that the kingdom of God was being built. And the people of St. Mark’s were eager to be a part of that work and to contribute to it in whatever way they could.
We have a marvelous heritage, one that we celebrated especially last Sunday and one that we continue to recall and honor today. Our history and the faithful ministry of those who have gone before us have laid the foundation for who we are today. But, like Jesus as he completed his ministry in Galilee and redirected his focus toward Judea and Jerusalem, our focus needs to be, not on the past, but on the future: on where God is calling St. Mark’s Church now and in the years to come, and on the ongoing work of building God’s kingdom.
I recently came across a quote that I found to be especially apropos for this anniversary celebration. It came from Doug Ivester, the former Chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola. In an address that honored the many accomplishments of his audience, he urged them, “Never let your memories be greater than your dreams.” That advice seems to be very much in line with the counsel that Jesus was giving John and the rest of the Twelve in today’s gospel reading. And it seems to be a wise recommendation for us today as we celebrate St. Mark’s 80th birthday.
On this occasion, we remember and honor our past and those who did so much to make this parish what it is and who served this community in so many ways over the past eight decades. But, like Jesus, our attention needs to be directed not on the past but on the future: on the mission to which God calls St. Mark’s Church now and in the years to come. While treasuring our memories, we must focus always on our dreams; or, more accurately, we must focus always on God’s dream: on the dream of a world transformed, on the dream that Jesus called the kingdom of God.