Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sermon; 17 Pentecost, Proper 20B; James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

A couple of weeks ago I said that it was usually pure coincidence when the Epistle reading thematically matches up with the gospel reading.  That's because unlike the Old Testament lessons that were traditionally chosen for a thematic match, the Epistle readings just cycle through.  If you are paying attention, you will notice that we hear good portions of the letters from Paul and the other general epistles as we move through the season.  But the letter from James is a different matter, because James ALWAYS seems to relate to the gospel reading.

“Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”

“When they came to Capernaum, he asked them what they were arguing about.  But they were silent for they had been arguing about who was the greatest among them.”

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and willing to yield . . . You covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”

“The Son of Man will be betrayed, killed and rise again.  Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Both James and today's gospel passage have to do with humility, servanthood and welcome.  Both readings give us, as Paul writes, a more excellent way of doing things.  And today, I want to focus on the idea of servanthood.

Today we hear the second Passion prediction found in Mark.  Jesus, second person of the Trinity, will be betrayed, executed by the state, and, eventually, rise again.  He could have stopped Judas from that awful act, but he chose to follow God, not his own selfish desires.  He could have prevented his execution, but he chose to follow God, not his own selfish desires.  Through his serving God, he was able to show that, ultimately, neither the state nor the world have any power to give life.  Life is only to be found in God, but we must be willing to submit in order to claim it.  We must be willing to serve in order to be great.

And whom are we to serve?  If we put this in the context of the two greatest commandments – love God, love your neighbor – the answer is obvious: serve God, serve your neighbor.  In serving God, we look for ways to serve our neighbor; and in serving our neighbor, we serve God.

To drive this point home, Jesus silently chides the disciples for arguing about their status.  He then reminds them that he who serves others will be great.  And, since people often need an example, or often reply, “Show me,” he brings a child into their little circle and says, “This . . . if you welcome the children, if you welcome the vulnerable, and do it in the name of my love, then you also welcome God into your midst.”

Serve God, serve neighbor; serve your neighbor, and you are serving God.

So whom do we serve?

We can, and do, serve those in this parish.  Whether that is as mundane as providing study opportunities, welcoming newcomers and visitors, or is more intentional by providing quilts for the sick and recovering, or offering meals for those in need.  Those are some of the ways we serve our neighbors in this parish.

We serve the children of Ft. Vannoy by providing food, clothing and monetary assistance to the family advocacy program.  But we also have the opportunity to do more.  We could drive out to Ft. Vannoy and volunteer as classroom aides or tutors.  We could staff the parish hall in afternoons offering homework help or other tutoring opportunities for the people in our neighborhood.

And on a much larger scale, we have an opportunity to welcome and serve those children of God who are displaced by the war in Syria.

There have been calls for governments and churches to help the Syrian refugees by providing food, housing and jobs.  Our Presiding Bishop has issued a letter on this topic.  Even so, even with the images of miles of people, of children who have perished, or of Hungary erecting a fence, some of the push-back has been, “Why should we help them when we have poor, sick and starving people in our own country?”

That may be true to an extent, but it also seems to me that is a line used to absolve people of doing anything at all.  It's the first line to, “Let someone else deal with it.”

Granted, we can't help everybody.  We can't serve everyone.  But we can help one.  We can serve one.

As we continue to process the Congregational Vitality work we did, as we continue to look to answer the question, “Who do you say St. Luke's is?” and as we continue to look for ways to market that identity, let us continually remember the words of James and the example of Christ – submit to God and serve all.

For it is when we serve God that we are open to serving our neighbor.  And it is in serving our neighbor that we serve God.



First time comments will be moderated.