Jesus did call together an eclectic group of disciples: successful fishermen, a tax collector working for the Roman empire, a zealot seeking to overthrow the Roman empire, as well as several other oddballs and eccentrics. So it should come as no surprise that Jesus would call two brothers, who spent too much time posturing for power and position. Maybe I’m overreaching, but I think we witness some thunderous behavior by these brothers in today’s gospel.
Today’s passage is the third and final time Jesus foretells his suffering, death, and resurrection.******
Immediately afterwards, James and John approach Jesus:
“Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.”
“What is it? I’ll see what I can do.”
“Arrange it so we can sit in the highest place of honor- one at your right and the other at your left.”
Jesus tells them:
“You have no idea what you are asking.”
James and John, certainly are functioning a bit like thunder. In response to Jesus' incomprehensible news, they turn their attention to how they might benefit, towards how they might amplify their power and position. And they are doing it quite loudly, causing a roar of discord amongst the disciples. Thankfully, Jesus once again redirects all the disciples, expanding what it means to be great.
“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around...and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.” ******
Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.
In this movement, to be great, is to abandon the pursuit of our own self-centered interests. Stephanie Spellers, in her breathtaking book, The Church Cracked Open, describes Jesus as calling us to: “Move your body, your resources, your power and your heart into place among the hurting people with whom Jesus already stands. That’s when you gain abundant life, because that’s when you begin to experience Jesus-shaped life.”******
She goes on to say, discipleship is a call to: “Commit to behaviors and relationships that nourish rather than dominate, share rather than hoard. If the self-centric way of empire prizes self and group above all else, and exploits and controls others for the prosperity and peace of those at the center, the way of love is its opposite.”******
Let’s face it. It can be hard to remain in servant mode. It is a way of moving through this life with a frame of mind and heart that cares deeply for the neighbor, for walking the way of love. Yet like other things that are important to us, such as eating healthy, exercising, spending time with family, performing our jobs to the best of our abilities-- we have to remain intentional, to be mindful of maintaining a servant's heart. We’ll never get it perfectly, but if we show up faithfully each day we are doing the best we can.
So what does it look like to follow Jesus’ command to be a servant? Well, today we are celebrating the ministries of two women who have done a pretty lovely job of showing up faithfully with a servant’s heart.
Back in 2012, former St. James was in the midst of a clergy transition. In any parish, transition can be a delicate time, as there are usually one or two tender and unique dynamics at play. As a result, the parish named Rev. Jane Dunning, a retired priest already familiar to the parish, as their Priest Associate. During that time of transition, Jane served as long term supply with another local priest, offered pastoral support, and faithfully encouraged the wardens. When the parish called a young and inexperienced priest to serve their community, Jane encouraged the parish to remain open hearted and minded, that their new priest might have new ways of doing things. And that is how I still see Jane serving us today. She has a gift for encouraging people, for helping folks to remember that all will be well, that God really is with us. She has walked beside so many of us in worship, offering pastoral care, presiding at weddings and funerals. She is also a treasure of the firefighting community, as she serves these young people, who often experience trauma in the line of duty. Jane, wherever she goes, brings a gift of encouragement. And while she has stepped down as our Priest Associate, her servant ministry continues in the ways she shows up each week and continues to encourage us to trust that all is in Gods’ hands.
Our other servant leader is, of course, our beloved Deacon Ann Wood. Some of you long timers know this, but I bet others might not. Ann began her journey to the diaconate at former St. James. She was a parishioner, one with a servant’s heart, who felt a call to go forth and serve. Former St. James sponsored her in the ordination process, and then bid her a prayerful farewell, as she went on to serve numerous churches in the Pioneer Valley. Part of her servant ministry during those years was serving as a chaplain at Cooley Dickinson Hospital.
In 2016, Ann explored with the bishop what it might look like to return home, serving one last parish before retiring. Thankfully for us, the bishop blessed her coming back to former St. James, where only months later we merged with former St. Andrew’s and became an entirely new community of faith- Saints James and Andrew. During Ann’s time with us I have come to have such gratitude for her gifts for pastoral care, offering prayers, and the laying on of hands. Every time I have seen her lay hands on someone for healing prayers, it is as if you can see the Holy Spirit moving in and through her. It’s humbling and beautiful. She has been a voice of wisdom that we have come to count on at our biweekly clergy and warden meetings, and she remains a chaplain to us as she leads us in prayer, grounding our work in God.
Ordinarily, when folks retire, we also have to say farewell. We are fortunate to keep these two wonderful servants, now in new roles as parishioners. In a few moments, we will offer special prayers and thanksgiving for their ministry.
But first, I want to highlight that while it is not always easy to be a servant, as we can get distracted, we can even get a bit thunderous, we know if we keep showing up and trying our best that we too can move forward with servant’s hearts. We’ve seen it modeled so beautifully by these two women, by one another, and even by these occasionally thunderous disciples of Jesus.
This week, how will we each go forth to love and serve? Amen.
* Mark 3:17
**** Google’s definition of thunderous.
***** Adapting a phrase coined by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
****** Mark 10:35-45 The Message
****** Stephanie Spellers, The Church Cracked Open, pg 87-88
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