Rev. Deacon Ann Wood
“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.”
Today, we’re remembering one of our patron saints – St. James, the Apostle. He’s one of the three Jameses mentioned in the New Testament. Along with his brother, John, he was one of the disciples originally called by Jesus and was among the privileged group who were close to him. James and John were sons of a prosperous, Galilean fisherman, Zebedee. James witnessed the transfiguration and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. He was the first disciple to be martyred – killed at the hands of Herod. Tradition has it that his body was taken to Spain, where he’s one of the most popular saints. The other two are James, the Lesser and James of Jerusalem, in case you’re interested.
Our James and his brother John, are the two disciples who feature most in our gospel reading today. Their misunderstanding of Jesus and the nature of his Kingdom is the opportunity for Jesus to teach them - and us - about servanthood. In so doing, Jesus does it again! He turns our worldly values upside down! As he did so often throughout the gospels, and wants to do in our own lives, Jesus reminds his followers that we have much to learn about the nature of his Kingdom. In Matthew’s version of our Gospel reading, the mother of James and John approaches Jesus to ask him for a favor. She wishes her sons to have a place of prominence in Jesus’ Kingdom. Like many of us, she wanted what, she believed in her heart, was the best situation for her children – but she misjudged the nature of the Kingdom. She and they are ambitious and thinking in terms of personal reward and personal distinction. Many of us tend to judge our accomplishments, our success in the world, or our place in society, based on the amount of money in our bank accounts, by how far up the corporate ladder we’ve climbed, the elegance of our home or what influence or control we have of those in our power. To that mother, to the other disciples and down the ages to us, Jesus said – “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” Jesus cites his own life as an example to follow: “...just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” Later, the apostle Paul wrote “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who though he was in the form of God . . . emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” (Phil. 2)
David Brooks, in his new book “The Second Mountain”, maintains that those who serve others, who become other-centered, rather than self-centered, exude joy in their lives. “The world tells them to want individual freedom” he says, “but they want intimacy, responsibility and commitment. The world wants them to climb the ladder and pursue success, but they want to be a person for others”. What might this kind of thinking mean for us and the way we conduct our lives? Does that joy become a part of us when we serve others? Jesus makes it clear what he calls us to do.
Just prior to our reading, Jesus and his followers are on their final journey to Jerusalem. Jesus takes the disciples aside and tells them that when he reaches Jerusalem, he will be handed over to the priests and scribes, who will condemn him to death. Surprisingly, immediately following this piece of shocking, unbelievable news, the mother of James and John approaches Jesus asking him for a favor on behalf of her sons – namely that they should be chosen to sit one at his right hand and one at his left in his Kingdom. Rather than becoming angry with her, Jesus kindly and gently asks James and John if they will be able to suffer in the same way that he is to suffer – whether they can drink the same “cup”. But then, Jesus lets them know that the granting of places of privilege in his Kingdom isn’t for him to give. That honor belongs to his Father.
Hearing the mother of James and John trying to curry favor with Jesus, the rest of the disciples are understandably angry and jealous for their own positions in the Kingdom. Their arguing catches Jesus’ attention, and he calls them all to him and explains what they need to do to become great or to become leaders. They need to serve others. He cites his own life as an example of a leader who is on earth to serve, rather than to be served – someone who will give his own life for others.
Greatness doesn’t consist of commanding others to do things for you, but consists of doing things for others. Jesus gives them – and us – a new set of values. How do we live out these values? How many people have we helped? It’s not the number of committees we’ve served on, how many material possessions we may have, or the number of people we may control. Jesus himself serves, as he calls his followers to do. He’s not the conquering earthly king or mighty leader reigning in despotic power. He demonstrates heaven’s greatness in suffering love and sacrificial service.
James and John say that they will be able to suffer, to “drink the same cup” as Jesus, and, in fact, they do. The experiences of James and John reflect the two levels of suffering involved in drinking that “cup”. James endured a short, sharp and bitter struggle. We heard in our second reading this morning how he became the first apostle to die for Jesus. John’s servanthood, or “cup”, is different. He lived a long life - it’s believed that he lived to be nearly 100 years old – survived threats on his life and exile to the island of Patmos. He’s an example of how service can build us, change us and help us bring joy to everyone we meet.
How committed are we to following Christ, to following his commands/edicts/rules for living, to being servants, giving of ourselves, being other-centered? Many of you are involved in a servant ministry – 2nd Helpings, Whitney’s Pantry, coffee hour, the gardening team and the Emmaus Companions are a few that come to mind. There are many examples of people here helping others or working for the good of the community. The diaconate is an example of a servant ministry. At ordination, the Bishop, speaking to the ordinand says “God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood directly under your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely”. Deacons carry out these commands in a variety of ways. There are those who minister to the homeless, while others have a prison, hospital or college presence. Still others work with veterans, the addicted and would-be immigrants. One of my tasks as a deacon, is to serve at the altar – prepare the table for the Eucharist, assist with the distribution of the elements and clean up afterwards. It’s a part of my ministry which gives me joy.
Serving others, as I’m sure you’ve found, brings its own special happiness and joy. David Brooks, again in his new book, maintains that “The more you are living a committed life well, the more joy will be your steady state, the frame of mind you carry around with you and shine on others. You will become a joyful person.” Brooks also maintains that witnessing someone else serving others brings a sense of joy to the on- looker. He tells the story of an incident when a group of people are riding home together through a snowstorm. They pass an elderly lady standing in her driveway, holding a snow shovel. One of the male passengers asks to be dropped off at the next intersection. Thinking that he must be near home, they let him out of the car. Instead of going into some nearby house, he walks up to the lady, takes her shovel and starts shoveling her driveway. One of the passengers in the car who witnesses this deed recalls that she –and I quote - “felt like jumping out of the car and hugging this guy. I felt like singing and running or skipping and laughing; telling everybody about his deed. I was joyous, happy, smiling, energized.” – end quote – and this reaction was just from witnessing a kind and helpful action!
In this world, this culture, that judges success and happiness by the number of our material possessions, or by the power we wield in our family, neighborhood, job or society, we would do well to remember Jesus’ words to his disciples: “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave”. Do we want to experience the joy that comes from serving others? Do we want to live a Christ-like life? Are we ready to have our worldly values turned upside down or do we want the greatness, prestige and accolades of the world? It’s our choice! AMEN
Rev. Heather Blais
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus offers us an important lesson about distractions. In the story we witness Jesus and his disciples arriving in a village as they make their way toward Jerusalem. Since this story is in all four of the canonical gospels, we know that this village is actually Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. These other versions of the story tell us that Mary and Martha are actually Lazarus’ sisters, and that these women are not strangers to Jesus. In fact, they are female disciples that Jesus loves like family.
It’s clear that Martha has a gift for hospitality. She welcomes Jesus and his motley crew into her home. She is doing what any good host does when you welcome guests--you ensure there is a nice spot to take your sandals off and relax, that there is plenty of food and drink to serve, and space for good conversation. She is doing the invisible and thankless work that goes with keeping house, being a good host, and being a caretaker.
Martha is acutely aware that her sister has gone off to sit with the company and she’s been left alone to handle the work. When Martha brings her guests refreshments, she doesn’t give Mary a sisterly look, make passive aggressive comments, or even directly ask her for help. Instead, she puts her guest, who granted is like a brother, on the spot and asks, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me" (Luke 10:40).
Jesus answers her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…” (Luke 10:41). Some believe that “Martha, Martha” is a criticism of her behavior. I tend to see it as something else. A wake up call, an invitation. I imagine Jesus is talking to Martha as a parent might speak to their child with attention deficit disorder, with abundant love and a touch of exasperation.
The child is in their cloud focused on their agenda, and completely oblivious to you speaking to them. “Martha, Martha” is Jesus trying to get Martha’s attention. The way a parent would repeat their child's name when they want their child to focus on their voice for a moment, to actually hear what the parent has to say. The parent ensures there is eye contact, and sometimes this might mean holding the child’s cheeks gently with their hands to ensure they are looking face to face. The parent might be trying to get their child to simply brush their teeth in the morning, yet Jesus is offering all of us a lesson on our own distractions.
Jesus might as well be saying, "Heather, Heather; David, David; Sharon, Sharon; Rich, Rich; you are worried and distracted by many things… (Luke 10:41). Add your own name in, as Jesus is talking to each of us. Because in truth we are all easily distracted by many things.
We are distracted by emails, text messages, video games, silly apps, bills, phone calls, newspapers, housework, to do lists, meetings, lawn work, our jobs, our volunteer work, and by the onslaught of constant news and advertisements telling us how awful the world is and what we can buy to make ourselves feel better.
Some of our nations’ elected officials distract us on twitter, fox, and cnn with their arguments, fear mongering, and hate speech that is used to attack anyone that is different, but particularly people who are brown and black, people who have come to this county to make a better life--by legal and non legal means. Their banter and freedom to use such hateful rhetoric not only gives permission for any and everyone to do the same, including our children, but distracts us from their real goal of white nationalism. I imagine four hundred years ago when white European settlers came to America, they too were distracted, by the freedom of this new opportunity, by the beauty of this new world, by the harsh requirements it took to start a new life. They were too distracted to notice they had actually taken this land from those who were here long before them.
The examples of distraction within our individual lives, communities, and our history are endless. Which is why the second part of what Jesus says to Martha matters so much.
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:41-42).
“Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42)
I am quite positive Mary also was distracted from time to time, because we all are easily distracted. It’s part of being human. Yet in this particular moment, in this particular story, she sat at Jesus feet and listened. She showed up and had an open heart and mind. She practiced being present. She chose being in relationship over her long to do list. We are invited to do the same.
And notice what Jesus says, when we practice being present in our relationships, that peace, joy, and a sense of constancy will not be taken away from us. It will give us the strength to face the truth underneath our distractions. Maybe we scroll endlessly through our facebook newsfeed because we are lonely. Maybe we use apps and video games because we are bored and unsure of how our gifts could possibly be used to make this world better. Maybe we turn off the news because we can’t take it anymore.
Yet we are here today, in this absurd heat not because we thought it would be fun to sweat it out in uncomfortable pews. We are here today, together because we know being in relationship matters. That we need one another and our God to keep us from getting too distracted. That we need to be in relationship with one another, to trust in the knowledge that when we stand together with the love of our God this world can be made a better place. It’s not just idealism.
When we choose love, we are fighting against the distractions in our lives and in this world, which harm us and harm our neighbors. As we head back into the agonizing heat today, I invite you to ponder with me:
-What is distracting you?
-What is distracting our community?
-What is distracting our world?
-How might you practice being present today?
-Who in your life really needs you to be more present?
Rev. Jane R. Dunning
The seventy returned with joy…
What is Joy? What feeling does that bring to mind?
French philosopher and Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin offers this definition:
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
Where have I seen joy?
I have seen it in the eyes of my giggly grandchildren when we spend time together.
I have seen it in the eyes of friends and strangers when there is a warm and loving greeting.
I have seen it in the embrace of friends and family when a loved one comes home at last.
It is a warmth that overflows, and a sense of peace deep within..
It is the feeling gratitude for the unexpected blessings that brighten our day
It is the feeling of being truly blessed…
True joy is far deeper than just the happiness of the moment…
True joy is a sign that the Kingdom of God has come near.
The word used in the original Greek gospel is “chara”
The Greek word “chara” means the deep-down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of the person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord, which is then expressed by love for others…
Jesus sent out the seventy, two by two, into the surrounding villages to be bearers of his message of Gods abiding Love…
He blesses them and sends them with just the clothes on their backs and the company of each other. They have no change of clothing, no supplies, not even an extra pair of sandals… They have no publicity, no audio system, no loudspeakers, none of today’s fancy paraphernalia.
They carry nothing but the presence of God as they go out on their mission.
Just two by two, out into the world. Wherever they go, they are to say, The Kingdom of God has come near.”
Jesus has come to know these men, and they have felt the deep calling to follow him, to learn from him, to let him into their hearts and their deepest longings.
He knows their gifts and empowers them to take these gifts to spread the word of God’s love, Gods healing, and Gods peace.
They have a found, within themselves, a deep calling to proclaim the gospel, the good news, and they are now taking the first steps of that journey…
I believe strongly that each of us has been given our own personal gifts, gifts that are our strength, those gifts which will bring blessing to those we meet along the way.
For many years, I was a teacher, first in Kindergarten, then in First Grade… I loved the job, I loved the kids, and thought that this was the best fit for me.
When I started teaching, back in 1988, there were no ordained women in the Episcopal Church. In fact, there were no women or girls on the altar, no girl acolytes, no girl crucifers. Women were only serving behind the scenes, serving as the altar guild, choir, and ushers… Never on the altar.
On July 28, 1974, eleven women were ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia, without the official approval of the church, and there was much furor and controversy. Two years later, in 1976, General Convention approved the ordination of women. Now it was official.
Later this month, we will celebrate 45 years since these eleven women were ordained to the priesthood…
This change had a significant impact on the church. It has also had an impact on my life personally, on my sense of who I was and where God was calling me. Fifteen years later, I was ordained deacon and then priest.
As I look back on my life I am amazed at the opportunities I have been given and the amazing joy that I known in my ministry..
Each of us has a calling to ministry. Sometimes it may take years to discover the ministry that brings us the deepest satisfaction, that brings us joy.
God calls each of us out to be bearers of God’s love and healing power, using our gifts in service to others, in whatever way fits our strengths and brings us joy. As Jesus sent the seventy out into the countryside in witness to Gods Love, so we are called to follow… not alone, but in twos or threes or even more…
May God bless each of us in our ministry, and like the seventy, may your journey bring you joy.
May you find joy, in the words of the poet, John O’Donohue:
Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.
As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace….
Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.
May your prayer of listening deepen enough
to hear in the depths the laughter of god.”
Note: John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
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