The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – PR 24 – Year B ; Karl Doege
Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
You probably know that this is going to be about stewardship. That’s because I happen to be your Vestry’s Liaison for Stewardship. So, you can bet that I’m going to put in a plug for donations. But here’s how I’m going to do it.
I want you to be asking this question in the back of your mind – while you’re listening to what I have to say, “Is this an agenda I want to support?” If it is, then I hope you will be willing to devote your life to it. Just your life. That’s all. Well, maybe time, talent and money, too, but mostly it’s your life.
The Collect today mentions “Works of mercy.” That short expression serves to tie all of today’s lessons together.
In the reading from Job, we see a man, God’s servant, sitting on a pile of ashes, dogs licking his sores, harangued by his friends. Justifiably, he wonders, “Why? Why all this suffering?” God answers by giving Job a long list of his “works of mercy.” I think God is saying, “Count your blessings, Job. Count your blessings.” Of course, Job would rather not hear about his blessings. He’s like all of us. We’d rather complain than hear about how good God has been to us. The answer God gives Job is really a list of God’s works of mercy. I’ve usually read it as a reprimand. But maybe God is actually saying, “Look how I’ve blessed you.” In the end, Job admits that God is right.
The Psalmist ALSO lists works of mercy. We tend to think of them as “works of creation,” but let’s not forget that they ARE, very much, works of mercy.
Finally, the Gospel tells us that, “Whoever will be greatest among you must be servant of all.”
As Christians, we assume that to be proper servants we must FOLLOW Jesus. Let me point out that that’s not what Jesus is telling us TODAY. Jesus only says that the greatest among you will be servants of all. Last week he said, to the Rich Man, “Followme.” Today Jesus simply says, “The greatest must first serve.”
We know what good works are. I think we do them. I think we’re good at it. You have been generous in giving to those places that DO good works, and you have selflessly volunteered your services – in house and off campus. I’ll pat St. Luke’s on the back, because I think we’re doing a great job – thanks your efforts..
Nevertheless, something seems to be missing. Statistics tell us that churches are failing. We are losing membership, shrinking at a rate that’s frightening. If we don’t change something, we won’t be around much longer. We’re DOING the good works. What needs to change?
Last Sunday Cyndi wondered aloud, “What is it that we must set aside so that we can best follow Jesus?” As profound as that question is, I would like to rephrase it. I KNOW that we will do good works if we follow Jesus. And I know that FOLLOWING Jesus requires us to set something aside. But, in the context of today’s lesson, I think we must ask instead, “What must we set aside in order to best serve?” Because, again, FOLLOWING Jesus is not the issue here. The issue is service and servanthood – what Jesus calls the path to greatness.
“What must we set aside to best serve?” Consider this: I’m sure you realize that we Christians do not have a corner on good works. Good works are done by people of every religious stripe – Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Animists.
Maybe our problem is an unwillingness to face the possibility that we don’t have all the answers. Maybe Jews or Muslims or Animists or Atheists have some answers, too. After all, THEY are doing good works. How come? Who or what principle do THEY follow? My fundamentalist background taught me that all their good works are like filthy rags, because they’re not done for Jesus. Could there be an underlying thought, unconscious and subliminal, telling us that the good works done by others are of no account because they’re not done with precisely the correct theological motivation? I hope not. I hope not.
Maybe we think that Jesus is the best way to find God. Well, maybe Jesus IS the best way to find God. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that other people of other faiths also have paths to find God. At least they may THINK they do. Or maybe they don’t think about God at all. Are they wrong?
To find out, we must go TO THEM – OUT THERE and find out what makes THEM tick. What path are THEY on? HOWCOME they can serve WITHOUT US, without JESUS? Would you support our efforts to go to them and find out?
It’s clear that we must do something differently. My own thinking is that we need a different approach. Instead of thinking WE can teach those people out there about Jesus, maybe we need to give up that notion and learn from others what they see as THEIR paths to God. Is Jesus the only way? Many Christians assert that he is. But placing our entire emphasis on teaching others about Jesus doesn’t seem to be working all that well. Apparently they have little interest in learning from us.
And I think we all know the reason why. People OUT THERE think that we’re all about dogma and doctrine. I think people need to understand that we’re all about service. In my view, dogma takes second place. But we can tell them that HERE. But they are OUT THERE. Will you support an effort to go to them and show them who we really are?
Maybe there are different paths to God. Maybe Jesus is one of them. But however many paths there might be to God, what I think we need to be doing is LEARNING from others about the paths that THEY travel. THEN we might be able to share the path that WE travel, so that together we can all find, maybe NOT GOD, but the PATH TO WHERE GOD IS. When we know WHERE GOD IS, we will find GOD. Will you support an effort to follow a path, with those others OUT THERE, to find where God is?
Service is the path to greatness. Is service the path to God? Maybe. In fact, I think it is. But I’m pretty certain that service is the path to where God will be found.
We all think of God differently. I’m not sure God can be understood. Job, God’s exemplary servant, didn’t underSTAND God. But, strangely, he KNEW God.
Even Jesus didn’t perfectly understand God. What he THOUGHT he understood was that his mission was to the Jews. But then some Canaanite woman challenged him to heal her tormented daughter. NOW he understood that God wanted him to perform good works for ALL people, of every gender and race. He LEARNED from a WOMAN WHO WORSHIPPED OTHER GODS. This was something NEW to him. Jesus was not being asked to worship her gods. But he was challenged by her, – probably a BAAL worshipper – and he was converted. In the same way, we need to be converted. Would you support an effort toward our own conversion?
Here’s something else to think about. We must not only be willing TO serve, we need to be willing to BE served – by others, by people who may never darken our church doors. They are not HERE. They are out THERE. We need to go OUT THERE to where they are. We can serve them. They can serve us. We can serve together. Is there any reason we cannot, together, travel the path to greatness? Would you support our efforts to figure out how we can do that?
Maybe this way of thinking is what lies behind the new spirituality that we are finding in the movement called the “Great Emergence.” Maybe this new spirituality is trying to teach us something, namely, that the way we’ve been doing things in the past is largely irrelevant these days – to many people, at any rate. We must understand that we’re not so different from all those OTHER people out there. We’re ALL trying to find God. We can help each other do that. We have no business thinking that we’re the only ones who know how to approach God. It’s true that we know one way, but we don’t know all the ways. My contention here is that SERVICE, service that leads to GREATNESS, is the one path that we can ALL follow. Service TO one another, and accepting service FROM one another, is the way to mutuality, conversation, relationship, the path to greatness and the route to conversion. We don’t have to apologize for being Christians. But I think we have been looking in the wrong direction. Would you support an effort to change direction in order to follow this path to greatness?
What of our church? What will happen to our church? Certainly things will change. They will change for the better. We will still need to gather as a community. We will need leaders who can teach us how to go out and be of service. We will need help of every sort. We will need to be prepared mentally. We will need different TYPES of leadership, new insights, new ideas. We will need Third Places and Moveable Feasts, places OUT THERE, where we can freely exchange ideas, learn, teach, serve. We will have church SERVICES OUT THERE. It will be new and it will be wonderful. St. Luke’s will have to assume the role of “Base Camp”- a place where we come to prepare for the challenges we will meet on this road to better servanthood. St. Luke’s will be where we get equipped to go out to serve. St.Luke’s Base Camp. Will you support it?
I think we will need FORMAL worship, too. I think we will still want and need LITURGY. I think we will want and need to be here where we can LEARN together, where we can celebrate our SACRED MEAL together. I think we need someplace where the SAINTS can come marching in – like they did last Easter Sunday. This is a sacred space. Maybe a new understanding of the sacredness of all creation and of all people, and of their paths, will help us to serve and be served better – help us to find where GOD is and recognize God – the giver of all works of mercy – and bow down in worship – HERE in THIS place. Will you support it?
So I think that it’s going to turn out that we will doing more of what we have been doing, and we will be finding new opportunities to move forward in new directions. We’re going to have new demands made on us. We’re going to have to share more of our time, talent and treasure. But we will grow in stature, and we will be doing more of what God wants to have done.
Will you support all of this? These are not just words. These are efforts that our leadership is taking very seriously. We count on your support. Will you support us as we travel, together, the path of servanthood – the path to greatness?
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church,Boone,NC
October 21, 2012