Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 24, Year B
October 17, 2018
Lessons: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 91:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people understand that part of being a faithful steward involves serving others and putting their needs before our own.
Key Scripture: “…but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Mark 10:43b-44
Our culture loves stories of winners and self-made successes. We feed on images of power and beauty and prestige. We buy into the falsehood that anyone can make it if he or she simply tries hard enough. If you fail, it’s your own dang fault; you just didn’t try hard enough. In America everyone has the same potential and opportunities, right?
Wrong. Just wrong! And this pretty lie is nothing new. People have been jockeying for position, power, and privilege from the very earliest stories in scripture and history. Even Jesus’ closest associates were no strangers to the lure of power and place. In this week’s gospel lesson (Mark 10:35-45) we read about two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who want to sit in the choice positions to the right and left of Jesus in his glory. Little do they realize that his glory will be made manifest in suffering, sacrifice and execution.
James’ and John’s request gets the rest of the disciples stirred up, and tempers flare. Jesus has to set them straight, or at least try. They are “on the way” to Jerusalem where they will get some real on-the-job training in suffering, denial, and service. But for now, they still don’t get it, and most of the time folks today don’t get it either.
It’s not just a dilemma in church circles today. Social service organization like the Lions, Rotary, scouts, and other community-engagement programs find it more difficult to get people to commit to serving and leading. People don’t seem as willing to “join” groups and commit to substantial investments of time, energy, and resources.
Yes, there is something healthy about learning to say “no” to activities that stretch us beyond our limits or that are done purely out of shame, obligation, or guilt. Life is too short and precious to operate out of those emotional states. The church should never use that sort of emotional bait to hook volunteers, members, or even occasional pew warmers. Such an approach will eventually backfire, and it may even do spiritual violence to those on whom such cajoling and guilt-tripping is inflicted.
Jesus is talking about and modeling something entirely different. It’s about taking a counter-cultural approach to life and discipleship that looks at each individual as someone of great worth and value—someone so beloved of God that it makes sense to offer that person the place of privilege or the greater portion. Why? The one who follows Jesus walks in the footprint of abundance, joy, and blessing. The one who serves does so out of joy and gratitude. The one who loves God and neighbor is so engaged in the “now” of life that she doesn’t make a point of worrying about the future or fretting over the shortcomings and losses of the past. The one follows Jesus is so focused on her Lord that “first” is only the place that Jesus occupies in her life.
Still want to be first? The only real and lasting way for that to happen is to lose yourself in Jesus. Take your eyes off all that the world tells you matters, and love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself. You have to serve somebody, so it might as well be everyone God places in your path. Yes, being a “slave of all” is indeed good stewardship because it will lead you into the way of real and abundant life—first and always.
Consider singing the hymn “Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service” with the prayers of intercession by interspersing the four verses between sets of prayer petitions. It works well with today’s gospel theme.
Challenge your youth to find examples of leaders who have humbled themselves to put others first without thought for themselves. One place to start is with Oscar Romero, who was recently canonized. Romero fought poverty and injustice in El Salvador and was martyred while celebrating the Eucharist. Help youth brainstorm a list that might include Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, Shane Claiborne, and others.
This week’s focus verse is Mark 10:43b-44: “…but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
(Note: You will need to purchase simple kitchen or shop towels for each child.) Ask the children what is involved in serving others. Listen to all answers and affirm the children’s points of view. Ask them how they have served others. Who has served them? How?
Give each child a “service towel” and challenge them to find a way to use the towel in service to others. They might dry dishes, dust the house, help wash a car. They might take their towel to serve at a homeless shelter or community meal. Ask them to have their picture made as they serve and have the photos forwarded to you to make a service poster to share the next week.
Pray over the children and their towels, asking God to bless them with a servant’s heart as they follow Jesus into loving and serving their neighbors and family.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Service and stewardship go hand in hand. Jesus calls us to lives of service and sacrifice for the sake of the gospel and for our love of God and neighbor. How might you find joy and abundance in serving others this week?
Stewardship at Home
In a world that promotes being first, that values self-reliance, and that promotes privilege and wealth, many people are easily discounted and left behind. Spend some time this week praying about who you may encounter and serve. Maybe it’s simply being more aware of pedestrians on busy city streets. Perhaps it’s paying forward someone’s coffee or fast food meal. It might be spending time at a local nursing home with residents who do not receive many visitors or attention. Pray for God to show you at least one way to serve others this week. Journal or converse with others about how the experience made a different in your life.
Here’s a look back at our 2015 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/10/last-place-winners/
And here’s the 2012 Lectionary Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/10/invitation-to-the-%E2%80%9Csuffer%E2%80%9D-club/
Photos: wonderlane, Pedro Ribeiro Simoes, and CBC Member Photos, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
Note: Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2018, Rev. Sharron Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: firstname.lastname@example.org.