Pentecost 17, Sept 19, 2021 – humility, compassion and service

 Pentecost 17, Year B, Season of Creation 3 (full size gallery)

We had 15 in house and 7 online with several people away. A beautiful sunny day with moderate temperatures on the last Sunday in Summer.

Brad our organist was sick with pneumonia. Larry Saylor received a call late Friday and played the music on his guitar. Wow Pieces include a piece by Fernando Sors as the prelude, “As the Deer” for the opening hymn, “Singing Skies and Dancing Waters” as the offertory and “Let There Be Peace on Earth” as the closing hymn. Many thanks to Larry for coming to our need at last minute. Larry said later he thrives on last minute things.

The service had many nods to the Season of Creation. Besides Larry’s pieces, the Prayers of the People

“Great Spirit, give us hearts to understand;
never to take from creation’s beauty more than we give;
never to destroy wantonly for the furtherance of greed;
never to deny to give our hands
for the building of Earth’s beauty;
never to take from her what we cannot use.
Give us hearts to understand
that to destroy Earth’s music is to create confusion;
that to wreck her appearance is to blind us to beauty;
Give us hearts to understand
that as we care for the Earth, she will care for us.

“We give you thanks, Holy One, for all that sustains life. We thank you for good soil and clean air, for the waters of Earth and especially the Rappahannock River and the Chesapeake Bay, for fish and mammals, birds and insects, for trees and plants of every kind, for all the varieties of people you have made and the richness of our many cultures. We give thanks for responsible leaders and citizens, for schools, shelter, clothing, medical care, for art and music, for all those things we name now in gratitude silently or aloud. (Silence) God of mercy, hear our prayer.”

The sermon was about lament a type of psalm, blended into the season of creation

“We all know that the earth has many reasons to lament these days. Climate change, oil spills, gigantic forest fires, topsoil blowing again from the dust belt, and closer to home, lawns that strip the landscape of plants that sustain the local ecosystem, putting pollinators at risk, lawnmowers that put out more pollution than our cars, and the list goes on. Yes, the earth has reason to lament.

The first thing the lamenting psalmist does is to call on God. Then comes the complaint, or the description of suffering. Then the psalmist confidently calls on God for help. And then the psalmist asks for a condemnation of the enemy. And then often there’s a confession of sin, not explicitly stated here, but we do get the response of the psalmist who is faithfully calling on God. The psalmist trusts that God will respond.

When the earth is harmed environmentally, the earth takes up the call.
“And then the earth waits, in trust, on the Lord. But in its waiting, the earth is not passive. In fact, in line with today’s psalm, the earth offers up its freewill sacrifices, those natural processes that God has set in place to rescue the earth from trouble. ”

American Burnweed abounds in these areas affected environmentally. It takes nitrogen dioxide from the air—one of the chemicals being spewed across that field from the cars passing it on Rt 17 into an area recently logged.

“The lamenting psalmist’s knowledge that God will respond and has confidence in God is evident in today’s gospel as well. ” Jesus tells the disciples for the second time that he is going to be betrayed, killed, and then three days later, he will rise again. They are arguing among themselves

“So Jesus sits down and teaches them. He gives them a better way to deal with their fear than anger and arguments. Jesus tells them that “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” And to illustrate his point, he takes a little child and holds that child in his arms and says to them, “Whoever welcomes on such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

“Children were non-people in Biblical times. They had no standing. For Jesus to hold a child and to say that to welcome an insignificant child in his name is to welcome the one who sent him would have been a mind blowing example for the disciples, who had just been arguing about who was the greatest among them.

“Jesus reminds the disciples of the power of a lament’s conclusion—the affirming of confidence and trust in God, knowing that even in the most seemingly insignificant and lowly things, like a child in Biblical times, or a weed in our yard, that God is present and working and healing and bringing resurrection out of death.”

Today’s readings call us to humility, compassion and service. The author of Wisdom gives voice to the ungodly, who experience the goodness of the righteous as an unwelcome reminder of their selfishness. James reminds us that humility and peaceableness show the wisdom of God. Today’s gospel reading from Mark contrasts the disciples’ battle over privilege with Jesus’ proclamation of his radical approach to the Kingdom of God and discipleship—placing ourselves at the disposal of the lowliest of the kingdom.

1. "Francis J. Moloney, in his commentary on Mark, points out that when Jesus takes up a child in his arms in welcome, he is making the point to his followers that if they are to grow as his disciples, then they must have the receptivity of children. Maloney says that “there is an intimate link” between ‘receiving,’ that is welcoming the child, welcoming Jesus, and welcoming the one who sent Jesus."

2. "If we want to receive Jesus and to be his disciples, then we have to be receptive to the things that God is busy doing in our lives, and to be receptive to those in our midst who still have much to learn. Jesus expects us, as his disciples, to have the expansive openness of a child and the willingness to receive from God the constantly deepening understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus."

3. "Just as the disciples were not receptive to what Jesus said to them about being killed and then rising again, we also have trouble welcoming the idea of the cross into our lives. In the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer describes those who have lost their receptivity and have become so cynical and hopeless about life that they want to destroy those who are righteous and welcoming.

"Cynicism is easy to engage in, but it stands in the way of being receptive to God. We have to give up our cynicism about the state of the world and our tacit belief that God cannot or will not bring forth change."

4. "Cynicism can be seen as a product of fear. "Fear can shut down our receptivity and make us less than welcoming to people who aren’t like us. Fear can close our minds to ideas that aren’t our own. Fear can worry us to death and fill our hearts with hate."

"In order to welcome Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have to make our best effort to turn those fears over to God, and to stop carrying fear around with us, because fear pulls in the welcome mat and slams the doors of our hearts shut, not just to God, but to one another as well.

5. "Another thing that destroys our sense of receptivity and welcome is the desire that we all have for power and control, just like the disciples who argued among themselves about who was the greatest. The desire to be someone important in this world can negatively impact our relationships with God and with one another."

6. "James, in his New Testament letter, lays out in clear detail some more things that keep us from being receptive to God and welcoming to one another.Bitter envy and ambition in our hearts. Disorder, wickedness of every kind. Conflicts and disputes. Cravings."

7. "God’s wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy."

8. "Imagine being a child again. Imagine being welcomed by Jesus himself and being taken up in his arms, letting go of your cynicism, your fear and your need for power and control. Imagine being truly open and receptive to God, so that God can truly give you the gifts that we prayed for in the baptismal prayer we prayed last week–the forgiveness of our sins, being sustained by the Holy Spirit, being given an inquiring and discerning heart, and the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know God and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works."

Commentary by Canon Lance Ousley, Diocese of Olympia

True character is shown under strife and/or when no one is looking. Similarly faithful stewardship is tested when it is culturally easy to be selfish and exploit resources or even to boast with words or thoughts about ambition for one’s own reward.

Good stewardship is a matter of transformation from the socially and culturally accepted selfish ways of the world based on scarcity to a heart that is full of the abundance of God’s love for divine justice, mercy and humility. Here in Mark, Jesus once again tells his disciples, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." Jesus was trying to convey not only that God’s kingdom was breaking forth, but also what it meant to be righteous in a world that places the self over others. Jesus’ message was counter to what his disciples knew about power and position for their worldly point of view.

Even power can be stewarded and shared with others. Too often in our world we witness the abuse of power, which essentially is the abuse of a person or persons. Abuse of power and selfish ambition are founded in insecurity and scarcity. But Jesus invites a little child, one with no social power, into his embrace sharing his power, love, and grace with one culturally considered to be "property." As Jesus re-humanizes the little child, he re-humanizes us all. Being a faithful steward of his power, Jesus shows us that all people are children of God. Likewise he charges us to do the same, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."

Our reading options for this week all set up this theological perspective of power and position, in spite of the overwhelming worldly view. Through them and the context of the disciples’ debate about greatness we are shown that even our words and thoughts have implications on the faithfulness of our lives. As we heard last week in James, the tongue is sharp. Our words and thoughts have power to influence ourselves and those around us.

What do ambitious words about power and position communicate about our faith or about our perspective of provident abundance to us and those around us? How are we inviting ones who need their humanity restored into our midst? This is the power that has been entrusted to us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How will you steward it and make a statement about God’s abundance?