October 9, 2016 – Servants serving servants

Pentecost 21   October 9, 2016   Philippians 2:1-8, Luke 1:46-55, Luke 12:35-38 Servants serving servants ********************************************************** Everything Jesus does is done in the service of God and the people of God… Jesus must have learned a lot about serving from his mother, whose words we’ve heard in our second reading. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” Mary starts by appreciating God’s love for her, then goes on to celebrating God’s faithfulness to his servant Israel. Her vocation and her nation’s vocation are two sides of one calling – to love and serve God. At the same time her vocation is unique to her, as each of our vocations is unique to us. Yet her vocation also serves as a model for us, much like our serving can help others learning to serve. The same can be said of Israel’s vocation to serve God as a light for all nations (Isaiah 42 and 49), shedding light for all the nations on how to live (and how not to live) in the presence of God… And probably from the womb, Mary’s son Jesus lives the life of a servant of God. On his last night on earth, he sums up the servant’s life (in the words of our Thought for the Day): “Who is greater, the one who is at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one at table? But I am among you as one who serves.” In our last reading, Jesus calls his followers “servants” and names himself as our master – yet, as he bids us to be like servants, ready for their master’s return, Jesus also promises he himself will act like a waiter, serving those who have been faithful. After his resurrection he shows us what he means, serving disciples breakfast on the beach in the last chapter of John’s gospel, where, earlier, on his last night before his death, Jesus also washes the feet of disciples, telling us we should do the same for each other. In our first reading from Philippians this ‘serve one-another’ theme is applied directly to us, as the apostle Paul tells us ‘let the same mind that was in Christ be now in us’ –  putting others before ourselves, looking to the interests of others before our own interests. Here’s one of those places where I pause and confess my own sometimes ambivalent feelings about our theme today of serving God and the church. (In our membership vows and each time we welcome a new member, we pledge to serve God and one another through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, now our service.) And these words from Philippians summarize both the extreme beauty and the difficulty of what we are promising to do. On the one hand, this passage of Philippians is among the most beautiful ever written. Bible scholars identify this as a fragment of one of the oldest hymns to Christ. (We’ve sung a version as our opening hymn.) On the other hand, for me, there’s something in the way St Paul lays it out so very directly – saying we should all have the same mind as Jesus Christ, who took on the...

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October 18, 2015

Pentecost 21 October 18, 2015 Psalm 104; Job 38:1-13, 16-21, 24-39:10, 41:1-5; Hebrews 1:1-4   (Job and Hebrews, week 3) ************************** Job has been suffering greatly – and arguing, hollering, and shouting to God for a long time. Asking, begging, demanding answers from God. Petitioning persistently to see God face-to-face and make his case directly to God. (All while arguing with his infamous friends, who think they have all the answers.) Now God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. Answering his questions at great length… And how does God answer Job? – who has, remember, suffered the loss of his children, his wealth, his health – suffered the loss, most painfully, of all he thought he knew about God… Job has been a model of faith and virtue, but having lost so much and suffering greatly, now he is questioning God’s justice, God’s mercy, God’s fairness; even as he stubbornly continues to believe in God… And if we didn’t know it was God who has allowed Job to be put to the test, we too might be there with Job’s friends, telling Job his suffering must be because of the wrongs he’s done that he needs to repent of. But now here comes God in person, answering Job’s questions… With questions back to the questioner. God asks Job at least 70 questions…Starting with “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth…When the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”… ‘Can you manage the Pleiades and Orion and all the constellations of stars in the heavens above?’… ‘Are you the father of the frost?’ ‘Are you the mother of the oceans? Did the seas burst forth from your womb? Did you establish the limits that bind the oceans to their shores?’ ‘Do you manage the weather?…Do you instruct the birds in wisdom? Do you feed all the wild animals of the forest, the jungle, the valleys and mountains?’ ‘Do you make the rain fall even where no one’s there to notice? Can you supervise the care and feeding of creatures so strange and wild that only God and maybe their mothers can love them?’ And by the end of chapter 40, God’s talking with Job about Behemoth and Leviathan, legendary creatures known to us only through the sanctified imaginations of poets and artists, but, listening to God, Behemoth sounds like an oversized hippopotamus-shaped dinosaur; Leviathan sounds like a cross between a crocodile on steroids and a fire-breathing dragon… And God asks Job ‘Are you able to catch Leviathan with a fish-hook?’ (I do like to picture God catching a sea monster on light tackle – a tiny fly-hook and two-pound-test…) Then God asks: ‘Having caught the wild dragon-sea-monster, can you tame it and make a pet of it? Can you teach it to speak softly, and put it on a leash for your daughters to play with?’ God’s questions go on like this for four whole chapters, with only one brief pause for Job to speak a sentence or two… (God’s response to Job is actually the longest continuous direct speech by God to humans we hear anywhere in the bible.) And soon we notice – God has been listening to Job all along. Job, remember, cursed the day of his birth...

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October 13, 2013 – Pentecost 21

Luke 17:11-19 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Oct 13, 2013   (Ps 111, Jer 29:1,4-7, Luke 9:51-56)  Luke 17:11-19  The Other Nine **************************************************************** Jesus and his followers are on the road, traveling through the region between Samaria and Galilee, we’re told.  But Galilee, the disciple’s home province, and Samaria directly border each other. There’s nothing between them geographically. So St Luke the gospel writer must be talking spiritual geography – letting us know we’re in the grey zone between mainline and marginal, familiar and unfamiliar — represented by Galilee, the northern end of Jewish country, and Samaria, just south of there, once part of Israel, now foreign territory… The disciples and Jesus are traveling towards Jerusalem — Faith Central Headquarters for Jews, and as they travel, ten lepers approach — and, as the law of Moses requires, these lepers keep their distance as they cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” And Jesus says, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they go, all are made clean — healed of disease. The biblical word ‘leprosy’ covers a wide range of skin conditions and infections (like psoriasis). Household molds are also covered under this same topic heading of ritual purity in Leviticus chapters 13 and14 – which can be fascinating reading. A bit like reading pharmaceutical product labels. In both cases it’s important to read the small print, as side-effects tend to be significant. Leprosy in the bible seldom if ever means the serious disease we call leprosy or Hansen’s Disease today – though biblical leprosy was considered contagious. Those afflicted had to live apart from family and community. When they  approached others they were required to cry out, ‘unclean, unclean,’ warning others lest they become infected with ritual impurity through contact. *** The closest I can recall to feeling like a leper is probably back in my early teen years, when I was periodically stricken with pimples, with accompanying acute symptoms of feeling doomed to a life of social isolation. In other words, my social exclusion experience has been relatively limited. Even in the worst moments of my junior high school days, none of us were required to walk around saying “pimples, pimples…” Our affliction wasn’t considered contagious. And thanks God, my pimples eventually passed, my nerdy-ness receded enough for me to be more-or-less certifiable as reasonably cool, according to the cultural high priests of my high school. (The popular kids.) When healing of lepers occurred (as it probably usually did, most of...

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