On third Sundays our service is contemplative. Instead of a sermon, I share some commentary and a brief homily on the Gospel text, inserted in this order of service. –Ellen Sims
October 18, 2015
A Contemplative Service
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
WORDS FOR REFLECTION
“Some words will never leave God’s mouth,
no matter how hard you listen.” Mary Oliver, American poet
LISTENING FOR GOD
What word is God speaking to you this morning? Would you listen this morning for the word “humility”?
*CHIMING OF THE HOUR
*PROCESSIONAL SONG “Lord of Life, We Come to You” p. 53 in songbook
*LIGHTING THE CHRIST CANDLE
CHILDREN’S STORY The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola
a story of a humble man
Let go of your desire for esteem. Be confident of divine love. As you breathe in, let God love you. As you exhale, release your attachment to praise. Simply be an instrument of joy and divine peace. You may use these words as you inhale: Fill me with your Spirit. As you exhale: Free me from self-centeredness and pride. (adapted from Sacred Breath: Forty Days of Centering Prayer by J. David Muyskens, p. 70).
INTRODUCING SCRIPTURE: The book of Job includes a dialogue between a man beset with every problem known to humankind and the god he had assumed was responsible. When Job at last questions the fairness of his situation, the poet creates the following speech as God’s response. You’ll notice that the Lord answers “out of the whirlwind.” Maybe you can think of times God’s voice has come to you from the chaos and disruption whirling around you.
HEBREW BIBLE READING Job 38:1-12a
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? 8“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?— 9when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, 11and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?12“Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?”
COMMENTARY: Although Job’s God seems to be telling him, a man who has lost everything and everyone he’s ever loved to “man up”—this story can help us reflect humbly on how little we know and understand about the world and even about our own lives. Whether you think of God as Job did—the architect and builder of the world—or whether you think of God as Ultimate Reality—or some other way—it’s a healthy spiritual attitude to acknowledge our finite knowledge amidst the world’s vastness. Before all that is—including all that is unknown—we do well to remain humble. Let’s appreciate and magnify that which is beyond us and yet within us, as Mary did in singing the Magnificat.
SONG Magnificat p. 57 in songbook
CALL TO PRAYER
“Your prayers are necessary and if you will not bother to intercede you are refusing someone a source of strength and help. Consider this world in the present – the fear, the starvation, the many kinds of distress, and our terrifying weakness. Some of the trouble exists because Christians are too damned lazy to pray – and I mean that literally.”
— Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, South African Anglican priest
THE HUMBLE WORK OF PRAYING FOR OTHERS
SUNG RESPONSE “Kyrie Eleison” p. 41 in songbook
*GOSPEL READING Mark 10: 35-45
One: 35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him,
MANY: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
ONE: 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him,
MANY: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
ONE: 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied,
MANY: “We are able.”
Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
CALL TO MEDITATION Psalm 102: 34
May my meditation be pleasing to God, for I rejoice in the LORD.
SONG “O Brother Jesus” p. 67 in songbook
HOMILY “Aiming for Last Place”
In unison we just read aloud from our Gospel text the audacious words James and John spoke to Jesus. We didn’t merely hear the Gospel lection this morning. We felt in our own mouths the sharp and oversized words from two of the disciples. We demanded that Jesus do our bidding. We asked Jesus to seat us at his right hand. Maybe by voicing the disciples’ demands, we recognized that at times we, too, assume we’re at the center of God’s universe.
But James and John failed to realize that sitting at the right hand of Jesus was not going to elevate their status. To be favored by Jesus can lead to being despised by others. Jesus was aiming to be last. Jesus turned upside down the point system others operated by. Jesus favored servants, not rulers. Jesus never preached the Prosperity Gospel. Following Jesus is for the humble. If you want prestige, attention, appreciation, popularity, and power—you won’t find it through Jesus. James and John represent all who’ve used humble Jesus for self-advancement.
But even when we realize the earnestness of Jesus’s humbleness, we may misunderstand what that means. Let’s be clear: those the world has already humbled must not be increasingly degraded. The church in particular has often kept women, for example, in their place by insisting that they—and not their male peers—need to cultivate the Christian virtue of humility.
A blogger this week reminds us that women may be judged as overbearing if they behave and speak like men. Alexandra Petri explained that women have to use more indirect, cautious, and “groveling” language than men to avoid being characterized as angry or threatening. She illustrated this bias against women in a satirical column called “Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting.” Petri translated famous quotes from men into language a woman would have to use to express the same idea during a meeting without offending the men. Her point, just to be clear, is not to ridicule the speech of women but to expose culture’s bias against the contributions of women:
So Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said:
“I have a dream today!”
But A Woman in a Meeting might have to translate that sentence this way to be heard:
“I’m sorry, I just had this idea – it’s probably crazy, but – look, just as long as we’re throwing things out here – I had sort of an idea or vision about maybe the future?”
“Let my people go.”
Woman in a Meeting lingo sounds like this:
“Pharaoh, listen, I totally hear where you’re coming from on this. I totally do. And I don’t want to butt in if you’ve come to a decision here, but, just, I have to say, would you consider that an argument for maybe releasing these people could conceivably have merit? Or is that already off the table?”
Julius Caesar boasted:
“I came. I saw. I conquered.”
Woman in a Meeting might have to say:
“I don’t want to toot my own horn here at all but I definitely have been to those places and was just honoured to be a part of it as our team did such a wonderful job of conquering them.”
Jesus was trying to hear the voices of those on the margins—in part by asking those with privilege to move those at the back of the line to the front for a change.
Humbleness is a tricky virtue. We’ve all seen false humility. We’ve all seen humiliation.
But the winsomely humble ones (unlike the painfully insecure folks) don’t cower. They neither dodge the spotlight nor are particularly aware of it. They put others before themselves, and they don’t measure either their success or your success. They enjoy their accomplishments. They learn from failures without being devastated. The truly humble certainly do not, in the words of Joan Chittister, “wrench my world and all the people in it to my ends” (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, p. 54).
For those of us trying to follow Jesus, humility is a big bread crumb marking the trail.
We at Open Table are more interested in a spiritual path rather than doctrine and dogma. The Jesus Way really can, with discipline and persistence, change lives.
And we get to practice being human with other flawed humans using the Jesus model. Those within our faith community at times make different choices about different things. But we’re aiming to learn to succeed by failing, to win by losing, to choose last place over first place.
SONG “Sanctus” pp. 74-75 in songbook
You may substitute the phrase “God of powerful love” for the traditional phrase “God of power and might.”
Prayer station 1
Take pencil and paper and return to your seat. In the left column make a list of the things you are hoping to accomplish or attain—both short-term and long-term goals and dreams. Be honest. Some of these may be things you are working and hoping for but you may not ordinarily acknowledge these as goals for your life. In the right column make a list of things that would elevate others instead of you or advance a Jesus-y cause while perhaps lowering other people’s regard for you. Compare these 2 lists prayerfully.
Prayer station 2
Kneeling is an humble posture for prayer. Spend a few moments praying at one of the kneelers. You might bow your head. You might even place your head upon your clasped hands. Does prayer feel different when your body is in a kneeling position? Can you kneel with humbleness without feeling you are cowering before an angry or power-crazed god?
Prayer station 3
The Lord’s Supper is available to all, regardless of earthly status. Take turns serving one another the bread and then holding the cup for another as they dip the bread into the cup. Remember the cup Jesus offered and would himself drink was a bitter cup, not a cup of triumph and honor. At his last supper with his disciples he realized death was near. Even so, he sought no exemption from life’s hardships and continued to serve others.
Prayer station 4
Prayerfully consider you are serving others through your monetary gifts to and through Open Table. Each week we exercise our spiritual muscles by putting others’ needs before our own when we give our offerings.