Our October 17 Sunday worship service is available on video through Facebook. You may view it without being a member of Facebook. We are excited to say that our Sunday 8 & 10:30 am services are open again for in-person worship. Services will continue to be streamed online.
The October 24 Sunday worship service will be held with in-person attendance. We have returned to regular in-person worship services. With an upturn in county COVID cases, we recommend masks even for those who are vaccinated.
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Isaiah 53:4-12 | Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10 | Mark 10:35-45
Who is the greatest? When I was a child, “The Great One” was Jackie Gleason. And there are many who argue that he was, and not just for comedy (Ralph Kramden and the Honeymooners), drama (an incredible number of movie and TV credits), producing. But, try also music, composing and conducting. His first album still holds the record for being on the top ten list for 153 weeks. And about 10 other albums of his hit number 1. Not bad for a guy who started out in entertainment by doing a bellyflop from a high platform (Johnny Weissmueller talked him into finding another career). And, every weekend, we watched “Live, from Miami Beach, It’s the Jackie Gleason Show!
When I got older, “The Greatest” was Muhammed Ali. And many still consider him to be the greatest heavyweight boxer in history. Having watched a number of his bouts, I tend to agree. He was amazing in the ring. I could go on for hours on some of the things that he accomplished in and out of the ring. But, I won’t.
But, is that what greatness is? Is greatness proficiency, fame, winning? Well, greatness must be measured within a particular field. And, of course, when you are talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, things are completely reversed.
In the Gospel lesson we have James and John’s (some sources have it as their mother’s) presumptuous request. Actually, it is even more impudent if you read the preceding 4 verses. Read 10:31-34. This is the third “Passion Prediction” which Jesus makes in Mark’s Gospel. Many biblical scholars believe that these verses are the very center of Mark’s Gospel. So why did the Lectionary Committee choose to omit them from the lessons? Here, Jesus explicitly tells the disciples exactly what will happen to him in Jerusalem: arrested, beaten, whipped, spit upon, crucified, and then raised on the third day. The prophecy for this is in Isaiah 53, which I find fascinating after we covered it during the last Men’s Bible Study, an amazingly precise prophecy!
Immediately after these verses in Mark, James and John make their request, couched with the words “Grant whatever we ask.” You have to beware of any request prefaced with words like that! This makes their request even more blatant. I mean these guys are really audacious. But, then again, they were also called “The Sons of Thunder.” And, as we discovered a couple of months ago, they may well have been Jesus’ own cousins. But, it seems that the only part which they heard in the preceding verses was that of the coming glory; and they want to share in it with Jesus in the positions of honor. They may feel entitled to these positions because of family ties. They missed the suffering parts, but that is par for the course. In fact, one of the recurring themes in Mark, which we have noticed during the course of this year of the Gospel lessons coming from Mark, is just that: THE DISCIPLES JUST DON’T GET IT!!! They are interested in glory, which is very human, and they are all very human! But, Jesus is preaching the cross, the necessity of the cross. That the cross is the only way to his glory. The disciples don’t get it, don’t understand, or they don’t want to…
It is kind of natural that they would want those places of honor, the right and the left. We all yearn for that sort of thing: honor, prestige, recognition, and the power and authority that goes with them. That’s why we all like to win. We are not nearly so fond of losing, at anything, nor accepting the responsibility when we do.
We are now going into one of my favorite times of the year, not Autumn, the World Series. I’ve always enjoyed the series because, theoretically, you have the two best teams in baseball playing each other. And, baseball is my favorite sport. So, for me, this is the best of the best. It would have been great if the Cardinals had made it. But, it was not to be. And, you do have people who only are fans if their team is in it. That, I call, cheating. They want the glory of winning, but don’t follow the rest of the course, the ups and downs of the season. They may well share in the glory of winning (which makes them a “winner” somehow) but not the work and struggle to get there. Some people glory in the failure of other fans’ teams. Last Friday’s “Word of the Day,” on the radio was “Schadenfreude.” That describes that phenomenon. It means “taking joy in the pain of others.” No one likes that suffering part, the losing part. The Cardinals fired their manager because of it! They said, “Philosophical differences,” but it was because they blamed Schilt for losing. All hope to be in on the win, all want the glory and especially the recognition of being number one, the champions, the greatest and the best.
One of the more popular concepts going in many circles is the emphasis of striving for “win-win” scenarios and solutions. It’s not that it’s more palatable when everyone wins. Rather, it means that everyone gets some of that honor and recognition. That is fine, even commendable. But sometimes there aren’t happy solutions. The situation in Afghanistan is a good example. No one ever controls Afghanistan, nor have been able to for the last 3,000 years. There was not, nor could there be a happy solution. But we don’t like unhappy endings. That is part of the American Dream concept, we want a happy ending. But, unfortunately, sometimes the hero dies.
Jesus asks, “Can you drink of my cup, and be baptized with the same baptism? They reply, “We are able.” Again, lofty words from James and John. Here, however, they are partially right. We do drink of Christ’s cup and share in his baptism. Not because we are able, but because in Christ’s grace, love and mercy, he has made us able. His suffering and death: and resurrection. He declares us righteous, because of his righteousness, our faith in him. We are joined to his baptism, in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, joined by his grace to him. Christ takes our sins and gives to us his righteousness.
We do share in his glory. But we also proclaim his suffering, and glory in our own sufferings, as St. Paul puts it in Romans. We proclaim the cross. Christ crucified, and who was it that was at Jesus’ right and left when he was in his glory on the cross? Two thieves. I wonder if that irony was not lost on James and John. But Christ died for us, so that we might live for him and each other.
We are to strive to follow Christ’s example, as a servant to this world. That is what he means to be the least. Like him, giving of ourselves for the sake of others, living our lives in love to our neighbors, and faith in Christ, but all to the glory of God. That is the sharing of the cup and baptism. As God’s love has been poured out upon us all.