Who's in charge, anyway?
SERMON: 22 Pentecost B 10 21 18
Job38:1-7; Ps104:1-9,25,37c; Heb5:1-10; Mk10:35-45
When we pray the prayers we pray do you ever wonder why? Why do we bother telling God things God already knows? Telling God things that are on our minds that we believe God is fully aware of? Prayers to God which are only human understandings, hardly full identification of the Almighty? Do you ever wonder about these things?
When we pray the prayers that we always pray do you wonder if God is getting bored with us? Do you wonder if it matters to God? Do you wonder if it makes a difference to you?
What do you think happens when we pray? Does our prayer go on a big to-do list for God?
I wonder about these things at the same time as I have a lot of opinions about them and, I hope you know, I have studied these things. At great length.
It's my belief that God gets it. God gets the entire deal. When we are sincere and when we're praying by rote; when we need help and when we need to spout off. When we're hurt and when we're cross. God knows. 'God knows' is so commonly asserted it's a figure of speech, especially when we don't.
This morning's collect brought these ideas to mind. Let us pray the collect together:
Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I think we all know that the collect is intended to help us collect our thoughts before we encounter the Bible readings for the day. The ideas that are laid out in the collect indicate that for a Christian, Jesus is the manifestation of God's glory for all the world to see. We ask God to let us carry out God's works of mercy in God's--not our own--name. And, as with collects ordinarily, we assert we intend to do this, as Christians, through Christian practices. That, as if you didn't know, is loving God and loving our neighbor.
Did you need to be reminded of these things? Did you lose track of your Baptismal Covenant at least once in the last week? Of course! We all do.
We pray these things to be reminded--to remind ourselves--of what matters to us. Every week we get a different suggestion for how to look at our relationship with God and with God's creation. And with the notion in our minds, let's look again at what we're asking for.
We need to be reminded that God's glory has been revealed in the world and for us it has been revealed in Jesus. This means, for us as Christians, that we believe Jesus was the manifestation of how God wants the world to work.
Did you notice that I switched there from the past tense to the present? Long, long ago it was revealed, but it still is revealed in Jesus as we encounter him in our faith lives, in our prayers, in our faithful interactions with others.
When we try to apply Jesus' way of being with people, helping, healing, simply being present, we are fulfilling God's will for how people should live so we are the manifestation of God's glory in that moment. We might lose it or have a temper tantrum in the next moment, but in that moment we are able to represent that glory ourselves.
This reminds us that you and I are part of Jesus (Living members of Christ our Savior, we pray in one of our regular prayers) and that we perform Christian service when we act in His name.
The entire creation could be called an act of mercy by God, since we did nothing to deserve it and we have not always lived our lives in ways that would seem to entitle us to enjoy it. Yet God's mercy persists, thankfully, and allows us to proclaim God's mercy and God's grace which we experience every week in the sacrament of Communion and at other times in the other sacraments.
We pray in this collect that the Church throughout the world might persevere with faith in the confession of God's name. This means that we give credit to God for the good in the world and we put our hope, faith and trust in God to keep us on the right track.
Finally, as usual, we acknowledge that we're going to do these things through Jesus. We're going to ask help from Jesus and give credit to Jesus and turn to Jesus to guide us if we stumble or fall.
How do you think this collect prepares us for the readings of the day? We've got some pretty potent lessons today: Job, as we are reminded every three years, is suffering and wants answers as to his endless persecutions. In today's reading God says to Job, basically, who do you think you are? Did you put this arrangement together? Do you call the shots.
Not very friendly, wouldn't you agree? But really, when we think about it, when we get all full of ourselves and start asserting and maybe even believing that things ought to go the way we want them to go...well, the polite thing to say is, "That's too bad." The less polite thing to say would be "I'm sorry you feel that way." The impolite thing to say would be "who died and left you in charge?"
So our collect and our first reading go together quite well.
Our psalm addresses the issue of God's glory as cited in the collect. All the amazing acts of God's grace and mercy. A quick run-through of God's great deeds of power would remind anyone faltering in faith of God's presence in the world and on our behalf.
The letter to the Hebrews builds up to the obedience of Jesus to God's will. This is a hard lesson to take on because accepting one's own death, even when preordained by God, is a bitter pill, indeed. But like Job, we all have bitter pills we have to swallow.
Our Gospel reading perhaps contains the greatest opportunity to recognize how our collect informs our faith and allows us to recognize how we individually live into our faith. It opens with the self serving brothers who ask to enjoy Jesus' prestige when he dies. Jesus points out they don't know what they're asking and that he doesn't have the authority to grant their request. Jesus then uses them as an example of leaders who get it wrong. Don't expect to be served, if you want to lead. Serve others.
What Jesus shared at the end with his disciples is God's glory, manifested for, if not to, the nations. 'For' because God wants everyone to see how it's done; 'to' because not everyone receives this lesson and adapts their lives to it. But there it is for us to recognize and give thanks. The works of God's mercy we are invited to consider are Jesus' endless giving as a sample, an example, of all God has done in creation and before and since. The perseverance we are called to manifest is to simply not try to outgrow the serving mentality; whoever wishes to be first must be a slave of all. Amen
A sermon preached Oct. 21, 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector