- Chapel of St John the Divine
- September 19, 2021
The Rev. Robert P. Travis Pentecost 17th Sunday Sermon – 8:00am and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI Revised Common Lectionary Proper 20 Year B 9/19/2021
Scripture Text: Proverbs 31:10-31, Psalm 1, James 3:13-4:3,7-8a, Mark 9:30-37
The collect for today seems especially relevant as you have just learned about my transition to another ministry.
“Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things but to love things heavenly, and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those which shall endure.”
You know what shall endure, even long after I am gone?
I’m certain it will, and you don’t need to be anxious about it.
You can see the prayer’s connection with what is going on here today, which is sometimes a really special occurrence, but of course it was written
because it connects with these scriptures.
Jesus’ disciples were hearing about how his ministry was going to come to an end,
a violent end too,
not a smooth transition like we will have here.
His ministry would come to an end,
before it would begin with new power after he would be raised from the dead.
The Gospel says they didn’t understand him.
How could they understand something like that?
For those of us who have heard this story our whole lives,
This seems like a duh moment,
And so we often look at that verse and kind of skip over it,
And maybe we’re kind of surprised
that they did not understand
What he was saying, and were afraid to ask him.
For these 1st Century Jews, they knew the scriptures,
They knew the prophets,
But if you’ve ever tried to read through all of the prophets,
In our Old Testament,
You know that there is a great amount of detail in there,
And it can be hard to sort out what is
Referring to the present time,
when the prophet is dealing just
with what’s going on around him,
And the future prophecy, what may be coming a long time down the road,
So in that light,
if the disciples knew the prophets
fortold the coming of the messiah,
And they knew some of the greater things
The messiah was going to, like redeem Israel,
And save God’s people,
Well it makes sense that your average Jewish man or woman
might have missed some of the details,
like the suffering servant passages in Isaiah
or the passage about the gentle lamb led to the slaughter,
that we sometimes read in Jeremiah on this Sunday.
So it’s easy to understand
How if these disciples believed that Jesus was the messiah,
That some of them, maybe even all of them at this point,
Might have thought the messiah was going
To be a great military champion,
Who would free them from their current oppressor,
The Roman Empire.
So Jesus tries to teach them about his own suffering
Death and resurrection,
But they don’t understand.
Maybe some of you are thinking,
or will be thinking in the coming weeks how you’re disappointed that something you thought I had come here to do, didn’t get done.
Or maybe my ministry here didn’t turn out
the way you thought it would.
Or maybe you thought this might happen,
And you’re looking forward to who and what comes next.
Or maybe you’re just shocked and saddened,
Because grief always comes with transitions.
All of those reactions are understandable.
And actually, I have had those reactions to this new development as well, along with other feelings.
The interesting part of what happens with Jesus’ disciples,
Is that after it says they didn’t understand him,
The gospel writer says, they’re afraid to ask him about it.
What could they be afraid of?
Now school has started in the past couple of weeks,
As a father, as well as a Father of the church
the teacher/student thing
is on my mind.
In a classroom who is afraid to ask the teacher when they don’t understand?
Is it the kids who love the teacher,
Or the kids who are afraid of the teacher.
The kids who find school easy,
Or the kids who find it difficult,
Is it the kids who want to learn,
Or the kids who make a big deal of acting
like they don’t want to learn?
Whoever it is, I think we can all
Remember sometimes when
we were afraid to ask the teacher,
When something they said confused us,
Or went totally contrary to what we thought everyone knew.
SO these disciples go on their way with Jesus,
They’re afraid to ask him about what he was teaching,
And start arguing about something,
All the while walking along with Jesus.
Was he listening?
Who knows, the gospel doesn’t say,
but I bet he was.
Because a good teacher listens to their students.
So when they get to the house
They are going to,
This group of students and their teacher,
He asks them,
What were you arguing about along the way?
And what do they say to that question?
They’re silent, they don’t answer him!
The reading says, “for on the way they had argued
With one another who was the greatest.”
It seems that could have been a very pregnant silence.
And it may make us think,
These guys were acting like children!
Jesus did not need the answer,
As so often a good teacher does not
Inquire not because they don’t know,
But because they want their students to consider
For themselves, in order to come to their own learning.
And he sits down, like any good Rabbi would do at the time,
For Jewish teachers liked to sit to teach,
And their students would gather around their feet.
So he sits down,
And calls the 12 closest students to him,
And teaches them a challenging idea.
That has everything to do with what it really means,
To be the messiah,
And what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
First he tells them the subject he wants them to get,
“whoever wants to be first must be last of all
And servant of all.”
There he answers the question they were arguing about,
But doesn’t put anyone on the spot or humiliate them.
Jesus was a good teacher, and he was teaching his disciples
How to do this, because they were all going to be the teachers of the faith, after he was gone.
This is the way our faith works,
Everyone who receives the faith has to pass it along to someone, and so we all have to understand how to work with each other.
In this new time of transition here in this parish,
Each of you will have a role in discerning and helping the church move into its next phase of life.
And so the way the relationships work in this church will be important, just as they were for the disciples of Jesus.
Maybe you’re thinking,
Well I don’t want to be first!
So I guess that means I don’t have to be servant of all!
But of course, when it comes down to it,
Being first doesn’t just mean, as the disciples were arguing,
Who is the greatest.
Being first also means considering our own needs first.
So Jesus is establishing that in his beloved community,
It is through first looking to the needs of others,
And serving each other, that we become and foster a community of love.
But I want to come back to that detail that the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus about what they didn’t understand.
It connects to what the apostle James (who was one of that group with Jesus) wrote in his letter we read this morning.
James writes, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”
That was one of my mother’s favorite verses in the Bible.
She was a true intercessor, praying for others those things she knew they needed.
But she also believed in asking for what she needed from God, and others and persisting in asking until she got it.
Just as in our daily lives, where Jesus taught us to ask God to give us what we need for each day,
We need to ask in this process for what we need as parishioners, and for what this church needs,
So that the life and ministry you share together can be strengthened into its next phase.
And you don’t need to be afraid to ask me about what’s next for me.
I will still be with you for a few more weeks, and am happy to meet or talk with you, privately if you want to, to answer your questions as best I can.
God has good things in store for this church,
We need not be afraid to ask for what we need in this time of transition.
“and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away,”
My prayer for you is “to hold fast to those which shall endure.”
This church will endure, and so will your love for each other.
I will ask the Lord for all good things for all of you.
I hope you will do the same for me.