Tag Archives: servanthood

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 22C

Track 1: Rejoice in the Lord Always

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26
or Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

The palmist wrote:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,
when we remembered you, O Zion.

As for our harps, we hung them up
on the trees in the midst of that land.   (Psalm 137:1-2)

The exiles in Babylon were remembering Jerusalem. From Lamentations we read:

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!

How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;

among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;

all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;

she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;

her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.   (Lamentations 1:1-3)

Jerusalem had been destroyed. This meant that the Jewish people’s way of life, centered on Jerusalem, had been destroyed. It was almost too sad to contemplate for them. The psalmist wrote:

For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth:
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How shall we sing the Lord‘S song
upon an alien soil.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill.

Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.   (Psalm 137:3-6)

It was hard for those in despair to sing the songs of Zion. But when they did the world changed around them. The songs were so uplifting that even their captors wanted to hear them.

Praising God changes things. God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
    burst into song and shout,
    you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more
    than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.   (Isaiah 54:1)

Let us not wait to praise God. We may think that we have no reason to praise him. Yet, he is still with us. He still has plans for us. Do we trust him enough to place all our hopes in him?

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

And again in Philippians 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-7)

Paul experienced so many hardships in his ministry, but he did not loose hope in God. In today’s Epistle reading, as a prisoner, he proclaimed :

I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.   (2 Timothy 1:12-14)

Paul knew that God still had a plan for him. He understand that this plan will bring blessings to others and that he had been given a treasure to share with them. We are no different that the great apostle. God has given us a treasure. He has put it in our hearts. When we sing the songs of Zion, when we praise the Almighty, we release that treasure. Others see that we are praising God despite the circumstances. This is one of the most powerful witnesses that anyone of the faith can make.

Today, are we ready to share our faith, our joy in the Lord, our hope of glory? God exhorts us: Sing, O barren one. Burst into song and shout.

The exiles in Babylon did not remain in despair. God has a plan for them. We read in Isaiah:

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.   (Isaiah 35:10)

We are great beneficiaries of the courage and faith of the Jewish people who would not give up. Let us also follow their example. God is still working in our lives and in this world. He is counting on us to be his ambassadors. Amen.

 

 

Track 2: You Have Only Done Your Duty

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In today’s Gospel reading the disciples of Jesus asked him to increase their faith:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Notice that Jesus did not directly answer their question. He emphasized that faith was important, but he followed up with this teaching:

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”   (Luke 17:5-10)

How could this teaching relate to faith? Perhaps it had more to do the disciples’ question about faith. Perhaps Jesus was able to see the motive behind the disciples’ question.

We know that some of the disciples were very ambitious. James and John wanted to sit beside Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Jesus was saying that our positions in ministry should not be our focus. Our obedience to God’s call was much more significant.

The disciples did not realize, at first, what would be required of them. The Apostle Paul learned of the hardships of ministry first hand. He did not let that deter him from his calling, however. Paul writes:

For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.   (2 Timothy 1:11-12)

In ministry we must learn to trust Jesus, regardless of the circumstances. If we are focused on who we are and not on who Jesus is, then we are ripe for the picking by the devil. Faith and endurance are required for ministry. That requires us to simply do our duty. Jesus said: You have done only what you ought to have done! We are not working for rewards for ourselves.

In our Old Testament reading today, the Prophet Habakkuk complained to God that the wicked seem to be triumphing. He would not be satisfied until God answered him:

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.   (Habakkuk 2:1)

Are we not like Habakkuk? We want to see results, instant results.

Then the Lord answered me and said:

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.   (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

God moves at his appointed time.  Patience and faith are required. We must keep believing. We must keep doing our duty. This usually means some suffering is required on our part. How we respond to the challenges of ministry and life reveals our character. Pride can be a major obstacle in our way. It seeks instant results. Humility before the Lord, having faith in his promises, is key.

This was the example set by the Apostle Paul. He wrote:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us..   (Romans 5:1-5)

God has proven his love and faithfulness through the cross of Jesus Christ. Our place in life and ministry is to serve him because he has poured his very essence into us.

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Saint James, Apostle

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_James_the_Greater_-_Google_Art_ProjectAble to Drink the Cup

Today we look at one of the “Sons of Thunder.” He was quite ambiguous, or was it his mother?

The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”  (Matthew 20:20-23)

James and John were among the first disciples called by Jesus. They were with their father Zebedee by the seashore when Jesus called them and they immediately followed Him. Along with Peter they were chosen by Jesus to bear witness to his Transfiguration. Thus, they were significant to Jesus’ ministry.

Their mother thought they were significant enough to request a special place for them in Jesus’ kingdom, but she did not understand what this might mean. James was chosen for greatness in ways his mother did not expect, nor did James.

What was the cup to which Jesus referred in answering the mother? It was the cup that Jesus understood too well. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed this prayer:

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

James, indeed, drank the cup that Jesus drank. James is traditionally believed to be the first of the twelve apostles who was martyred for the faith. We read about it in the Book of Acts:

Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  (Acts 12:1-3)

The Festival of Unleavened Bread was the Jewish Passover. Jesus has become the Passover for those who believe in Him. Because James was faithful in preaching the Passover of Christ he was privileged to join his Lord in laying down his life for the Church. James went from being a big-shot to a hero of the faith by following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Where would the Christian Church be today without the faith and testimonies of the martyrs? If the Early Church were preaching today’s “Gospel” message the Church would probably not even exist. So many today are seeking a higher place and a greater prosperity for themselves. Such seeking only causes envy and division within the Church. Jesus attempted to put a stop to it with His disciples:

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:24-28)

Having just celebrated Mary Magdalene as a true servant leader of God, we now celebrate James, the first apostle martyred for the sake of the Gospel. He was able to drink the cup. Let us pray for the grace and courage that more Church servant leaders will step forward in our day. Perhaps we may be included among them.

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Saint Mary Magdalene

First Witness to the Resurrection

The Gospel of Luke made it clear that the roles of women in the ministry of Jesus Christ were significant:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  (Luke 8:1-3)

When we think of Jesus’ disciples we may primarily be thinking of the twelve that Jesus personally chose to follow Him. They were not alone, however. They were supported by many faithful women of which Mary Magdalene was included. She was not only included. She was prominent. She was the courageous and faithful one. When Jesus’ disciples deserted Him at the cross she was there:

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  (John 19:25)

Jesus could have chosen any one of the twelve disciples to reveal Himself to after His resurrection. He chose a woman – Mary Magdalene:

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.  (Mark 16:9-10)

Why did Jesus choose her? The testimonies of women were often considered unreliable. In fact, the disciples did not believer Mary’s testimony:

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  (Luke 24:10-11)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed the order of things. Jesus attempted to explain this new order to His disciples before His crucifixion, but they had trouble understanding what He was telling them:

But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.  (Mark 9:34-35)

Mary Magdalene was a primary example of the servant leader who was faithful in her duties, following in the footsteps of her LORD. We remember her today as the resurrection’s first witness.

Will we follow the example of Mary Magdalene? Will be a servant of others? Will we boldly proclaim the resurrection in our day, no matter what others may say or think? And will we standby Jesus under difficult circumstances? We will when we put our trust in Jesus as did Mary Magdalene.

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