October 17, 2021
Isaiah 53: 4-12 Psalm 91:9-16 Hebrews 5:1-10 Mark 10:35-45
In the opening collect today, we prayed for God’s mercy to be preserved so that we might persevere with steadfast faith. To persevere with faith requires an investment of our time, our talent, our gifts, and our presence. Our readings today speak to the sacrificial nature of this investment. First, we have the “suffering servant” reading from Isaiah. The servant undergoes great suffering. In the closing verses it says, like Jesus, he “poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressor.”
Hebrews tells us that although Jesus is the Son of God, he suffered in order to become our source of salvation. And in the gospel, Jesus says, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Thus, for us to persevere and remain faithful, we must give of ourselves and be servants to others.
This week I read an article about the post-pandemic church. In it, the author said that faith became more important for many people during the pandemic. The pandemic is not over, but the vaccines have significantly reduced its threat to our well being. Consequently most people are getting out again: people are eating out, visiting friends, traveling and even filling football stadiums. Many of these people; however, continue to attend church online.
The bishops and priest who were interviewed stressed that our liturgy focuses on the incarnation with the celebration of the Eucharist. I understood them to be saying this is the reason we need to attend in person – our liturgy. One priest did also mention online attendees miss the opportunity to visit with others before and after the service. The focus of the article was on our worship, but I think the issue we need to address is deeper.
We need to come together not just for worship, we need to come together to be a part each other’s lives – to support AND to challenge one another. Being a servant is difficult and it is made all the harder when our experience of worship is akin to watching TV.
Our online service has and will continue to make it possible for people who cannot attend to attend. Now; however, is the time for us to envision a post-pandemic St. Paul’s. I don’t know what this vision of St. Paul’s looks like for you, but for me it involves service, it involves fellowship, and it involves worship. At the center of these is a commitment to God and to being the church. Being the church is so much more than just attending the church. If our view of the church is limited to our attendance; our faith might be described as consumerism. It is faith that is based on what we get out of it rather than a faith that motivates us to serve others. It is a faith that is limited to what we receive from the church rather than what we have to offer the church.
Over the past several weeks attendance has picked up and it feels good – but there are many people who have not yet returned to worshipping in this sacred space. The number of people attending has always been used to measure the health of a church. Yet, today’s gospel reminds me that what is needed is a return to being the church. Our commitment to following Christ is more important than simply filling the pews. Coming together is just a beginning; we need to listen to what Jesus calls us to do in today’s gospel.
Mark begins with two of the apostles, James and John, asking Jesus to grant them the honor of sitting at his side – one at his right, the other at his left. These are positions of power and authority. After following Jesus as long as they have, they still don’t understand what being a follower of Christ is about, so Jesus spells it out:
“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. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Do we come expecting to be served or do we come that we might be servants to others? To be a follower of Jesus, we need to represent the love of Christ to others by giving of ourselves – by making sacrifices as we are able to build up this church so that it will be a beacon of hope in our community.
Hebrews speaks of the weakness of the high priest, the leaders of the church. In the Catechism found in the back of our Prayer Book, it answers the questions, who are the ministers of the church, and what are their ministries. The first ministers listed are laity – not deacons, or priests, or bishops. As it lists the ministries of each, all begin with “to represent Christ and his church.” We represent Christ; Hebrews makes it clear; however, that the priest is not Christ. As your priest the focus of my ministry is to serve you SO THAT you may serve others.
The gospel also tells us we are to be servants. The term “servant leader” has been around for many years. The focus of Servant Leadership is on service – leadership is a call to service. Servant Leadership can be applied to any vocation because it builds people up and calls them to give of themselves rather than simply perform tasks. Christ calls upon us, each of us in the church, to be servant leaders, to identify needs and do what we can to address those needs in our community.
What St. Paul’s needs, as we envision a post-pandemic church, is shared servant leadership. We all need to listen for God’s call to serve. God’s love is relational, so today, I ask you to envision a post-pandemic St. Paul’s where our relationships are renewed through fellowship, worship, and study. And, I ask you to share your vision with others.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, you have called us to be the church, your presence in the world today, by sharing your love with others. Help us, we pray, to rededicate our commitment to love and serve you in this community. Renew our spirit that those who are hurting and alone might experience your through us. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.