Oh, James and John, you foolish, silly boys. Of course, following Jesus doesn’t mean being powerful like the rulers of the Gentiles. Of course, it’s all about servant leadership. Jesus is so deep, and you’re so shallow. With the advantage of hindsight, it is always easy to criticize James and John. Don’t you wonder though how crushed Jesus might have felt after He has just explained that they are going to Jerusalem where He will be condemned, mocked, and killed? Then two of His closest friends just sweep by that whole explanation and argue about which one of them will sit at Jesus’ right hand when they join Him in glory. How do they expect to get there..., in a chariot of fire like God had sent for Elijah? Would that they might be so lucky. What if Jesus was here now, on the way to Jerusalem, or to Washington, or to the PC(USA) headquarters in Louisville? Are we hoping to follow a yellow brick road, a street strewn with rose petals? Or is it like the popular U2 refrain: are we headed to a paradise where the streets have no name? Is Jesus waiting for us with rows of chairs where each one is marked for us? Can we expect to sit back and relax with a nice cool drink in one hand and the TV remote in the other?
We are all familiar with this story of “the rich young ruler.” We remember most about how he hangs his head and walks away. Initially, we know that what he hears from Jesus leaves him sad and non-responsive. But how do we hear Jesus? Karoline Lewis, the Professor of Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary focuses on what we learn from Jesus. She offers: “What he lacks is not something material, but a certain state of being. Jesus’ four important verbs in
Paul said: “We boast about your perseverance and faith in all situations, and pray for the Lord’s grace and peace to be with you at all times and in every way.” Grace comes from the Latin, Gratus, and that is certainly the place to begin this morning. I like what Erik Thompson, the pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Fargo, ND said about Grace. It actually has a double meaning: “Grace” needs emphasis, because people today are hurting and in need of a good word. But Thompson highlights the second meaning as well: “Gratitude.” Pastors are responsible for leading an all-volunteer organization, which challenges like nothing else. But being a part of this body of Christ also rewards like nothing else. I am so very grateful for all your participation in bringing this World Communion Service together today: to all the people who brought the Cities, Farms, Villages, and Waterfronts into the sanctuary in such visible, tangible ways. AND, to all the teachers and children who studies various countries and baked creative breads that represented those new places. “Thank you, all, for what we see today, and for how you have worked behind the scenes to make this experience possible. “Grace and Peace to you, Cook’s Memorial Presbyterian Church.”
In reference to the wonderful story we just heard from the Book of Esther, she stands with countless passages in the Bible that witness boldly to God’s action in the world. Esther witnesses to the power of a good story to give us hope. Rather than succumbing to despair, Esther -- like the carnival-eques festival of Purim it inspires -- encourages us to meet terror with ridicule. Satiric storytelling is not the only response to oppression we can or should muster, but the book of Esther reminds us it is indeed a valid response, one that helps us hold fast to our conviction that the grace-filled power of God ultimately will overcome the destructive powers of this world. Cameron Howard, OT Prof., Luther Seminary in St. Paul/Minneapolis. Listen now to another story that invites us to overcome terror with creativity.
Before we hear the story of Mary and Martha, it is important to catch the flow of an action that Jesus has just praised. I find it a little ironic that just before Jesus and the disciples go in to see these sisters, Jesus has responded to the “Who is my neighbor?” question with the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus commended the extreme hospitality of the Samaritan who likely saved the life of the man who was beaten and left to die with a strong recommendation to “GO and do likewise!”
Clearly, the message from this story is about how Jesus wants to impress us with the same deep peace of the Holy Spirt that he knew his disciples would need after his crucifixion. He can well anticipate that they will feel isolated, overcome with fear, and left wondering what in the world they will do without him. But let’s stay for a minute in the context of what Jesus, in all his humanity, might be feeling. He was about to come face-to-face with violence, deception, and rejection - even from his beloved disciples who knew him best. It is the night of his betrayal, the evening when he will be handed over to those who hate him and who will take him away to be tried, found guilty, and crucified. Yet in the middle of that, Jesus chooses to speak words of peace.