We Need to Belong

23 September 2018 – Lectionary 25, Proper 20

Mark 9:30-37

. . . I once had a pupil who simply had to be first in line. He secured his place by any means necessary and it was getting quite disruptive. In desperation, I told him that he had no way of knowing if first place in line was best because he had not tried the other places. So, he could try out other positions every time we lined up to see which he liked best. . . He declared that he wanted to be fifth for his first experience. Then he tried out being third, and so on. Peace reigned. It turned out that all he needed was to know that he had a place.

That is our common human need—to have a place. . . To be first in a contest is a way of assur- ing that we will be recognized and that we count. But that is not something that is available to very many. The societies in which we live are skilled in disguising this fact and the popularity of lotteries testifies to that. In many places we support our schools by convincing people that they could be the one, out of millions, who stands out. For the poor it is a cruel hoax.

Jesus asks us to use the fact that we know we have a place in his kingdom to allow us to give up first place and serve instead. We don’t need to strive for recognition because we are known and loved by God.

There is great freedom in coming to understand that our lives do not have to be spent in striving for status and authority. It is the same freedom that the Gospel gives us, which impels us to do good works without being concerned that they will reflect well on us. We are free to truly give. So, too, we are free to do whatever seems necessary to further Jesus’ mission even if it does not seem to be significant in the world’s eyes. –– Judith Simonson

Jeremiah 11:18-20

God makes known to Jeremiah the occasion for this lament: an assassination plot hatched by those closest to him, relatives and friends in Anathoth, his home city (v 21). The jeremiad offers support for both sections of the gospel reading. . . It gives voice to the suffering Christ, notably in the image of the lamb. . . [and] illustrates negatively Jesus’ teaching; for the ‘‘gentle lamb’’ being led to slaughter requests redress from the Lord according to the laws of retaliation (v 20). By contrast Jesus is gentle as both victim and opponent, displaying at all times his greatness by servanthood rather than power. –– Fritz West

James 3:13––4:3, 7-8a

The readings from James and Mark set up a juxtaposition that draws our attention away from the passion prediction to the quarrel between the disciples. The question Jesus poses in Mark 9:33 could easily be the question James poses in 4:1. Where do these conflicts come from and why do we argue? –– E. Byron (Ron) Anderson

E. Byron (Ron) Anderson is the Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship and the Director of the Nellie B. Ebersole Program in Music Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

Judith E. Simonson is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Fritz West, a liturgical author and retired pastor of the United Church of Christ living in Minnesota, serves as the Presiding Member of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship Steering Committee.

Homily Service 42, no. 4 (2009): 26-36.

David Turnbloom