SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

 19TH SEPTEMBER 2021

OPENING SENTENCE

Happy are they who delight in the law of the Lord.

HYMN

GREETING

Grace and peace to you from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

COLLECT FOR PURITY

Almighty God
to whom all hearts be open
all desires known
and from whom no secrets are hidden;
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you
and worthily magnify your holy name
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

SUMMARY OF THE LAW

Our Lord Jesus Christ said: The first commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.”

The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these. Amen. Lord, have mercy.

CONFESSION

God is love and we are God’s children.
There is no room for fear in love.
We love because God loved us first.
Let us confess our sins in penitence and faith.

God our Father, we confess to you
and to our fellow members in the Body of Christ
that we have sinned in thought, word and deed,
and in what we have failed to do.
We are truly sorry.
Forgive us our sins,
and deliver us from the power of evil,
for the sake of your Son who died for us, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

ABSOLUTION

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.

GLORIA
sung by Sue St Joseph

COLLECT

O Lord,
let your constant compassion
cleanse and strengthen your Church:
and since, without you,
we cannot continue in safety,
may we ever be governed by your grace:
through Jesus Christ, our Lord
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen

FIRST READING
Proverbs 31:10-31
read by Debbie Johnson

A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
 and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
 she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.

She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.

SECOND READING
JAMES 3: 1-12
read by Olive Burbridge

Two Kinds of Wisdom

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Friendship with the World

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so, you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so, you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

HYMN

GOSPEL READING
Mark 9: 30-37
read by Dean Paul Burbridge

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St Mark chapter 9 beginning at verse 30

Glory to Christ our Saviour.

Jesus Again Foretells His Death and Resurrection

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Who Is the Greatest?

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

SERMON

Maybe some of you are of an age that you can remember Mohammed Ali claiming “I am the greatest”. Widely acknowledged as one of the finest individual sporting champions of all time, Ali proclaimed in February 1964 just before his world title fight against Sonny Liston that he is the ‘greatest ever’. How would you define greatness to someone? What is greatness anyway?

There are many ways to measure greatness. Some might say that what makes for greatness is intellect and they would hold up the example of Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein developed his theory of relativity when he was twenty-six years old, and therefore, some say, by any measure he is great.

Others would say that what makes for greatness is courage, and therefore Clara Barton should be held up as the standard. During the Civil War, Clara Barton earned the honour of “Angel of the Battlefield.” Her work with the wounded ultimately led her to found the world-wide organization known as the Red Cross. Therefore, some would argue, she is great.

Still others would say that what makes for greatness is spirit. They would point to Jackie Robinson. The story of Jackie Robinson, the first professional black baseball player is a story of triumph and perseverance over adversity. If you’ve heard his story, you know the insults that were hurled at him. His story is the triumph of the human spirit.

Perhaps some would say that people’s contribution to humanity is what makes for greatness. If that were the case, then few would argue against calling Jonas Salk great. It is difficult for us to imagine today the terror that the word polio struck in the hearts of parents. I well remember when I was a child and the vaccine was used on a mass scale in schools in the form of a sugar lump. Few can deny that Jonas Salk gave us a great deal, when he developed the first ever polio vaccine.

But perhaps greatness is with those, who work for peace in the councils of nations or those who fight for justice as did Martin Luther King. We all have deep within us a desire to be great. We have a desire to be the best at what we do. To excel. No one wants to be no one. But what is greatness and how can we recognize it when we see it?

Sometimes it is easier to say what greatness is not rather than what it is. Greatness is never about self-promotion. One day Jesus is walking with his disciples and as they walk, they talk among themselves. At the time they did not realize that he overheard them, but he clearly did for when they later arrive at their destination, he questions them about it. The topic was who was the greatest among them. Exactly what they said we don’t know, but I imagine that the conversation went something like this

Simon Peter said: “Well, I am his righthand man. I am a part of the inner circle. I am the spokesman of the group. Therefore, I am the greatest.”

Whereupon Andrew might have spoken up and said: “Well, dear big brother, let me remind you of something which you have conveniently forgotten. I was called into discipleship first. Indeed, I was the one who invited you to come to Jesus. I got you here. Therefore, I am the greatest.”

The brothers James and John at this point speak up: “You both miss the point. Greatness is measured by the amount that you have sacrificed. We stood to inherit our father Zebedee’s lucrative fishing business. We gave all of that up.”

At this point Matthew chimes in: “Well if you want to talk about giving up money, I can play that game. I was a tax collector. None of you had as much money as I did. Therefore, I am the greatest.”

When the twelve arrived at their destination, Jesus asked them what they had been talking about back on the road. It was a question meant for their introspection. Jesus knew what they had been talking about. With that question the disciples are strangely quiet. They are embarrassed. It was at this point that Jesus told them, and vicariously us, what it is that makes for true greatness in the eyes of God. “If you would be great,” he said, “be a servant.”

It has been said that Jesus came proclaiming an upside-down kingdom. It’s a catchy way of saying that so much of what Jesus said and taught turns our way of thinking on its’ head. He said things like, if you want to live, you must die; and if you want to save your life, you must lose it. Our natural way of thinking is to hate our enemies and to look for opportunities for revenge, but Jesus said Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. The ways of Jesus are counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.

As we come to Mark 9, we find Jesus expressing yet another paradoxical way of thinking. He says that the way to greatness is the way of service. “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Greatness is found in service to all. Notice something very significant about that. He did not on this or on any other occasion rebuke the disciples for wanting to be the greatest. Never does he take them to task because of their desire.

God has somehow built into every human heart the desire to succeed at whatever we do in whatever terms we may conceive success to lie. He did not rebuke them, for this is part of our humanity, to want to succeed, to be the greatest. What he did do was to tell them the true way to greatness. “It is not by seeking to be first,” he said, “It is by a willingness to be last. It is not by getting people to serve you; it is by becoming a servant of all.”

What he is really saying is that there are two kinds of greatness, two kinds of ambition. There is the ambition to be approved and applauded by people, and the ambition to be approved and applauded by God. These are as different as night and day. There are those who want to gain fame, attention, influence and power in the eyes of others. Though we may achieve a form of greatness in the eyes of others, it will turn into cobwebs and ashes in our hands. It is nothing but a temporary, momentary achievement.

To underline his thinking on greatness, Jesus called a child to himself and putting his arms around the child, he said to the disciples, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Then he went on to bring out, in three remarkable ways, what we could call “the lessons of a child,” or to put it in other words, the real marks of greatness. It is right that we should be ambitious, but we need to be ambitious for the right things. The first is found in these words: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” The important words there are “in my name.” The motive for receiving such a person, such a small, unimportant child, is that it is done as unto the Lord; done in his name. It is not done because something of great value may come to you because of the child; it is something you do regardless of whether you receive any benefit in doing it, because it is done in his name. I like William Barclay’s comment on this, and would like to share it with you:

Now, a child has no influence at all. A child cannot advance a person’s career, nor enhance a person’s prestige. A child cannot give us things; it’s the other way around. A child needs things.

A child must have things done for him. And so, Jesus is saying, “If you welcome the poor, ordinary people, the people who have no influence, and no wealth, and no power, the people who need things done for them, then you are welcoming me.” And more than that, you are welcoming God.” It is developing a relationship with Jesus himself, and through Jesus, with God who created us all. When we welcome the least of these, we are welcoming the presence of Christ that is found in each person we meet. And, we are being in relationship with God.” 

So, greatness is learning to have no specific respect of persons, but rather to welcome people simply because they are people, whether they are refugees from Afghanistan, Syria or any other part of the world. We make no consideration of whether they can do something for us or not, and not to be concerned whether knowing them enhances our own prestige, so we can drop their names where it will do us the most credit, but simply we are to be interested in people because they are people, and because, potentially at least, they are sons and daughters of God himself. Whatever we do unto others, we do unto Christ himself, for Jesus not Mohammed Ali, is the greatest. Amen

NICENE CREED

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one substance with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father.
With the Father and the Son,
he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

God of all love, you have shown in Jesus your love for us,

so, we entrust to you now our cares and concerns.

God of all truth, we come before you

with our faltering faith

with our doubts and anxieties,

with any delusions we might have

and ask that you will strengthen us in the truth

and rekindle within us your love and gentleness.

Open our eyes Lord

and direct us in the truth

God of all wisdom,

we pray for our government

and all political parties in our land,

may you guide them to govern truthfully.

May you steer them away

from any delusions of importance or grandeur,

and guide them to look out for the weak in our society.

Open our eyes Lord

and direct us in the truth

God of all love, we lift to you those

whose homes and families

have been crushed by flooding and disaster.

We pray especially for families in Haiti,

struggling after the earthquake

and ask that you may grant them the support

and resolve required to rebuild their lives.

Open our eyes Lord

and direct us in the truth

God of all compassion,

we lift to you those who are frail or weak.

We remember those who are ill in hospitals,

and those who are weary in nursing homes,

may you bring them your comfort, strength and healing.

We pray especially for those with cancer

that your presence, your touch

and strength will be with them

in the days of treatment ahead.

Be with all who are undergoing surgery

and may you guide the surgeons

so that the operations will be successful.

Be close to all in their time of recuperation.

Open our eyes Lord

and direct us in the truth

God of all faithfulness and hope, we pray for all

who are under stress or strain at this time,

we ask that they may experience your faithful presence and love.

Give them coping skills and mechanisms

and grant them your peace and comfort.

Open our eyes Lord

and direct us in the truth

Holy God, with great thankfulness we praise you
for your constant faithfulness to us,
your recognition of our deepest thoughts
and your desire for a close and deep relationship with us.
Merciful Father accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Do not bring us to the time of trial
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.

HYMN

BLESSING

The peace of God,
which passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God,
and of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord:
and the blessing of God the Father,
the Son and Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen

DISMISSAL

Go or stay in peace to love and serve the Lord.

In the name of Christ.