21st Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-12

4Surely he has borne our infirmities
  and carried our diseases;
 yet we accounted him stricken,
  struck down by God, and afflicted.
5But he was wounded for our transgressions,
  crushed for our iniquities;
 upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
  and by his bruises we are healed.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
  we have all turned to our own way,
 and the Lord has laid on him
  the iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
  yet he did not open his mouth;
 like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
  and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
  so he did not open his mouth.
8By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
  Who could have imagined his future?
 For he was cut off from the land of the living,
  stricken for the transgression of my people.
9They made his grave with the wicked
  and his tomb with the rich,
 although he had done no violence,
  and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
 When you make his life an offering for sin,
  he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
 through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
  11Out of his anguish he shall see light;
 he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
  The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
  and he shall bear their iniquities.
12Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
  and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
 because he poured out himself to death,
  and was numbered with the transgressors;
 yet he bore the sin of many,
  and made intercession for the transgressors.

Psalm: Psalm 91:9-16

9Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
  and the Most High your habitation,
10no evil will befall you,
  nor shall affliction come near your dwelling.
11For God will give the angels charge over you,
  to guard you in all your ways.
12Upon their hands they will bear you up,
  lest you strike your foot against a stone. 
13You will tread upon the lion cub and viper;
  you will trample down the lion and the serpent.
14I will deliver those who cling to me;
  I will uphold them, because they know my name.
15They will call me, and I will answer them;
  I will be with them in trouble; I will rescue and honor them.
16With long life will I satisfy them,
  and show them my salvation. 

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:1-10

1Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
  5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
 “You are my Son,
  today I have begotten you”;
6as he says also in another place,
 “You are a priest forever,
  according to the order of Melchizedek.”
  7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel: Mark 10:35-45

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
  41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “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. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  A Sans story:  How the Zebra Got His Stripes

Long ago, when animals were still new in Africa, the weather was very hot, and what little water there was remained in a few pools and pans.  One of these remaining water pools was guarded by a boisterous baboon, who claimed that he was the ‘lord of the water’ and forbade anyone from drinking at his pool.

One fine day when a zebra came down to have a drink of water, the baboon, who was sitting by his fire next to the waterhole, jumped up and barked in a loud voice. ‘Go away, intruders. This is my pool and I am the lord of the water.’

‘The water is for everyone, not just for you?,’ The zebra shouted back.

‘If you want some of the water, you must fight for it,’ returned the and in a moment the two were locked in combat.  Back and forth they went fighting, raising a huge cloud of dust, until with a mighty kick, the zebra sent the baboon flying high up among the rocks of the cliff behind them. The baboon landed with a smack on his seat, taking all the hair clean off, and to this very day, he still carries the bare patch where he landed.

The tired and bruised young zebra, not looking where he was going, staggered back through the baboon’s fire, which scorched him, leaving black burn stripes across his white fur.  The shock of being burned, sent the zebra galloping away to the savannah plains, where he has stayed ever since.

The baboon and his family, however, remain high up among the rocks where they bark defiance at all strangers, and when they walk around, they still hold up their tails to ease the smarting rock-burn of their bald patched bottoms.

Let us pray:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


Today we are still on the road to Jerusalem and Jesus has just told the disciples for the third time what to expect – they are going to Jerusalem and he, Jesus, will be turned over to the chief priests, condemned, killed and will resurrect three days later.  The disciples heard, “We are going to Jerusalem…” and their ears turned off and their minds filled in the blanks.  Yes!  Jesus is going to do his thing.  He is going to become the long awaited Messiah and deliver the Jews from the Romans.  Israel’s days of glory are soon to be restored! 

         Will the disciples never have ears that hear?  Will we never be able to wait for Jesus to finish his sentence, to finish his work in our life?  We open our text today with James and John, speaking like two small boys, coming to a parent and making a request.  “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  James and John boldly ask for blanket approval before requesting for positions of authority in the new kingdom they are sure is about to arrive. We are going to hear words about the kingdom but are our ears listening and more than the disciples did?

         How many of us can remember writing our wish list for Christmas?  Seldom did I receive what I wanted.  Instead of a car at college, my parents gave me a bicycle.  When I got married I was sure “happy ever after” was next..  But marriage is work.  I finally had the first grandchild and my parents were so pleased.  That baby cried all the time.  Life is a bit like that.  We have our dreams, expectations and wants that we bring to Jesus and probably much like James and John, we want approval before we ask. We want that healing we are praying for.  We want that spouse that seems so right.  Or perhaps a job that will take us places.  OK, we just want and for sure God answers prayer if we have enough faith.

          “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 

Let’s look at that request.  I suspect, hidden within this request is an unspoken request for love and affirmation.  If you love me, you will fulfill my request. We may not admit it but often we ask, believing that the other’s love will grant the request. If Jesus loves us, surely he will not want us to feel pain and so we ask for healing. We do not see the whole picture but jump to our heart’s desire, not what God is trying to impart to us.  Do what we ask, not what you know is best.

         Jesus redirects the two apostles.  You do not know what you are asking.  Did I hear an “AMEN!”  I suspect not.  Jesus tries to explain that their request for seats of honor and power has hidden trials and testing.  They will have to go through experiences, the baptism and cup of suffering like what Jesus is about to face.  James and John believe they can do it but I suspect that even as Peter denied that he would desert Jesus, the truth is that we are all weak and only succeed with the Spirit’s help.  The other ten realize this conversation is going on and they too want to be part of the ruling hierarchy in the new kingdom.  All the disciples want positions of influence. None are truly innocent.  None of them truly understand what is about to unfold.  None of us know what the future holds. 

         Jesus refuses to cement the future in place with promises that mean nothing.  He did not promise them and he does not promise us positions of power, or freedom from suffering, or even to give us wealth.  Jesus promises to be with us, to send the Spirit that guides and comforts us.  He promises to be a refuge we can run to when we are weary, a source of wisdom when we encounter trials, and so much more.  He does not promise his followers the goodies of this world.  The disciples have not listened closely and Jesus again turns their attention to the nature of his kingdom.

         God is building a kingdom that is not like the kingdoms of the Gentiles!  The kingdom of heaven will not be like the Romans or even like the American government.  There will not be leaders who are tyrants.  We certainly look at world leaders today and ponder the power they carry, whether we speculate on China displaying nuclear weapons this week, Russia and the reign of Putin or the USA where we throw back and forth comments on the leadership of Biden vs. Trump and where Mitch McConnell will land…oh my goodness. It is enough to give us a headache or heartache.  Jesus is saying that heaven will not be like leadership as we experience it in our world today.  Leadership is not about domination.

         The flip side of this coin for those who feel invisible to leadership, who feel oppressed and overlooked, there will be equal voice and justice.  They will not be taxed into poverty or beaten into subjection and certainly will not experience themselves as “the conquered” or “the slave” of a power that is foreign to them.  The kingdom of heaven will not be like our politics today with powerful leaders and refugees seeking a haven.  That is not the model we are to live as followers of Jesus.  Jesus victory will not be a military victory. It will not be a show of force. But I do suspect there will be a victory dance.

         Jesus continues, “but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”  We have coined the word “servant leadership.”  We hear these words but they are so counter-cultural that it is just hard to imagine. How do we understand what Jesus is saying?  For me, I look to the Gospels that describe the type of life Christ lived among us.  He healed the sick that often did not even make a profession of faith.  He associated with all levels of society and often was critiqued.  He enjoyed fellowship in homes of the rich and the poor.  No fancy chariot for Jesus but lots of walking and a donkey to enter Jerusalem.  I do not read of one power encounter with the Roman invaders subjugating the Jews.  Even in the Garden of Gethsemane he did not use power.  He had words for the religious hierarchy but he also met with them.  He taught whenever and wherever and not just on Sabbath nor just at the Temple.  He taught from a boat, on a mountain, by a well, and next to a bath.  Flexible and humble might be words we would use to describe how “servant” is lived out in the life of Christ.

         Tyrannical leadership will not characterize the kingdom of heaven.  Servant leadership will characterize the kingdom.  And, lastly the Apostle Mark says that Jesus came “to give his life a ransom for many.”  Jesus is not just an inspiring example of an innocent death by a holy person. Jesus is not an inspiration.  He is a redeemer. Mark indicates that Christ’s death will liberate us from a dominating power that has us enslaved and deceived.  By breaking the power of death, Jesus makes an ultimate statement of the difference between the kingdom of earth and the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of earth has tyrannical leaders, enslaves people and its followers end in death.  The kingdom of heaven has servant leadership, is characterized by fulfilled and meaningful lives, and ends in eternal relationship with God.

         The text today challenges us to ponder our concept of the kingdom and how we live it’s foreshadow in our lives today.  Are we looking for power and honor and goodies that prove to us that Jesus loves us?  Are we willing to be last and to serve?  I suspect for many, we see Christianity as seeking those seats of recognition like James and John.  Lord, open our ears that we may hear!

         So let us go back to the story of how the zebra got his stripes.  I like this story because like the zebra, Christians are a bit of a black and white affair.  We have our feet in two worlds, the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven.  I would like to think when we become Christians we are then white zebras scarred by the black soot from the trials with evil.  Some days we ask silly questions like James and John – give me what I want and prove you love me.  We fight with evil over the pool of goodies that we need to survive in this world.  But like that zebra we fight so that all animals can come and drink the living water that is meant for all.  The saying in Kenya is that you never see a think zebra.  They survive on the plains.  They are beautiful.  Christians too may face trials and battles with that ole baboon that likes to sit up in the rocks and bark at us and we may be scarred by the battles and be a bit stripped but ultimately we know we have been ransomed.  Christ cared and walked through death, conquering its power that we may live with him forever drinking the water of life.  Thank you Lord!  And the people of God said, “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!”

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