Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 26, September 30, 2018

 

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Wood carving, St. George’s, St. Catharines

MARK 9:38-50

The disciples, in last Sunday’s reading, were engaged in in-fighting. In this Sunday’s readings, not to be outdone, they look out and become accusatory and territorial. With more concern for control than for the care of people, they complain against the competition. Jesus challenges the disciples to be less judgmental of others and engage in deeper self-examination. Using rabbinic hyperbole, he indicates how high the stakes are when he says, “If your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out.”

Putting up restrictions and controls around another’s behaviour can be a reasonable and responsible act. On the other hand, it can also serve to extend our own desire to succeed and entrench power. When our fear and sense of threat stifles and limits other people’s potential we can thwart the fullness of Jesus’ calling for them (and ourselves) and become a stumbling block. So how can we tell when we are being prudent and wise and when we are being territorial and controlling?

Such discernment requires an inner journey that can be searing and uncomfortable. A beloved activity, a way of doing things may cease or be taken away. It can emotionally feel like the severing of a limb. Growing in faith means we open ourselves to the different ways God is revealed in other people.

As I place this question before God I become aware of the many, deep and mixed layers of motivation that rest in my soul, some known and some others yet undiscovered. Help me Lord, to see and foster new life even when that challenges my assumptions and the way I am used to doing things.

JAMES 5:13-20

What a strange way to end a letter! There is no final formal goodbye, just a plea to the community to look out for one another. And that really is what I think James is all about…living an integrated life of faith in community. Good definition of church, perhaps.

In this final passage, his answer to almost everything seems to be “prayer.” But again, he does not understand prayer to be an individual act of solitude but a powerful instrument of the community.

Do you have stories of the power of prayer? Have you ever shared these stories with others? Sometimes it is difficult to talk about the transformational activity of God in this skeptical age. I have personally seen and experienced incredible healing through prayer, which I would not confuse with a physical cure or scientific processes. However, I am left wondering which is more difficult: to forgive or change a person’s disposition, or to cut away a cancer?

Recall a time when prayer made a difference in your life. Bonus challenge! Tell someone of faith, perhaps someone in your church community, about this transformational spiritual moment.

PSALM 124

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

No words. I sit in silence before this awareness.
ESTHER 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

“I most dread the rhyming history we are plunged into now: the merciless pummeling of a woman who dares to obstruct the glide path of a conservative [U.S.] Supreme Court nominee.” (The New York Times, 09.24.18) As the world braces itself for the Brett Kavanaugh hearing in the midst of the #Me Too movement we read Esther.

Esther is an orphan who was raised by her uncle and who became a favoured concubine and second queen to KingAhasuerus. The king’s first wife was banished because she dared to disobey one of his drunken requests. In our passage today, Esther has been asked to use her close relationship with the king to save her people. She faces the same terrifying question the previous queen and countless women before and after her have had to face: “Do I openly speak out against exploitation and abuse by men in power?”

As I pray into this reading and reflect on the current political situation I feel sadness and pain. I agonize at the brokenness that exists between men and women. I yearn for the safe space to mature in our conversations about consent, power and sexual development. I weep for the righteous women whose courage is met with denial, recrimination and further victimization. And I gasp at the depth of hate and fear that rests in the hearts of those who feel threatened and who grasp to maintain control.

Esther was told that she was born “for such a time as this.” What has this time awakened in you? Do your words, expressing your experience, need to be heard at this time? Who will be uncomfortable and what power structures will be challenged? Where is God in the middle of your words and in your silence?

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