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Worship, Prayer and Bible Resources

29 Sunday in Ordinary, Year B, Green


Introduction

James and John approached Jesus with a request, they wanted a guarantee that when Jesus has gained power he would share it with them. They had understood that Jesus was about to bring in a new world order, they failed to understand how different it would be. Jesus was just about to embark upon his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the crowds who will cheer him will make the same mistake. The revolution which Jesus was about to start would not just exchange one set of rulers for another, Jesus was about to reverse the very understanding of power itself. In his kingdom the first would be last, the master would be the slave. Those who wanted the finest seats should seek out those at the bottom of the table. This was the age of the servant and Jesus was to be the Servant King.

All around us we see the games of politics and power played out, in governments, churches our places of work. This week we are encouraged to question our own understanding of power and to ask ourselves 'where do we want to sit.'

Opening Sentence

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.  Psalm 91 v 1, 2

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Faithful Lord, whose steadfast love never ceases and whose mercies never come to an end: grant us the grace to trust you and to receive the gifts of your love, new every morning, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen  (Common Worship Shorter Collect)

O God, forasmuch as without you we are not able to please you; mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.  (Common Worship)

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do also for you. Give us the will to be the servant of others as you were the servant of all; for you gave up your life and died for us, but live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever (Methodist Worship)

First Bible Reading Isaiah 53 v 4 – 12

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Second Reading Hebrews 5:1-10

Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. No one takes this honour upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father." And he says in another place,  "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Gospel Reading Mark 10:35-45

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" "We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared." When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Post Communion Sentence

Holy and blessed God, you have fed us with the body and blood of your Son and filled us with your Holy Spirit: may we honour you, not only with our lips but in lives dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Commentary:

Jesus has for the third time told his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem to die. On the two previous occasions the disciples have made the wrong response. Do you remember that the first time Peter told Jesus this must not happen and Jesus called him ’Satan’ ? Well on this occasion it is not that much better. No sooner has Jesus told them that he is going to Jerusalem to die than James and John ask him if they can have the best seats when he takes power! The two positions on either side of a king’s throne were the most prestigious in a kingdom. Humanly speaking you can see how James and John get to this position, they are thinking that Jesus is going to go and take over and when he does then they will well placed to have some great jobs.

For the past few Sundays we have heard Jesus saying how hard and different it is all going to be. You won’t be able to join in if you have any money, it will be so hard for rich people that you might as well try and thread a camel through a needle! Forget any ideas of self aggrandisement, if you want to be a part of the new way then you have to become vulnerable and weak like a child. Most of all the leader is not going to be welcomed onto the world stage as a powerful new authority he will suffer and die - and this is the is real nail in the coffin, those who follow Jesus as leader must be prepared to lose their lives also. It is worth remembering that James was the first of the disciples to be martyred, but according to tradition John lived into his nineties.

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. (Acts 12:2)

Jewish people knew well the Gentile model of authority, ancient near Eastern kings had long claimed to be gods and ruled tyrannically. Greek rulers had done the same. The Roman emperor and his agent would have been seen in the same way. By reminding the disciples that seeking power was a Gentile practice was a way of saying that it was wrong !

The other ten disciples become indignant probably because James and John got in there first. These disciples were part of the inner three, they were especially close to Jesus, but they have got it all wrong. They still clung to the idea that there would be a restoration of the glorious kingdom which David ruled. Jesus asks James and John’s a question: "Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" Jesus elsewhere refers to the cross as his cup (14:23-24, 36).
Jesus needs to get across to them that being a disciple is not about power and prestige. It’s not about the first places at table. It’s about following Jesus’ path to service, suffering and death. Both of these terms, "drinking the cup" and "baptism," were "images for death."

They assure Jesus that they are confident they can do whatever Jesus asks of them. However when reality sets in, with his suffering and death, they will scatter. It will take their experience of the resurrected Jesus and his accompanying grace, to enable them to drink his cup and be baptized in his baptism. Thus, "later," they will accept the servanthood and sacrifice Jesus asks of his disciples.

James and John would surely have justified what they were asking as not being out of selfish ambition but because they would be good at it. They would make better rulers, but Jesus does not want to just play music chairs with those in power, putting new people in control. He wants to take away the chairs and show that that the people who really matters are the ones on their knees, serving. What Jesus brought was not a revolution in which one group stole power from another. It was not a leadership contest in which roles were simply exchanged. Jesus was about to completely change the nature of true power itself. From now on those who sought to obtain status must become servants. The followers of Christ must not seek the best seats at tables, they must deliberately choose the way of servanthood. They must follow the example of Christ and be those who took the towel to wash the feet of others.

So where are we in all of this - some lessons

  1. We need to look closely at ourselves and examine our own willingness to accept the path which Jesus calls us to follow. The truth is that we cannot be too hard on James and John because we all still fail miserably to be servants like Jesus. We are all way too ambitious for our selves in all sorts of ways. We do not give up our plans, our desires, our ambitions easily. Have we responded with enthusiasm to what Jesus asks us to do, have we done so any better than James and John ? Are we prepared to set aside our own ambitions and expectations and consider what path Jesus would have us follow?
  2. Do we make excuses of our own inadequacy ? Is there some work which we feel God wants us to do but for which we have felt inadequate? There is clearly no need to feel inadequate for the task. When we look at those disciples and see how misguided they were, how ill suited for the purpose they were, how much they lacked even the basic ingredients, and yet God used them.
    If Jesus can use these ambitious self seeking individuals then he can use us ! We do this by allowing parts of ourselves to die, those part which are absorbed with self, Jesus called this a kind of being born again, as we put the past behind us and start living a new way.
  3. Are we fulfilling other people’s expectations for us? In Matthew’s Gospel we read that it was not James and John who went to Jesus but it was their mother (Salome). Perhaps they all did, we don’t know but I suspect that James and John did have to deal with the fact that their mother had certain expectations for them which she expected them to fulfil. We all have to be careful of the expectations of others for us. Remember Jesus himself had to make clear that he would not simply follow the expectations of his family. 

The way is laid out for us today to participate in the work of Christ. We are called to be servants after the example of Jesus. Thankfully we can also draw inspiration from the lives of James and John. Having so miserable failed they went on to live lives of great service.
It can be tempting to be like James and John and see success in human terms, judge success by great numbers, lots of money or recognition or influence. Even in church life we do this, judging churches for example by how many come. Today's gospel opens our eyes to look for true greatness in other ways.
Greatness surrounds us in daily life as we see others active in service in all sorts of small ways. Being a servant sometimes means having to get on and do things quietly and unnoticed, without shouting or drawing attention to our willingness to serve. We are surrounded by examples of those who, in quiet ways, behind the scenes serve without receiving praise; help without thanks and remain faithful to daily responsibilities without trumpets fanfares or awards. 

  • Those who care for an elderly relative or friend day in and day out.
  • Single parents who struggle to make ends meet and who work hard to bring up their children to be responsible and kind.
  • Those who look after a sick friend or practice patience in a difficult working environment.
  • Those who carry on volunteering and giving their time, when it would be so easy to walk away and spend that precious time doing things which they would enjoy. 

In a world which is obsessed fame and wealth, thank God we honour those who give themselves sacrificially in service of others. These are the ones who bring the greatest healing to the world and so we embrace and celebrate the humble, serving people around us. We don’t do this on our own anymore than Jesus expected his disciples to do it on their own. we are nourished by Christ’s strength. So we come to our communion seeking God’s strength and nourishment as we realise that we can not do it on our own. Charles Royden

Meditation

The first reading is from the fourth servant song of Second Isaiah: the prophet sings of one who gives his life as an offering. The gospel is about disciples who want to be important. Jesus teaches them that whoever wants to rank first among them must serve the needs of all. So it is with us. Jesus, our Lord and Master, calls us to be a community of service. Our strength comes from following in the footsteps of this Master, who has not come to be served but to serve. What is our service to the world? If all we do is affirm the world’s wisdom, what kind of service is that? We must provide an alternative to the wisdom of the world: that is the greatest service we can offer. Gerald Darring
 

Hymns and Psalms

  1. Ye servants of God

  2. For I’m building a people of power

  3. Crown Him with many crowns

  4. Jesus the name high over all

  5. All hail the power of Jesus’ name

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

O God, you have called men and women of every land to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, the Church of your dear Son; unite us in mutual love across the barriers of race and culture, and strengthen us in our common task of being Christ and showing Christ to the world He came to save. Amen

O Lord, let the church be truly your collective body in the world today, the Christ-community directed by youits head, infused with your Spirit, loving and serving all people as you did when you lived your human life. Help the Church to give itself for the world, to that everyone may have the priceless treasure of your grace and love, O lord of the Church, O Saviour of the world. Amen

Set our hearts on fire with love for you, O Christ our God, that in its flame we may love you with all out heart, with all our mind, with all out soul, and with all our strength, and our neighbours as ourselves, so that in keeping your commandments, we may glorify you, the giver of all good gifts. Amen
A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers

May the almighty and eternal God sanctify and govern your hearts and bodies in the ways of His laws and the works of His commandments; that under God’s protection, now and ever, you may be preserved in body and soul; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always. Amen
 

Almighty God, you have formed us in your own image. Teach us to discern your hand in all your works, and to serve you with reverence and thanksgiving: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who reigns, with you and the Holy Spirit, supreme over all creation, now and for ever. Amen. (Methodist Worship)

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us your gift of faith that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to that which is before, we may run the way of your commandments and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


 

Additional Material

Matthew Chapter 20:26

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Commentary A Servant of All

There is a stark contrast between the picture of Christ we get from the readings from Isaiah and Hebrews and the demands of James and John in the gospel. In the Old Testament reading and the epistle we see Christ portrayed as the suffering servant, crushed, oppressed, afflicted, a humble, obedient, submissive and gentle servant who is called and anointed by God to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek and the saviour of the world. In the gospel, we see James and John making the outrageous demand to this saviour of the world to do for them anything they ask. Its almost as if James and John have not understood quite what Jesus is about at this stage, misunderstanding what it means to be with the Messiah. But instead of suggesting to them that they must be joking or querying whether they really mean ‘anything’, Jesus merely asks them what they want Him to do for them. And whilst the demand of James and John is in contrast with the earlier readings, Jesus’ response is not. When He hears what they want He does not chastise them for asking but explains, as a gentle servant, what they ask is not His to grant but that the places to the right and left of Him in glory belong to those for whom they have been prepared.

Not surprisingly the other ten disciples were indignant with James and John for separating themselves from their company in the hope of obtaining the highest honour. Jesus continues in His gentle theme and explains to them that in the Gentile, worldly rulers lord it over their people, and holders of high office make their authority felt. This must not happen among Christ’s followers. On the contrary, whoever wants to be first among them must be last of all.

John Chrysostom, one of the early Christian Fathers commented,

‘The fact is that before the incarnation and self-abasement of Christ the whole world was in a state of ruin and decay, but when He humbled himself He lifted the world up. He annulled the curse, put an end to death, opened paradise, destroyed sin, flung wide the gates of heaven, and introduced there the first fruits of our race. He filled the world with faith in God, drove out error, restored truth, caused our first fruits to ascend a royal throne, and gained innumerable blessings beyond the power of myself or anyone else to describe in words. Before He humbled himself He was known only to the angels, but after his self-abasement he was recognized by the whole human race.’

In a world that is so competitive and status oriented it is difficult for us to understand the upside down personal economics of an incarnate God who whilst being the Messiah was also the servant of all, but was the Messiah because He was the servant of all. As Isaiah states, it was God’s will to crush the Servant, Jesus; but as the New Testament makes plain, it was that same Jesus’ obedience that made Himself the guilt offering for all and through whom we have our salvation.

As we focus on the church’s mission this Sunday, the challenge is perhaps not so much what we do with our time, our talents and our financial resources, but what we do with our own self will. Are we prepared to listen to God to hear His call on our lives and to be obedient to that calling in the same way that Christ was? Are we prepared to become the servant of others, to put our time, talents, resources and will at God’s disposal so that they may have God revealed to them?   Sam Cappleman

Bible Sunday - Commentary

Jesus took the Jewish Old Testament scriptures seriously, he recognised in the pages of the Bible his own mission and calling. But of course the Christian Church was new and it needed new scriptures to tell of how it had come into being and what it believed, thus was born the New Testament. To Christians therefore all of these books are special and sacred documents. We often say that the books of the Bible are 'canonical'. This term comes from the Greek work 'Kanon' which means rule or yardstick. This indicates that limits have been set by the Christian community as to which texts are scriptural. ‘Scriptural’ and ‘biblical’ are words which mean the same thing, holy scripture is canon for the Christian, it lays down a rule for life.

There is a disagreement between the Roman Catholic Church and others over a few books in the Old Testament which we call the Apocrypha, and which the Roman Catholic Church officially declared part of the canon at the Council of Trent in 1546, but apart from that there is little difference.

The early Christian church had to decide which books would be included in the New Testament and there were certain points which helped. Contact of a book with one of the Apostles was significant - as was the case with Matthew, or John. Mark, Luke and Acts were viewed from an early date as having connection with the Apostle Peter. We demonstrate our belief in the importance of the Gospel specifically when we stand as they are read in our Communion service. By AD 367 the 39th Pascal Letter of Athanasius contained an exact list of the 27 book which we have today in our New Testament

Christians believe that God is able to speak to us through the pages of scripture as well as through prayer. The Bible becomes the Word of God, it is an important way in which God speaks to us and it demands our action. The scripture lays down a pattern for our lives the Psalmist said

‘Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law’ Psalm 119:18

The Psalmist tells that we should value scripture highly Psalm 119:162

‘I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil’

However we must be careful how we read scripture. We all know of people who quote scripture freely to prove all manner of points. The Bible must be read as whole and not bits taken out of context. For example God the Father is God (1Cor 1:3) Jesus is God (John 20:28) and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4), but there are not three gods, because scripture teaches that God is one - Deut 6:4 & James 2:19. So we hold together sometimes teaching which we understand, but which is paradoxical -we recognise it is a contradiction!

Being a Christian is about opening our lives up to God, recognising his great love for us and forgiveness of us and his acceptance. As we do this we want to live our lives in service of God, to know his guidance and follow the Christian Way. But how do we do this?

The Bible is God’s written word to us, the Psalmist said that the person who studies it is blessed ‘the one who meditates on God’s law day and night.’ Christian believe that in the pages of the Bible God speaks to us. The Bible is God-breathed, it is God’s written word, the events recounted there are not pages of a dry history book, or good stories of fiction. They speak of the record of God’s dealings with humankind and give us a glimpse of what God is like as he deals with his people. This is a special book it is not like any other.

There are many who have great difficulty with the Bible and whether or not it is true, was the world made within a week? Did Jonah really live under the sea in the stomach of a whale. It is very hard to help some people understand that the Bible is not one book but a library of lots of diferent books, and lots of different types of writing. Some of it is poetry, some of it is history and some of it important stories with meanings. It is not all literal truth and we have on occasions to learn to tell the difference. Even Jesus sometimes spoke words which he did not intend us to take literally, which of us would chop our hands and feet off when they caused us to sin? Personally I do not think Jonah lived inside a whale, and nore importantly I do not think that it was written to tell us that he did. It is a story to help us see that there is nowhere where we can ever be away from the presence of God. Perhaps we could explain it like this

'All of scripture is true, and some of it actually happened'

This is a special book, it is not like any other. The problem for us is that so often we are slow to respond to the words which God speaks to us. If we heard God giving us audible instructions we would perhaps take Gods directions more seriously. As Christians we have to challenge ourselves and ask whether the level of our response to Gods word is appropriate. For many Christian this is very difficult. We are slow to listen to God and slow to respond. God wants to take us on an incredible voyage of discovery but so often we never leave dry dock. God has incredible purpose for our lives, we must never doubt that. The Bible, Gods written word is the foundation for this life as God intended us to live it. We are called to open our lives out and let Gods pattern take shape. I have stressed the importance of studying the Bible and thinking it through.

Interpretation

There are those who say. 'You don't have to interpret the bible just read it and do as it says. But there is a need to interpret. We are all involved in interpretation like it or not. The bible we have is the result of a lot of interpretation - for a start it was written in Greek! Think of a passage like that which teaches a woman should not speak. The same people who use this are often the very ones who refuse to allow speaking in tongues to take place in church. For some the bible plainly teaches believers baptism, for others it is infant baptism and covenant theology. Your plain scripture is perhaps my obscure text!

Almost every heresy claims to be supported by a text. We need to grapple with the Bible. We need to try to understand what was going on then in order to understand it now. There is eternal relevance and historical particularity.

Think of Deuteronomy 22:5

‘A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this’

Fair enough, but does this really mean that a woman cannot wear shorts!

Then look at verse 8 same chapter

‘when you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof
so that you may not bring the guilt of blood shed on your house if someone falls from the roof’.

It become apparent that this is a little bit of safety advice, it is not to be enshrined in law for evermore. In our own church we understand how quickly Health and Safety documents have to be re-written. This is God speaking to a people within history. It is helpful though to know that even in the Old Testament, God’s people had to cope with Health and Safety legislation.

God's word to us was first of all God's word to them. This is especially true of the Epistles, which are clearly written to occasional problems. This means that they were written to specific people with specific problems to which Paul or whoever was writing about! Think of a passage like 2 Tim 2:9

'I want women to dress modestly, … a woman should learn in quietness and submission.
For Adam was formed first and then Eve, and Adam was not the one who was deceived it was the woman.'

We have already looked at Genesis and I have suggested to you that Genesis was not an historical literal account of creation. Again using our God given powers of reason it is absurd to think that God created two people who had sex and had children, who then had sex with each other to propogate the human race. Nevertheless there are many fundamentalist Christians, who treat it literally as historical truth. Incidentally the very same people often have difficulty when they read 1 Timothy 5:23

‘Stop drinking only water and use a little wine because of your stomach'.

All of a sudden the claim is made that this was a cultural thing written only to Timothy! Or they say that this meant non-alcoholic wine, which is clearly ridiculous in a hot country without refrigeration. Another interesting verse is found in 1 Corinthians 11:14. Think of the hippy ‘Jesus People’ in the 60s who had long hair. Some said this was immoral, but they did not see the need for women to cover their heads 1 Cor 15 and they allowed women to cut their hair.

The Christian must always ask 'what did it mean' then we can ask 'what is it saying now to me'! Think of the debate about Sunday. Many claim that it should be a special day because God had set it aside. He had not! God set aside the Sabbath the Saturday, it was this day that he hallowed. This does not mean that we should not say it is important for people to have time off, clearly it is. However many people drag verses out of the bible, kicking and screaming to gain support for current notions of the Sabbath, to support weak arguments. So if we allow women not to have their head covered, if we allow women to preach, if we do not practice greeting one another with a holy kiss, we have in some part set aside scripture. We have to be careful therefore not to allow ourselves to set aside some scripture whilst keeping the bits we like 'such as God's disapproval of homosexuality, because the only natural sex is my kind of sex'. We have to search out that which is cultural and specific to a situation and that which is a God given principle, which dictates these relative statements.

In Romans 13 Paul urges the Christians to be obedient to the authorities. The same man alive today might be saying , write to your MP. It is the same with slavery. Paul seems to be unable to see that it was wrong for some to be slaves, he was a man of his time, yet the principles of the Christian faith make it clear that we are all God's children and slavery is therefore wrong.

Some important words

BIBLE This comes from the Greek word 'Biblia' meaning books. And the Bible is a collection of books written over a very long time.

HOLY But these are not just books, but special books detailing God’s history with his people

CANON - We use the word Canon or Canonical when speaking about the bible, this again comes from a Greek word canon meaning ‘rule’ or ‘measure’, the bible lays down the rule for our life. It shows us how to live our lives and how to deal with the difficulties before us. It does this by looking at the lives of people who have lived before and helping us to learn from their mistakes and successes, it also has special teaching and commandments.

OLD TESTAMENT This is the bible which was written before Jesus came. It was the only scripture which Jesus knew and we know that he read it and learned it very well and could quote it and understand it. The Old Testament is very important because it shows us how God promises Jesus to the world.

NEW TESTAMENT. This is wonderful because instead of simply listening to prophets and people from the Old Testament now we can actually hear the words of God himself, because the Bible tells us that Jesus is God himself. And the New Testament tells us that God kept his promises in the Old Testament and that he promises to come again.

WORD. If we hear word we say that it is communication and the bible is communication to us. It is God’s way of speaking to us. That is why it is important that we bother to read the bible. That is why at all of our services we always read the bible. It is the most important thing that we do together.

WORD OF GOD Of course the WORD is God’s word and so it is not just about God communicating to us, it is also about how we respond to God. God’s word is therefore about communication and action. This can be very complex. Many parts of the bible record what God wanted certain people to do in special circumstances and we have to be very careful to try to understand that today. Almost every heresy has been supported by a text from the bible. For instance Christians are divided about whether we should baptise babies and some say wait until they are grown up. Nobody can quite agree when you are old enough, but different churches have drawn an arbitary line in different places. The important thing is that some people say the bible teaches baptism of children and some say it teaches not to baptise children, who is right?

LIVING WORD Its really quite hard to take the bible and just pull rules out of it, the Bible says this or the Bible say that. The Bible is the Word of God but it is also a living word. God uses the Bible to speak to us today afresh. So that what was right for certain people living in Corinth in the 1st Century may not be exactly the same for us today. We may decide for instance that when we come to church we do not want to greet one another with a holy kiss!

Charles Royden

Additional Commentary

James and John seek power and position

The scene is set, it is five days before Jesus' crucifixion. Four days before his betrayal and trial. One day before the clearing of the temple. A few hours before the Triumphal Entry. It is time for the disciples to put into practice all the teachings which they have heard from Jesus. It is as if the coach has prepared the team and now it is time for the game to begin. If Jesus had thought that his team was ready for the challenge ahead, then he would have been very disappointed. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." This James and John were brothers, Peter, James, and John are fondly referred to as the "inner circle" disciples. Their request is for a promise from Jesus, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." The seats at the right hand and the left hand of a powerful person are positions of authority, from these seats James and John could exercise authority over others and be powerful. In Matthew's account, we are told that the mother of James and John was pushing for the promotion of her sons. (Matthew 20:20). Some mother’s are notorious in their ambitions for their children!
We are told that James and John came from a family where there were ‘hired servants’ (Mark 1:20). I have never had servants, but I imagine that it would be really nice to have a few from time to time! In truth we would all like somebody to do some serving around the place. Then we could have more time and things wouldn’t be so frenetic. In truth we all like a bit of power too, the ability to make choices and not be always having our lives directed by others. The other disciples we are told were furious when they heard James and John making this request. Why were they furious? Not because they thought it was wrong to ask such a thing, I would guess. Rather they were angry that James and John beat them to it! They most probably wanted to be in powerful positions of service with servants too.

Jesus responds by asking whether they can share his cup and baptism. The cup in Old Testament thought was highly symbolic. The disciples may have thought of the cup of honour given to certain guests at the banquet, but it appears that Jesus had an entirely different cup in mind. Jeremiah 25:15-16 speaks of God's cup of wrath and judgment. Jesus echoes this interpretation of the cup in words about his own impending death in Mark 14:36, Matthew 26:39, and Luke 22:42. He will lay down his life to take the judgement of others. Jesus reverses human expectation, the rules are turned upside down. If you wish to participate in the Kingdom of God, then you must be the servant. The disciples knew that Jesus was going to reverse the human order, but they expected that would mean a revolution, a change in leadership with them at the top of the new regime. They could just not comprehend that Jesus wanted his followers to be servants of others. The baptism of which Jesus spoke was also a reference to his suffering and death (Luke 12:50). Paul makes an allusion to this kind of baptism in Romans 6:3-6. Given the anxiety level of the disciples (Mark 10:32), it seems unbelievable that they agreed to enter into Christ's suffering. James, however, did drink the cup of suffering; he was the first to be martyred (Acts 12:2) when Herod had him executed by the sword.

So we are supposed to ask ourselves, ’Where do we want to sit?’ Are we looking for prestige, and power, or are we willing to drink from the cup of self-sacrifice which Christ offers to us. Unfortunately even those of us in church ministry are tempted to want rank and positions of importance. Jesus' teaching today causes us to reexamine how we view success and importance both within and without church circles. In Jesus' kingdom-perspective, the "great" are those who serve others. Today's gospel opens our eyes to the true greatness that surrounds us in daily life. We will need to look again at those who, in quiet ways, serve without receiving praise; help without thanks and remain faithful to daily responsibilities without fanfare and awards. It has been said that the moral test of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. That is a good way to judge Christians, by how well we copy the example of Jesus in his life of service to the outcasts of society, the weak and vulnerable and those at the bottom of the social ladder. Jesus doesn’t look for slaves to serve him , he is one. t is somewhat ironic that Jesus will soon be poignantly flanked on his left and right, not by the disciples, who will have fled, but by two criminals at Golgotha. Charles Royden

Prayers

O God this day we thank you for your Book. For those who wrote it, for those who lived close to you, so that you could speak to them and so give them a message for their day and for ours. We thank you God.

For those who translated it into our own languages, often at the cost of blood and sweat and agony and death, so that your word can speak to us in the tongue we know. We thank you God

For scholars whose devoted and consecrated study and toil has opened the meaning of your Book to others. We thank you God

For those who publish it, and for the great Bible Societies whose work makes it possible for the poorest of people all over the world to possess your word. Especially we praye for the work of The Gideons International in 175 countries. We thank you God

For its thrilling stories of high adventure. For its poetry which lingers for ever in the memory of men and women. For its teaching about how to live and how to act and how to speak. For its record of human thoughts about you and our blessed Lord. For its comfort in sorrow, its guidance in perplexity, for its hope in despair. Above all for its picture of Jesus. We thank you God

Make us at all times, constant in reading it, glad to listen to it, eager to study it, retentive to remember it, resolute to obey it. And so grant that in searching the Scriptures we may find life for ourselves and for others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Alternate Hymns

  1. King of glory King of peace (Tune Gwalchmi)
  2. O when the saints go marching in
  3. Thou didst leave thy throne
  4. All hail the power (Tune Miles Lane)

Meditation

It is good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it is good, too, to check up once in awhile and make sure you haven't lost the things that money can't buy. George Horace Lorimer