Welcome to worship for this 17th Sunday after Pentecost, landing on September 19th, 2021! We are back in person so this will be our first(ish) attempt at a hybrid service (both in person and online)! We hope the transition is smooth and seamless as we’ve been working hard to get everything up and running properly. But for those of you who continue to watch remotely, the whole experience should be more or less the same.
The bulletin for this service can be found here. The bulletin will have the order of worship, the words of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW, and the sermon in full. The sermon is also included under the video on this page, and the responses to the liturgy and words to the hymns will be on your screen.
For a fuller at home worship experience, you may have a few things in your space. A bowl of water for the the Thanksgiving for Baptism, something small to eat and drink for communion, and a lit candle for the whole service. These are all optional, but just meant to help you feel connected to the rest of the community as many of us will be participating in those same elements of worship.
May God’s wondrous love flow through your life and relationships, now and forever!
O God, may your wisdom be apparent to us all, that as it sets us free we might see and hear the Spirit working in the world, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, we’re back. After 18 long months and some failed attempts at being in person, we are finally back together physically in our space and able to worship together. And as exciting as that is, I’ll have to admit that I’ve had a lot of mixed feelings about coming back. Now, I’m not trying to deflate anyone’s balloon or anything, and don’t get me wrong, I’ve missed being in the same space as all of you dearly, but it’s just that it’s a pretty big transition to navigate as we’re not exactly at “normal” levels.
I had to rejig the order of worship and how we do things in order to keep people as safe as possible. I had to rethink, redesign, and remodel the behind-the-scenes of our online presence. And above all, I had to get over my own ego that this probably won’t be perfect the first time around.
But I really really wanted it to be. I wanted to wow all of you with what I could do in terms of live streaming and setting up the tech and how seamless the transition would be. I wanted you to be in tears with how moving and touching this service could be. And maybe a just little, I wanted to show my colleagues how good of a pastor I could be so maybe I’d have a shot of being bishop at the next election…
However, in spite of all the thinking, the planning, and the rejigging over the past several weeks, I started to realise that my standard of perfect wasn’t going to be met. The bar that I set for myself, while not exactly too high per se, ended up being too high for me. I was almost embarrassed to have to ask for help in the whole process as I wanted to do it myself, so perhaps I would get all the credit myself and maybe, just maybe, be seen as the greatest.
And I guess I’m not the only buffoon who wanted this, yeah? We read about the disciples in today’s gospel lesson arguing about who among them is the greatest. And as I just displayed, perhaps this mentality of comparing ourselves to each other is somewhat relatable. I mean, yeah I know we like to make fun of the disciples and shame them for being so dull and unable to understand Jesus even when he’s speaking super plainly, but this time around it seems like they’re acting just like one of us in their little competition to determine who among them could be considered as the greatest.
Sure, maybe we wouldn’t argue about it in front of the Son of God, although in their defense they did try to be discreet about it, it’s just that Jesus caught on and asked them about it. But don’t we like to rank ourselves by the salaries we get from our jobs, the size of our houses and what part of town we live in, or our children and whatever awards they might have received? Don’t we like to puff up our chests and talk about our conquests, our accomplishments, and our spoils? Don’t we often dress to impress and try to be seen as perfect? And even if we don’t actively do all those things, we sure like to receive the compliments, don’t we?
We like to come out on the winning side of the comparison. We like to be considered better than the other. We like to be regarded… identified even… as the greatest.
Except, Jesus redefines for us what the greatest even is, what the title even means, and how we would even get there. Jesus explains that it isn’t power and status and a great looking worship service that puts us on the top. Jesus describes the humility of a servant, the innocence of a child, and the divine welcome of the Spirit. I know, it isn’t really super easy to understand what Jesus is getting at here and also I continue to scratch my head wondering where on earth that kid came from that he just grabbed and put on his lap.
Jesus says if you want to be first, then you need to be last. But the confusing irony in that is the last doesn’t even want to be first or they wouldn’t be last. Second last, maybe, but not dead last. So aiming for last in order to be first really sort of negates you wanting to be first at all. Your priorities and goals will shift just by nature of the definitions. And welcoming a child? Sure, we’d do that in a heartbeat these days because let’s face it, kids are cute. But in those days? Kids might have still been cute but they were more seen as snot-nosed, skinned-kneed, second-rate humans, let alone citizens. Welcoming one of those only happens when one of those turns into an adult, you know, when they aren’t those gross children anymore.
But maybe… maybe that is the point. Not that kids are gross. Well, I mean they can be at times because they do get sick easily and often to use sleeves, carpets, even pillow cases before they ever think about using a tissue, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I am talking about is identity. In those days to be identified as a kid meant that you weren’t an adult. To be identified as the last meant that you weren’t first. To be identified as anything but the greatest meant that you must be a loser.
But Jesus was telling them that just isn’t the case. Things aren’t that polarized, we aren’t divided so deeply, the separation between this and that isn’t as stark as we often think. The folly in the disciples arguing about who was the greatest among them and the folly in our comparing ourselves with each other isn’t about ego or selfishness or show-offy attitudes, but it is in that we aren’t judged like that by God. By each other, maybe, but not by God.
See, God sees past all of that and recreates us as redeemed, forgiven, and welcomed people. God brushes aside all fleeting worldly measures of greatness and gives us the opportunity to participate in the lasting divine measures of greatness found in humble service and community. God knows all of our faults and imperfections and fills them with a grace that spans all time and space.
So just as Jesus picked up that random kid, so God lifts us up, places us on God’s lap and calls us beloved. Us. Beloved. In all our gross incompetence, in our needy selfishness, in our absolute imperfection and janky live streams and not so polished worship services. God welcomes us. Loves us. Calls us as God’s own children.
So we needn’t compare ourselves with each other. We needn’t rank ourselves against our peers. We needn’t worry about how we might be identified in the world. But we can look at each other as equal partners in the gospel, equally loved and welcomed by God, equal bearers of God’s grace in spite of whatever we might think of ourselves.
Because in God’s eyes, we are perfect. Just the way we are.
As we celebrate the gradual emerging out of this pandemic, may we see our unchanging position in God’s love in ourselves as well as others, that we might be as welcoming and accepting as one of God’s beloved children can be. Thanks be to God. Amen.