This sermon was preached at Saint Oswald’s Parkside by the Revd Canon Bill Goodes on Sunday, 17 October, 2021. (Pentecost 21B)

Job 38:1 – 7, 34 – 41
Psalm 104:1 – 10, 26
Hebrews 5:1 – 10
Mark 10:35 – 45
Click here to view the readings in full at the Vanderbilt Common Lectionary

“it is not so among you”  Mark 10:43

It’s remarkable what a change in status can do:  on Friday my licence as your locum parish priest expired, so here I am with a new freedom as a Sunday relieving priest, speaking to a congregation that is looking at its commitments for 2022.

As we meet in this new way, we stand together under the inspiration and judgement of the scripture passages that are set for this day.   The wonderful reading from Job invites us to reflect on our status as creatures, as merely a part of God’s wonderful created order, whose foundations and measurements are beyond our comprehension, no matter how much we have been able to examine them.

In the reading from Hebrews we are directed to remember Jesus as the priest who stands between us and God, representing us before God, and bringing God’s nature before us — to the extent that we are able to comprehend that nature.   Jesus exercises that priesthood through what he suffers, and the way he accompanies us through the things that we suffer.

The Gospel reading follows a short passage where Jesus takes the disciples aside and tells them about the suffering and death that lay ahead of him, and their response to his news is quite shocking:  they are jockeying for the prize positions in God’s kingdom, when Jesus is seen in his glory.   The request by James and John for the top jobs not unnaturally causes dissension among the disciples, and then Jesus tries to help them to see that Christian Community is not like other community:  “But it is not so among you!”   There is to be no place for members of the community “lording it over” other members, or being “tyrants over them”, but the essence of the life of the community is in all members offering loving service to all others.   We are “servants of the Servant”, as the hymn puts it.

Is this a word to us in this parish community?   “Loving service to all” — is this the principal mark of this congregation?

Our annual Commitment Programme invites us to consider how we serve one another in this congregation.   Later in the service I will be giving to each of you a package which consists of a letter from me, and then two forms, one concerning the share you will take in meeting the expenses of the congregation, and the other concerning the ministries that you are willing to offer to the congregation during 2022.   I ask you to take them home, consider prayerfully how you will respond, and then to return them completed two weeks from today, on “Commitment Sunday”, 31 October.

There are different ways of thinking about our financial “commitment” to the parish.   When I was at school, the boarders used to line up on Sunday before going to Evensong in the school chapel, and each would be issued with threepence to put in the collection — I wonder how that was recorded on the school account that parents’ received each term!    In one congregation that I knew of, the Churchwarden would each year find what that congregation needed to pay to enable ministry to be provided, and then issue each family an account for their share of the expense.   I don’t wish to commend either of these ways of thinking — one providing a token amount, and the other limiting parishioners’ generosity to a perceived budget requirement.

Now we do still pass a receptacle through the congregation asking for contributions to be offered at the service:  we do still have a budget for providing the parish’s ministry — a budget which has particular pressures on it as we move to having a full-time parish priest living in the Rectory.   But we are more helpfully invited to see our giving commitment to the parish as an act of thanksgiving — thanksgiving to God for all his gracious provision, and thanksgiving to the parish community for all it provides for us in worship, fellowship, mission.    And for that thanksgiving to be meaningful, it will bear a careful relationship to what we have, in income, and in resources.   Remember the widow’s mite — having supreme value not because of its absolute size, two of the smallest copper coins,  but because of its being “all she had”.   The ancient practice of tithing, giving one tenth of income, gives a picture of that “proportionate” approach to giving — one that I know I have found helpful over the years.

While it is good to be able to contribute something to the collection bag when we attend services, pledging a regular amount does make the treasurer’s task less anxious, and arranging a regular bank transfer to the parish account is a convenient way of doing that with today’s technology.

As a parish goes about its work in worship, fellowship and mission, there are many different tasks to be undertaken, and this parish particularly has a great tradition of sharing these tasks.   It is one of the opportunities that we have of serving one another in Christian community.   None of the tasks needs to be considered to be a “life sentence”, and the ministries that are appropriate for us at one stage of our life may well be unhelpful at another stage.   Having an annual programme of commitment makes it possible to reconsider, try new things, relinquish those that are past their use-by date for us.   If anyone needs to know what a a particular ministry opportunity involves before they commit themselves to it, please ask the wardens.

Let your offers of ministry and service here be governed by your abilities, interests, and available time and energy.   But be adventurous as well!   This parish community may well be greatly enriched by the loving service you have to offer.

When James and John were being challenged about their request for recognition, they were asked about their willingness to join Jesus in the wider experience of ministry and the suffering that that might well involve.   Our Christian service finds its focus in the parish, but it doesn’t end there.   Our ministry towards supporting those in need, towards establishing justice, peace compassion in our society, and towards working for the well-being of Creation are all avenues for the loving service to which Jesus the Servant calls us — just as “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

I commend to you, the “servants of the Servant”,  the parish’s Commitment programme for 2022.