A Message from Pastor Dave
For five Sundays in worship, we read from the New Testament letter of James. We concluded September 26 with James 5:13-20, about prayer, suffering, confession, and even unanswered prayer.
Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers” has this refrain:
Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs
That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care
Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
Today I read an email from the organization called Science for the Church.
A sentence stood out to me that reminded me of James 5:15-16 about prayer, confession, forgiveness and healing. The author of “Science” wrote “some science, like that of learned helplessness or forgiveness, can even tell us how God through Christ has worked out freedom from bondage and offers hope for a world where everyone can flourish and find joy.” It linked the word of “forgiveness” with a previous article that I found really helpful, insightful: “God Says to Forgive. So Does Science.”
OK. Let’s talk with the man upstairs: Heavenly Father, You have created us for companionship and have re-created us for fellowship in our Lord Jesus Christ. I confess I often disrupt fellowship by thoughtlessness and selfishness. I pray for forgiveness. Destroy in me the vanity that keeps me from liking others. Help me overcome the timidity that makes me fearful of others. Keep me from the urge to take advantage of others, but discourage in me the feeling that I cannot call on others. Help to find friendship among those who know the constant love and mercy of Your Son. Enable me to be kind, generous, and forgiving. I pray in the name of Jesus, who brought me into the fellowship of the church.
(Lutheran Book of Prayer, p. 194. 1970 Concordia Publishing House)
A Message from Pastor Vern
Have you ever heard the saying up above in the title of this message? I have to admit, growing up in the Carolinas, there are some interesting sayings that my ears have heard. There is of course the infamous “Bless your heart” which can either be one of the most compassionate responses your steeped-in-the-South neighbor might say to you, or the politest way that someone might curse you. And then there’s some other conversational jewels such as: “They ain’t got the good sense God gave a rock,” or someone being “madder than a wet hen,” or maybe you’re “happier than a pig in mud.” The list of these sayings could go on and on.
One saying that I remember hearing many times was referring to someone (or yourself) in a situation being “low man on the totem pole.” What that saying refers to is acknowledging an order of importance. This past week’s gospel says something about acknowledging the importance of one another. Jesus had just told the disciples that he was going to be betrayed, crucified, and rise from the dead. You would think that would’ve been the center of conversation among the disciples for the rest of the day. Alas, the only thing the disciples could seem to talk about (actually more like argue about) was which one of them was the greatest. They got into a debate with each other about who was “high or low man on the totem pole.”
I love Jesus’ response to the disciples quarreling. After they reached Capernaum, and while they were gathered together, Jesus singled out and called children who were gathered with them to come near. WHAT?! Why a child?! If there ever was an easy answer as to who was “low man on the totem pole” in Israel, it was children. Children had little if any social status. They had no voice. They were work hands in the family trade. To some cultures around the Israelites, children were even seen as forms of payment (look up Molech, a deity of the Canaanites).
So as the disciples quarreled among each other, Jesus called upon the children in their midst while saying, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and servant of all.” Jesus continued, “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me.”
I have to pause for a moment and brag. I’m so thankful for the young people in our midst at St. Mark’s; for their personalities, for their wisdom, and for the ways that they model what it means to be the body of Christ. I recall the words of the 8th Psalm, “O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Out of the mouths of young ones and infants you have laid a foundation…”
I want to invite all of us into a time to really ponder the words of Jesus: “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and servant of all.” Jesus invites us to intentionally make sure that our neighbors know that they aren’t the “low man on the totem pole.” Rather Jesus invites us into being intentionally welcoming and into seeking out the folks around us who feel like they aren’t important. Because when we intentionally build relationships, when we seek out the person who feels like they aren’t worthy in the eyes of anyone, when we love and serve without priority, that is loving and serving like Jesus.