Last of all, servant of all

17th Sunday after Pentecost (September 23, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 11:18-20; Ps. 54; James 3:13-4:8; Mark 9:30-37

The provocative Innocence of Muslims movie continues to generate violent responses in the Middle East.  This week the MCC Jordan office invited a small group of Jordanian Christians and Muslims together for a lunch conversation. All are alumni of Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute.

Drawing on the concepts they learned at EMU, the group held a lively conversation, agreeing that: 1) religious faith should be a tool that unites rather than divides the human community; 2) there is no justification for denigrating one another’s religious leaders and symbols; and 3) the violent response after the movie is probably more about long-standing anger over U.S. policies in the region than about the movie itself.

(left to right) Arthur Mann, Jim Fine, Carolyn Reesor, waiter, Deb Fine and Diana Epp-Fransen enjoy a meal together

Arthur and Diana received costumes (dishdasha) from a play about Jonah, which they directed at St. Peter’s Seminary

Also this week, three short-term MCC volunteers finished teaching a five-week Intensive English course at St. Peter’s Chaldean Catholic Seminary in Erbil, Iraq.  They did an excellent job, under the leadership of Deb Fine, a MCC service worker who lives in Iraq with her husband Jim. While in Iraq, the teachers had opportunities to travel and experience the local culture.

Diana Epp-Fransen, Arthur Mann and Carolyn Reesor will now join MCC staff from Palestine, Jordan and Iraq for a retreat in Amman, Sept. 22-25, before leaving the region.

The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on what it means to trust and be fully surrendered to God.

In the Old Testament reading Jeremiah describes himself like a gentle lamb led to slaughter (Jer. 11:19a).  The people don’t like Jeremiah’s call for justice.  They look for a way to kill him.  “Let us cut him off from the land of the living,” they say, “so that his name will no longer be remembered!” (v.19b)  Jeremiah trusts God to judge righteously, “for to you I have committed my cause,” he concludes.

Likewise, when the psalmist is under attack he calls out to God, affirming, “But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.  He will repay my enemies for their evil.” (Ps. 54:4-5a)

The hotter and drier it is in Amman, the more the Bogendelia seems to thrive!

In the Epistle reading James writes that heavenly wisdom is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)  “God opposes the proud,” says James, “but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God.” (4:6-7)

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells his disciples that he will be betrayed into human hands, killed and three days later he will rise again. (Mark 9:31)  The disciples miss his message and the importance of the moment.  Instead, they argue about which one of them is the greatest.  Rather than chastising them, Jesus challenges them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (v.35)

The Lectionary readings remind us that being surrendered to God means:

  • trusting God to deal with our enemies, rather than taking matters into our own hands;
  • being willing to serve others; and
  • willingly being last of all; trusting God to raise us up rather than promoting ourselves.

    Our granddaughter Sydney will celebrate her first birthday in just over a month!

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