Bill King, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Questions

What have you done in the past week which gave you the greatest joy and satisfaction?  Who or what benefited from your actions?

Right to Serve

Everyone hoped that the conflict over whether to mask or not mask amid the COVID pandemic would be over by now.  It isn’t.  The number of cases continues to climb and mask mandates–and opposition to them–are also rising.  Most of the time the debate plays out as some asserting their right to be free of governmental control.  But a recent article points out that the issue can be framed as whether the vulnerable have a right to feel safe at school.

Grayson Schwaigert has a rare genetic disorder which makes him at high risk to experience renal failure if he contracts COVID.  The governor of Tennessee has issued an executive order which allows parents to opt out of school mask mandates. As of Aug. 20, 16% of students in Greyson’s school district were opting out. His mother is the lead plaintiff in a suit which challenges the “opt out” policy.  She contends that allowing children to opt out endangers her child and makes it impossible for him to receive needed socialization and education at school.

Schwaigert’s suit is one of a wave of actions in a number of  states which contend that opt out policies force children and their parents to choose between their health and  their education. “We hear all the time, ‘Oh, only kids with preexisting conditions are the ones that get sick and die,’ ” Schwaigert says. “Well, that’s my kid. That is my child. He has a lot of preexisting conditions, and he matters.”

Discussion Questions

  • What is the difference between a mask mandate and laws which limit how fast you can drive in a school zone?
  • How do you balance the needs of the most vulnerable with the comfort and convenience of the majority?
  • Virtually all school districts require certain immunizations to enroll in a public school.  Why has the mask mandate become such a contentious issue, if the point of both is to reduce the risk of infection for everyone?

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 11:18-20

James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Busted.  The disciples have been having a discussion about who is the most important among them.  At some level they know that this grubbing for status will not please their master, because they  do it privately.   They have heard him teach about denying self and saving your life by losing it [8:34-37], but they are still focused on what’s in it for themselves.  They see following Jesus as the fast track to power and prestige. So Jesus calls them out.  “What were you discussing on the way?”

Their embarrassed silence says it all.  They know perfectly well that their focus on personal status is not what Jesus is about.  But just in case they have any doubts about what he values and expects of them, Jesus lays it out, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  Then he places a child in front of them and tells them to care for those like him or her.  The point is that a child is pure vulnerability, pure need.  There is no percentage in serving a child, no reciprocal payoff which benefits the giver.  That, says Jesus, is what you need to be about–finding ways to be servants, not masters.

The disciples are very concerned about their status, their rights as the inner circle.  Jesus tells them that the only right which love has is to give itself.

In Morality:  Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, Rabbi Jonathan Sachs argues that the great crisis of the modern world is that we are so individualistic that we have lost sight of the fact that we can only live in a community.  We are so focused on the “I” that there is diminished sense of “We.”  Society has become a collection of individuals who ferociously defend  their rights, yet have little sense that with rights come responsibilities.  This, says Sachs, is a recipe for social chaos and bitter politics.

Winston Churchill famously observed, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”  How would our society be different if we had a greater sense of “We?”  How would it be different if our first thought was not how to protect our preferences, but how to serve those most in need of our care?

Discussion Questions

  • What gives someone status in your social circles?  Are those things which Jesus values?
  • What is the difference between having a spirit of service and just allowing yourself to be abused to no purpose?
  • Do you agree with Sachs that our society is in danger because we have too much focus on “I” and not enough on “We?”  Can you give examples?
  • When you think about your long term goals, what do you most want; how will you define success?

Activity Suggestions

  • Who in your school or neighborhood is like the child which Jesus put in the midst of the disciples–needing care, with little ability to reciprocate?  Find a way to serve that person without receiving any public recognition.
  • Write a letter or send an email to your legislator.  Make it in behalf of a bill which will not benefit you personally, but will make for a more just and kind society.

Closing Prayer 

Loving God, it is so hard to see beyond my own interests.  I spend most of my day trying to prove I am worthy of respect.  Lift my eyes to see the communities which need my talents and compassion.  Help me measure myself less by what I achieve than in how faithfully I follow Jesus’ example of service to those on the edges.  Most of all, remind me that I need not prove I am worthy of love, because you have claimed me in my baptism.  Amen.