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Faith Lens

October 21, 2012–Ut Prosim

Contributed by Bill King, Blacksburg, VA


Warm-up Question

Think about a challenge which you have set for yourself.  What drives you to succeed?  What motivates you when the going gets tough?

Ut Prosim

On August 20th, after 60 hours in the water, Diana Nyad had to abandon her latest attempt to swim the Straits of Florida, a distance of 103 miles from Havana to Key West.  The 62 year old endurance swimmer holds a world record for the longest ocean swim—102.5 miles from the Bahamas to Jupiter, Florida—but the challenges she faced in the Straits proved insurmountable.  After the first night, her lips, arms, hands, and neck were painfully swollen due to jellyfish stings.  At the end a lightning-filled storm blew her off course and made staying in the water extremely dangerous.

Nyad has made four attempts to swim the Straits since 1972.  She has been foiled by jellyfish stings, an 11 hour asthma attack, a shoulder injury, adverse weather, and strong currents.  Nyad swims without a shark cage and depends on boats, divers, and electronic shark repellant to keep the predators at bay.  But no good tools exist to deal with jellyfish.  Nyad admitted that she was naïve not to anticipate the problems from jellyfish, because they are proliferating throughout the world’s seas.

Nyad says she continues to feel vital and is prepared to try again.  She hopes that her efforts will inspire others her age to push their limits.  “When I walk up on that shore in Florida, I want millions of those AARP sisters and brothers to look at me and say, ‘I’m going to go write that novel I thought it was too late to do. I’m going to go work in Africa on that farm that those people need help at. I’m going to adopt a child. It’s not too late; I can still live my dreams.’ ”

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think of Nyad’s goal to swim the Straits; is this an appropriate use of time, money, and energy—both her own and others?
  • What do you think most motivates her?  The article contains one answer; what are some other possibilities?
  • How do you judge her failure to anticipate the jellyfish stings, particularly since she had encountered them in previous attempts?
  • What is the difference between making a wise decision and just being a quitter?  How do you know when to just “push through the pain?”

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 21, 2012 (Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost)

Isaiah 53:4-12

Hebrews 5:1-10

Mark 10:35-45

(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 C at Lectionary Readings.)

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


Gospel Reflection

Motivation matters.  As the disciples and Jesus travel toward Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week, there is no reason to believe that James and John are anything but sincere in their desire to follow Jesus.  Perhaps, as the ironic exchange about drinking the cup suggests, they do not fully understand what it will mean to walk with him.  But they have no qualms about calling Jesus Lord and teacher; they are hitching their fate to his.  The problem is their motivation.

Despite Jesus’ repeated efforts to make them see what is coming, they still have images that are more about coronation than crucifixion.  They see themselves as prime ministers in the new regime.  In short, they are focused on all the benefits of a close association with Jesus.  Their motivation is at bottom self-interest.  Like campaign contributors shrewdly calculating who can do them the most good, they have decided to back this candidate—and they ask for “assurances” that their loyalty will be rewarded.

Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) is the motto of the university at which I serve as campus pastor.  I have always liked that motto because it emphasizes to students that the education they receive here is supposed to be more than the passport to a very lucrative job and to the faculty that their research has a higher goal than personal resume building.  Even in the heat of the college football season I would never suggest that God is a Virginia Tech Hokie, but in my more whimsical moments I can image Jesus handing James and John a VT T-shirt, with Ut Prosim emblazoned across the front, and saying, “Guys, think about it.”

Ut Prosim.  There are a lot worse summaries of what following Jesus means.  There is nothing wrong with giving thanks for the sense of peace we find in knowing we are loved beyond measure.  We ought to rejoice when the community in Christ gives us a sense of belonging and purpose.  Of course our hearts swell in thanksgiving for the salvation offered us in Christ.  But finally, we are blessed to be a blessing; we are filled up so that we can be a reservoir of living water for others.

Virtually all the people reading this mediation are incredibly privileged.  Compared to the rest of the world we enjoy the untold advantages of wealth, education, opportunity, and a peaceful homeland.  Most of all we know what it means to walk in the company of Jesus.  So how will we use those gifts; what is going to motivate us when we step outside the church and into a messy world?  I am sure that Diana Nyad, in our opening news story, is driven in large part by a personal need to succeed, but I believe her when she says she also wants to inspire others.  If we can achieve even that amount of mixed motivation, we are on the road to understanding what Jesus meant when he said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

Discussion Questions

  • If you had to sum up what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in four words or less, what would you say?
  • James and John are inappropriately focused on the benefits of following Jesus to the exclusion of understanding what it means to serve him and to serve others in his name.  Can you think of contemporary examples where this is the case?
  • Talk about what motivates you to be part of your youth group, to attend church (let’s be real about this), to go on service trips, to volunteer?

Activity Suggestions

Using the answer you gave to the first question following the gospel reflection, consider making a T-Shirt which displays your understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.  You can either come to a consensus and make one for your whole group or have each person make his or her own shirt.

Closing Prayer

God of unlimited blessings, we remember with thanksgiving all that we have received from your hand.  Make us keenly aware that gifts are given in trust, that we may reflect your love for the world and ease the suffering of your children.  We pray in the name of Him who modeled a life of service, Jesus our Lord.  Amen.