‘Christ in the suffering of others’ – 17th October 2021 – 20th Sunday after Trinity

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21 10 17 20th Sunday after Trinity Eucharist

The Readings


Isaiah 53.4-12
Surely he has borne our infirmities
   and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
   struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
   crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
   and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
   we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
   the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
   and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
   Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
   stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
   and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
   and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
When you make his life an offering for sin,
   he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
   Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
   The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
   and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
   and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he poured out himself to death,
   and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
   and made intercession for the transgressors.
Mark 10.35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
Scripture quotations are taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon

By Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes


It has been a great joy to be able conduct weddings recently. At St John’s we’ve been catching up with all the weddings that have had to be postponed. And last week we had a lovely wedding with lots of children. Quite informal and very meaningful. The bride and groom got quite emotional as they said their vows. They obviously really meant them but I wondered if they could really grasp the significance, the implications, of what they were saying. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part. Huge promises. I’m not sure if I really had much of a clue when I got married.
Last Sunday, I was struck by some other pictures of marriage. We did the dementia training at St John’s which we’re are going to do after the service here later. It was very helpful and meaningful. There were a number of people there whose partners had had dementia. Amazing people, full of love who had really lived out those vows that they had made on their wedding days. for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part. I’m sure they have all had their moments. Times when they were near to breaking point. But somehow, they had found the strength they needed to be alongside those experiencing dementia. To remain faithful to what they had promised all those years before.
If those of us who are married really knew what lay ahead when we made those vows I wonder if we would go through with them. If we really understood what marriage would involve would we say be able to say those words? I don’t know. And yet, somehow, as we change and grow older and some of us fall ill and some of us experience dementia, people find the strength to carry on. To be faithful to the vows we made. To find the love we need. And I can only think that that strength and love come from God. That he gives us the gifts we need to face each new challenge.
That journey has some parallels with our Gospel reading today. James and John the sons of Zebedee have left their nets to follow Jesus. They did it without a second glance and yet they really had no idea what they were getting themselves into. And that’s particularly apparent in Mark’s Gospel where the disciples are often the last people to know what is going on while those on the outside get it straight away. In today’s passage, James and John approach Jesus and ask him a favour. They ask Jesus if they can be his right and left hand men. Sitting on either side of him, basking in his glory. In Matthew’s version of the story it is their pushy mother who makes the request.
Part of our dementia training later will be about how different people can perceive the same things, the same images, the same words, very differently. Because we know how the story goes, we hear the request from James and John as being about heaven. When Jesus is in glory, James and John want to sit on either side of him. But in fact, James and John have very different ideas. They think Jesus is going to seize worldly power and they want to be at the top table when he does.
Jesus tells the two men that don’t know what they are asking but he doesn’t hit them with the full truth. He tried to do that in the verses just before our reading. He told them that he would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. That he would be mocked and spat upon, flogged and killed. And that after three days he would rise again. But for some reason this seems to have gone right over their heads. The disciples just weren’t ready to hear it. So this time Jesus uses metaphor. He asks James and John if they are able to drink from the cup that he drinks or be baptised with the baptism that he is baptised with. And they readily say that they are. It is only later that they will realise that the cup Jesus was talking about was the cup of suffering. James did indeed drink from the same cup as Jesus. He was martyred by King Herod in Acts chapter 12, one of the first to be killed in the early church. John however lived into old age.
Had James and John understood all this when Jesus called them from their nets they might never have followed him. But as they journeyed with Jesus and grew to love him they gradually discovered the strength they needed to drink from the cup that he drank from when the time came. They were able to let go of their illusions about power and embrace servanthood and vulnerability. They learned to let go of self and put others first. To be more and more like Jesus.
Those who care for loved ones with dementia know all about letting go of self and putting others first. But our readings also speak of those who are themselves suffering from this life-changing condition. Our Gospel reading is just one small example of Jesus being misunderstood. Unable to convey to others what was happening. As with those with dementia, that must have been a very lonely place to be sometimes. A frightening place to be. Jesus knew what lay ahead of him. No one could take that cup from him. And how he must have longed for reassurance. For people around him who really cared and wanted to put his needs first. To be there for him on the journey.
Our reading from Isaiah is one of the suffering servant passages that we often hear read at Easter. For Christians it relates directly to Jesus’ passion and death on a cross. It was probably not a passage that resonated with James and John when they had that conversation with Jesus. But after he died and rose again it would have started to make real sense to them. Gradually, they came to realise Jesus’ glory was to be found not in worldly power but in suffering. In the suffering of others we can see Jesus. Those who are experiencing dementia are worthy of our care not just because of their need but because in them we glimpse Christ. Who was misunderstood, who lost his autonomy. People with dementia can teach us what it means to enter the kingdom of God like a child. Even though communication may be difficult, they are still part of the body of Christ and the body is more complete when they are present. So it’s really important that we learn how to welcome them as brothers and sisters in Christ. How we walk alongside them as well as those who care for them. So I do hope some of you can stay for the training after the service. As we learn more of what it means to serve and walk with Christ. Amen.

The Prayers

Prepared by Veronica H

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, we pray to the Father.
O God, the creator and preserver of us all, we bring before you the needs of the world, especially those countries where hunger and oppression are rife, and especially those countries too poor to afford the Covid vaccines. We pray that leaders of rich countries will remember their responsibilities to the poorer nations, and will make vaccines available wherever there is need. We pray for the forthcoming Cop26 Conference in Glasgow, and that all countries responsible for ever-increasing carbon emissions will actually attend to discuss and work together constructively on strategies to tackle climate change and make the world  safer for future generations of your children.
Lord, in your mercy,                                                                                                                                                              Hear our prayer.
We pray for the Church worldwide, that all Christians will work together humbly to show your love to all your peoples throughout the world. We pray for the Anglican Church, our Archbishops, our Diocesan Bishops Pete and Sophie, and every parish, their priests and their congregations that minister to their community whenever support is needed. We give you thanks for our partner churches St John’s and St Mark’s, and for all at St Mary’s who serve you as Readers and churchwardens, and in so many other ways.
Lord in your mercy,                                                                                                                                                           Hear our Prayer.
We pray for all who are ill at this time, especially those suffering from Covid and all the doctors, nurses and care workers who have been under such strain over the last two years. Give them strength to continue their calling to cure and relieve the sick under very difficult conditions. We pray especially for Judith, and all others known to us in need of your healing grace…………….
Lord in your mercy,                                                                                                                                                               Hear our prayer.
We remember all who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and give you thanks and praise for their lives with us. In a moment of quiet we remember former members of this congregation and all our family and friends who have departed over the years…………..
Lord in your mercy,                                                                                                                                                               Hear our prayer.
Rejoicing in the fellowship of Mary, John, Mark and all your saints we commend ourselves and all your creation to your unfailing love.
Merciful Father,                                                                                                                                                                 Accept these prayers                                                                                                                                                           for the sake of your only son,                                                                                                                                           our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000