Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 1; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37 - 19 September 2021 - A sermon given by The Rev. Peter Munson for the people of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Park City, Utah
From Ranking to Serving

From Ranking to Serving

INTRODUCTION - Thursday Lectio, Friday Fishing

 On Thursday there were ten of us discussing this Gospel passage on Zoom. We had a great discussion. At one point Bob Lux said something like, “After Jesus says that he is going to die and they don’t understand, ranking is all that they can come up with - which one of them was the greatest.” We talked about the traits of children, and Linda Lux remembered her grandmother who was humble. “The humble are like the children among us.” A little later, as we talked about Jesus saying whoever wants to be first of all must be servant of all, Leo Ludwick said, “You can’t offer radical hospitality if you want to be the greatest, if you want to be totally in charge. If you are totally in charge, how can you be a servant? You are too into being totally in charge!”


I knew I was going hiking and fishing the next day, and as we finished our discussion, I was wondering, “How can I be a servant when I go hiking?” The best I could come up with in the moment was that maybe I could be extra friendly to people that I encountered on the trail.


So Friday I set off into the Unitas, starting at the Ruth Lake trailhead. I got to Ruth Lake pretty quickly. There was a man fishing straight across from me on the far side of the lake. I fished for maybe 10 minutes, then packed up my pole and went on to Lofty Lake, where I had fished two weeks before. I had caught one nice trout and lost another one - bigger, at least in my mind - when he snapped the line right at the shore. I saw him swimming away with my lure in his mouth. I even had this fantasy that I would catch the same fish and get my lure back!


When I got to Lofty Lake, no one was there, and it was SO QUIET! Not a trace of wind. It was so quiet that the silence penetrated my soul, and as I contemplated the silence, it grew louder. I broke the silence by tossing my lure into the lake. I did that for a while - no luck. I was a little restless, wanting to catch a fish. I remembered a lake, the fork to which I had passed two weeks before, a lake I had looked down on from above, with a sign pointing right to it: Cutthroat Lake. I walked up a little pass above Lofty Lake and down to Cutthroat Lake. I had the lake to myself, and on the second or third cast, I hooked a little trout. I could tell it was small when I started reeling it in. It was a skinny 6” or 7” brook trout. No one had told him - her? - that the lake was called Cutthroat Lake. After a bit, I decided to head back to Lofty Lake. As I approached the lake, a man saw my pole and asked if I had caught anything. Then he proceeded to tell me that three men were now fishing at Lofty Lake, but that there was still room for me. When I arrived at Lofty, they were still there, all fishing where the lake was deeper, where I had been before. Nobody seemed to be having any action. (Later I found out that one of the men, who was fly fishing, caught one nice tiger trout.)


As I fished along with these three other men, I noticed some thoughts that I was having. “Boy, wouldn’t it be neat to catch a nice big trout right now, while these men are here. They might ask me what lure I was using, they might say “Nice job!”, they might think I was a really good fisherman. Yeah, Lord, now would be a great time to catch a fish, maybe even that one who still has my lure in his mouth!”


On Friday, I wanted to be the greatest fisherman at Lofty Lake. (I didn’t catch anything there.) As the three other men packed up to head to another lake, the one man was quite friendly, and that’s when he told me he had caught one nice trout, but that there wasn’t much happening. I stayed and fished a bit longer.


About five minutes after leaving Lofty Lake, I encountered four people coming toward me, up a steep section of the trail. They were a little winded, and as I stepped aside to let them pass, one of them asked me, “Are we getting close to the lake?” There are so many lakes around, I clarified, “Lofty Lake?” When she said yes, I said, “As soon as you crest that hill right there, you will see it. I just left the lake 5 or 6 minutes ago.” If you could have seen how her face changed! It went from “where is this lake?” to “oh, that is such great news!” In a half a second.


Hmm, I thought. This is how I can be of service on a trail. “Thanks for letting us pass,” she said. I imagined how excited they would be when they saw the lake coming into view.




I am pretty sure it was Teddy Roosevelt who said that comparison is the the thief of joy. I’ve thought about that quote quite a bit since I first read it - whenever I am comparing myself to someone else… whether I am coming out better in my mind, or falling short. And I realize how true those words are. Comparison steals joy from the person comparing. But it also snatches away the the possibility of joy between people.


I listened to a Wayne Dyer podcast yesterday, one that Julia passed on to me. In it, he said that his brother, who was a Vietnam vet, came across the story about a woman who was a math teacher. I don’t know which level - I suppose middle school or high school. One day she gave her students two sheets of paper with the names of everyone in the class, with space to write between the names. She asked them to write the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates. The students did the assignment right then and turned them in, and over the weekend, she compiled on two sheets of paper, for each student, all the things their classmates had said about them. When they got them back, she heard students saying things like “Really?” and “I didn’t know people felt this way about me.” She never brought the lists up again, and never heard her students talking about them.


A number of years later, one of those students, Mark, was killed in Vietnam, and the teacher went to the funeral.

The parents came up to the teacher after the funeral and said, “Weren’t you Mark’s math teacher? He talked about you a lot.” They then pulled out a wallet that had been found with Mark when he died. They said that folded up in his wallet were two pieces of paper, taped together, very worn and well-used.  It was the list of what all of Mark’s classmates had said about him. Other classmates who attended the funeral started saying, “I still have my list. It is in my diary / in my top drawer at home.” One woman pulled her wallet out of her purse and said, “Here is my list.” She added, “I think we all saved our lists.”


Dyer went on to say, “Everyone wants to know they are loved.”




When we get to the part of Lectio where we are ready to read the lesson for the second  time, I ask everyone to be someone in the story. I noticed on Thursday that at least half of the group decided to be the child. They talked about how special it was to be noticed by this man who had crowds of people following him, how loved they felt, how they felt utter peace, how they felt free to ask Jesus questions, how they were not afraid to be with Jesus - just the opposite, in fact.


When I was in the Peace Corps in the mid-1980’s, I came across a book of sermons by Martin Luther King, Jr. called Strength to Love. I remember one of the sermons in that book, though not the title of it. It was Dr. King preaching about this passage about the disciples arguing about who was the greatest, and Jesus talking about being the servant of all. And I remember Dr. King’s words. He wrote [preached}, “Anyone can be great, because anyone can serve.”


The one who took that child into his arms sees the very best in you, and calls you “beloved.”


He’s not really that concerned about what letters you have after your name, how big your house is, what kind of car you drive, what kind of job you have, or whether on a particular Friday at a particular lake, you caught the most fish or the biggest fish.


He just loves you like crazy, because that’s what he is like, and he is always with you, always present, whether you sense it in the moment or not. Here’s our friend Thomas Keating again:


“… it’s a process, dear friends, and the taste that we have of God can continue to develop into ever deeper levels of intimacy that are absolutely inconceivable to us in the beginning - beyond anything, as Paul says, we could imagine or dream of is the closeness of God’s presence. And it’s a closeness that is totally loving, concerned, nourishing, supportive, sympathetic, empathic - every human relationship that is beautiful and good and true all rolled into one and multiplied a million times over.” (The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living, p. 261)



NEW BEHAVIOR - Serving, not ranking


If you want to discover real joy in life, I remind you that you will not find that apart from God. But there is something else: You will not find it as long as you are competing with or ranking yourself with respect to others, as long as you are focused on who is the best, as long as you are set on proving that you are right and others are wrong.


In my experience, Jesus was on to something. Surprise, surprise! Joy is found in serving. Joy is found in encouraging others. Joy is found in doing small things with great love, as Mother Teresa said.


We talked on Thursday about how we could make a list of 100 ways to serve. Eric Pelander said we could probably make a spreadsheet of the possibilities, especially when we get caught up and anxious with the thought of “How am I supposed to serve?” He went on to say, “I have found that when I can be still, and listen, God guides me… I am led into how I should serve.”


We are told that Jesus often got up very early in the morning, while it was still dark, to spend time with his Father. And we are told that, after he had that time with his Father, he often came away and was clear about what he needed to do next. And, of course, serving - whether we are talking about his healing, his teaching, his embracing children and adults, or his dying - serving was at the very heart of what Jesus did.


Wayne Dyer also said this in that same podcast.

“Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. It is the same world. We must all decide.” And he quoted St. John of the Cross:


“Where there is no love, put love; and you will find love.”




Who is the greatest? I suppose we can all relate to the disciples arguing about this. It can range from who is the greatest team, what is the greatest company to work for, who is the wealthiest person on the planet, which is the most successful church in Park City, or even something totally inane like who is the best fisherman at Lofty Lake.


Jesus simply says, “Whoever wants to be first of all must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child in his arms  and added, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”


Anyone can be great because anyone can serve.


Who will you and I welcome? Who will you and I serve today?

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