Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

  Northern Great Lakes SynodEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaBethany on Facebook  

Pentecost - Mark 10:35-45 10/18/2015

Last week we heard about the rich young man looking for a path to eternal life. He was the one who had left distressed when Jesus made him very uncomfortable, telling him he needed to sell everything and give his money to the poor, that being a good person and following the rules wasn’t enough. We’d all be bummed to hear these words. We’re good people, after all, and we need our stuff – we can’t be giving everything away!

But as Pastor pointed out, there were other important words to hear last week, that “Jesus looked at the rich young man and loved him”, flaws and all, just like Jesus loves us, flaws and all.  

And even when the disciples don’t get it, which is most of the time in the Gospel of Mark, and even when we don’t get it, which is a lot of the time as we slip into the everyday patterns of our lives, Jesus looks at us and loves us. Thank goodness for this. And thank goodness this is so for the disciples too, because as we can see from today’s Gospel, the disciples aren’t cluing in – again!

But let’s back up from today’s text just a bit. I want to mention what is missing in our Gospel reading: verses 32 through 34. The verses contain Jesus’ third prediction of his suffering, death and resurrection. Just like the two earlier predictions, the disciples don’t get what this means. They are in denial as to what lies ahead as they journey to Jerusalem. This time the clueless ones are the Zebedee boys who are asking for something that makes us pause: James and John, part of Jesus’ inner circle, want to be sitting at his right and left hands in glory.

Eee – yikes.

We see how inappropriate this request is, and we’re almost embarrassed for the two disciples, but for them, it’s simply a natural attempt to jockey for power and privilege, to be close to their leader. They want status, the best seats, the prize, that connection with Jesus that excludes the others. And when the other disciples hear about it, they are furious! (Quite likely, they want those places for themselves!)

Another misunderstanding on the road to the cross. And what’s fairly ironic about James’ and John’s request is that we know who occupies those places to Jesus’ right and left at the cross. …. So Jesus uses this time to teach them once again what it means to be great, and it’s not centering on ourselves. It is being in service to others.

It is hard not to concentrate on ourselves, isn’t it? Not to want the best, to be in a place where we get to make the perfect choices for our own lives, to have that sense of complete power and influence over others. We figure if we have that perfect job, that ideal position, we’ll be in control and have nothing to fear. We’re not interested in being the one who, by society’s standards, has a lesser value. Our sense of self-worth can easily become linked to our place in the pecking order, whether at home, at school, at work, or in our community.

Jesus turns all of this around when he tells us that whoever wishes to become great among us must be our servant, and whoever wishes to be first among us must be slave of all. When we are turned inward, when we focus on ourselves, we don’t think of others, and we don’t serve others. It becomes all about us, all about me.

Of course this doesn’t happen all the time. We are good people who look out for others. This church is filled with good people who wouldn’t consider joining some race to the top, let alone hurt others along the way. Still, it is natural to turn inward on so many aspects of our lives – at home, at work, at church. I think we can all agree that, as we focus on our lives, we let opportunities to serve slip on by.

And this month, our Northern Great Lakes Synod and the Churchwide ELCA are reminding us of an opportunity to be a collective entity in service, the servant church, through the “Always Being Made New” appeal. We need these reminders every once in a while, don’t we, so we can continue to envision ourselves as the whole church, beyond our own walls.

When I was thinking about this Sunday as “Always Being Made New”, I found myself going back to the third emphasis – check it out in your flyer: the third emphasis is “Encouraging congregational barrier-free projects.”

We can ask: what does this emphasis mean for Bethany Lutheran? What does this mean for me? One more request for money? Falling on the heels of recent opportunities to give here at home – in late summer, to reduce the deficit – in September to contribute to the remodeling project? And coming just before the annual stewardship drive? Is it just about the money?  ………………..

How is it possible for us to relate to the needs of congregations who want to make their facilities more accessible? After all, Bethany has been a very forward-thinking congregation. When the fellowship hall and sanctuary were built, it was all on one floor, no steps. You installed a chair lift for access to the second level. And mobility access continues to be on the radar as pews have been cut down and removed for wheelchair access. It would probably never occur to this church to look for outside help, because Bethany takes care of its own.

As a community in Christ, though, the larger church helps us recognize that not all congregations are as well situated as we are. And to get things done, outside help is essential.

Access is important.

How aware are we, of the barriers to worship and fellowship that are out there?

When I was doing my chaplaincy work this past summer, I was invited to do some empathy training, and by that I mean we students were given the chance to be a nursing home patient for a day. I was placed in a wheelchair for seven hours, and it was an eye-opening experience. From being at the mercy of a nurse quickly wheeling me through the halls and onto an elevator and past the offices of people I worked with; to facing staff who were standing inches above my eye level, looking down at me; to trying to open a door that I couldn’t clear – it hit my wheelchair; driving over the carpeting transition edges; figuring out how to make turns and go in reverse on my own; and having my arms get tired as I wheeled myself around for hours on end.

I can only imagine what it would be like if I were someone whose life was changed in an instant, through a stroke or by an accident, wanting to return to worship and fellowship, only to find I had no access within my church.

Recently, I was at a congregational event, waiting to head downstairs to the fellowship hall for a reception. A woman on crutches asked me where the elevator was located. I didn’t know and asked another who said, “There’s not an elevator, but if you go outside and around the corner, there’s a ramp out there that will get you downstairs.” So out she went on that beautiful afternoon, slowly on her crutches, and I couldn’t help thinking how that would work during the winter – walking outside through the cold and snow, when everyone else simply walked down a dozen stairs.

I’m also reminded of a small congregation where I served as pulpit supply a couple years back. The people there were just delightful Yoopers. They were close to one other and obviously cared for one another. Each week after worship, they walked down some steep stairs and into their basement for fellowship time. Laid out were main dishes, salads, and desserts, a veritable Sunday feast.

Lovely Christian fellowship, but what if something happened and one of the members needed to use crutches, or a walker, or a wheelchair? No way to get to fellowship.

Building codes are different now, but many of our churches were built decades ago, and these buildings aren’t going to be replaced anytime soon. There is a need for barrier-free project grants: for ramps, lifts, curbless parking spaces, signs, entrances, rest room modifications – you get the idea – the list is long.

Working together, with all the congregations of the Northern Great Lakes Synod, we can make a difference with our contributions – on a scale and scope that is bigger than what one congregation can accomplish - just like our small, noisy contributions of coins add up to dollars that can make a real and tangible difference.

We are made to be in relationship with others, our fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, and as we work together, as we share God’s blessings among us, we discover our wholeness as the body of Christ.

In today’s text, Jesus is teaching the disciples what it means to be the greatest. And it has nothing to do with sitting in a self-centered place of honor and satisfaction. The disciples do not get to rest on the laurels of being among the first of Jesus’ followers, feeling somehow entitled. Instead, they get to roll up their sleeves and serve.

The reality in the Gospel of Mark, of Jesus’ walk to Jerusalem and his approaching trial, his suffering, death, and resurrection, are lost on those closest to him. Three times, Jesus tries to explain, and three times, they just don’t get it. In each case then, Jesus accepts their shortcomings and turns toward teaching about discipleship.

We, too, hear Christ’s teachings, but we hear his words knowing that Christ has conquered death on the cross, and we live believing that we have forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus Christ died for you. For me.

We get to respond to this great and wondrous gift from the cross.

We respond as God’s generous and loving people, God’s servant church.


Vicar Terry Frankenstein


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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