Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 23, 2018
Year B, Proper 20: Proverbs 31:10-31; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
CLICK HERE to listen to the recorded sermon.
In today’s Gospel passage from Mark, Jesus is teaching his disciples the difference between being considered great in the world and his expectation as how they are to be great in the Kingdom of God.
Our reading today begins with, “They went on from there and passed through Galilee.” Jesus and his disciples were leaving the north country where they were safe. This was the first leg of their journey to Jerusalem. Jesus “did not want anyone to know” that they were traveling through this region. He was no longer preaching to large crowds. In this part of his ministry, Jesus wanted to concentrate on preparing his disciples to carry on after his death and resurrection. He had to spend enough time with them until they understood his message. I think it’s fair to say that the disciples have a hard time understanding what Jesus has been telling them.
“For he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” This is the second of three times that Jesus would tell his disciples about his impending betrayal, death, and resurrection. The first time that Jesus told them, he admonished Peter, who was so alarmed that he denied that anything of what Jesus said could be true. This time all of the disciples “did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.”
What they didn’t seem to be afraid of, however, was arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.
Jesus asked them (even though he clearly know) what they were arguing about. Then Jesus sat down and tried again to get through to his disciples. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Here they were arguing about who was to be the greatest and Jesus called them to be last.
I’m sure their eyes started to glaze over a little because they’d heard these opposites from Jesus before – to save one’s life one most lose it: to be first, one must be last. Jesus was always talking this way. But Jesus could see that the disciples didn’t get it. So he took a child into his arms and put the child in the midst of them. Whose child was this? Perhaps the child of one of the women who were part of Jesus’ community. Perhaps the child of one of the disciples or a relative of Jesus because Jesus was now at home. Whoever the child was, Jesus saw the child and this child was as important to Jesus as anything else we hear about in the Gospel.
Jesus wanted the disciples to see this child. He wants us to see the child – and welcome the child. You must think about the social status of children – they were usually, often at the bottom of the social heap. In Mark children are sick or disabled: Jairus’ daughter is near death when her father kneels before Jesus; the Syrophonecian woman’s little daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit; and just before today’s text, a man brings s son to Jesus. The boy had experienced terrible convulsions since childhood.
In those times it would have been most unusual for a rabbi to embrace and to use a child in any capacity during teaching or certainly during a pronouncement. Then children were not treated with respect. They had no legal status and were expected to stay out of the way and be invisible.
Jesus then “said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” To welcome a person of high status in Jesus’ day was to bring honor to the whole group. Fame and greatness were often judged by whose company they kept. Welcoming an unknown child would have been unfathomable. But yet, this is what Jesus was commanding them to do, to show respect to the least member of society. The reward of welcoming the most powerless individual was not only to welcome Jesus but also to welcome God the one who sent him.
Surely, we value children in church and society. Church growth strategies often include children: “What do people look for in a church?” Right up at the top, programs for youth and children.
But do we value children?
**Insert stories of Saint Mark’s***
“Mother Kathy, I miss-ed you.”
Do you see this child? Jesus is asking his disciples and us. “Whoever welcomes this child welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Was Jesus a hopeless romantic when he set a little child in the midst of the disciples that day in Capernaum? No, Jesus was not a hopeless romantic. He was a hopeless fanatic. He was fanatic about opening up the kingdom of God, the commonwealth of God to those who society placed on the margins. Jesus didn’t follow the rubrics or the rules. He healed when he was supposed to, touched people he shouldn’t have touched and talked about suffering.
Jesus expects us to be welcoming to people while performing the service that he expected from us. We must treat each person that we help with respect and kindness, especially even those who we perceive to have nothing to offer us in return. Jesus used the extreme example of an anonymous child. That child represents the least powerful, people who only need things from us, the elderly, the poor, the ill, the addicted, the mentally ill, the physically challenged and the lonely. We are to welcome them enthusiastically as we would welcome a person who could do us favors to improve our lives.
Imagine a world where everyone would serve each other. Imagine a world where everyone would welcome each other. There would be no war, no crime, no want, no prejudice, no sexual assault. There would be a place for each person to live enjoying acceptance, respect and the love of God.
The sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link above, but to access the library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE.