Its A No Brainer 9-20-15

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:30-37, I explore what Jesus is trying to tell us when he says that we must welcome a child. Unfortunately, we have the tendency, like the disciples, of being a little dense about his teachings.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/its-a-no-brainer-9-20-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

There’s a movie that came out while I was in college called Office Space. The entire premise of this movie is how much the main character hates his job…he works in a cubicle at a big software company, and day after day, his work makes him miserable.

Early on in the movie, we see just how true this is, when he walks up to the only two individuals at his job that he actually gets along with, and says “I’ve gotta get out of here…you guys wanna go get some coffee?” And we find out that they are only 30 minutes into their work day. Turns out this little episode is because some perky coworker accused him of having a case of the Mondays.

I get it…Monday’s are tough…because the work week is just starting off…the freedom of the weekend has just ended and you are as far away from the next weekend as possible…and if you happen to be in a job that isn’t all that great…the weekly case of the Mondays seems even worse. (pause)
Now that being said, I actually like Monday because its my day off…but I feel the same sort of dread towards Tuesdays. However, I’ve also gotten into a routine that breaks that blaw feeling…and that’s the pastor’s text study that I attend on Tuesday mornings. We talk about the gospel…debating various passages and scriptural connections…sharing insights with one another while discussing various points of view on the different texts. Then, once we’ve done that for a couple hours, we head off somewhere in town to have lunch together.

Admittedly, I love this sort of thing…honest discussion around scripture is exciting for me…and I love to learn with one another in this way. But sometimes we’ll hit a certain bit of scripture and we just can’t seem to get anywhere with it…actually this happens a lot.

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that the word of God is living and active…and it is…sometimes a certain passage is understood one way…but then the next time around your new experience or context makes you see it a little bit differently…sometimes the scriptures appear to be metaphorical…and sometimes they seem to be quite literal…

This week…the issue of metaphorical verses literal tripped us up…and we spent quite a bit of time trying to determine just what Jesus is talking about when he gathers a child into his arms and tells his disciples that they need to welcome one such as this.

Is he being literal? Telling the disciples…and not just them but us as well…Hey…you need to welcome kids…or on the flip side, is he telling us that we need to welcome the powerless…the ones that lack status and can’t protect themselves…

That was the big question…and we didn’t really come up with a good solution…and after a lot of discussion…we hit a lull in the conversation…and since it was pushing noon, my stomach started growling…and it was loud enough that everyone at the table heard it…so we figured it was time to break for lunch.

And so, a few minutes later, we were sitting at a table at Applebees…having more laid back conversation while we waited for our food to arrive…when I noticed a small girl, probably about 4 or 5 bouncing around in the entryway. Her family was waiting for their table and she was entertaining herself by running towards one of the padded benches that sits there in the entry way…and then she’d jump on it.

The girl did this about 2 or 3 times until she misjudged a jump…and promptly smacked her face into the windowsill…and at that…the conversation at my table utterly stopped…we had all seen it happen…and I think the same thought crossed ever single mind as we saw the girls face scrunch up and the tears well up… “Where’s mom?”

The girl stood there crying for a few seconds…and we were just about to get up to go help her when she ran out of site around a corner to where her parents were standing…and once we saw that she was back with her caretakers…I think we all breathed a sigh of relief. (pause)
But I kept thinking about that moment throughout the course of this week…thinking that maybe, just maybe that was a bit of a sign for us following that debate in text study.

That child was in need…if only for an instant…and that need commanded the attention of an entire table…in that instant all we cared about was her well-being…and the fact that she was unable to comfort herself. (pause)

And as I pondered on that…I had the thought that maybe, just maybe we were putting way too much thought into the debate…that in this instance, we were letting our intellect get in the way of understanding just what Jesus was trying to tell us. That maybe, this should be a no brainer.

And as soon as I had that thought…and the small amount of shame that can, at times accompany a thought like that…I felt an awful lot like the disciples in the story today. (pause) Once again…we hear that Jesus is teaching the disciples…and that once again…they fail to grasp what he’s saying. (pause)
A week ago, we heard Jesus make the first prediction of his suffering and death that would occur…something called the Passion Predictions…there are three of them in Mark’s Gospel…we heard the first one last week…and Peter promptly rebukes Jesus only to have Jesus slam him right back.

The second one appears here…just one chapter later…and the final one is coming right up in chapter 10. Three times Jesus plainly tells his disciples “Hey guys…I’m going to die…and its not going to be pretty…but don’t worry because 3 days later I’ll be alive again.” (pause)

And all three times…the disciples…utterly fail to understand him…and its not like Jesus it speaking cryptically…he’s sharing the truth openly and bluntly. I will die…period. (pause) Admittedly, every time I hear moments like this…times when the disciples fail to understand what’s going on, it leaves me scratching my head just a little bit.

Shouldn’t they get it? I mean, they’ve got Jesus right there…the source of the teaching…the teacher himself…doesn’t he explain it in a way that makes sense? And especially this situation…how much more clear can you get than “I will suffer and die and then I will rise again?”

But here’s the thing…we’ve got hindsight…we know the full story…and we know what’s coming…Jesus is betrayed and arrested…and the disciples all run away…and he’s beaten…and he’s crucified…and he dies and is put in a tomb…and then…in the end…he walks out of that tomb alive again.

We’ve heard the whole story…and so when we hear Jesus start talking about it…it comes as no great surprise to us…but the disciples didn’t have hindsight did they? They were living in this story…experiencing it in real time. And so when their master sits them down and says “Guys…you’ve been with me for awhile now…you’ve seen the miracles…you’ve heard the teaching…you know that I’m the Son of God…but I’m gonna die,” don’t you think that would probably blow their minds just a little bit…that they would lack the ability to wrap their heads around it?

But if we think about it, maybe that’s not so surprising…because even with the benefit of hindsight, don’t we all lack understanding about what Jesus tells us? (pause) And maybe, just maybe, we end up falling into the same trap as the disciples.

Because following Jesus’ proclamation of his coming demise…they start bickering with one another about who’s the greatest. “Hey Peter…you used to the favorite until you yelled at Jesus…I bet he likes me better now.” “Shut up Andrew, at least I can name all the prophets.” “That’s nothing John, I get to carry the money bag for us all…I’m the best.” (pause)

I’ll admit it, I don’t know what the debates all about here…unless they are trying to establish the pecking order for who will be in charge when Jesus actually does die…but regardless of their motivation, Jesus flips everything on its ear by talking about the greatest being the one that is willing to serve everyone else…and then he goes one step beyond that and grabs this random child in a big bear hug…and tells them…you want to be great…then you need to receive this one…this one that has no status…this one that has no rights…this one that has no way to protect themselves…you need to receive this one…and then…only then will you receive me…and not only that but you will have received God. (pause)

Interestingly enough…we don’t hear the response of the disciples to this revelation by Christ…maybe because they had nothing to say…maybe they were rendered speechless…maybe the rules that they had grown up knowing had no answer to this. (pause)
Because at face value…Jesus seems to be talking about the notion of hospitality…that you need to welcome everyone…that you shouldn’t exclude anyone…even the least worthy…the last one expected…but if that’s the case…then Jesus is actually laying down some law here…saying that if we want to receive God…if we want to come into the presence of God, we need to welcome the powerless. (pause)
But I don’t think Jesus came into our reality in order to establish more rules…I don’t think he came into our reality to create more barriers that we need to somehow jump over in order to please God…things that we must do in order to be good enough…I’m pretty sure that Jesus came into our reality, lived died and rose again in order to tear down those barriers…to upend those rules. (pause)

Because if its really all about the rules…then this would have been a no-brainer for the disciples…their culture was centered around the notion of hospitality…that you welcomed the stranger into your midst…into your home and at your table…so why would Jesus need to share this? Why would have to hammer on this idea…unless the disciples…those following Jesus…which includes us by the way…aren’t the ones that need to do the welcoming?

The question occurs to me, what if we are the child? What if we are the powerless one…what if we are the ones that Jesus gathers into his arms in a giant bear hug? (pause) I thought about that…and then I realized that there is only 1 other place in all of the gospels when Jesus bear hugs someone like this? It’s a chapter later, when he tells us that any who wish to receive the kingdom of God must become like the child…like the child that he holds in his arms. (pause)

My friends…certainly there are times in life…times in our walk as followers of Christ when we are called to receive others…but what we must remember is that it is not up to our judgment to determine who these others are. Jesus does that…we are called to receive the ones that Jesus has taken hold of…the ones wrapped in his arms…its up to him…not us.

And the second we start to think that it is up to us…and that we hold the key…that we hold the power…then we need to realize that sin has just knocked us flat once more…and once more we must rely on the grace of God…on the love of Christ, who wraps us in his arms once more.

This is why Martin Luther called us simultaneous saints and sinners…because in every moment we are fully justified in the arms of Christ…while still being fully entangled in the power of sin…And yet God looks at us with love and concern and acceptance despite our flaws…and when God asks the question of whether or not this sinner is worth the cost of salvation…whether or not you are worth the price paid by Christ…God says each and every time…Of course my child…that’s a no brainer. Amen.

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