Posts Tagged ‘Mark 9:30-37’

Who Is Called Greatest 9-23-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 9:30-37, I explore Jesus’ second passion prediction, and the way that it leads to expectations of personal greatness and prestige. Jesus is up to something different.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Over the course of the past couple of years, I have gotten into the habit of watching tv shows that focus in on life in the political spectrum. I’ve made our way through several different series, the most notable being The West Wing.

It was a great show that zeroed in on the lives of several of the prominent senior staff that surrounded the President of the United States in the hectic day to day activity of the White House. The show ran for 7 seasons, and a pretty major feature of the final season was the presidential race that would culminate in the final episode with the inauguration of the new president and the subsequent change over in staff from the old faces to the new ones.

In one of the final scenes, the new senior staff walks into the West Wing and they all pause for just a moment, before pealing off in different directions to find their new offices…and in one instance, we see the overlap as the outgoing character picks up his belongings…shakes the hand of the new guy…and then stands there for a brief moment watching as the new guy sets down his stuff…and excitedly begins arranging his new office.

It makes me think of the expectations that this character must be feeling…the ideas of what things will be like in this new role…of the work that he’ll be doing…whether he’s accurate in his assumptions or not. (pause)

Now the theme of expectations is one that we keep bumping into here over the course of several chapters of Mark’s gospel, including today’s lesson.  There’s a stretch of Mark that features several different teachings from Jesus that appear difficult…unexpected…maybe even a little harsh…teachings that maybe, just maybe make it difficult to even want to be a follower of Christ…some of these teachings or themes are unique…and others pop up more than once.

We’ve mentioned before that when something repeats itself within the scriptures…its usually worth paying attention to…and if you happened to be here last week, you might have noticed something that sounds familiar.  For the second time…Jesus predicts his upcoming betrayal and arrest…he predicts his suffering and death…and he predicts that three days later he’ll rise again…its nearly identical to what we heard back in chapter 8…and funny enough…it would seem that 2 times isn’t sufficient…because a chapter later…in a passage that we’ll encounter a couple more week’s from now…Jesus is going to do it a third time.

3 times he shares this prediction with the disciples…this honest and open revelation of his eventual fate…of how things are going to culminate at the end of his ministry. (pause) Now, the disciples’ reaction today is interesting…we hear that they lack understanding of just what Jesus is talking about…and even though they want to ask him questions…they remain silent.

Maybe, just maybe they are remembering the last time Jesus brought this whole deal up…and Peter getting a little testy with Jesus before getting a verbal smack-down. Maybe that’s why they dummy up and don’t ask the questions that are clearly on their minds…not even Peter in this instance.

But instead…as they continue walking along towards Capernaum…their conversation takes a turn…and they start bickering. Now maybe their debate has something to do with Jesus’ prediction…but maybe it has something to do with this location as well. It seems a little specific to name that they are in Capernaum…unless we know a little something about this community on the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum was an important city in those days. It was located right along a major trade route…it was also a boundary between two different territories and as such it was a taxation point.  The Roman government and military both had a presence there…and the residents, Jews and Romans alike, benefitted from all this with wealth and affluence.  It was a place of prestige…of authority and influence…in short…this was a place a power…and I’m guessing, as this merry band of Christ followers approached the city with words about this Messiah walking in their midst, the topic of authority and power seemed pretty important. (pause)

Now once they get into town and settle into one of the homes there, Jesus starts asking some questions…namely what they’d been bickering about…because it seems that their conversation escalated into an argument over which one of them would be called the greatest…who would hold the most authority…who’s the most important among them. (pause)
I can’t help but think that this starts to reveal a little bit of similarity in the expectations the disciples hold with what we heard out of Peter a week ago.  Jesus, you are the Messiah…and Jesus says yes, now let me tell you what that means…and Peter says No lord…the Messiah cannot be killed…you’ve got important political work to accomplish…take back the throne…free us from oppression, bring about this kingdom of heaven that you keep talking about…obviously you can’t do that if you’re dead. (pause)

It’ll be the same sort of thing when we encounter the last Passion prediction too…Jesus shares what will happen…and two of the disciples hit him up with a request to sit at his right hand and his left when he comes into power.

And today…same deal…Hey guys…Jesus is talking all that Messiah stuff again…I don’t know why he’s so set on the idea that he’s gonna die…I don’t know what that’s all about…who knows…maybe he’s being metaphorical…but you know what…when he takes control…its gonna be awesome…and we’ve been following him around…I wonder what spot we’ll each get.

That’s the debate…Jesus is here to bring about something UTTERLY new…a new way to live…a new way to be in this world…claimed and loved by God…and freed from the power of the brokenness that is still so prevalent…and in the midst of all this…the disciples are bickering over what cabinet position they are going to hold “in the kingdom.” Of who’s gonna be second in command…of who will hold more authority or prestige or status.

3 times Jesus tells them plainly. (slowly) I am going to die and rise again. It will be brutal, it will be painful, and you will all abandon me…and in three different ways, they reveal the same thing. What can we get out it? (pause)

I wonder…do we fall in the same trap? Do we get caught up in human expectations over what Jesus is going to do for us…of how we’re going to benefit from this identity as a follower of Christ? (pause) Is that how we look at our association with the congregation…or our identity and position within the greater community because of our membership here in the local faith institution? Do we wonder…or even seek out…the self-image of being called great? (pause)

That’s the rub in the disciples debate…they are arguing over who will be the one to be called…or named great.  Funny enough, they know better…because when Jesus calls them on it…they don’t say a word…its almost like they’ve already figured out that this isn’t what Jesus is all about…and yet it’s the issue most important to them.

Maybe its because the world works that way…their society was not that different from ours in that regard.  Power and influence and prestige and authority and fame and glory and riches were the currency of the day…just as they are now.

But Jesus proposes something different doesn’t he? It is not these things that will make your name great…you will not be called great because of these things…you want to be called great…welcome the least of these.  And he places a child in their midst.

Now in Jesus’ day, children were the lowest of the low on the status ladder…lower even than slaves…but Jesus could have also grabbed a begger…or a lepper…or a foreigner or a tax collector.  Anyone who their society dictates was unacceptable…Jesus says put them before yourself…serve them…and then you’ll be called great. (pause)

I’m drawn to that idea of being called great…maybe its subjective, because depending on the moment we might call a lot of things or people great…but Mark’s gospel really doesn’t. In fact…there are only two times when this exact phrase is used…to be called great…this is one…and the other is when Jesus answers the question of what commandment can be called the greatest.

Anyone remember how he answers?  Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself.  Place others ahead of you…that’s what Jesus calls great. (pause) But maybe, just maybe that doesn’t compute. Because this is an idea that is so utterly foreign in a dog eat dog world…a world where we have to look out for number 1…a world where we bite and claw our way to the top…but I always wonder…where does that get us?

There’s an old saying “the one who dies with the most toys wins” (pause) but there’s another saying that refutes it “the one who dies with the most toys still dies.” It’s a sober reminder that this life has an expiration date. (pause)

But…Jesus is doing something different…utterly different. This kingdom of heaven…whatever the heck that means…its different…it doesn’t focus in on power or authority or prestige or status.  None of those things that the world tells us you have to have in order to be complete will actually get you there.  But a promise that there is something more…that you have been claimed by the one who created you…that you are loved and accepted and treasured as you are right now…and that no matter what happens that everlasting love will not be taken away from you and not even death can get in the way of it.  That promise gives us hope to cling to in the midst of all the mess of this world that we are constantly surrounded with and bombarded by.

Trust me…there is plenty of stuff in this world that can drown us in despair…and there are plenty of times when that hope of the promise might just be really hard to see…and this is why we need one another…to reflect that light of life that Christ has brought into this world…to shine that light so those stuck in darkness have something to look to…to be the hands and feet of Christ, even in some tiny way…just to show this world that no matter how hard it rants and raves…and no matter how loudly it screams that might makes right…or that gaining just a little more and a little more at the expense of another will make you satisfied…no matter how hard the powers of darkness in this world rave that light WILL shine brighter…because when light shines darkness loses…that’s the simple fact of the matter…even when it doesn’t feel like it. (pause)

The future is unknown to us…we might have our plans or expectations…we might have our hopes and our dreams…but the reality might turn into something completely different.  May we find hope in the one thing that will remain constant…God’s promises for you have already been made real in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s something that we can call great.  Amen

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:

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.