Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Greatest and the Least

Mark 9:30-37

Last week, Jesus announced to the disciples that he would go to Jerusalem, suffer, die, and be raised. He then added that the best was to serve God is by serving others – to be humble and take up a cross of one’s own. This week, Jesus states again that he will be betrayed, killed, and in three days he will rise again.

The Gospel of Mark, more than the other disciples, portrays the disciples as rather dense. They never seem to get what Jesus is trying to say or do. Without the fact of the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection, since it hasn’t happened yet, they struggle to understand what Jesus means. Apparently, their struggle to understand frustrates Jesus, so they don’t ask him for more information or an explanation.

It is true that Peter and Andrew and John and James are closer to Jesus than the other disciples are. They are the first disciples he called. When Jairus’ daughter was ill and dying, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him into the house when he brought her back to life. On the mountain, when Jesus was transfigured, and Moses and Elijah appeared in a vision, it was Peter, James, and John who were with Jesus. Jesus probably confides in these three or four the most. They are what scholars call the inner circle. So, why should they not consider themselves the greatest disciples?

But, Jesus is appalled. He spots a child in the group. See this child, he says. This child has no economic value. No political power. No social status. This child can be sold as a slave to settle a debt. Jesus means that only by taking on the value and status of this powerless child can you really be great.

If you are able to see a child as great, and you can see Jesus in the child, then you will also be welcoming the one who sent Jesus – God the Father.

… This is a radically different way of looking at power and status in Jesus’ time and in any culture around the world today.

A quick scan of the headlines tells us who has value and who doesn’t. At least, the headlines tell us who appears to have power and value, and who doesn’t.
·         Through the #metoo movement, our society has been made aware, again, of the amount of oppression women have experienced and continue to experience.  
·         We have conflicting and conflicted emotions about immigrant children and their parents.
·         We are barely aware of the women and children who are the victims of the sex trade.
·         We occasionally become aware of the way businesses have treated the land – dumping hazardous waste in areas where it will affect the people living nearby.
·         We constantly judge each other, and compare others to ourselves. They (or we) are too thin, too heavy, too uneducated, too rebellious, too poor, too rich. They have darker skin or worship God differently. They are Republicans. They are Democrats.  

Jesus’ message is that we are all equal. We are all loved by God, and the best – the greatest – way to demonstrate our understanding of this is to see Jesus in the child, in the poor or rich person, in the heavy or skinny person, in the foreign person.

… One story about welcoming children. Most congregations want to attract young families because they believe that is the way to grow a congregation. Most, though not all, congregations believe they are child-friendly. Pastor Judy wanted to help visiting families see that they really wanted children to feel welcome at her church – I’ll call it Trinity --, so she suggested creating a children’s quiet corner in the sanctuary. She wanted to put a small table and some chairs, some quiet toys, some coloring books and crayons, some children’s worship bulletins there. She hoped that families would know that children were welcome at Trinity.

Pastor Judy thought it would cost less than $50 to set it up, but her idea needed approval because it was a change to the worship space. So, Pastor Judy took her proposal to the council. A few council members thought it was worth a try, but one vocal member of the council said, “When we start having children, then we can do that. Until then, I think it is a terrible waste of money. People might trip on the toys, or the children will be unsupervised and noisy. I vote no.” Because of his opinion, the children’s area was never set up, and families with children visited once and never came back to Trinity.  

… This week, I hope you look for Jesus in everyone. Not just those you love, but those you are tempted to judge as less than yourself or as greater than yourself. Not just those who are here already, but those who are not here yet. Look for Jesus in the children, because they may know him better than we do. You are no lesser and no greater than anyone else in God’s eyes.

This is one of Jesus’ most important messages to us. We are all God’s beloved children, no matter how old we are, no matter how much or how little we own, or how much or how little power we seem to possess. Jesus loves you. And he loves those around you, too, no matter who they are.

Please pray with me. Jesus, you teach us some challenging lessons. We like things the way they are. We don’t want to love everyone. Help us, forgive us, and continue to love us anyway. Amen