Mark 9:30-37 September 19, 2021
The disciples are arguing about who is the greatest.
We don’t know exactly the content of the argument,
maybe it was about who cured the most evil spirits,
who did Jesus like the best, who did he pick first.
We don’t know.
In the Gospel of Mark, mostly
the disciples have nothing to brag about.
They’re not models of courage or wisdom.
Even here it says they didn’t understand what Jesus
was talking about and they were afraid to ask.
Even after Jesus spells it out plainly
and tells them that he’s going to be rejected,
tortured, and killed, and that his followers
should deny themselves and follow,
the disciples feel the need to compete with one another
about who was the greatest.
And to that Jesus tells his competitive disciples that for God,
if you want to be first, you should be last of all.
Servant of all. The way to win is to lose. To come in last.
It’s a call to humility and humbleness.
Church people have heard this call
and somehow we’ve made humility into a competition in itself.
There was a story that was told around my home church,
Communion was only once a quarter and people were told they
had to be right with God before they took communion.
So on that one Sunday every three months,
church ladies would go up to the rail and
make a big show about refusing communion.
To show people that they didn’t think they were good enough.
They were competing to see who could be first at being humble.
That is certainly not what Jesus meant. So what does Jesus mean?
Jesus gives a little clarifier when he takes a child
and he says “Whoever welcomes one such
child in my name welcomes me”
It almost seems unrelated in a way.
But that’s because of the way that we understand children now.
We love children, we value children just because they’re children.
Of course some people don’t, but the prevalent view of society today
is that children should be valued just because
they’re vulnerable and innocent and can’t take care of themselves.
But in the first century, children weren’t valued.
They were actually treated with disdain, annoyance, even hatred.
And often by their own parents.
Producing children was, of course, encouraged.
They represented the future—they would carry on the family name,
provide for their aging parents, and produce the next generation.
But actually having children and taking care of them was a liability.
Especially small children.
For the first 4 or 5 years,
They couldn’t help out much
and they were another mouth to feed.
And if they got sick, like children tend do, then forget it.
giving them away, or even killing them
was a fairly common practice.
This was actually true up until the 1800’s
Think of how fairy tales like Snow White and Hansel and Gretel start out.
In ancient Rome, they estimate that
20-40% of children were abandoned.
More were actually killed by their
parents without many repercussions.
More died as a result of an accident
meaning they weren’t being watched.
Children were seen as a burden and
treating children nicely was seen as a
weakness especially for men.
And if you welcomed a child
you could end up being
responsible for them.
Feeding them, clothing them, caring for them, watching them.
And what they could give back couldn’t be counted.
What a child gave couldn’t be counted as an advancement
to anyone’s status or lot or station in life.
Especially if it wasn’t your child.
Welcoming a child was a burden, a liability.
Welcoming a child, cost the welcomer.
So when Jesus said,
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”
it meant something very different than we would understand it now.
And what Jesus meant was that
following God’s way comes at a cost.
But that cost is a gain in God’s eyes.
So welcoming children does not
have the same stigma that it did then,
But there are plenty of other people
who’s welcome could cost us.
And I guess who or what would cost you
depends on the people that you find yourself around,
your peer group.
Would it cost you to welcome an illegal immigrant
or refugee, or a person of a different color,
or maybe a poor person, or a rich person,
or a democrat, or a republican,
or an atheist, or a fundamentalist Christian,
What would cost you?
That’s who we should be welcoming.
Basically, if our relationship
with Jesus isn’t bringing us around people who
we’re uncomfortable with,
our who our friends are uncomfortable with,
then we’re not doing it right.
Jesus says, if you want to be great in God’s Kingdom.
don’t worry about your own status,
worry about the status of someone else.
Give your status away to them.
When it comes to God’s kingdom,
Having all the money in the world is no good
unless it can go to help someone else.
Having all the power in the world is of no use
unless it can be used to give someone else power.
Having all the food in the world can’t fill you
as long as someone else is hungry.
No use getting to the top of the ladder
unless everyone is up the ladder before you.
Gandhi, who often understood Christianity
better than Christians, said,
"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."
In this world, serving God comes at a loss.
Whoever wants to be first of all must be last of all and servant of all.
Serving and caring for others costs.
It costs us our money and our time and our hearts.
Welcoming those that are unwelcome by the rest of the world
can cost us too: our status, our friends,
and it can even challenge our own values.
When we think of other people before ourselves
even our own stubborn ideologies can be lost.
When our compassion overwhelms our sense of
competition and our need for status,
that is a win for God.
In this world, serving God comes at a loss.
But there are also great gains that can’t be easily counted.
I’m going to tell you a story.
And if you like sports references in your sermons,
please relish this because I rarely do it.
There was high school softball game
in Indianapolis several years ago.
Roncalli Catholic School played Marshall Community.
Roncalli was a private, upper-class Catholic School.
Marshall Community was a very poor inner city school.
Roncalli was a great team. They had a perfect record.
They had won every game for two and half years.
Their goal was a three-year perfect record.
Marshall Community didn’t have any sports for girls,
so they started a softball team.
This was Marshall’s first game.
They had never played a game of softball before together.
They showed up to the game with little equipment,
and no players who’d ever played together before
and a coach who had never coached a team before.
After an inning and a half, Roncalli was destroying Marshall.
Marshall pitchers had already walked nine batters.
It was obvious they didn’t know what they were doing.
Roncalli could've won that game with no problem
gone home with a victory had a pizza party,
put another game under their belts
and kept their perfect record.
That's when Roncalli did something crazy.
It offered to forfeit the game.
They counted this game as a loss for themselves.
And then they spent the hours they would have played
teaching the Marshall girls how to play softball.
They showed them how to put their gear on,
how to hit, how to catch, how to run the bases,
and the coach taught the coach about coaching.
And the Marshall girls ate it up.
The Roncalli team lost their perfect three year record.
But those girls got something else in return.
|Roncalli's coach helps Marshall Players |
try on catching gear.
it’s hard to count as a benefit to their status.
It’s even hard to put into words.
But their loss was a gain
for Marshall, for God,
and for them.
It’s like a high school softball team touched
this mystery of God.
To be first, be last.
The paradox is: We get more when we give away more.
And I’m not talking about how the prosperity preachers tell
you it will happen, that if you give some of your money
to the church, more money will suddenly come to you.
It doesn’t work that way I’m sorry to say,
and nothing in the bible says that it does.
But when we trust God,
when our compassion overcomes our need to win,
then we get something that’s more valuable
and priceless than all the riches of the world.
The last will be first.
May all of us here know that experience.
May all of us get to touch that
mystery of God’s kingdom in our lifetimes.
May the people of Christ Lutheran
know the joy of being last.
May we welcome people that come at a cost to us,
but who return to us priceless treasures.