Proper 24, Year B ‘15
Mark 10: 35-45
18 October 2015
Take my lips, Oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen
You’ve probably noticed that we have been reading along, week by week, in the Gospel According to Mark. Mark, the shortest of the gospels, is thought to be the first to appear in written form. Every passage, every story is rich and complex, full of meaning. Do you remember very first verses of Mark? “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” I am reminded of my grandson stomping in a puddle, water shoots out in all directions. Anyone standing nearby gets splattered. Mark’s Gospel proceeds to drench us with the good news of Jesus Christ. Today we are deep in the Gospel. Last week we ended at chapter 10, verse 31. This week we picked up again at verse 35. What the lectionary missed is only 3 verses. But they are important. Jesus and his followers were on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus was walking ahead. I get the sense that the group was filled with a kind of fearful wonder. The narrative continues. Jesus took the 12 aside and told them that in Jerusalem he will be handed over, condemned to death, and killed; then after three days he will rise again. Do you suppose that Jesus’ words sounded like good news to his disciples? Use your imagination to stand in their shoes for just a minute. Can you feel their confusion and their fear? This is the third time Jesus has told them what will happen in Jerusalem. Maybe they’re beginning to understand what he is saying. But can they really fathom why Jesus would continue into Jerusalem? Could any of us? Jesus, I suspect, had some idea of the purpose behind it all, the disciples though, not so much. Just listen to James and John. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” What were they thinking? It hasn’t been all that long since Jesus pointed to a child, who in that culture had no status at all, as a model for discipleship. James and John are asking for the places of prime honor. They are still fantasizing about Jesus’ glory and jockeying for positions of power. Step back into the twenty-first century. We know more than what those disciples did. We know that in this world Jesus’ throne will be a cross and those placed to the right and left of him will be criminals. O.K., now step back again into the first century with Jesus and those disciples. Listen to what is going on. The rest of the disciples are angry. Can’t you just hear them? “The nerve of those two! Who do they think they are?” What about Jesus? Did you notice? He doesn’t rebuke James and John, however misguided, even foolish, their request. Jesus simply accepts them. At the same time, he also points them in a new direction. He invites them to be like him. There is something very powerful here. The disciples seem to be slow learners, misunderstanding what Jesus is about. They are often enough selfish and ambitious. The relationship they have with Jesus is at best imperfect. But in the end it is also unbroken. Yes, n one way or another they hid in fear when faced with the crucifixion, but in the end they were transformed. Those disciples are a whole lot like us, mostly faithful, even when we stumble, servants of our Lord and Savior, however shaky at times. We are not asked to be perfect. The Lord knows we never will be perfect. We are asked only to be faithful. And, amazingly enough, when we step out to follow Jesus faithfully, God, one way or another, always gives us just what we need for the task at hand. In one way we have a distinct advantage over those first disciples. We know “the rest of the story”. We know that yes, in Jerusalem Jesus will be betrayed by both the secular authorities and the religious authorities. He will die, and then be raised to new life just as he predicted. But isn’t this just where the “good news” is bittersweet at best? Jesus went willingly to his death for every one of us. And we are all, every one of us, implicated in that death as well. One writer put it bluntly. “You participated in the death of Jesus, and Jesus died for you.” (Interpretation: Mark, p 194, Lamar Williamson, jr.) Sit with that a minute. “You participated in the death of Jesus,… and Jesus died for you.” At the same time we operate at a disadvantage compared to those first disciples. There is a challenge for us in this text. We, unlike the first disciples, do know the rest of the story. It’s just that we’ve heard it too often. It is easy enough for us to look down on those first disciples for their lack of understanding or for their fear. At least they had the wit to be alarmed by what Jesus was saying. Maybe we need to listen more closely to Jesus. How often do we hear the gospel presented as a kind of risk free offer? Come to Jesus and only good will come to you. How often do we hear that if we just follow Jesus we will stay out of trouble eternally for sure and, as many would have it, in this world as well? Is that really what the Gospel According to Mark (or Matthew, or Luke, or John) says? Thing is, to really hear the Gospel is to notice that true discipleship has a whole lot to do with giving of oneself for others. In short, following Jesus means taking up our own cross. Maybe it’s taking care of an aging parent. I overheard Mack this week on the phone as he tried to work out the next day’s schedule. He was clearly frustrated. His wife is in school, she had classes. His three kids, 17, 13, and 11, had their own school activities. Mack had his own complex work schedule. Then he learned that “Pops” who lives with the family had an appointment with cardiac rehab. Someone needed to drive him to the appointment. It took some adjusting of schedules. Mack got it worked out. In the best sense he lived into the commandment to “Honor your father and mother.” Jerry, who works part time at two jobs also takes time to help a neighbor get her laundry done. Mabel doesn’t have a washer or drier in her apartment, she is weak from a recent illness, and her car is, at best, unreliable. Remember? Jesus said; love your neighbor. Susan keeps a horse, even though her income has dropped, because her granddaughter, who recently lost her father, loves to ride. I think you probably get the picture. Discipleship may just mean more trouble not less. While it is important for those of us who call ourselves Christian to pray and study and worship all those things point us toward service to others. Listen carefully to what Jesus has to say: “whoever wishes to be great must be your servant…whoever wishes to be first must be the slave of all.” James and John tell us a whole lot about ourselves. So does Jesus. His words to James and John are also directed at every one of us who call ourselves Christian. “The cup I drink you will drink; and the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” It’s not so easy sometimes to be a Christian person. It takes a willingness to go beyond ourselves in ways that are often enough uncomfortable, even risky. But God will never let you go. That’s the Gospel promise. God will always give you just what you need to serve as Jesus did. Look around. God has given us one another to care for and so we too can be cared for. God has given us the Holy Scriptures to enlighten our hearts and minds. God has given us the gift of Christ’s body and blood to fill and strengthen us. We can go out into the world to do the work God has given us to do, to love and serve as faithful people of God, as witnesses to Christ crucified and raised to new life. Jesus invites us and, knowing our all human limitations, empowers us to go forth proclaiming by word and deed that the love of God will never be defeated. I wonder: if in God’s Kingdom true greatness is equated with serving others, how will you be great in this coming week? Amen
Proper 23, Year B ‘15
11 October, 2015
Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them, take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
So. Was our Gospel story this morning a good news story or a bad news story? What do you think? Jesus and his followers are walking toward Jerusalem for the last time and Jesus is teaching his closest companions about discipleship. Beyond any doubt this is a challenging teaching. We’re told that the disciples were perplexed, even astounded, at it.
Did you notice? The disciples ask Jesus, in response to what they have heard, “ Then who can be saved?” And Jesus replies: “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God;
for God all things are possible.” So my question about good news versus bad news, we can’t do anything, not one single thing, to assure our own salvation. But we don’t have to. Our salvation is a free gift from God, ours for the taking, ours for the living into. We are radically dependent on God for salvation, even for life itself. I don’t know about you but for many people that is problematic. We value our independence after all. It’s hard to admit we can’t do for ourselves. Let’s turn our attention to that man who came to Jesus asking; “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” From the other Gospels we know that this man is young and rich, possibly part of the ruling class. The man has, by his own admission, kept the commandments. That’s a good thing of course. Mark tells us plainly that when Jesus heard of the man’s devotion to the law he “loved him”. Yet the man seems to realize that simply keeping the commandments, by itself, doesn’t lead us into a deep relationship with God. Pardon a foot note at this point, relationship is the key word here. It’s all fine and dandy to follow all the “rules” set down by ones religion but, in the end, it’s not enough. It doesn’t bring us “eternal life, life lived in relationship with God.
There is something more about having a relationship with God, something that goes beyond the boundaries of our usual human way of being. Beyond that, whatever that more is, it comes from God. The man in the story speaks of it as an inheritance. Did you hear it? He doesn’t ask: “What must I do to earn eternal life”. Instead he asks: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That relationship with God, whether you refer to it as eternal life or life in the Kingdom of God, is an inheritance, a gift from God. Let’s look at Jesus’ response: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Oh my. It’s a call to discipleship. “Come and follow me.” The path to eternal life begins in discipleship to Jesus Christ. It’s just that, well, it’s not necessarily easy. Jesus is offering the very thing the man, and most of us I’ll bet, desires, eternal life. Better yet, he is offering it in the “now” of our lives. It is not just a future gift. It is a right now gift. Here’s the thing. The call to discipleship is not just another commandment. It is an offer that brings us really and truly into God’s Kingdom, into eternal life, into abundant life, right now. But to give up those things we think give us value? Understand, the common thinking of Jesus time would say that wealth and power were signs of God’s blessing. Those who were poor, or powerless, or sick, or hungry, in the thinking of that ancient time, clearly had not earned God’s favor
or had done something to fall out of favor with God. Do we also think that way sometimes? We hear that the man leaves in sorrow. He can’t quite come to grips with the notion of giving up all evidence of God’s blessing as a way to inherit eternal life. It’s the perfect opportunity for Jesus to continue with teaching his disciples. “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” He uses that image of a camel
trying to go through the eye of a needle. The disciples, who are primed by their culture to think of wealth or possessions as testifying to divine favor get the point. And they are astounded. Now, I will say, wealth, possessions, even our own comfort are not bad things in and of themselves. It’s just that our relationship with God through Jesus Christ
is more important. We must not allow anything to come between us and God in Christ. And so the disciples ask Jesus; “Then who can be saved?” Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t actually answer the question ? Maybe it’s the wrong question. The real question, the important question is this: who can do the saving? The answer is simply this. God and God alone. Here it is again. There is nothing we must do, there is nothing we can do, to inherit salvation. At the same time we must not let anything at all come between us and God in Christ if we want to know the riches of a real relationship with God. When Jesus, out of love, invites that man to give up what he counts on as signs of God’s favor in order to follow Jesus. He also invites us. The point of this Gospel lesson is to call each of us to discipleship. Now, I can almost hear someone asking but what do I have to do? I want to point us back to our own Baptismal covenant. Pick up a prayer book please. Open it to page 304. Notice the back and forth, the conversation, between celebrant and people. “Do you believe in…?” not just “do you believe but do you believe in…do you put your trust in, do you invest yourself, your hopes and dreams in God? In Jesus Christ? In God’s Holy Spirit? What comes first in your life? that relationship with God or something else? Here’s where we come to those behavioral things, the “what can I do” things. First, will you continue a life of Christian worship? Next, will you keep resisting evil, repenting, and returning to God. Because, oh yes, there will always be temptations, opportunities to fall out of relationship with God. And there will always be opportunities to come back as well. Oh now, these questions are getting harder. Will you proclaim by word and deed the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? Will you strive for justice and peace respecting the dignity of every human being? Those sound a lot like sell everything you own and give to the poor. But remember, these are not rules in a how to manual for salvation. They are the things that help us grow in that relationship with God. This is discipleship. It’s how we go about walking in Jesus’ way, sharing God’s love with others, for their sake and our own. Today’s lesson ended with Peter acknowledging that he and the other disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. They each accepted that invitation to follow Jesus. What will you choose? That gift of, abundant, eternal, life is God’s to give to whomever God pleases. It is free gift to us, we can’t earn or buy it we just have to receive it. That’s not easy and it sometimes leads to a cross. But we do get to choose. We can walk away shocked and grieving like the man in today’s Gospel or we can get on with living as God’s people, sharing the gift of abundant, eternal life with others. And being open to receive it as well. I wonder: what will you choose this week? Amen.
Proper 22, Year B
4 October, 2015
Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
It seems to me that there is both bad news and Good News in Mark’s gospel this morning. First, the bad news. However uncomfortable this lesson makes us, and I suspect it makes many people very uncomfortable indeed, we have to take it seriously. Mark is, after all, the first of the Gospels to come into written form. The author wrote as an act of passionate devotion desiring to pass on the faith as he experienced it, world changing, life shaking, and transformative. But face it, this is not an easy lesson for us. Divorce is very common these days. It’s just a fact of life. Worse yet this is apparently the only thing Jesus had to say about human behavior regarding marriage, don’t divorce. Now for the good news, and yes, there is good news here. First, the lesson may not mean what we assume based on a face value reading. Further, the lesson has the power to transform how we do church. And, heavens knows, the church isn’t doing so well anywhere in the U.S these days. Few people who don’t already attend a church are looking for one. Most of what we talk about in church means little to anyone outside our walls. Almost no one comes to church anymore expecting to be transformed by God’s powerful good news. We have made ourselves irrelevant. We need transformation desperately. How can we get to the good news offered by this lesson? Begin with the understanding that this scripture, as all the scripture, was written to express the human experience of being in relationship with the Holy One. In other words it was written in a particular time, a particular context. We, who live in a different time and dramatically different context need to come to grips with what was going on for our faith ancestors. Can you imagine first century Palestine? Marriage was understood to offer a model for the relationship between Israel and her God. Still, there had grown up a body of interpretation around the scripture because a close reading of scripture reveals that it is by no means entirely clear about all the particulars of human behavior. So, while Moses did give a commandment that allowed for divorce, there was a wide range of interpretation regarding the commandment. Some teachers said that the only grounds for divorce were adultery on the wife’s part. Others said anything that displeased the husband were grounds for divorce. Stale bread on the table, a few wrinkles from working in the sun, a bit of a belly from bearing children, that woman could be history. Of course In that time women and men did not have equal status before the law. Women, considered as property, had no right to ask for divorce at all. Further, once divorced, many women could only turn to begging or prostitution to make ends meet. Understand then, this teaching on marriage and divorce is set in the midst of controversy. We hear that some Pharisee’s came to Jesus. They asked a question in order to test him. Notice how Jesus’ answer transforms the question, turning the focus from what we can get away with to what God’s intends for us. Jesus quotes from Genesis to reestablish God’s original intention for faithful human relationship, relationship that lets us grow in the knowledge and love of God. How interesting! He does it by setting two opposing scriptures together. First he quotes Genesis 1: 27: “God said: ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;…so God created humankind…male and female God created them.” This part of the creation story dates from relatively late in the development of the Israelite religion, a time when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon. Then Jesus goes on to quote Genesis 2: 24. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother…” and so forth. This is far older material, dating from the earliest part of the tradition. It is a very different explanation of human beginnings. We heard more of this part of Genesis in our first lesson. You remember, God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, Adam. Then God took a rib and formed woman. Oh how I wish we had the original language, Adam is generic human being, the sleep a state in which visions occur. By the time we hear that God took the rib from the man… we have a new word, not Adam but ish which refers to a male. God then creates woman, ishah, female. This is a new creation, human kind is differentiated into male and female. The scripture shows the relationship between male and female to be one of kinship and equality. There is here a strong sense of our interdependence. This was an absolutely revolutionary thought in the first century. Jesus was making a point here. God’s intent is that we will find helpers among other human beings as we grow in relationship with God. We cannot just throw one another aside willy-nilly. It sometimes seems to me that the pharisaic mindset that Jesus so often spoke against is still at work in our midst. It is a mindset that focuses on doing the law with such correctness that we can save ourselves. If we make it simple, get back to basics and do exactly what we think God has commanded we will be safe. The problem is that it doesn’t work that way. We can live with all attention to the law and we are still not safe. Disasters happen. We have accidents, things just don’t work out. But I see something even worse in thinking as the Pharisees of Marks’ Gospel did. It is idolatrous, turning us away from the Good News of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, keeping us from living as though the Good News were true. Here is the Good News. God loves each one of us, male and female, old and young, gay and straight, of all colors. In Jesus God shows us that even those who are least in our eyes, sinners and strangers, those we don’t know or understand, are of great value. Jesus tells us it is more important to do love than to be right. But there is more. We are not alone. Through the resurrection we know that our loving and merciful God is always with us. We see God now most fully in one another. It is as though God has given us a job to do with our lives, that of growing as faithful people of God. And God has shown us how to go about it, love God with all you have and are, love your neighbor, and love yourself. It’s just here that we find that incredible power for transformation. I have to think that the earliest Christians provide a powerful example. In those first centuries the gospel spread like wildfire, even though the name Christian was anything but complimentary. People lived as though their relationship with Jesus Christ had transformed their lives. It had, of course, and others were drawn in by the example of their love, their radical acceptance of one another, their kindness. Look around. Look at each other. Then look further, look to your neighbors both nearby and far away. Be faithful in your relationships as God is faithful to us. I wonder what our churches would look like if we lived with the kind of radical kindness, radical acceptance, Jesus models for us? What kind of transformation would we find if we lived as though the good news of God in Jesus Christ really were true? Amen
Proper 21, Year B ‘15
Mark 9: 38-50
27 September 2015
Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Did you notice? Today, apparently, just isn’t a good day for anybody in our scripture lessons. Let’s take a closer look. To start with Moses has clearly just had it. So have the Israelite people, and so, it seems, has God. Everyone’s mad for one reason or another. The Israelites are right sick of manna and homesick for all the good things they had in Egypt, leeks and onions, cucumbers and melons, and meat. Now, manna, of course, was a good gift of God and so we hear that “the LORD became very angry.” Then Moses got angry as well. Can’t you just see him? I imagine him shaking his fist at the sky as he said: Why have you treated me so badly? You burdened me with these people I certainly didn’t give birth to them. Where am I going to get meat for them? And God whose power is shown chiefly in showing mercy and pity responds. Moses’ prayer is answered. After he gathers70 leaders together God puts the Spirit on them. Now Moses has that badly needed help. But what about Eldad and Medad? They also felt the touch of God’s spirit. But when they began to speak God’s word Joshua, son of Nun, complained to Moses. “Stop them” he said. Can’t you just imagine what he was thinking? Wait a minute, Eldad and Medad didn’t go through the proper channels. This just isn’t right. But listen closely to Moses’ response. “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, filled with the Lord’s spirit.” Then there’s the Gospel lesson. Jesus lays out the problem, and the solution, in no uncertain terms. Did you hear it? Please note: the Gospel lesson bears a strong resemblance to the First Lesson. A member of the “inner circle” was put out because some folks who weren’t part of the in-group were also making use of God’s gifts. Moses and Jesus have the same problem here. Their followers have missed the point entirely. What the people of Moses’ time, what Jesus’ closest disciples just didn’t get has to do with what it means to be part of “the people of God”. The words we use to welcome the newly baptized say it as plainly as anything. “ We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” (BCP, p.308) Here’s the thing. As part of God’s family we are each called to be part of a priestly community. We are called to be faithful witnesses to the crucified and risen Christ. Our job, as Christ-folk, as little Christs, is to bring God’s “mercy and pity”, God’s loving compassion, into the world. Here in the Episcopal church we believe that every baptized person is a priestly person. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put the Spirit on them!” That, of course, is just what happens through baptism. We are each of us filled with God’s spirit and given the power to live God’s vision and message. In short we are given everything we need to live into God’s Kingdom right here and right now. That surely seems like good news to me. But remember, living into God’s Kingdom means accepting a radically different view of what it means to be successful. In fact Jesus tells us what real success in God’s terms looks like. Do you remember that in last week’s Gospel Jesus picked up a little child and said: “Whoever welcomes a child in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me” Remember, children, in that time, were the lowest of the low. As a result they really couldn’t set any conditions on others. Jesus is forcing us to rearrange our thinking. We need to operate as though we are still children, dependent on others, open to accept others at face value. In short we need to accept all God’s people as worthy in God’s Kingdom. We need to understand, as children often do, that the Kingdom of God is already in our midst. If we don’t we are in serious danger of falling into serious sin. But who really wants to talk about sin? Isn’t it easier to just look the other way and ignore it? Of course when we do that we are just kidding ourselves. The lessons today pointed out that sin is simply part of our human condition. Moses had his hands full with an ungrateful group afflicted with the sins of pride and elitism. I can list sins that plague me and I am sure each of you can as well. I have to keep turning to the Gospel to put it all in perspective because one thing I know for sure is that sin is just a part of who we are. The secret, I believe, is in understanding what the disciples were missing both last week and this. The Kingdom of God is here now. You see, unlike those disciples, we know the rest of the story, or at least we know more of it. We know that what Jesus has been saying actually did happen when sssthe Kingdom is always breaking in, it is right here among us now and always. What we need most of all is to keep remembering to live in the Kingdom, to live the life of God, with each other and with everyone we meet each day. Moses wanted the people of God in his day to become the community of faith that would be a blessing to all people. He wanted each individual to share the burden and the joy of bringing God into the world. Jesus wants the same. Moses and Jesus point us toward the dream of God, that God’s spirit would be poured out on every person. That God’s compassion and mercy, God’s goodness, will touch all of creation. That dream comes closer to reality each time any one of us lives into our responsibility as children of God. We are each given the gifts we need by the God who loves us deeply. We are all equipped to be God’s ministers, priests and prophets in God’s now and forever Kingdom. I wonder. What is the Gospel calling you to do this week? Amen
Proper 20 Year B ’15 (see also B ’12)
Mark 9: 30-37
20 September 2015
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer” (Ps 19:14) Amen
Pay attention to today’s collect. It speaks right into the depths of our being. I’m going to paraphrase it because the collects are easy to pass over. Lord, help me to not to be anxious about what’s going today, instead help me to hold onto those things that I have only heard about, yet on my best days know are the really important things, the ones that give life. It’s a powerful prayer and an old one. It dates back at least to the seventh century, a time when the Roman Empire was falling and barbarians were invading Europe. I image that was a scary time. Do you suppose the collect was a comfort to the people who prayed it back then when everything they knew was being destroyed? Of course that prayer wasn’t around when Mark was written. But it fits pretty well with the story we heard today. Jesus has just predicted his passion and death, for a second time. And, yet again, his closest friends just don’t get it. Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes for a minute. He’s trying to prepare his closest followers for what they would likely experience so they could respond in his name. Now, I am sure Jesus wanted many things for his friends but suffering wasn’t one of them. What he did want was for them to know that they could carry on his work when he was gone. He wanted to reassure them that what would look like a real disaster had the potential to be not what it seemed at all. And, of course, he wanted them to understand the message he had been trying to get across all along. God’s kingdom is not about power and control. God’s kingdom is not about who’s in and who’s out. It’s not about having the most, or even living as though we and our needs or wants are the center of the universe. God’s Kingdom is simply not at all what our human minds often envision. If anyone was in a position to pray “Lord, help me not to be anxious about earthly things, but help me to hold fast to what will endure” it was Jesus as he walked toward Jerusalem for that last time. If Jesus was fully human, as the church teaches, that was a really hard spot to be in. I don’t want to get off the subject here but it is easy for us to fall off into that ancient heresy of seeing Jesus as human but not quite, not really, not if it meant that Jesus had the same kinds of doubts and fears all the rest of us have. But that fact of Jesus’ humanity is precisely what allows his actions at Jerusalem to bring salvation to us decisively. A dying and rising god is not particularly uncommon in religious thinking. A dying a rising human is something else again and means something quite different. It is only in that experience of a dying and rising entirely human person that God is able to assure our salvation. So, Jesus was in an almost unimaginably difficult situation. He knew if he kept on healing and preaching and teaching as God called him to do the powers that be would have to move to get rid of him because what he had to say ran so counter to how our human kingdoms are organized. And I wonder if at that point, to the human Jesus, that didn’t look a whole lot like failure, especially given those rather dense disciples. Maybe that is why the collect this week felt so real to me. Like many people I have been faced with the loss of people I love, of strength and health, of a job I cared about. I have had to acknowledge what feels to me like failure. Have you ever been there? Faced with the loss of something you counted on, your health perhaps, or something that you defined as success, or a person that you loved deeply? How do we, in the face of those earthly experiences, manage not to be anxious? How do we hold onto things that, while we’ve heard their promise, are things we can’t see or touch or taste right now? There’s a clue in what we can call Jesus’ mini-sermon. It’s shorter than many sermons and acted out more than it is spoken. We could call it, if you’ll pardon the play on words, the first children’s sermon. We heard it today. Remember, the disciples had missed one of Jesus’ most basic points and they were arguing about who was the greatest among them. Those disciples represent human, earthly, thinking in a most obvious way. We want to think of the successful people on top
and those who are unsuccessful on the bottom. We want to win, to feel special because we did the best job or made the most money or because someone loved us best of all. Jesus tells us that God’s kingdom is organized very differently. We are all loved by God,
every last one of us. God wants to be in right relationship with every single one of us, no matter what. God wants that badly enough to have become one of us, limited, finite, and mortal. Actually, looking at scripture as a whole, if anyone could be said to have a greater share of God’s attention it is the least, the least successful, the least powerful, those who don’t fit, strangers, outcasts, and, yes, children. So, Jesus’ “sermon illustration”, he took a little child, put it among them, and took it in his arms. Now, about children in that long ago time. We tend to idolize children, they represent something special to us. That was not so in Jesus’ time. Children really were the very least powerful people around. They had no rights at all, no position, even an adult male slave had more power. Beyond that we all know how well, unruly, they can be, noisy and into things, grubby, demanding, questioning our assumptions and generally a lot of work to relate to. But did you hear it? Jesus equates himself with the child. Hum. He makes a powerful point. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. So, to welcome, and honor, a grubby, unruly, and totally powerless child is to welcome Jesus. Who, face it, we think of as the most powerful, the most successful of all. After all, we say that Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of God. It’s quite a paradox isn’t it? But there is something else here that really stands out in the face of that collect. The collect points out that none of us are as successful or powerful as we might wish. We are faced with Jesus inviting this child, taking her into his arms and accepting her as worthy of our greatest honor, the honor we give God. If we are honest with ourselves aren’t we all kind of like that child? We might have done well in life, or not, we might have everything we ever dreamed of, or not. In the end though there is nothing what so ever we can do, of our own power, to earn our salvation, to earn God’s love. And yet God does reach out in love. God comes to us, pullingss us into God’s gracious Kingdom. We are each held close in God’s arms, just as Jesus held that child. In God’s eyes, even in the face of our entirely limited mortal selves, we are welcomed and honored. Jesus knew that, of course, and it gave him the courage to go on into Jerusalem entrusting his work to the likes of you and me, confused as we sometimes are. Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things. Help us to hold fast to your love for that is the only thing that really endures. Amen
Reverend Carol Ann Bullard, is our interim Priest and there is a quick bio on the home page.