the one about welcoming...
September 24, 2018, 8:48 AM

Sermon from September 23, 2018

Text: Mark 9:30-37

Grace and peace to you from God our creator and our Lord and savior Jesus who is the Christ; will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, the gospel text we hear and read this morning is one of those familiar ones to us. It seems that it is intentional on the part of the authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that the argument among the disciples about who is the ‘greatest’ is paired with Jesus telling them to welcome the child. Where we might be able to think that living this life of faith is both really difficult (putting others before yourself) and quite easy (who can’t welcome a cute kid?).

I think, for the most part, that is how many people look at this text, especially the part concerning kids. We think that’s the easy part. Just bring’em to Jesus! Lead’em to the cross! It’ll be easy! I’ll get to that more in a little bit, but first we’re going to talk about these disciples and their argument.

We know the disciples are arguing. It says it right there plain as day in the text we’ve read. But, have you ever wondered why they were arguing? We’ve been hearing for the last few weeks Jesus telling his friends that he’s going to suffer and die. That there is a shelf-life on his leadership among their little band of faithful followers. Naturally, the question would arise among his closest friends and followers about who will move into that ‘leader role’ once the teacher is gone (remember, they never seem to hear the part that Jesus is going to ‘rise again’ after three days).

So, Jesus again tells his disciples that he has had more years behind him than time in front of him. They begin to bicker and argue among themselves about who the greatest among them is. Where the ‘greatest’ one will be the one to take the reins and lead this faithful offshoot of Judaism into the future.

Of course, Jesus inserts himself into this conversation and they are all a little embarrassed by it. Who wouldn’t be embarrassed by the conversation that is essentially, “Were arguing over what things are going to be like after you’re dead.”

Yet, Jesus throws them a curve ball about what ‘leadership’ within the kingdom of heaven is like. The world has constantly (and still does) shout about leaders being the ‘best’ at what they do. The ones that look out for themselves. The ones that strive to be at the top of whatever it is that they do. And, in the world that works out. You want your financial manager to be really good, you want your surgeon to be one of the tops of her class, you don’t want the guy who – like the old commercial used to quip – ‘Stayed in a Holiday Inn last night.’

The world, for the most part, lives into the adage made famous by Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”

Yet, that is not how the kingdom of God works. The kingdom of God that our Lord Jesus calls us into and the Holy Spirit guides, pushes, and pulls us through is one where others are lifted up over ourselves. Where we welcome and care for those over there (whoever they might be) before we care for ourselves.

Most of us would agree, that this is a difficult thing to live into. We don’t like to be ‘last’ in anything. It isn’t how we are wired as people. We want to do well, to be noticed. There are those times where even when we DO live into presumably faithful endeavors, we do it for the wrong reasons. Which is what our text from James is referring to. Where we do care for others, only because it makes us look good, where we get noticed by others, we can add another check onto our transcripts, resumes, and more so that we stand out even more over our peers.

We can acknowledge that living into what Jesus invites us and calls us into can be and is very difficult. We still struggle with how to fully live into that call.

Then, Jesus doubles down and says that being last of all and servant of all is like welcoming a child in Jesus’ name.

Now, the first time we hear that, when we look at it on the surface, it seems really easy. So simple. Who can’t, who doesn’t welcome children in God’s name? Who would push a kid to the side who wanted to know and learn about the Lord?

But, like almost everything with Jesus, even the ‘easy’ things aren’t as easy as they appear to be.

You have to remember – especially at this time – children weren’t considered full people. They were afterthoughts. You didn’t become a ‘real’ person until you were ‘of age.’ For boys that was when you could start contributing to work, and for girls that was when you could get married and have children of your own. Before that, you were probably in the way.

Why? Because you needed to be cared for. Needed to be fed. Needed to be looked after. Needed to be taught. Needed to take up attention from others.

Caring for children means not focusing (as much) on yourself.

Being last and servant of all in the kingdom of God looks like welcoming the one who requires more attention than you’d expect.

Children always require and need more than we expect. As anyone with children or has cared for children or has seen children can attest to.

But, there is something else about what Jesus says that we might look past if we only take a surface glance at this text. The English translation of this text loses the subtext that the original readers and hearers would definitely catch on to.

Jesus talks about serving others; Jesus preaches about being a servant – those with no status or high value – to others. In fact, the servants who brought food were the ‘lowest’ of all servants at this time. They were so ‘unimportant’ that all they did was bring and serve food. Jesus tells his disciples to be like THOSE for others.

The word used for little child – paidion (παιδίον) – is similar enough that it can be used like the word for servant – pais (παῖς). The subtlety would not be lost on the disciples or on those first readers and hearers. Jesus is telling them – telling us – serving others – like children and servants – is doing so for those who cannot give us anything back in return. Serving them gains one nothing for extending that radical hospitality to them. And still, Jesus says, ‘honor them.’

When you welcome them in my name, you welcome the one who sent me. Welcoming them – the ones who cannot give you anything in return nor can you ‘take from’ because they have and are ‘nothing’ in society – is welcoming God in your midst.

Talk about an upheaval of social norms! Jesus is flipping the status quo on its head and calling the disciples to change how they’ve always been taught to be a part of the kingdom of God. This kingdom is not like the world you know. It is something more, it is something deeper, it is something that values all people.

And when you welcome them – welcome them fully.

Recently I had a colleague share a post on social media of an individual who received a card in church that stated.

“Thank you for being committed to being in church with your child. In order to allow those seated near you to engage in the message, please enjoy the remainder of the service in our lobby. A connection Team Member Will Assist You.”

On first glance, it seems like a really nice and welcoming message. They thank you. They like that you’re kid is there with you! That’s great! But, then you start reading the whole message and you start getting the gist of it.

Sure, you’re welcome, but only ‘over there.’ There are other people here who are ‘more important’ than your kid being here. We welcome you, but we don’t really ‘want’ you here.

That is some major shade folks, and not at all what the kingdom of God that Jesus calls for looks like.

Welcoming others and bringing them to God incorporates welcoming all of who they are. When you welcome a child, even one who is considered ‘less than’ in the world, it incorporates welcoming all of who they are in God’s name. For children that means noise, and mess, and sometimes smell. But, it also means seeing and hearing God present in questions, in joy, in unbridled energy.

Welcoming all in God’s name means welcoming all of who they are. Adjustments are made, room is provided, schedules are re-worked, priorities are changed. All of it, for the person before us. Not so that we ‘get something’ out of it or so that we’ll be noticed, but so the other person is cared for and welcomed; fully and completely and with no reservations.

That is the kingdom of God. That is what Jesus calls us into. That is what the Holy Spirit leads and guides us though. We are called to serve others and welcome others; and when we do? To do that service and welcoming completely and fully – no matter what the world and the powerful think and believe. Amen.

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