17th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 20 Sept 20 2015
Leaving there, they went through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive.” The disciples didn’t know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it. They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road?” The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest. Jesus sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”
In the gospel of Mark, whenever the disciples and Jesus were passing through, they were on their way to Jerusalem. And you and I know what happens in Jerusalem, Jesus is hung on the cross. The disciples in this story were afraid, as they so often are, but not sure of what it was they were afraid. And, as fear often is expressed as argument and anger, we hear the disciples arguing. On the road, Jesus surmises that they are arguing about which one of them was the greatest, something that Jesus was not concerned with at all. Jesus' concerns had to do with teaching the disciples how to live out God's dream of reconciling love. The disciples were only concerned about themselves.
And so Jesus tells them that following him is not about them at all, and Jesus sets as the example of the kingdom, the welcome, the embrace of a child. Jesus shows us that following him is about that sort of welcoming embrace, following him is being the servant of all, following him is not being the greatest, but being vulnerable. This is truly a radically counter-cultural image.
History shows us various views of children in society. In contemporary American culture we have gained much around the protection of children in families and with child labor laws in the workplace. Children were taken out of factories and the public education system was established only recently, as late as the 19th century. Children have been variously valued as workers in the fields, as extra mouths to feed, and as dispensable commodities.
In the first century Mediterranean world, where space is divided into women's space and men's space, men's space was public space, women's space was private space in the home. A child was most definitely not seen and not heard in public space, and not in men's space in the home. For a child to be in the same space as these men is quite odd and unusual. For Jesus to embrace the child is a radical statement of the change that takes place because Jesus is in the world. What Jesus does in this seemingly tender embrace is to show that even a child, with no status, no possessions, no honor, is loved abundantly by God. What Jesus does is to confer new life on this child.
Jesus also sets as the example of the kingdom a description of what it looks like to be a follower. Followers of Jesus are to be like servants, followers are not to be the greatest, but are to be vulnerable, like the child.
You'd think after reading these stories about Jesus and the disciples we'd have it all figured out by now. But is seems like we have to keep being reminded what discipleship looks like, it seems like we keep forgetting that following Jesus is not about being the best, or the greatest, or the most honored. But following Jesus is about being vulnerable, following Jesus is about being a servant. The disciples kept forgetting, the disciples needed reminding, so do we.
It's tough, in this world where we just keep seeing and hearing about people who grab power, who grab attention, who grab money, for us to follow the path of giving, of serving, of laying down our selves. But that's what following Jesus looks like. And that is where Love really does win. what we really want to do is to hide our true selves. The self that is not perfect, the self that gets hurt and hurts the ones we love most. We try to stuff our brokenness and our warts and our shallowness, and our inability to forgive and our desire for life to be all about me, into our briefcases and our backpacks, or maybe under our beds or into the dark recesses of our basements, so that we don't have to look at all of that darkness, and so that no one else need see our imperfectness. We work so very hard to keep all of that away from the light of the world, away from those who love us most, because, like the disciples, we are afraid. But Jesus says, "take the last place, be the servant." Jesus says, let go of your control, put down your burden, be vulnerable, let my love seep into the hard places of your heart, let my love soak through that hard exterior, let love win.
When we do, amazing things happen. Discipleship is not just about doing the right thing, it is that but it is so much fuller, so much more complete. Following Jesus is about being loved and offering love. Following Jesus is about being treated to grace, and mercy, and compassion, and treating others with grace, and mercy, and compassion. Following Jesus is about being broken, and being healed. Following Jesus is about laying our selves down, and when we do that, we can truly be ourselves and be filled with God's spirit. We then can truly be disciples.
And following Jesus is not just about you, but about all of us. Which brings us back to the children. Here at Trinity, we are one part of the body of Christ, and one of the ways we live that out is in offering hospitality to all who come, no matter what, no matter who, because we believe that Love wins. We believe that God's love, grace, and mercy are available to all, no matter what. We believe that God calls us, as individuals and as a community, to participate in the building of God's kingdom. God's kingdom that looks like embracing children, and everyone. God's kingdom that is revealed in the wisdom and the innocence of the youngest of these. God's kingdom that is made real in the bread and the wine, in the body and the blood. God's kingdom that looks like the community of children sitting in a circle, embraced in the word of God. God's kingdom that looks like hands held up, to be filled with Jesus. God's kingdom that looks like the least who are first. God's kingdom in which Love wins.