Summary: A sermon for the 16th Sunday After Pentecost, Series B, Proper 20

16th Sunday after Pentecost (Pr. 20) September 24, 2006 “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for coming among us in the person of your Son, Jesus the Christ, who gave his life to restore us to a right relationship with you, our Creator. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, strengthen us in faith, that we might turn from our selfish ambitions and serve you by serving others, especially those in need. Let our lives be a mirror to others of your redeeming grace. This we ask, in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

As Christians, our Gospel lesson for this morning begs us to look at our lives, and examine our faith as disciples of Jesus. Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples are traveling through the remote regions of Galilee, and that Jesus didn’t want the crowds to know where they were. At this point in his ministry, Jesus wanted to spend some private time with his closest disciples, to explain to them that he would soon be betrayed, killed, and, after three days, rise again.

It is as if Jesus says, “You are my closest friends, my best students. I need you to understand what I’m about to do to bring the grace of God to fruition. I need you to understand that the role of the Messiah is not to lead a revolt against Rome to establish an earthly kingdom, but to manifest to the world God’s redeeming and forgiving grace. I need you to understand that by giving my life in humble service, my Father will embrace you as members of his heavenly kingdom.” Mark then tells us that the disciples couldn’t understand what Jesus was trying to express to them, and they were afraid to ask him to explain what he meant.

But then comes the shocker! Even though those early disciples did not yet understand the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, which we modern disciples can, knowing the end of the story, Mark still holds up a mirror for us examine our faith. And the reflection that we see of our humanity in Mark’s mirror is not a pretty one.

As Thomas Long points out in his commentary on our text, “Jesus has just announced his passion, that before there is to be any victory, before there can be resurrection, there must be death: ‘the Son of Man is to be betrayed…killed.’ Jesus has just proclaimed that his own life involves suffering and the supreme act of sacrifice, and the astounding response of the disciples is to spend the rest of day sauntering down the road to Capernaum discussing which one of them will turn out to be the ‘most valuable player.’”

Just think about it. “Jesus embodies sacrifice; they jockey for position. Jesus announces his own suffering; they argue over reserved parking spaces and who gets to ride first class. Jesus has called them to ‘deny themselves and take up their crosses,’ [with him] but they have instead affirmed themselves and taken up not a cross, but the old sandbox debate, ‘I’m better than you are.’

The disciples are so grotesquely out of line, so in violation of all that Jesus is calling them to do, that they need a shocking object lesson.” End quote. [Pulpit Resource, Year B, Vol. 28, 2000, Logos Productions Inc.]

So what does Jesus do? He says to them, “‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.’”

But what does this child represent? What is the object lesson that Jesus is placing before us to help us get the point of what he is trying to teach us? As Long and other Biblical scholars point out, the object lesson that Jesus puts before his disciples in Mark’s Gospel differs greatly from the idea that we should become humble like a child, which is the message that Matthew’s Gospel puts before us.

Of course, being humble is not a bad trait to emulate. It certainly would have been a lesson that those disciples who responded to hearing the news of their Lord’s impending death by arguing among themselves who was the greatest among them, could have learned.

And when I think of my grandchildren, especially the three youngest, I have learned a tremendous lesson about the need to think less of myself. When I was in seminary, Aarne Sirrala , my mentor and professor in systematic theology pointed out to me that as we progress through our lives and establish our careers, we often don’t take as much time to spend with our children, as we should. But our grandchildren begin to teach us how much we have missed in life. It is a sad and humbling awakening, for many of us.

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