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One Such as This - Sermon for 17th Sunday after Pentecost

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When we are less concerned with being the best at things, and more concerned with being kind and loving, we are fulfilling our Christ-given mission. Be as a a child, and remember children are people too. 

 Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The text is included for your convenience, but it is not entirely like the delivered version, which includes nuances that can't be read.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

September 20, 2015  - Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost.  

"One Such as This".  Text is from Mark 9:30-37

Greetings to you, my sister and brothers, saints and sinners, children of God. 

Another day in the life of Mark's gospel, and another passing through Galilee.  Another time when Jesus does not want to be seen, and another prediction of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. Another encounter when the disciples just don't know what's going on, and another leading question by Jesus.  

"What are you talking about?"

Another instance of Jesus putting his followers at a loss for words, and another instance of Jesus still knowing the exact answer to the question he posed, because to drive the debate home and to clear up their questions about their discussion about who is greatest among them, he follows it up with an enigmatic statement: "Whoever is first of all shall be last of all and be servant of all."

When they finally wrap their heads around that statement, it's quite a compelling one that he has for his friends. I mean, here they are jostling for the position of which one of them is going to be the closest to Jesus, or, as we find in another gospel, which one of them are going to sit next to him in the coming kingdom, and really, Jesus has with this simple and elegant turn of phrasing essentially leveled the playing field. In order to be first one has to be last. In order to be on top of the stack, one has to be on the bottom, to serve, to be a caring and loving servant of others. 


But who are those others one has to serve? Jesus further drives the concept home by pulling a child from those around, possibly one of the disciples' children, we aren't told, and we don't know if this is a little girl or a little boy. But he tells them that whoever welcomes one such as these in his name welcomes him, and welcomes the one who sent him, God.

We don't know who the child is, and that is perhaps one of the things that should be understood about Mark's audience in this gospel, because children in the world of first century Jerusalem were people who had a lesser value than adults. In fact they had little value more than property. They were non-people. Perhaps future human beings, but in that culture, they were generally meaningless and unimportant. Which is why the message that Jesus is driving home at that time, that a small child is to be welcomed as one would welcome Jesus, is such a strong and important one.  

All in all that's quite a compelling statement that Jesus has for his friends, and one that certainly may have struck some of them quite hard. Put a child ahead of me? Surely, Lord, that is asking too much? Do you not deem me more worthy of respect than a little human being, barely able to function in life, one who cannot take care of themselves? One who must constantly depend on their parents for support? Surely, Lord, this is asking a great deal of us.  

I find getting older quite a mystery. Perhaps it's that I never fully imagined what my life would be like at 48. Indeed, there were moments in my 20s that I would have found it odd if you'd told me I would have to deal with the world at 48. But the older I get, the less I find that I know, and sometimes I am afraid that I cannot relate to many of those who come after me. 

But I look back at my childhood, in primary school in the 1970s, and dealing with other children. I think we all remember being in school with oddball kids, and that there were some that never seemed to fit in. There was one who always showed up in a crewcut and worth thick glasses, who had a father who made him go directly to school and come directly home and never let him associate with other children. There was the girl with white flaky skin and too many freckles who some kids said smelled funny and who always sat alone at the lunch table. There was the boy who was in theatre class and fashion class who seemed quite soft-spoken and had an up-inflection in his voice, who everyone knew just had to be gay. And then there was this one girl who developed too quickly, who became the butt of different types of jokes from adolescent boys than she did from her female peers. 

And while I think we many of us encounter some children like this growing up, we are often ourselves some of these children, I remember myself, always being afraid to be one who stood up and tried to make friends with one of these outcasts, because association with any of them would have created extra scrutiny on me, and I had already experienced being a target of bullying on a few occasions because of my own special childhood.  I remember that I felt guilty for not being a better friend to some of those kids, because I had my own tough road to walk, one which being a part of some clique of people and trying to seem even remotely like I had some admirers was more important and more crucial to my well-being than being simply kind and open-hearted. These were values that I brought into my young adulthood even as I physically grew out of being a little boy. 

I remember that I struggled to believe in myself, to see the value in myself, and choosing to be with a certain person, be influenced by certain trends, let others who seemed to be monetarily successful tell me how I should mold myself. Because while I was good at some things, I had a hard time not comparing myself to other people's success. I don't know if some of the affirmations I heard from my mother or my involvement in youth group had somehow had an impact and saved me from falling into the abyss of complete self-loathing, but I am both grateful I survived and am also saddened by those who have not. 

Because every living, breathing, adult was once a little child, was once one of those undervalued, underappreciated children who brings everything that happens to him or her into their adulthood. And so when Jesus is saying that a welcoming a child is welcoming him, he is saying that child is also you and me and deserving of full membership in the family of God. 

Every child is a beautiful creation of God, and each of us were once a child. Every person on death row in California was once a little one, beloved by Jesus. Every baby baptized in the alter is done so with the full faith and promise that their family and church community will gather round them and protect them from the power of Satan and evil that is always in our lives. And we are given the means to reach out from that promise and be community together. 

That in that promise of baptism we are also given a promise of community, of belonging, of being a part of a different sort of hierarchy, where each and every child has value and given the gift of God's grace and peace. That each and every child is promised a life of freedom, that no matter who they are and where they come from, that our Lord Jesus Christ will lift them up and hold them and let everyone know that this child of God is a child who is welcomed in his kingdom, that far from being a piece of property, a little future adult, a mini-me, that every individual child has value no matter their gifts, no matter their talents, how well they do in school, how well they play sports. And they deserve our respect and our consideration and our time and energy.

When we see Jesus holding up a child for consideration he holds up one of us as well, and when we deal with children, when we protect children we are also dealing with each other. That those of us with the strength or courage or resources to empower us to live better are morally compelled to lift up and welcome those without the means, and to see to the lives of those who need protection. 

And it's not quite so important to be the best that you can be at things in life, even while practicing sports or music or writing or crafts is worthwhile, particularly when we devote the best of our work and talents to God's glory, also remember, when you are trying to be best, you are always doing it at the betterment of someone else.  It is not so important to be on top of the charts as it is to be kind and loving to others. It is not worth anything to have the most things when others are suffering. God has given each of us a gift of faith, that in his grace we love each other, and help our fellow human live a better life. God has give us his Holy Spirit, that as she fills us and sanctifies us that we may be worthy vessels of unconditional love for others, serving each other as we glorify God. God has given us his son, our Lord Jesus, who in his death and resurrection has given us the means to all be his children, to live forever, with in his glorious kingdom, each of us close to him, basking in his bright, loving light. 

And that, my sisters and brothers, is good news.  Amen.   

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I also get the recording of the last webinar which held and I did not attend it. The writers services suggest me get the recording so I did not miss this topic and learn it.

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on September 20, 2015 1:47 PM.

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