17th Sunday after Pentecost; Year B; September 19, 2015
Jeremiah 11.18-20; Psalm 54; James 3.13-4.2, 7-8a; Mark 9.30-37
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who welcomes you into his arms, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I once heard someone tell me that they were in charge of seating people at a banquet for an organization she belonged to. She made place settings with people’s names on them so everyone would know where to sit. She intentionally sat people who had been with the organization for a number of years next to people who were just joining, ones who would seem a little less important I suppose. She wanted people to get to know each other.
As people were getting seated she watched a particular gentleman [who had a fair amount of status] find his nametag and look to see who was sitting on either side of him. He saw that he was sitting next to new seemingly “unimportant” people. She watched as he picked up his nametag and took it to another table and placed it next to where a more “important” prestigious person was sitting.
This man determined that the new people were not worth his time. He considered himself to be greater and wanted a higher status then the one he was given.
I also heard Shane Claiborne, an author and a speaker, tell about when he was the keynote speaker at a really important event in an expensive hotel. He came to the door and a woman didn’t even let him in because she didn’t think he looked important enough to be the keynote speaker.
Shane has dread locks and was wearing a red bandana, a t-shirt, and jeans. When the keynote speaker wasn’t there [because he was not even let in the door] and everyone was wondering why, they went outside to look for him. They found him chatting it up with a few people who were living on the streets. Needless to say they were quite embarrassed when they realized they didn’t let it in their keynote speaker and didn’t judge him worthy of even entering the expensive hotel. Ironically he was hired to talk about “welcoming the stranger.”
We learn in our Gospel reading that the disciples were arguing with one another about who was the greatest. Perhaps they said things like: “Jesus likes me best. Just wait, when Jesus comes into power he is going to ask me to sit at his right hand. Did you see me heal that fella back there…pretty good, eh? Instead of giving 10% of my income away this month, I gave 20.”
So when the servant of all, Jesus Christ, asks his disciples: “What were you arguing about on the way?” the disciples can only answer him with their silence, for they were arguing about who was the greatest.
Jesus just finished telling them for the second time that he will be betrayed, killed, and rise again and all they can think about is their important spot at the table, or who is worthy to get near Jesus, or their own status as the greatest among those who follow Jesus.
So, Jesus knowing what they had been arguing about gently calls his disciples to himself and teaches them what it means to be great: “Whoever wants to be first much be last of all and servant of all.”
He then takes a little child and places her among them, scoops her up in his arms he says 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.”
Basically what Jesus is saying is that whoever welcomes those who have no status, those who have no wealth, those who have no prestige or a way to advance in society, one such as a child, welcomes him, and in turn welcomes God, the creator of all things, into their midst.
Jesus inviting a child into the conversation was not a cute, cuddly thing he was doing. Jesus was teaching his disciples and us about the radicalness of what God expects of those who follow Christ.
To more fully appreciate the kind of message Jesus was trying to communicate we need to understand how people thought of children at the time the Gospels were written.
Children were certainly loved, but they absolutely no status or worth when it came to society. Fewer than ½ of the children lived to the age of 5 back then, so they were considered to be a kind of “non-person,” until they could contribute to society.
Sharon Ringe writes: “A child did not contribute much if anything to the economic value of a household or community, and a child could not do anything to enhance one’s position in the struggles for prestige or influence…Servants and children were of equally low status (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 4, Sharon Ringe, p. 97).”
A child was not yet seen as a person, but a possession of the father in the household.
Jesus’ radical message to his disciples reframed the worth of a child in the household of God. This was a great challenge to how society was and is structured. It gives value and worth to those who society says has no value or worth.
The Syrian refugee, the homeless person, the addict, the one with loads of credit card debt, the person who can’t afford new shoes, the prison inmate, etc. etc.
Jesus sought out the people on the margins who were not seen to have had worth: the lepers, the prostitutes, the terminally ill, the demon-possessed, sinners, children! He sought these ones out in order to communicate to them their worth, and to teach his disciples who comes first in the Kingdom of God. And what are they worth?
What are you worth?
God thinks you are worth the death of his only Son. You might not believe it but you are…and so is the person sitting next to you…and so are the people we run into every day that we don’t think have any greatness to them.
In the kingdom Jesus is building, it’s not wealth, power or prestige that makes someone great and important, it is recognizing one’s own worth and the worth of others. Because when we do this we come to understand ourselves as servants to one another, not grasping for position or envying what another has.
We also come to understand ourselves as children, children of God. It’s so good to feel like you belong to someone, doesn’t it?!…that you are a beloved child.
The women’s Bible study met on Wednesday night with some of the girls from Maple Cottage to study the book, “Tattoos on the Heart,” by Gather Greg Boyle. It is a book about a church opening its doors to gang members in their community in Los Angeles, CA. It is a powerful book full of stories of transformation and new life.
Right away in the introduction, Father Greg said that people of the church held a Thanksgiving dinner for “homies” who had no place to go. It’s as if “They wanted to signal to the gang members, ‘You are our sons/daughters—whether we brought you into this world or not (p. 3).”
This is the way Jesus would have us be in the world; and this is the way Jesus would want us to feel…that we are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.
“Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15.7).” Amen.