Pentecost 18-B /Mark 9:30-37/Sept. 23, 2018/Community Lutheran/Pr. Joe Vought
There is a story about a great big extended family that gathered every year for a reunion. They held it at a community park. The food and feasting was sumptuous. Grandparents would sit on lawn chairs to visit, younger families and kids would go off to play. One year someone had an idea: A tug of war between members of the family? To make it fun they got a hose and turned the volleyball court into a mud puddle, with the rope stretching over the puddle. The Johnson and Benson families on one side, while the Larsons and Swansons would take the other side. (It was a Scandinavian Lutheran reunion) As soon as the whistle blew the tugging began. Young men and women on each side strained and sweated, pulling mightily, one side making progress, then the other for several minutes. All of a sudden a child ran into the mud puddle, tears streaming down his face. He looked to his mother on one side and his father on the other side and cried out, “Whose side am I on?” Everyone stopped, dropped the rope in shame and silence.
Every now and then we need God or a wake-up call. How quickly we become competitive. The questions: “Who is the greatest?” “How do I compare to others?” are never far from our minds. They are questions we all ask ourselves. It was so from the beginning: Cain’s jealousy of Abel, Jacob’s rivalry with his brother Esau. Competition is never far away from us: in marriages, families, school, work life, even here in church. We may rationalize it by saying it is the American way: free market, healthy competition encouraging us to strive and excel. We can point to its benefits and yet, what happens to people who can’t compete with the same skill? What happens to those not as gifted, strong or smart? How do we regard those who are different, weaker, children or the elderly? When our daughter Kristin was four she got my attention: “Daddy, why can’t I take Jesus’ body and blood?” That’s when she began to commune.
Jesus and disciples are passing through Galilee and the disciples are talking among themselves. When they came to Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they were talking about. “But they were silent, for they had argued about who was the greatest.” What is more ironic, Jesus was trying to teach them that His way would be to go to Jerusalem, to suffer, die and be raised again. “But the disciples did not understand.” The Gospel says “they were afraid to ask.” Maybe deep down they had an inkling. “if Jesus, the Son of God must die, what will become of us?” So Jesus starts to preach, “whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all.” And when He sees their eyes glazing over he takes a child up in His lap, who in that culture, time and place was insignificant, not worthy of a great teacher or even to be in the company of adult males. Jesus embraces the child and says, “Whoever welcomes this little one, welcomes me.” When we are busy pursuing our own way, we can never see the needy or recognize how out of touch we are. We may need to wake up
When Rose and Eliezar Espinoza moved to Brea, California they wondered if it was a mistake. Rose said, “Boys with bats hung out on corners and they weren’t looking for a pick-up game. After a drive-by shooting, we started to worry about our safety.” The Espinozas initiated a neighborhood watch but after the first meeting a message was spray-painted on their truck, “Don’t finger us, keep your mouth shut!!” Rose knew she had to do something. She turned her garage into a free after-school tutoring program, complete with computers, books, and awards for kids who made the honor roll. “We offered homework help and free lemonade, and the kids loved it. Academic scores went up and crime went down. Today there are four other sites in CA.
As we pursue our goals, it is good to remember we are on the way with Jesus, to His Cross and resurrection as well as our own. In the light of God’s Kingdom, all our fear and rivalry will be shown for what it is- idolatry, vanity and chasing after wind.
Today Jesus picks up a child and shows us what the Kingdom of God is like. God embracing the weak, the vulnerable, caring for the stranger in our midst. To listen to and love each other like Jesus is to welcome God himself. To give up our grasping, to learn how to open our hearts and to heal is to become the children of God that we were meant to be. Amen.