Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 20)

September 20, 2015
Text: Mark 9:30-37

            Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God?  Actually, here the Sunday School answer works pretty well.  Jesus, of course!  And notice that the greatest, Jesus, makes Himself last of all and servant of all, giving His life as a ransom for all.  Which makes it all the more silly that the disciples are arguing about which of them is the greatest.  The very fact that they’re arguing about it disqualifies them.  There are undoubtedly a few favorite candidates among the Twelve.  There is Peter, of course, but then again, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” are also in Jesus’ inner circle.  And you can never count Andrew out.  Andrew, after all, is the one who first witnessed to his brother Peter: “‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42; ESV).  The rest of the disciples probably picked sides with one candidate or another.  Perhaps Peter blushed as his devotees argued for his supremacy.  Perhaps those who would be the greatest feigned humility during the discussion, making them all the more attractive to potential supporters.  Though maybe not.  Certainly James and John did not blush to have their Mommy ask Jesus to exalt them to His right hand and His left as He comes into His Kingdom (Matt. 20:21).  Little did they understand what that meant, or how it is Jesus would come into His Kingdom.
            Jesus comes into His Kingdom on the cross.  Just read the sign above His head: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).  He is surrounded on His right and on His left by thieves, one of whom hurls insults and derides Him, the other of whom prays for mercy: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).  None of this should surprise the disciples.  Jesus had been teaching them about this all the way through Galilee: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him.  And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31).  It is the heart and soul of the Gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This is precisely what the apostles are called to preach.  But they don’t understand any of it.  They are afraid to ask.  Because they don’t know if they want the answer.  What does this all mean?  You can’t win a Kingdom by submitting to your enemies!  You can’t win a Kingdom by dying!  That’s just not the way it works in the world.
            Jesus turns everything on its head.  Jesus’ Kingdom, remember, is not of this world (John 18:36).  So He reminds Pilate.  This is how it works in Jesus’ Kingdom: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).  The greatest of these in Jesus’ Kingdom is the least of these in ours.  Our Lord illustrates the point.  He takes a child, a paidivon, a little wobbly toddler just learning to pull himself up on things… Jesus loves the little children… He stands him up in the midst of this rugged group of fishermen and tax collectors and zealots and whatever else they were, and He says this is an example of a great one, a foremost citizen in Jesus’ Kingdom.  He takes Him in His arms and says this is what you should be like.  A toddler.  A babe.  Simply trusting in Jesus.  For everything.  For the salvation of your soul and for every bodily need.  Believing His every Word, even if you don’t understand it and can’t give voice to it.  Adults have trouble believing.  We get in the way of our faith.  A little child serves as an example to us: Loved and safe in the arms of Jesus.
            Be like a child before God.  Not childish, but childlike.  God is your Father.  Jesus is your Savior.  Who cares whether your first or last?  It is enough just to be with Jesus.  And then have mercy on your brothers and sisters.  Put them first.  Put yourself last.  Consider others better than yourself.  Be a servant to all.  That is your joy in Christ who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Jesus also talks about receiving one such child in His Name.  More on that in a few minutes.  For now, though, think about how shocking it was for those manly men, those tough guys all worried about who is the manliest of them all, to see Jesus pick out a child and say this one is great in the Kingdom.  And now think about all of us gathered here today, and all the children of our congregation, and how Jesus would find the most insignificant babe in arms and take him into His embrace.  It’s a beautiful thought.  Very comforting, even if a bit shocking.  Babies first.  Oh, eventually He would make His way to our esteemed president and our head elder and the other officers of our congregation.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, He would even embrace this poor excuse of a pastor.  He would have mercy on us all.  He would delight in us all.  But that baby, He would take in His arms immediately.  And, in fact, that is precisely what He does… at the Font!  For all of us babies in the faith.
            Who is the greatest?  Who is the best?  Is that argument not at the heart of every conceivable problem in the Church and in the world?  Sin entered the world because Adam and Eve wanted to be the greatest, as great as or even greater than God.  They forgot that the greatest in the LORD who gave them life.  And you want to be greater than your neighbor.  You’re always comparing yourself to others, tearing them down, building yourself up.  We virtually never gossip about the good attributes of another person.  We delight to wallow in their negative characteristics and spread the stories that knock them down a peg.  Because if I can tear you down, that makes me that much better in comparison.  At least in my own eyes.  And when it comes down to opinions about anything under the sun, I’ll tell you what, my opinion is the best I’ve ever heard.  Of course, I wouldn’t say it that way.  I’d offer up my humble two-cents and then secretly despise you if you didn’t take my advice.  If you did take it, that’s just confirmation of my theory.  You see how this works?  Who is the greatest?  Who is the wisest?  Who is the strongest?  Who is the fairest of them all?  Every argument from the color of the carpet to how best to prevent a nuclear Iran comes down to who is the greatest.  Repent.
            Jesus is the greatest!  And knowing that is freeing.  It frees you from the jockeying for first position, the competition to be number one.  It frees you to be a child in the Kingdom of God, to simply receive what the Lord has to give: His forgiveness, His life, His provision for every need of body and soul.  It frees you up to rely totally on Him, secure in His embrace.  And it frees you up to love and serve your neighbor, to have mercy on him, to put him first, give to him generously, defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.  Which is to say, it frees you up to serve as a Christian in your particular vocation. 
            This is true of all vocations, but this text has particular application to the vocation of parents.  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37).  What does it mean to receive one such child in Jesus’ Name?  In the wider sense, I suppose, it can mean receiving any person in the Name of Jesus, and caring for them as you would for a child.  But I think here receiving a child in Jesus’ Name has a more technical sense.  Where do you receive a child, literally, in Jesus’ Name?  At the Font.  In Holy Baptism.  Parents, bring your child to Baptism, where Jesus puts His Name on them (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and takes them up in His arms.  And then keep bringing them to Jesus here at Church so they can live in their Baptism.  I’m convinced this is exactly what Jesus means when He says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).  He’s talking about Baptism.  And life in Baptism.  And so here.  And this also means that it is a blessing when parents receive children into their marriage, into their family, as a gift from God.  Our culture is against having children, or certainly what our culture would consider too many of them.  That’s not what Jesus says.  Jesus is a Psalm 127 kind of Guy: “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them” (vv. 3-5).  So go have kids.  (Get married first, of course.)  “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28).  It is the blessing of God.  And think how highly this speaks of adoption, or foster parenting, this receiving of children in Jesus’ Name.  And think how much more horrendous, how greatly offensive to our Savior, is the murder of babies in abortion.  Lord, have mercy.  Here in this text is a call to every one of us, parent or not, to speak up for the little children in Jesus’ Name, to defend them, to defend life, and hold it sacred.  And notice what happens when you do any of these things.  You become last.  You become least.  You become servant.  And you sacrifice yourself for the sake of the other in the way of Jesus Christ.  Which is really great.

            You can do this for children of all ages, in Jesus’ Name, because you have been received as a child of God in Jesus’ Name.  God’s own child, I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ!  The Kingdom is yours!  Your sins are forgiven.  God is your Father.  Jesus is your Brother.  The Spirit of God dwells in you.  All things are yours in Christ Jesus, who was handed over for you, killed for you, and the third day rose again for you.  And He’ll raise you, too.  So you have nothing to lose.  Love and serve.  And know that Christ is your all in all.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.          

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