Giulianna C Gray, Sermon September 23rd, 2018
Throughout the course of our lives, there some things happen that we can’t ever hope to fully understand.
Illnesses that seem to come from nowhere.
Senseless, heartbreaking tragedies.
We know only in part why life-changing tragic things come to pass…
At times, even as the details behind a tragedy are revealed, we may still feel we are in the dark… with questions unanswered… wondering if there was something we could have done- or said- that would have made things turn out differently.
These uncertain times, times when our minds are full of questions, are vulnerable times for us.
And vulnerable times for us are times when God’s strength becomes our strength.
The passage from Mark’s Gospel tells of a vulnerable time in the lives of the disciples. As you know, Jesus (at this point in the story) was really actively engaged in powerful, life-changing ministry. His disciples watched and listened to Jesus… and followed wherever he went.
When Jesus starting bringing up that uncomfortable subject of his own death (about how the Son of Man was going to be betrayed… and killed before rising to life again), however, his disciples started having some serious trouble. Scripture says the disciples simply did not understand what he was talking about. And they were afraid to ask him to explain.
Have you ever sat in a classroom… with no earthly idea what the professor was talking about?
Surely, we’ve all been there. Aware that you don’t understand… thinking it would be too embarrassing to ask for help as a sense of inadequacy and anxiety washes over you…
If we have felt this badly in classroom when the only thing at stake were grades, how much more uncomfortable the disciples must have felt when the matter they did not understand pertained to life and death… Jesus’ passion predictions confused them, but they were all too afraid to ask Jesus what he was talking about…. So instead of asking Jesus, their Messiah, the one in whom they had put their trust, to help them to understand, they did what seemed like the next best thing to them...
They broke off from Jesus on the road…. and distracted themselves with an argument. The disciples really were human, weren’t they?!
To begin, one must have posed the question, “All right… who is the best one here?”… Perhaps they were trying to figure out who was most worthy to serve as the Messiah King’s sort of right hand man/ chief of staff.
Surely, they were raising joyless questions of comparison:
- Who’s the smartest? Who’s the wisest?
- Who’s the most articulate speaker?
- Who is taller? Stronger? Better looking?
- The bravest?
- Who has the most money? The most possessions?
When they finally reached their destination, Jesus asked what the argument was about. Already knowing the answer, he was not amused.
Jesus got very clear… He sat all 12 of them down, and simply said,
“Whoever wants to be first must be last… and servant of all…”
Perhaps it was the puzzled looks on their faces that caused him to illustrate the point by inviting a little child to draw near to him.
In the ancient world, Children were without rights. Children had the very lowest status in the household. They were utterly vulnerable.
But Jesus took the little one in his arms. Tenderly, Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes (not me) the one who sent me…”
Jesus was showing them the way to the kingdom:
The way was simple.
The way to the kingdom was (and is) to walk in love as Christ loved us… and to extend gentleness-- and mercy --and kindness to all, and serve one another with a spirit of humility.
The way of Jesus was for everyone: young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.
The values of God’s kingdom are very different from the values of our world.
Greatness in the kingdom of God is not achieved through might… or money… or prestige… or power.
Greatness in the kingdom of God comes only through mercy, gentleness, humility, service.
In the face of all the tragedy and confusion that was going to come for the disciples, there were many days when they didn’t do what they should have done, or say what they should have said. Yet those 11 disciples who watched in confusion and horror during the days of Jesus’ passion were not lost. They were not lost because Jesus had showed them the way, and they kept on choosing to follow.
So it is for us.
While God does not willingly grieve or afflict his children, losses in life can shake us to the core.
But we keep choosing to follow.
The world can be a harsh place. So many painful things do happen… and will happen.
But we keep choosing to follow… even in those dark, painful moments of life.
Our call is not to trust in our own strength, but in the God who is strong… who is always strong, who is stronger, even than death!
The storms of life rage on, but faith is our anchor. The daily practice of faith roots us…. And so,
- We keep connecting to God in prayer
- We keep finding ways to help our help OTHER people,
- We keep coming to worship
- It is in these simple acts of service to God, to one another, that we find greatness and strength and life.
Thanks be to God, the God who promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age… is with us in times of ease and in time of hardship.
May we have the wisdom to put our trust not in ourselves--- but in our God. This day, and all the days of our life.