The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Let’s join in a word of prayer:
O God our Loving Father, we live in your presence, we share in our fellowship, and we look to your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to discover wisdom. By your Holy Spirit, guide our time together that we may engage with your message for us, and discover some small measure of your plan for our lives, and our worshipping community. Gracious heavenly Father, hear our prayer for the sake of our risen Lord, Christ Jesus, Amen.
Jesus speaks to us with words that appear to the world around us as a contradiction. “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” But, as people of faith, we recognize this as the work of the Holy Spirit in us to care for one another with humility toward God and each other.
Some years ago St. Paul School of Theology in the United States was seeking a new president. Over one hundred candidates applied for the position. The search committee narrowed the list to five eminently qualified persons. Then somebody came up with a brilliant idea: “let’s send a person to the institutions where each of the five finalists is currently employed, and let’s interview the janitor at each place, asking him what he thinks of the man seeking to be our president.”
This was done and a janitor gave such a glowing appraisal of one of the candidates that he was selected President of St. Paul’s School of Theology.
Somebody on that search committee understood that those who live close to Christ become so secure in his love that they no longer relate to other people according to rank or power or money or prestige. They treat janitors and governors with equal dignity. They regard everyone as a VIP.
Children seem to do this intuitively; as adult Christians, we need to re-learn it, most often over and over again.
And Paul prays for us today in the reading, ‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.’
Paul reminds us in Galatians that we can be wise and humble by letting God’s Holy Spirit cultivate his fruit in us. Paul writes, ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. … Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’
At one point, Jesus even confronted the conceit, and jealousy simmering among the apostles. After they settled in Capernaum for a time, Jesus ‘asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.’ It is clear that the apostles are ashamed of their discussion.
Now, before we think poorly of the disciples for their banter, we need to expand our view of chapter 9 of Mark. Jesus went up to the mount of transfiguration with Peter, James and John. Why Jesus chose these three to reveal his greatness in that special way, we are not told. It could have been that they were ready to receive that kind of revelation, or it could have been that they needed to receive it. In any case, it appears that this set these three apart from the other apostles.
And while they were up on the mountain, the other apostles and disciples are in the valley trying to drive out a violent evil spirit driving a young man into convulsions. But the disciples could not help the young man. So, we see an atmosphere of competition and insecurity among the disciples.
And so, Jesus spoke gently to the Twelve that “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and be the servant of all.”
I smile when I read what Jesus did to demonstrate his message for the Apostles and to us. ‘He took a little child and had him stand among them. ‘Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”’
Coming out of isolation, we still can’t even shake hands. It is OK to want contact with other people. To shake hands, feel an arm around our shoulder, and even receive a gentle hug. Jesus took a small child in his arms. I must admit that a strong memory rose up for me when I read this passage over the past week. One that hadn’t even entered my mind for such a long time, and I have never shared.
I can remember that after I first heard this passage as a child in Sunday School, I would sometimes cuddle in my blanket at night and fall asleep thinking about being held in the arms of Jesus. That was such a comfort on a cold night. I didn’t even think about what was going on with the apostles.
Even during the recent isolation to combat the pandemic, I have been privileged to witness all the comforting attitudes and actions that display God’s presence in our lives. United by our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who makes life, and fellowship, and family possible. Displays of comfort during difficult times that make us feel as secure as that child being held in the arms of Jesus.
It’s kind of like the story of a tribe of aborigines who were living next to a very swift and dangerous river. The current was so strong that if somebody happened to fall in or stumbled into it, they could be swept away downstream.
One day the tribe was attacked by a hostile group of settlers. They found themselves with their backs against the river. They were outnumbered and their only chance for escape was to cross the rushing river.
They huddled together and those who were strong picked up the weak and put them on their shoulders. With the weak on their backs, those who were strong waded out into the river. To their surprise they discovered that the weight on their shoulders from carrying the least of their brothers and sisters, helped them to keep their footing and to make it safely across the river.
Paul shares with us, that ‘Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.’ Whether we are dancing together in the good times or carrying each other through the hard times.
One thing that comes out clearly during this difficult time, is that even in all our faults and frailties, we are still united in the love of Jesus. And Jesus never abandons us, even when we feel all alone in our homes. Or that we are coming up short in our care for one another.
May the grace and peace of our Triune God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.
Rev. David Thompson.