Mark 9: 30-37
Road trips with children sound like fun but in all actuality they really are not. Kids are strapped into the seat leaving their flailing arms and legs free. Every five minutes they’re hungry and your attempts to give in to their demands and feed them usually results in spilled juice boxes and crumbled Animal Crackers wedged deep in the upholstered seats.
And then the questioning starts. ‘Are we there yet?” ‘When are we going to be there?” “I’ve gotta
pee use the next facility, can we stop?” “He’s hitting me.” “No I’m not”. “Mom likes me best”. You might think road trips will be
quality time but the smaller they are the more difficult it is to invoke
meaningful discussion. So you just
keep on truckin’, you push your foot down a little harder on the gas and think
to yourself, why aren’t we there yet?
Well here they are, those disciples on the road with Jesus again. They traveled a lot, and far or at least back and forth across the Sea of Galilee. And as always, he used that travel time to teach them and to tell them that soon he was going to be betrayed, die, and rise again, you know, the whole story. But they suffer from short term memory loss and don’t get it…again. Yet they keep on walking and talking. Talking about everything else except the message Jesus was trying to convey.
Somehow on this stretch of the road Jesus must have gotten far enough ahead of them so that they had time alone. Enough time to get into a heated debate that caught Jesus’ attention. Finally, when they all got to Capernaum he asked them, ‘So, uhh, like what were you guys talking about on the road?”
There was dead silence. They freeze. A cat had gotten all twelve tongues at once. You see they weren’t talking about holy things, disciple-like things like feeding more people, or about where to find some more people for Jesus to heal, or even about how they could help their friend and master as he forecasts his awful future, no! They weren’t even close to being on the same page. They were talking about themselves and they were too ashamed to tell Jesus.
Guilt. Shame. Avoidance. Embarrassment. That’s what their silence loudly broadcast. Caught in the act they were, talking about who Jesus favored more, who was the greatest. Sound familiar? They were having a back seat ‘mom likes me best’ kind of argument. I’d feel guilty too if I was ‘busted’ like that. By Jesus especially! I mean come on!
But that’s not all, the story goes on. Jesus sits down. When rabbi’s sat down in the day you were in for a talking to or a teaching. He sits down and picks up a child and uses that child as a visual aid. “This”, he says, “this is how you should be like”. “You may want to be first, but really, you need to be last”. “Forget about who is greatest, that doesn’t interest me.”
Now let’s talk about children for a bit since that’s what Jesus did. Children in the first century were ‘nobodies’. They were not like children of today who are highly valued in our western culture. They were not the Gerber Baby, or the rosie cheeked toddlers in flowerpots photographed by Anne Geddes or even the Honey Boo Boo’s. There was no child left behind act because children didn’t receive education. They were the lowest on the totem pole.
So while it is tempting for us to sentimentalize Jesus’ action, we must not. Children of the first century were ‘owned’ by their father who could disown them, sell them into slavery or even kill them if he wanted to. 25% of children didn’t survive their first year and half of the remaining 75% would die before the age of 10. Their purpose in life was to replace adults in the family business if they were luck enough to live that long.
As preacher and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor tells it, ‘he (Jesus) takes a person twenty-six inches tall, with limited vocabulary, unemployed, zero net worth, a nobody, as God’s agent.” In other words she says, “there is no one whom we may safely ignore.”[i] So when we think that we are to become like a sweet, innocent child of the 21st century we are misconstruing the story. Jesus is being provocative and reverses the order of idea and reality.
What he is saying is that if you really want to be ‘great’ then you need to be able to welcome the lowliest. Because when you welcome them, the ‘other’, when you count them as a beloved child of God worth just as much as you are, then you welcome Jesus and even the One who sent him, God.
Welcoming is a difficult topic and a hard thing to do sometimes. While we might say we welcome everyone, is it true? Would we really welcome some scruffy, old guy who smelled a bit like alcohol or urine and who couldn’t quite form a cohesive sentence? Would we really welcome an openly gay couple and invite them to coffee hour or to be a part of our fellowship? Would we really welcome into our midst a pregnant teenager and support her in her decision to keep her baby?
I think that we would, at least I hope that we would. And if the answer is, not really, not so much, I urge you to think seriously about changing your mind. To reiterate what Barbara Brown Taylor said, “there is no one we may ignore”. Jesus clearly illustrates that when he picks up that child on that day in Capernaum. Absolutely no one!
Life is short no matter how long you live. In a blink of an eye it can end. Wouldn’t it be grand to know that in your lifetime you have accepted and extended your hand of friendship to everyone who wants to join you on the road with Jesus? Won’t it be comforting to know that you will be accepted and welcomed for exactly who you are, right now, no pretenses? Of course it would. Welcome the child and you will have welcomed Jesus and the One who sent him.
Road trips? Well, they have their challenges. For the disciples that road to Jerusalem, was a long and rocky one. There were many lessons that had to be told over and over again. Lucky for them that Jesus preserved in his message to love and to welcome, to cherish and to forgive. Lucky for them and for us he has shown us how to do just that. And you will be blessed. “Whoever welcomes one such child, welcomes me!”
[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Last of All”, Bread of Angels.
Healing God, we lift up our hearts to you in thanksgiving for all of the miracles that you have shown us in our lives, even those in unlikely places. Help us to turn to you always in faith and in prayer knowing that what we say and how hard we may plead you will not turn away but embrace us with your compassionate love.
As we lift up our prayers today we lift them up in boldness…we ask for healing to be upon all people who are ill, those with cancer, mental illness and dementia, addiction and for those people recovering from addiction. Sharon, Carol, Steve, Ryan
For people who are in need of spiritual healing we pray that your Spirit of sustenance flow within them.
For people today who have grief in their hearts we pray for your comfort and healing, we pray for the Murtaugh family, for Doris, for Sharon, for Max and Marilyn, especially, be with them and comfort them in their sorrow.
We pray for peace and for the well being of the men and women who serve in the armed forces here and abroad. Guide them, be with them Danny, Alex, Matt, Crhostopher, Zach, Alex, Jonathan, Ben, Jonathan, Bill and Tom.
And finally gracious God be with our search committee, send your spirit of discernment upon them. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.