Archive for the ‘Jame’ Category

Equal Footing

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

17th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 23, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. [Mark 9:35b]

These words are hard to receive because they are hard to understand; they are hard to understand because they frighten us by  demanding that we put the needs of others above our own needs.  We are afraid to do this because it requires us to die to ourselves and  live for Christ; they demand that we allow Christ to live within us and teach us.

These words are hard to receive because in them Jesus gives us wisdom from above; a wisdom that is completely opposite to the  wisdom of the world.  This morning Jesus is teaching us that the way to make it big, the way to be first is by receiving those who are  smaller than us.

How do we receive those who are little?  Well, in our gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37),what example did Jesus use to teach His disciples?  That’s right a little child.  He scooped up a small child and placed it smack dab in the middle of the room so that all eyes would be  focused on that little one.  And then, He simply said that “Whoever receives one (such as this child) in My name receives Me, and  whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” [vs. 37]

So, look at the least and discover your way to be first.  To receive the most, take the smallest.

Why did Jesus use a child to illustrate His teaching?  Well, because children were not given much attention back then.  You know the saying, “Children are to be seen and not heard!”  So by elevating small children and their small understanding of the world around them, Jesus is making a point that we must always be ready to receive people who may indeed be below us in not just age but also maturity and status.  But this receiving business isn’t simply opening your arms and taking an infant so you can admire and coddle them.  No, it is more than just a receiving blanket; Jesus wants you to take responsibility for the nurturing and mentoring of that one who is beneath you.

Think of the young couple who has just received their infant.  The father says, “We just had a baby,” even though it was the mother who gave birth.  The father gladly receives the baby from the nurse and coddles him and beams with pride.  But soon he gives the baby back to the nurse so he can make the necessary phone calls and hand out the obligatory cigars.

When mother and child come home, the proud daddy learns the art of diapering and feeding and promises his wife that they are in this together.  But after a few days, maybe even after a few hours, as B.B. King sang, “The Thrill is Gone!”  When the baby cries at 2:00 a.m. the father lies in bed pretending to be asleep and waits for his wife to get up.  Or, When the diaper contains a surprise that is obvious by the smell, he yells “Dear can you…?”

What happened?  Why is it only the mother who must bear the burden?  Because only the mother has taken to heart the words that to receive the child, that is to care for the child no matter the cost, is to receive Jesus!

In our world today, there are many who do not know Jesus.  When God brings them to us as individuals or as a congregation, they come with all kinds of selfish and sinful habits and ambitions.  They will be demanding of your time to the point of bitter jealousy.  They will exhibit selfish ambition and all kinds of vile practices; in essence, they bring with them the wisdom of this world; a wisdom that says only the strong and the best will survive.  If this worldly wisdom is allowed to remain within them they will bring disorder both to your individual lives and to our congregation.  So what are we to do?  Are we to send them away packing?  Are we to chastise them and demand conformity?  Well what did Jesus say?  We are to receive them as you receive a child; you are to receive them as a parent receives their infant.  You are to nurture and teach them; you are to take responsibility and serve them.  By this type of receiving you are receiving Jesus Himself.  Receive others as you would have others do unto you.  This is what James calls the “meekness of wisdom” in our Epistle reading. [James 3:13-4:10]

We are afraid of this teaching because its wisdom is the very opposite of what we learn in this sinful world we live in.  Here, in God’s Word, we learn that trying to be the greatest, that is to be first through selfish ambition, is to live outside of Jesus name; it is to be an enemy of God’s truth and an opponent to God’s wisdom from above.  That dear friends is not only wrong and sinful, “but it is earthly, unspiritual, (and) demonic.”

But we are afraid to hear this teaching, to receive it for another reason; it demands that we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This morning, Jesus teaches us that as we “receive one” (such as a child in His name, we can expect to be treated as Jesus was treated; we can expect to be “delivered up into the hands of men.”

This was the second time that Jesus proclaimed to His disciples that He would soon suffer and die by the hands of sinful men so that He could save them.  While it was true that the disciples did not understand how that was a good thing, they also knew that it did not sound like the gospel.  They did not understand because they were still thinking with worldly wisdom and not with wisdom from above.   In their minds, suffering equals bad and comfort equals good!

We understand that also.  We seldom take risks for strangers because we all know that it can come back to bite us in the butt.  No good deed goes unpunished.  But in our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 11:18-20), Jeremiah understood this feeling.  He knew that by receiving and teaching sinful strangers he was opening himself up to a world of trouble.  The very ones that he was sent to save with the Word of God were the ones that would plot against him; they devised schemes saying “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” [vs. 20]

Jeremiah understood that it wasn’t really him who they were attacking but the Word of God.  It was the Word that they wanted silenced; a Word that pointed out their sin and their love of more sin.  Jeremiah understood, and if he could be here this morning, he would point you to one greater than he; one who is the true Suffering Servant that the sinners then and sinners today want to silence.

This morning, Jesus shows us that He is the greater Jeremiah, as He turns the prophets prayer of, “O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon (my enemies) for to you have I committed my cause [vs. 20], into “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And Jesus shows us how to be greatest by being least as He shows us how to trust God even in death with these Words, “Father, into Your hand I commend my spirit.”

Do you want to be great in the eyes of God even as the world thinks you are the least?  Then trust in and protect the truth of the gospel.  We trust in the truth of a gospel that points us to a Suffering Savior.  We trust in the truth which declares, that His suffering and death for our sins is the only way to please a righteous God.  We trust in the truth, which proclaims that His death upon the cross for a world of sinners was truly our own death when God’s forgiving love washed us and recreated us in the waters of our baptism.

And when we trust in this truth for us we are moved by the Spirit of God within us and our new baptismal nature to share that same message with others.  We share the message with others, because Jesus loves those little ones who are lost in sin.  He loves them however we find them; even if they are infants or elderly.  He loves them and calls all of them into the washing of the water and the Word.  He wants all of them to be washed clean and be received in the blanket of God’s forgiving love.

This is the message that calls each of us to die to sin and turn to Jesus for life.  It is a message of least and greatest.  It is a message that teaches each of us every day to die to ourselves and live for Christ.  It teaches that the way to be the greatest is to serve others so that Christ can be great among us.

This is the equal footing that we all stand upon.  We equally can’t understand this message of suffering and death, but we trust it and we let it come alive within us.  Each of us are equally afraid of this message, but we draw strength and courage from it as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments.  Together, we equally see ourselves in a lowly and humble way; as empty vessels that God wants to fill with His divine grace and forgiving love.  And when God fills us equally, something interesting happens as we stand upon the equal footing with both young and old, mature and immature Christians; each of us discovers that our equal footing is really our true and solid foundation… Jesus Christ!  In Christ, or on Christ each of us are elevated high above this sinful world and the punishment that awaits it.  May God continue to give each of you more grace as you oppose the devil and your own sinful flesh; may God give each of you more grace as you cleanse your hands and your hearts.  May God give you more grace as you humble yourselves before the Lord, and then may your mourning be turned to joy as He alone exalts you unto eternal life… in Jesus name… AMEN!