Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, September 19, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 17

Pentecost 17, 2021
Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I think everyone would agree that this gospel reading is an adorable story, right?  Jesus picking up a little child, and telling the adults in the room that little people are important.  And the adorable part is the part we remember, because . . . well, it’s so adorable!  That’s why people watch videos of cats and dogs and red pandas online: because they’re adorable.  

But, of course, there’s more to the story we just heard.  Jesus’ object lesson with the little child is in response to something the disciples were doing.  You remember, today’s gospel reading starts with Jesus telling his disciples about how he must die.  The Son of Man will be betrayed into human hands, they will kill him, and he will rise again.  The disciples did not understand, and were afraid to ask him.

And so instead, the disciples do what any reasonable person might do.  They start arguing about who is the greatest.  You know, because that makes sense.  It is interesting to me that we don’t hear what they are arguing about.  It is tempting to assume that they are each making the case for themselves.  You know, Peter is saying how he is the most inspirational, and Thomas is arguing that he is the most intellectual.  Judas claiming he’s got the corner on fundraising.  Or, it’s also possible that the disciples are arguing for one another.  That John is propping up Andrew, and Peter is defending Judas.  But it could be that they’re arguing about the greatest something else, like who is the best guitarist, or who is the best quarterback.  We don’t really know.

What we do know is that this arguing comes hot on the heels of Jesus’ explaining how he must die.   And this is not the first time in Mark’s gospel that Jesus does this.  Last week, for example.  And it’s not the only time the disciples react the wrong way like this.  Last week, for example.  In fact, this is the second of three times he tries to tell the disciples about his mission, and how his mission is leading to his death.  And in all three cases the disciples not only miss the point, but take off on a completely inappropriate conversation.

Imagine that you’re telling someone about how you see that the end of your life is approaching, and they respond with arguing about who is the best dancer, or who bakes the best cakes.  It’s not as if the disciples are hearing and not understanding.  They’re hearing and not even pretending to care!  Are they just overwhelmed?  Is this just all too much for them?  
What’s going on here?  

Well, this lack of understanding is a theme that runs through the gospel of Mark.  But it’s a lack of understanding by the ones who are closest to Jesus:  The disciples, the friends, the close companions.  These are the ones who just don’t get it.  In Mark’s gospel, you know who actually does get it?  Who actually understands who Jesus is and what he is doing?  
The demons!  The demons are the ones who consistently get it right, calling Jesus “Son of God.”  Recognizing his power as God’s son, which is rooted in his death and resurrection.  

The disciples keep clinging to some kind of earthly power.  The disciples want Jesus to come blasting in, kicking butt and taking names.  This is the one who’s going to finally make everything turn out right.  The disciples have left their homes and families, and quite frankly, they’ve given up their lives to follow him.  So when Jesus starts talking about how he’s going to suffer and die . . . well, with all due respect, Jesus, that’s not exactly what we had in mind?  And so, they start arguing about who is the greatest.  It does kind of make sense, when you think about it.  Jesus is the one who is being inappropriate, in their minds.  I mean, how can his mission of overthrowing the oppressors, and setting the captives free, and all that, how can that possibly be accomplished if he’s intending to go and die on us?

Right.  So they argue about who is the greatest . . . something.  When Jesus asks them what they’re arguing about, it probably makes us uncomfortable.  I mean, we live in the midwest—or, we’re midwest adjacent at least.  And for most of us, arguing is bad manners, or at least awkward.  We like for everyone to get along, even when it might be good to argue.  Hearing that the disciples of Jesus are arguing doesn’t feel right.  But notice how Jesus responds to their arguing.

He gathers the disciples in a circle.  And he takes a child and places it in the middle of them.  Stop right there and notice the word “it.”  No name, no gender.  A child in that culture has absolutely no power, no status, no worth, no nothing, and can give nothing back.

So he sets the child in the middle of them, wraps his arms around the child and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”  Stop again and notice that Jesus wraps his arms around the child in the midst of the community of disciples.  Jesus does not run out into the desert and wrap his arms around a child.  Nor does Jesus pick out a child already standing in the community.  No, Jesus picks up the child, and sets “it” inside the community first.  What does that mean?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe everything.  But I think it is significant that when Jesus is showing his disciples how to be welcoming, he puts the child in the middle of them.  We move on . . .

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  Think back to what the disciples were doing right before this moment.  They were arguing about who is the greatest, right?  And Jesus has now placed before them one who is the least.  The smallest.  The most insignificant.  The one who is not going to be mentioned by a group of people busy arguing over who is the greatest.  When we think about welcoming Jesus, we probably think about looking busy, or dusting off Bibles, or preparing our humility badges.  It’s really, really hard to imagine welcoming Jesus by welcoming a child . . . isn’t it?  When we look for Jesus, we want to look up, not down.  To the clouds shining in glory, not the kid playing in the sandbox.

But there’s another side to this welcoming the least among us.  And that is, each one of us is also the least among us.  Each one of us is also in need of being the child in this example Jesus gives us.  I need—and you need—for Jesus to pick us up, set us in the middle of the community of disciples, and then scoop us up in his arms.  Though I try to welcome the child as Jesus says, I am also the child being welcomed.  Jesus asks each of us to welcome a child in his name, but he also asks each of us to let ourselves be welcomed in his name.

And, just as importantly, today he asks that you let him welcome you, here, at this Altar.  Jesus promises to meet us in this meal, saying, “This is my body.  This is my blood.”  And the only way to accept that promise is to receive it as a child.  Take it on faith, as a child does, because—let’s be honest—it hardly makes sense to our rational brains.  

We accept it as true . . . or, we hope to accept it as true . . . but the more you try to explain what happens here at this Altar, the farther it slips out of your grasp.

And how fitting it is that we receive Jesus as a child might accept a gift.  Hands outstretched, and empty.  Reaching out our hands to receive him, offering nothing in return.  With our hands held in front of us, accepting what seems impossible: that God’s embrace comes to us in our own outstretched hands.  We extend our hands, and say “Amen” to the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.  And we accept the embrace of God within this community, gathered here.  And, today, you can accept this gift of life, because God has picked you up, set you in this community, and wrapped you up in the embrace of God’s love.



No comments:

Post a Comment