Sept. 19, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Psalm 54

1Save me, O God, | by your name;
  in your might, de- | fend my cause.
2Hear my | prayer, O God;
  give ear to the words | of my mouth.
3For strangers have risen up against me, and the ruthless have | sought my life,
  those who have no re- | gard for God.
4Behold, God | is my helper;
  it is the Lord who sus- | tains my life. R
5Render evil to those who | spy on me;
  in your faithful- | ness, destroy them.
6I will offer you a | freewill sacrifice
  and praise your name, O Lord, for | it is good.
7For you have rescued me from | every trouble,
  and my eye looks down | on my enemies

James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a

13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.4:

  1Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. 7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8aDraw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Mark 9:30-37

30[Jesus and the disciples went on] and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
  33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus Teaches the Disciples

Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib
Walters Art Museum, Baltimiore, MD

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Have you ever said to someone, “I don’t think we’re on the same page”? It’s a description of a frustrating conversation. There seem to be similar words and concepts but also a clear disconnect. Finally, you pause, and you realize you are talking about two completely different things. It happens in our passage from Mark’s gospel today. 

Simon Peter had a moment of brilliance earlier. Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” He was on the same page as Jesus. And Peter’s conclusion was logical. Peter had been up on the Mountain of Transfiguration and been blinded by a radiant Jesus. Jesus had healed countless people. Jesus seemed like a savior, the Messiah. So, topping off these great moments was Peter’s confession.

On the other hand, there have been disturbing moments. Jesus speaks several times about his future suffering and death. Peter rebukes him for these unpleasant predictions. And Jesus scolds Peter for this rebuke. They are still talking about Jesus, the Messiah, but Peter’s idea of what a Messiah is, how he acts, is not in sync with Jesus. Jesus says, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and be killed.” Jesus and the disciples are not on the same page.

Then, as they enter the town of Capernaum, Jesus turns and asks the disciples what they were arguing about. They must have been embarrassed. Their awkward silence is palpable. One writer [Eugene Peterson] calls the silence “deafening.” We have all been in that position.  

Imagine—some kids make a raucous in the basement. A parent calls down the stairs, “What’s going on down there?” The response is “Nothing, nothing!” The disciples have been discussing who among them is the greatest. Jesus has been talking about his death and they are talking about who is the greatest. Who would not be embarrassed? Of course, Jesus, like a parent, already knew what was going on.

We should not think ourselves superior to the disciples. We would probably feel similarly uncomfortable in their place. This is not an exercise in attacking their flawed ideas about discipleship. We could easily become distracted by judging ourselves greater than the disciples—more faithful, more aware, more on the same page as Jesus. Today’s stories are about how we, so many years later and with the full narrative of Jesus in mind, might follow Jesus today, in Canyon County, Idaho.

After interrupting the argument about who is the greatest, Jesus sits down like a teacher. We know this is not casual conversation. He is going to say something crucial. Jesus often uses more than words to teach his lessons. This case is not different. This time his illustration is a little child. We have several stumbling blocks to go over before we can truly understand this illustration.  

A child in our culture is deeply valued and put first in our priorities. At least we would like to think so, in spite of the number of children in poverty. We coo over babies. We cheer on kids when they sing and play. And youthfulness is glorified just about everywhere.

And artists through the ages have not helped us. Can you pull up in your memory a painting over an altar or in a church narthex portraying children? They were often, at least in the last century portrayed as pure and angelic. More importantly, there seem to be lacking in nothing. It is easy for us to sentimentalize Jesus’ action of picking up a small child and telling his followers to do likewise. It is a sweet scene—Jesus tenderly cuddles a child and appeals to the soft hearts under the tough exterior of these big rough disciples.

But that is not what is going on here. Instead of a sweet moment, the disciples are experiencing a radical up-ending of the way they think things should be.  In the time of Jesus, a child was lowest on the priority list. Children had no status. They were subject to the authority of their father. Often, they were expendable. And so Jesus gesture here is potent. 

The child that Jesus reaches out to is similar to many of the children in Charles Dickens’ novels. This does not include Tiny Tim, the star of the famous story “A Christmas Carol.” When I hear Jesus tell his disciples, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” I imagine characters like Jo from the great novel “Bleak House.” 

Dickens writes that “Jo lives in a ruinous place, known to the like of him by the name of Tom-all-Alone’s.  It is a black, dilapidated street avoided by all decent people, where the crazy houses were seized upon when their decay was far advanced by some bold vagrants who, after establishing their own possession, took to letting them out in lodgings…It must be a strange state to be like Jo!…To be hustled, and jostled, and moved on, and really to feel that it would appear to be perfectly true that I have no business, here, or there, or anywhere, and yet to be perplexed by the consideration that I am here somehow, too, and everybody overlooked me until I became the creature that I am!”  

Jo and other child characters in Dickens’ works are often referred to as urchins, small raggedly children who do their best to survive in an adult world. The root of the word comes from the Latin for hedgehog, a rather prickly unkempt-looking animal. The good news is that there are people who not only look out for Jo but who bring him into their home.

Jesus’ disciples are not there yet. This is a radical up-ending of the way they think things should be. This is not what they hope life will be like when Jesus comes into their idea of glory. They want to find their way to the top. They want to claim greatness. And he tells them to lay claim to the last and lowest place and people. When they welcome a child, they welcome him. They even welcome the one who sent him. Picture the urchin child Jo again.  

Jesus’ command makes no sense to the disciples. Welcome someone who does not have the power or ability or place to welcome them in turn? No expectation of reciprocity? No return on our investment. (There really is very little in the Jesus story that commends pure unchecked capitalism.) First, our teacher keeps talking about suffering and dying instead of victory and glory. Now we must welcome and even value small, insignificant, powerless people, the least among us?

Every generation of Christians in every geographic context gets to translate “the least among us” for our time and place. What does that look like in 2021 Canyon County? We might consider the Afghan refugees who will be coming to our state and many others. But we might also think of veterans who return and returned after unpopular wars and were shunned, with no consideration for their sacrifice or how their minds were harmed by what they experienced. Despite the progress made in understanding all sorts of mental illnesses, too many people are still ashamed to seek treatment. We think since it’s in our head, we should be able to to fix it ourselves, though no one has the same expectations for fixing a broken leg or a heart condition. We understand drug and alcohol addictions much better now than we did 100 years ago, but often people suffering from addiction are still viewed as the least among us. Who would you add the list today? Who are we being beckoned to welcome? What are the hurdles? 

One of the greatest mysteries in Mark is Jesus’ relationship with his disciples.  The conversations in Mark chapter 9 are part of a pattern. The disciples have moments of insight, but they often misunderstand Jesus, or they don’t like what he has to say.  The mystery is this—they all keep at it. The disciples keep following Jesus and he keeps teaching. The truth is no one can ever really get it.  

But the disciples are tenacious even when they don’t have a clue what Jesus is talking about. They don’t have it all clear in their heads.  But they know there is something about this Jesus. It is impossible to do anything but stay and listen to him. They keep talking with him, even when they get it wrong.

That is no small thing. We don’t like to hang out in settings where we are told over and over that we’re not getting it. But the disciples stayed. We will probably never get the paradoxes of the Christian story. Strength comes in weakness. Glory is found in the death on a rugged cross. Welcoming urchin children is like welcoming Jesus. We don’t have to understand in order to stay. Full comprehension is not required to hear the words of forgiveness or to share in the Lord’s Supper.  We stay as the disciples stayed, because we know that Jesus is the only place worth being. In him there is love and abundant life for the world.     

Prayers of Intercession (Sundays and Seasons)

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.God of community, we pray for the church around the world. Unite us in our love for you. Help us overcome our divisions, that we are encouraged to work together for your sake. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of creation, we pray for this hurting earth. Awaken in us a new desire to care for this world and empower us to support agencies, organizations, and individual efforts to heal our environment. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of cooperation, we pray for nations of the world embroiled in conflict (especially). Inspire leaders to listen to each other and work towards peaceful solutions to disagreements. Protect the vulnerable, especially children, who cannot find safety in their home or country. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of comfort, we pray for all who live with mental or physical illness. Help them find appropriate care. Bring healing and wholeness when the path forward seems bleak. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

God of compassion, we pray for the young people of this congregation. Renew in us your call to welcome the children in our midst. As they grow, strengthen their faith and our commitment to them. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.God of consolation, we give you thanks for our loved ones who have died and pray for all who grieve today (especially). Shine your grace on all your saints. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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