23 September 2018††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††† St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
Pentecost 18††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Vienna, VA
ďGreat in Godís EyesĒ
Text: Mark 9:30-37 (James 3:13-4:10; Jeremiah 11:18-20)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. They werenít talking about how Jesus fed over 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. They werenít discussing how Jesus expelled that unclean spirit they could not. They werenít trying to figure out what Jesus meant when He told them that He was going to be delivered - handed over, betrayed - into the hands of men and then killed, but that after three days He would rise. Nope. None of that. When faced with news of Jesusí death, their minds went to who among them would be the greatest. It became all about them.
But before you cast aspersions on the disciples, letís know that we do this too.
A doctor comes to us with bad news about a loved one; they do not have much longer to live. After the initial shock and sadness, thoughts often turn to other things, like the inheritance. How much will I get? And how often is there fighting and arguing over how things will be divided. It can become all about me.
Or, a co-worker is fired. But instead of worrying about his family . . . will I get his office? I wonder if I can get her clients? It becomes all about me.
Or, one of your teammates gets injured - maybe I can get his spot! Itís all about me.
It can happen in the church, too. Pastors can fall into this trap. When the church grows or is doing well, itís because of me! Or, if the church is struggling - itís because of me. Or, another church, a bigger church, a fancier church, a more prestigious church, needs a new pastor. I wonder if I could get that? Itís all about me.
Or with the people in the church. The church should do what I like, what I want. I should get more recognition for what I do. It can be all about me.
How is it with you? How do you fall into this trap? Because we all do. Itís part of our sinful human nature. Itís just that some of us hide it better than others.
So Jesus asks them what they were talking about; but He already knew. He knew what was in their hearts. He knows whatís in our hearts. They donít answer. They all look down at the ground. Theyíre like dogs with their tails between their legs. Their faces are bursting with shame.
Now, again, before we cast aspersions on the disciples, letís acknowledge their faith - they know Jesusí kingdom is real, that they were onto something special here. They just werenít thinking about it in the right way yet. For you canít think about the kingdom of God like you think about things in the world. If you do, youíre going to get it wrong. And the disciples were getting it wrong. As we sometimes do.
So Jesus sits them down and has a real ďcome to JesusĒ meeting with them. And notice - He doesnít tell them theyíre wrong. He doesnít tell them itís wrong to want to be great, to be first. But theyíre thinking about it the wrong way. Success with Jesus, success in the kingdom of God, is not climbing up, itís climbing down. If you want to be first, be the last. If you want to great, be the least.
Itís what Jesus did, after all. He came down from heaven and was born and laid in a manger. He avoided the crowds who wanted to praise Him and make Him an earthly kind of king. And He died not a heroís death, but the death of a criminal. Not in order to be great, but because He was great. Because this is how greatness looks, this is how greatness acts, this is how greatness thinks in the kingdom of God.
So if this is not how you are looking and acting and thinking, repent. But repent of the right thing! Of this: not that what youíre doing is wrong, but that what youíre believing is wrong. That you think you have to make yourself great, when you already are. Because everything Jesus did He did not as an example to you, to show you how to do it. He did it for you. To make you great. And if the Son of God comes down from heaven to live for you and die for you, to forgive you and raise you, to make you a child of God and promise you a life and a kingdom that will never end (and He did!) . . . you gonna do better than that? You gonna get greater than that? Really? But itís how we think, isnít it? Because we donít believe. Because weíre not thinking right about greatness. Because weíre going after the wrong kind of greatness.
And greatness in this world is not all itís cracked up to be anyway. Whatís great today is discarded tomorrow. Think of the first video games and compare them to todayís! And who is great today is forgotten tomorrow. When I speak to the youth in confirmation about Bill Clinton, a president of the United States not that long ago, they donít know who Iím talking about. Or, people who were considered great in the past arenít just forgotten, but are even considered criminals today - just think of all the Confederate generals whose names are being taken off buildings and whose statues are being covered, defaced, or destroyed.
But child of God is a great that doesnít go away. A great that not even death can take away from you. Your trophies will fall apart, your accomplishment will be forgotten, your wealth will go to someone else. But child of God you will always be.
And so Jesus takes a child and puts him in the midst of the disciples. And He says (and Iím paraphrasing here): You wanna be great? Start here. And end here. This is where youíll find me. Down, not up. Last, not first. Least, not great in the eyes of the world.
And I absolutely love the picture on the cover of the bulletin today! I donít know how old the child Jesus put in the midst of them was - weíre not told - but this one, the one in this picture, I think is perfect. Not even up to their waists, probably a bit wobbly on her feet, holding a stick she found on the ground. She wasnít worried about greatness - she had a stick! That fancy new toy is okay - but the box it came in is great! Children see that penny on the ground, that rock, that bug. Things we think arenít important or great, and so maybe we think the children that see them arenít so important or great.
But according to Jesus, there is nothing greater that we could do and be. You wanna be great? Receive this child in my name. And we do when we baptize our children in His name. And we do when we baptize adults in His name because - did you ever notice - we use the exact same liturgy. We baptize adults as if they were children. Because it doesnít matter how old you are, itís the same baptism, the same gift, the same name. And itís great. Giving all Jesusí greatness to that child or adult-child.
So you want to be great? Remember your baptism. That there in those waters Jesus received you and made you great because He made you a child of God and you canít get any greater than that. And repent that you keep trying (in a worldly way), and that you keep forgetting who you are.
And then this too: repent that you keep forgetting who others are as well. Are they great or lowly? Are they rich or poor? Are they homeless? It depends on how you see and think. Things may not be as they seem to us. Children see things differently, and children of God do too. That greatness isnít measured by honor and prestige, that richness isnít counted in dollars, and that the mansions of this world are hovels in the kingdom of heaven. So maybe we should fight and quarrel and strive and desire a bit less, and receive in Jesusí name a bit more.
So maybe we could sum all this up with words that we sang in the Introit this morning: Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Some people would say that verse isnít true, for I didnít get that new car, or that job, or that greatness I wanted, I desired. But maybe, rather, that proves these words, because you arenít delighting in the Lord, but in those other things - in the wrong kind of great things or greatness. The problem isnít with the Lord, itís with us and our desires, and what we delight in and think great. Like the disciples, we need to learn to think differently.
And when you do, when you delight yourself in the Lord, in being His child, youíll start to see things differently. All kinds of things.
Because you are great in Jesusí eyes, maybe youíll see that the great of this world isnít all itís cracked up to be . . .
Because your sins are forgiven - all of them, great and small! - maybe you can forgive those who sin against you . . .
Because Jesus gave His life for you, maybe you can give your life for others . . .
The world will think you quite strange, for not acting like them, thinking like them, believing like them. They might even turn against you, as they turned against Jeremiah and Jesus and the disciples. So be it. Youíre a child of God! You wanna trade that for the approval of a fleeting and fickle world?
So maybe instead weíll come and receive the Body and Blood of the child God sent to us and put in our midst . . . who looked down at the sticks and rocks and bugs, the helpless and homeless and needy . . . and who, though great, became nothing, that we who were nothing might be great. And you are. For this child, Jesus, came for you and named you with His name, has forgiven you with His forgiveness, and feeds you with His Body and Blood. And when He comes again, He will give you even more - His kingdom.
So remember who you are. And be who you are. You just canít get any greater than that.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.