Pentecost 18 – Sunday, September 23, 2018

September 23, 2018  

Mark 9:30-37

They called it the National Youth Gathering back then.
This one was held in Denver.
It was 1985.

My mentor and friend, Pastor Duane Hanson, was there with a group of youth from Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison. Former President Jimmy Carter was the keynote speaker on opening day. When the Gathering broke-up at mid-day, Duane asked a couple of friends to wait with him outside of McNichols Arena. He wanted to see if he could take a photo of the former president, and perhaps even shake his hand.

They waited in the heat. And they waited. And he, being who he was, struck up a conversation with a mother and her daughter who were also outside the arena waiting. Duane discovered he knew the woman’s husband.

The woman’s daughter was in a wheelchair. The daughter was recovering from surgery. She had bone cancer.

While they spoke, Duane and his friends noticed a “flurry of activity” (Hanson sermon, p. 2 1985). Duane wrote “secret service, convention organizers, local police… were all moving. And there he was… President Carter coming out the door. I had my camera ready…two clicks. Now time to shake hands. I did… [then] President Carter spotted my friend’s daughter in the wheelchair. He broke stride with his secret service. Over to the wheelchair he went… reached down to my friend’s daughter… gave her a hug and a kiss… and a word of hope. It was a touching moment. He didn’t have to do it. He was [running] late. The cars were running. The secret service wanted to move him out. But he paused along the way and gave a stranger an unexpected kiss… She was elated. It was a grace-filled moment” (Hanson p. 2).

Jesus asked his disciples “What were you arguing about?”
They were silent.
They didn’t want him to know they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
Jesus sat down. He said “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Then he took a little child into his arms. He said “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:33-37).

Turn on your tv or listen to a podcast or catch a news clip on social media and you are bound to hear someone brag about being the great whoever who just did the greatest whatever that has happened in all whenever. Bragging, boasting, self-conceit permeate our culture. These messages all run counter to the culture of our faith, a culture that makes CLEAR: the first must be last and servant of all.

Fox, Megan and Morgan, on your affirmation of faith day the best message your faith can teach you is to know that God loves you. The 2nd best message your faith can teach you is that the first must be last and servant of all.

God does not call us to be boastful. God does not call us to conceit. God calls us to service: to love others as we have been loved and then to serve others as best we can.

Christianity is not a religion about self. Christianity is not a religion that asks “What’s in it for me.” Christianity is a religion of love, a religion of humility, a religion that always, ALWAYS seeks out what is best for the other or others.

When Jesus took a little child into his arms he wasn’t looking for the best photo-op to post on Snapchat or Instagram. He was making a point. He was telling his disciples to pay attention to those who get the least attention, to recognize the needs of those who are the most needy, to offer support to those unable to support themselves. He was pointing out what probably seemed obvious to him, but clearly was not obvious to his disciples. True discipleship does not bring greatness, it does not bring fame—in fact for Jesus the way of the cross was a path of suffering and death.
And resurrection.  Jesus always promises new life.

Once upon a real time there was a little girl in a wheelchair who had bone cancer. She was kissed by a United States president, a kiss only a few bystanders saw.
That’s greatness.
That’s what Jesus would do.
That’s what Jesus would have us do.
Amen.