Our September 19 Sunday worship service is available on video through Facebook. You may view it without being a member of Facebook. We are excited to say that our Sunday 8 & 10:30 am services are open again for in-person worship. Services will continue to be streamed online.
The September 26 Sunday worship service will be held with in-person attendance. We have returned to regular in-person worship services. With an upturn in county COVID cases, we recommend masks even for those who are vaccinated.
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Jeremiah 11:18-20 | Psalm 54
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a | Mark 9:30-37
The Gospel lesson: Jesus is continuing his journey from the Gentile lands, now through Galilee, and back to Capernaum. Mark’s Gospel is pretty much one long journey through the Holy Land. Now at Capernaum, where it can be argued that Jesus has a house (I always liked the thought of Jesus as a homeowner. Somewhere in Christian history, we started thinking of him as a sort of homeless preacher. And for some reason, it has stayed with us.), Jesus continues his teaching to the disciples. But, the teaching has taken a turn from what he taught to this point.
While they were traveling, Jesus was instructing them on what to expect to happen to him. “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands (I wonder if Judas Iscariot was listening to that part – I’ll have to pick up a copy of the apocryphal Gospel of Judas and read it). That he will be killed, and three days later, he will rise again. In last week’s lesson, Mark told us that he tells them this quite plainly. That might also be why he doesn’t want anyone to know where he is, doesn’t want to attract a crowd, just wants to tell his chosen disciples. Part of that Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship Theme which we find in Mark’s account.
How do the disciples take this teaching? “They did not understand what he was saying, and were afraid to ask him.” For a teacher, this is very upsetting. I used to end every lecture at the college with the question, “Are there any questions?” And, I really didn’t like it when I got only empty stares, because then I knew that they didn’t understand all of the material. I often get the same response in Confirmation Class. But, at least they usually have nothing to gauge the information against. The disciples are like this, just blank stares. They don’t get it. And more importantly, at this point, they don’t believe it! It would seem that through this whole journey, through the Gentile lands and back home, Jesus is trying to prepare them, and get it through their thick heads. It’s not working. The disciples won’t really understand until after Jesus is resurrected, but even then, he will have to explain it all over to them once more.
When they get to Capernaum, their base of operations, it is obvious that the disciples aren’t getting a whole lot of what Jesus has tried to teach them. They were arguing along the way over who will be the greatest among themselves. When Jesus queries them on their discussion, in shame probably, they are silent, again. I think they had a rough idea of what he was going to say to them.
But, Jesus goes for an object lesson instead. Those of you with children have a good idea of what is going on. You hear the kids arguing, or fighting, you go to see what is up, and very quickly, they are all little angels and silent. That’s when you know they have been up to no good. And, they know it too. We don’t have a child in the house anymore. We have something worse. We have a kitten. And when you don’t see her, and don’t hear her, that’s when you have to go and see what she is up to. It is usually something that you really don’t want her to do. The other night, I caught her pulling on the chain and rewinding the cuckoo clock! And then, she looked at me all innocent, and ran to the other room. The disciples know that they are out of line, but how to correct them?
“Make a circle, and bring me that child over there.” Notice that Jesus didn’t call for a kitten! “The first must be last and servant of all.” In the midst of the circle, Jesus embraces the child. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.” And children, in that place and time, were considered the least (often, literally, overlooked), not like we tend to treat them today. A better translation of what Jesus says here would be, “Whoever receives one in the character of this child.” There’s another part to this object lesson. What happens when you hug a child? They usually hug back, it is natural. Looking at the way I translated the verse, is it like the child being embraced, or the one who receives the child? It is in the character of both. They are embracing. And there is the object lesson. Who receives Christ, and by extension, the Father, who embraces each other, welcomes each other, enfolds each other.
The disciples, in their dispute, have been doing the opposite. When we argue, we do not embrace, we push away, often at arms length, think of the expression “when push comes to shove.” Where do disputes and conflicts come from? James answers today, “You covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” The disciples wanted to be first. Well, for that, you have to be last. That is the rule. It runs against our nature, but everything of a divine nature is contrary to our nature.
How are we to act towards one another in faith? Not by disputing who is the greatest, where the disciples fall far short today, holding each other out at arms’ length. No, we receive and embrace even those who we normally consider the least among us, in the character of the child, open. Then, we also receive and embrace Christ, and the One who sent him. After all, it is He who first embraced us. Go therefore, embrace the world, and embody the Gospel of Jesus Christ.