Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pentecost 17 (Proper 20), Series B

Sermon on Mark 9:30-37
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
September 23, 2012 (The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Kind of an odd thing to be arguing about, when you consider that Jesus had just told them He was going to suffer and die for the sins of the world.  But then again, it’s also a perfectly natural thing for them to be arguing about.  After all, our old sinful selves are always concerned about where we stand, what we can get out of whatever situation we are in.  And so, since they didn’t want to ask Jesus what He meant by His prediction of His own death and resurrection, and in fact they didn’t even want to think about it, their minds jumped ahead to the part that they could understand (or so they thought).  Their minds jumped ahead to the glory they figured would be theirs once Jesus finally restored the kingdom to Israel.  They were still assuming that, even after all the crucifixion and resurrection stuff (whatever that was about), Jesus’ purpose would still be to bring about some sort of military revolution in which the Romans would be defeated and the earthly kingdom of Israel would be restored to its rightful glory, and when that happened they would have seats on His cabinet.  They were jockeying for position at the table.

We Christians are really not that much different today.  Instead of pondering on the great mystery of God dying so that His creatures could have life, we get focused all too often on which church is growing the fastest, which mega-church pastor has the most power and influence in this world, has books on the best-seller list, and so on.  God dying is uncomfortable.  It’s uncomfortable because we put Him there.  It’s uncomfortable because it means we couldn’t fix our relationship with our Creator ourselves, and so He had to do it.  It’s uncomfortable because instead of boosting our pride in our own abilities and accomplishments, it destroys it.  It’s uncomfortable because it reminds us we are helpless.

But it’s precisely the helpless that God helps.  It’s precisely the powerless that God rescues.  It’s precisely those who can’t even feed themselves that He gives the bread of life.  That’s why children, even the very young, even infants, are models for us of what it means to become one of God’s children, adopted into His family.  It’s precisely those who cannot do anything for themselves that He can be God to.  After all, to be God doesn’t mean that He sits up in heaven and congratulates Himself that He’s got all these worshipers.  He doesn’t need our praise or our songs for Himself, since everything we are and everything we have were his already anyway.  Instead, to be God means that He is the one who made everything and still sustains it.  It means that He is the one who gives us everything we are and everything we have, and that He is the one who loves and takes care of us.  He wants us to praise Him, not because His ego gets stroked by it (as if God’s “ego” could be affected by our pitiful attempts to praise Him), but because He delights in us the way a loving father delights in his children, especially when they recognize and look to him for every good thing.  Parents put their children’s scribblings up on the fridge, not because they’re objectively great works of art, but because they were made by their children, whom they love.

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  The most helpless.  The most pitiful.  The one who can do nothing for himself but rely on God’s mercy, love, and pity to take care of him.  That’s what Jesus became in His death on the cross, and that’s what we are in Him: those who receive mercy even though we don’t deserve it, simply because our Father loves us, sent His Son to die in our place, and wants us to be with Him forever.  Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  The most helpless.  Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  Jesus, and those who have become part of His body through holy baptism.  Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?  His children, whom He loves, whom He will gather in His arms and hold forever.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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