sermon september 23, 2018

Mark 9:30 – 37

Jesus takes a child, places the child in their midst, these rough blokes – tax collectors, fishermen, these men who have filled the air with their shrill clammering, slugging it out on the roads of Palestine as to who will scramble their way over the others to the position of superiority.

Places the child among them and says, “You want to be great?  Can you receive this child?”   That easy, and that hard.  Mostly we rank the great ones as those who give much.  And there may somewhere be some truth in there.  But today Jesus says there is a prior requisite.  Great ones in the first instance are those who have first received others. To be great the first thing you learn is to accept and embrace the other person.   Greatness is never snatched from another or won in battle.

Now note carefully Jesus does not reject the notion of aspiring to greatness.  Jesus does not rebuke the disciples because they had aspirations of greatness in the Kingdom.  Sometimes in the contemporary church we may be guilty of talking down the pursuit of greatness, maybe not inspiring our young people to do a great thing for God.  For Jesus the deeper issue was that these disciples, despite their tunnel visioned pursuit of greatness, had precious little idea of what greatness consisted of.

On a visit to the Beethoven museum in Bonn, a young American student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works. She asked the museum guard if she could play a few bars on it; she accompanied the request with a lavish tip, and the guard agreed. The girl went to the piano and tinkled out the opening of the Moonlight Sonata. As she was leaving she said to the guard, “I suppose all the great pianist who come here want to play on that piano.”

The guard shook his head. “Padarewski [the famed Polish pianist] was here a few years ago and he said he wasn’t worthy to touch it.

Pattern is …Seek greatness, to first receive God, (worship) to receive others and then to use God given talents and gifts to change the world into a Godly place of peace and justice (mission).

No, what Jesus rebukes is a self serving perversion of what it means to be great.  Which gets us back to the child,,, to be great receive a child…

A child.  We do not have the blessing of many children – sometimes XXX comes with her dad.  A pity because they do add a lot to a community and to worship.

Now we must be careful – we are reading Mark’s gospel here, not Matthew or Luke’s “become like a child”.  We are not being instructed to become a child, but to receive a child.  To become great…. Receive a child…..That easy, and that hard.

To understand how to receive a child, in the way Jesus means it, you will need to ditch all your modern wisdom and insights of personal inner psychological theories

Ditch all your political correctness that children are actually people with rights

Ditch your spirit questing for a the inner child

Not all wrong, just not what this passage is about.  Mark’s gospel is not a very sentimental one at all.  And in fact what is going on here is actually at the opposite end of the spectrum to any sentimental glorification of childhood. 

The child here stands representative of a no-body, no rights, no status, no influence. The word used in Mark is the same word for servant or slave, and the correlation is  captured perfectly in that sneering term for slave, “boy”.  The child here is not the example of the innocent trust we should aspire to, but rather the one none us want to become.  The one of no influence, no status.  One who can do us no favours, can be of no advantage to us.  You can do all you can for them, every deal, every favour and they will never swing a deal in your favour in return.

What Jesus is driving at here is… if you receive this child…. There will be no applause, no front page photo in the national daily press.  You will have done nothing of note in the eyes of this world.

But you will have achieved greatness in the Kingdom… in God’s eyes.  You will have received the eternal creator of the universe.

Greatness in the Kingdom is linked with the way those who have some power use that power on behalf of, and in service of,  those who have no influence.

The first step towards greatness is to free ourselves… should we say be freed by the Spirit of God, for not something we can do for ourselves… from the mad scramble to have to prove ourselves, get our sense of worth from winning applause from others.

This wisdom that Jesus teaches applies to individual Christians who put their roots down deeply into the life giving waters of the Spirit, but also to congregations. 

As we develop our  plans as a separate congregation we will be looking for how we receive others.  God, and others, particularly the  overlooked, the marginalized.