The Gospel: Mark 9:30-37
Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Happy New Year! Today we gather together here at Christ Church to celebrate a new year of life. We have chosen this day to be a Celebration Sunday. Celebrating all that we have accomplished. Then to celebrate all that we hope is to come for us in the year ahead.
We are surrounded by the work that the Planting For Tomorrow phase two program has made possible. So much has been accomplished in the last month. There are so many people to thank for their contribution to the process that we have been through. I am not going to attempt to thank them individually. Whenever I do that I always leave someone out and I don't want to take that risk this morning.
But can we join in a round of applause for those who met and prayed, those who met and planned, those who met and talked, those who met and worked so that we could sit here this morning surrounded by our new worship space?
Now I know that there will be those who are disappointed or unsure about one or more of the choices that have been made in our refurbishment of the Sanctuary. We are a family, we are a community with a variety of opinions and we will not always see eye to eye on every decision that has been made. Can we just acknowledge that and move forward together.
This morning in the Gospel of Mark we heard the story of Jesus working with and training his disciples. Aren't you glad for the disciples this morning? That, stumbling, short-sighted, argumentative, group of followers who say things and do things that allow us to learn and grow by our own reflection on their behavior and their attitudes.
Jesus tells the disciples that he will be killed and then will rise again. What is their response? They didn't understand and they were afraid to ask him about it.
Then as they continue on their journey they get into an argument. They are not discussing their different views on theology or eschatology. They are not talking about how to best promote the Kingdom that Jesus has been teaching them about. They are not talking about how to put into practice feeding the hungry or clothing poor or changing the the way that they deal with strangers or outcasts. No, they are arguing about who is the most important among them.
What does Jesus do? Well, he calls them out about it. He waits until they arrive at their destination and then he asks them what they were arguing about on the road? How do the disciples respond? They are silent. I would suggest that they were probably embarrassed, they were probably shocked that he knew what they were doing and saying.
Now it is interesting that Jesus doesn't go into a tirade, he doesn't chastise the disciples. He doesn't tell them they have to get their act together if they want to continue to be his disciples. He doesn't demand they toe the line.
He simply and quietly says to them: "if you want to be the first then you have to be willing to be the last. You have to be willing to be a servant to everyone else." Then calls a little child over and says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Many times when I talk with people after a Sermon like this one I often get blank stares or quizzical looks.I notice that this happens when I try to challenge us all, myself included, to be less concerned about getting the attention or notice that we think we might possibly deserve. You know, those times when "I know that I am right on a particular issue."
Those looks sometimes come as well when I talk about us being concerned about promoting the welfare of others. Those times when I encourage us to allow someone else to be right.
Sometimes, after a Sermon like that, I get a patronizing pat on the shoulder and a comment like: "Mike you are a Pastor and Priest and you are supposed to talk and teach on those things, but for those of us who live in the real world we have to take care of ourselves and those we love."
Left or right, liberal or conservative, evangelical or progressive it doesn't matter where you stand on the political or spiritual/theological continuum. We are all more ready to dig our heels in at this moment in history. We want to be sure we don't miss out or that we don't get passed over. We want to be sure to be heard and recognized.
I was particularly struck by the Collect for today: "Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever." Amen.
The Collect for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
"not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure." That is quite a challenge, isn't it?
I heard a sermon this past week where the Pastor talked about how we should expect conflict and challenges in the church. He said that since we are human and the church is a human institution we should expect human behavior. He encouraged his listeners to think about the fact that it is not the elimination of conflict and challenge we should be aiming for. He said it is more important how we deal with each other when we come into conflict and challenge. I found that concept very freeing.
Our reading from James this morning is a good reminder of where we should start in bringing about change in our patterns of behavior and response to one another.
James stresses that the place to start when we want things to change is within ourselves. "Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom."
He then goes on to point out that the center of conflict is within ourselves. It is our unfulfilled desires that motivate us to want or demand what we believe we don't have. James uses some very strong language to emphasize just how far that kind of behavior can take us.
James encourages us to seek heavenly wisdom and the fruit of that heavenly wisdom. This is James take on what Paul encourages believers to focus on in 1 Corinthians 13. You remember that chapter right? Love is.......The Bothers of Saint John the Evangelist Meditation for Wednesday really focused that perspective for me this week. Brother James Koester was reflecting on Luke 6: 39 - 42 in his Meditation entitled Seeing Clearly. Here is part of what he said:
"Each of these teachings, in this morning’s gospel is an invitation by Jesus to the disciple to be clear sighted, not about others, but about themselves.
They are invitations by Jesus, reminding us that unless we can see clearly, we cannot lead, never mind follow; that the life of discipleship, and even discipline, is for the purpose of becoming like the teacher; that we cannot help another address their shortcomings, unless we have first addressed our own.
One of the easiest things in the world is to be clear sighted, when it comes to others, and to know exactly what another needs to do to address their shortcomings. It is not so easy to address, or even admit, our own shortcomings.
To be clearsighted about ourselves, is to be aware of our own shortcomings, limitations, and challenges. But it also means to be aware of our own gifts and talents. Real humility is not about humiliation. Rather it is about knowing ourselves as God knows us: imperfect creatures, whom God loves.
Knowing ourselves loved by God, means first recognizing that we are loveable. To do that, we need I think, to be clear sighted, not about the other person, but about ourselves, and that’s where today’s gospel fits it: it’s an invitation to be clearsighted about ourselves, and only then can we help another to become clearsighted.
So, as we deal with one another over the paint color or the carpet color or the need for a video system, or the method of taking or receiving communion let us accept that there will be varied and differing opinions about all those things. What are we going to do with our thoughts and opinions about these things? Well, I suggest we accept that we disagree, we accept that we feel and think differently, and we commit to loving one another.
Perhaps we could take a moment and reflect on another scripture. Matthew 5: 23-24 says: "So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift."
I have known folks who when it gets to the time for passing the peace who have realized that they are not reconciled to another member of the parish and they have decided that until they are they will not take communion. That is a radical step. I am not promoting it as a concept here at Christ Church but I do believe it is worth giving some time for thought and prayer.
You will notice after communion this morning we are praying a different prayer. I believe that prayer helps summarize what I have shared this morning. I pray it may speak to you as you pray it. Let us all seek to be reconciled and reconcilers in our world this coming year.