Readings for the day (Lectionary 25, Sunday, September 16, 2018):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
In the Gospel reading today, we have skipped over the transfiguration; that is, the trip that Jesus took with three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John up a mountain to reveal His true purpose, revealing His true identity. While the four of them are away, the nine remaining disciples are trying to heal a boy who is being tormented by an evil spirit. They are unable to heal the boy, but when Jesus returns, with the littlest of effort, He heals the boy, completely casting out the evil spirit.
After this, Jesus leaves that area with His disciples. On their journey, Jesus tells the disciples that He will be betrayed, crucified, and die, but three days later He will rise again. Jesus is trying to prepare His disciples for what is about to happen. In fact, this is the second of three predictions of His passion. Despite speaking plainly to His disciples; they don’t get it. They don’t understand it. All it does is confuse them. Instead they argue about who is the greatest among themselves. Jesus is trying to have a serious conversation with His closest friends and all they end up doing is arguing with each other. Their friend just told them that He was going to die a horrible death and all they can think about is arguing over who is the greatest. It’s like telling your children that you are going to die and all they care about is who is going to get your car when you’re gone.
They don’t get. All they are doing is thinking about themselves. All they care about is what they are going to get out of this. They want the recognition and the praise. They want to be considered greater than their peers. They don’t care about what Jesus said earlier about His death and resurrection. They only care about themselves.
When we go on a family vacation, no matter where we are at, we always seek out a church to worship in. This summer we had two different camping trips and for each Sunday we went to a local church. Two churches. Two completely different experiences. The first church, we entered late. We under estimated how long it would take to drive to the church from our campsite. So we walked in during the first hymn. We snuck in the back and joined the other 30 some people in worship. After the worship service, even though we were late and our children were not quite, almost every single member introduced themselves to us and welcomed us into their church. They asked who we were; wanting to get to know us. We weren’t going to stay for coffee, but they were so welcoming and so friendly and they invited us, so we stayed. We left that church feeling like we had met more of the body of Christ.
The second church we attended this summer was a much different experience. We arrived early enough this time to find a seat before worship began. There were about 40-50 people in worship, and after the service was done, not a single person came up to us to even say, “Hi”. Not a single person introduced themselves or welcomed us into their church. We even had to find our own bulletins on a table when we first entered the church. So we did not stay for coffee.
Now which church do you think was like the disciples, selfishly thinking about themselves? Which church was welcoming like Jesus did by welcoming the little children? Where are you at? Which church are you more like? The first church, which went out of their way to introduce themselves to people who entered their church that they didn’t even know? Or are you more like the standoffish church that doesn’t say anything to people they don’t know? Which church do you think Jesus would be proud of?
Jesus knew what the disciples were doing on the road. He knew that they were arguing and He knew what they were arguing about. But when Jesus called them out on it and asked them what they were arguing about, they couldn’t even own up to it. They couldn’t be honest and tell Jesus what they were arguing about. Instead they were silent; sheepishly saying nothing. Since the disciples weren’t saying anything and Jesus already knew what they were arguing about, He takes a little child, placing the child in His arms 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.”
The disciples were so concerned about figuring out who was the greatest that they missed the entire Gospel message. If you are so concerned about yourself and determining how well you rank among your friends and neighbors, then you have missed the entire point. When you are focused on yourself, you will ignore those who are most in need. You like to think you’re great, amazing, and wonderful. But the reality is…you’re not. I’m not. But Jesus is! Jesus is great, amazing, and wonderful. He is the one who should get all of the glory, all of the fame, all of the praise. So when we stop paying attention to ourselves. When we stop focusing so much on our own needs, we open ourselves up to be able to see our neighbor and all of our neighbor’s needs.
Which church do you want to be? Do you want to be the self-centered church that ignores visitors and newcomers? Or do want to be the welcoming church that pays more attention to their neighbor’s needs than their own needs?
The disciples wanted greatness and all Jesus was trying to give them was grace. All the disciples wanted to do was argue about how they could GET something. All Jesus wanted to do was GIVE them something. When we confuse GETTING with GIVING, and focus more on how much we can GET instead of how much we can GIVE, we have missed the point. Then we are only in it for ourselves and not for the sake of our neighbor. We give as we have received.
And we have been given something pretty amazing. We have been given a wonderful gift, God’s grace. We have been given God’s grace, that even though we are broken, self-centered sinners, He has sent His Son to die and rise. He is sending His church to preach about this death and resurrection. He is sending His Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin and hear Christ’s righteousness for you. Our God does all of this so that when a little child comes into your midst, you’re not caught up in who you think you should be, but instead your eyes are opened to see the needs of the weakest in your midst. God’s grace is for you. It is. It is for you. And God’s grace is for your neighbor, too. Amen.
© 2018 Anthony Christoffels. All rights reserved.
 Mark 9:37, NRSV