17 Pentecost proper B20                
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 9:30-37 Sermon                                          
September 23, 2012

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
246 "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty"
533 "Nearer My God To Thee"
370 "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less"
234 "Holy Ghost, With Light Divine"


 TEXT (vs. 35-37):  “35 And [Jesus] sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.' 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 'Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.'”

             During his lifetime, my dad visited 52 foreign countries in various parts of the world.  Some of those trips were in connection with his work at Church World Service, and those trips were definitely not vacations or pleasure excursions.  He went to various places that most of us will never see.  And I know that a lot of things he witnessed had a profound affect on him.

            Dad was never satisfied to just visit the tourist areas or the places the tour guides wanted him to see.  He wanted to see the slums and the ghettos and the other places people lived.  If the tour guide would steer him away from someplace, he would go back later on his own to see what they were trying to hide.  And what he witnessed was often very shocking. 

            When he went to Bangkok in Thailand, or Siam as it was once known, he took a day and walked the back streets where the poor and destitute people lived.  He saw the unsanitary conditions and the makeshift houses where people lived.  There were thousands upon thousands of people all huddled together trying to survive.  That was pretty bad.

            But his most shocking and eye-opening experience came when he visited Calcutta in India for several days.  He had to travel there on his own, because his tour didn't go there.  When he got there, he knew why this wasn't on any tour itinerary.

            The conditions were unbelievably squalid.  There were literally millions of people all around.  People were suffering from all sorts of horrible diseases.  There was raw sewage flowing in the streets, there were tons of flies everywhere, and there was this continual horrible stench in the air any place he went.  And when he walked, he always had to step over the bodies of dead people just lying in the streets, people of every age.  He said that it was the most horrible place he had ever been, and that it had to be absolutely the worst place on earth.  As much as my dad enjoyed his travels, this was one place he couldn't wait to leave.

            It was here, amongst the poorest of the poor, that a woman by the name of Mother Teresa spent her life.  She had a love for these people and worked amongst them to help as she could.  She became an Indian citizen.  She received some basic medical training at a local hospital.  And then she ventured out into the slums, those same slums my father witnessed.  She started a school, and founded a group called "Missions of Charity."  Her story is a very fascinating one for sure, and I could go on for a long time about what she did.  But the bottom line is that she dedicated her entire life to serving these people.

            She received various awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize.  But when it came time for the award, she did not want the ceremony.  Instead, she directed that the money spent on the ceremony would go toward the mission work she loved so well. 

            Regardless of her personal theology, she was not out for earthly glory or greatness.  She had the heart of a servant, and that's what she sought to do.  There was no intent of personal gain or comfort.  There was nothing in it for her.  She was intent on showing the love of Jesus in her life, the Son of God who emptied himself of all his heavenly glory and became the servant of all.

            This morning, our Gospel lesson for today is one of those important teaching moments for Jesus.  Jesus and his disciples are going through Galilee to Capernaum.  And as they were traveling, there was conversation amongst them.  This is like the unfolding of a three-part drama.

            In the first part, Jesus tells them that he is going to be betrayed, put to death, and rise again.  He doesn’t say that this is a terrible thing.  He doesn’t resist it.  He states it as a fact that he accepts.  He is prepared to be vulnerable and humble, even to be sacrificed.  This is his frame of reference.  This is the way he explains his life and purpose.  Of course this is the overriding influence upon what follows.

            In the second part, we see a contrasting frame of reference held by the disciples.  They fail to understand what Jesus meant, because they were in a completely different frame of mind than Jesus was.  They demonstrate this by having an argument about who amongst them was the greatest.  When Jesus calls them out on what they were arguing about, they were a bit embarrassed about it. Somehow they knew that they were wrong, and it wasn’t a proper topic of discussion.  But they had a worldly way of looking at things, and so that's what governed their thinking.

            So, as we look at the contrast between Jesus and his disciples, Jesus was focusing upon humility, vulnerability, and suffering.  And the disciples were focusing upon greatness and worldly status.  When we examine this, it doesn't take too much for us to see how opposed these two views are.

            So here is where we see this teaching moment of Jesus taking place.  He wants his disciples to stop looking at things the way the unbelieving world does, and to look at things from a divine perspective.  It was time to put aside the pursuit of worldly greatness and acclaim.  It was time to do, as Jesus says in Matthew Chapter 6, Verse 33: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

            I think it's important at this point to recognize that Jesus is not giving us a magic formula to achieve greatness and notoriety.  He is not telling us, "Okay people, if you want to be rich and famous, here's what you have to do."  He doesn't want us to pursue a high position in society.

            What he wants his disciples to do is to change their perspective on things.  Remember they were arguing amongst themselves as to who was the greatest, and who had the highest ranking in the eyes of Jesus.  Jesus answers them according to his perspective, and not theirs.

            We have to remember that as Jesus was discussing his arrest, crucifixion, death, and resurrection, the disciples didn't have a clue as to what he was talking about.  These events hadn't occurred yet.  They really hadn't grasped that Jesus had to die for their sins.  Their errors were consistent with the worldly view they held.

             The third part of this drama comes out as Jesus brings a young child into their midst.  In verse 37 of our text today, Jesus says:  “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

            When Jesus used the child as an example, he was emphasizing what he meant by serving all people.  He was talking about the entire spectrum of society.  He was not only asking us to serve those who are young physically, but also those who are young spiritually or mentally even though they live in older bodies.  He was asking us to serve all people.

            By using a child, this brings out another important point.  If you think about a baby in arms, what does earthly greatness mean to that child?  That child could be looking at the President, or the Queen, or a movie star, or the wealthiest person in the world, and what would it mean to them?  Their worldly greatness would mean absolutely nothing!  What makes a person great in their young eyes is somebody who will tend to their needs.  To a baby, the greatest person in their life is their mother or father, the people who unselfishly give of themselves as servants to provide what the child needs.

            So, how are we doing?  Are we willing servants?  If we are servants, do we serve because we want to share God's love with others or do we serve so that people will notice us and tell us how wonderful we are?  Do we get angry when we serve, but people fail to acknowledge our contribution?  Do we serve with all our heart or is our service only skin deep?

            We must always remember that God judges by the heart.  He examines our motives.  Do we serve in order to get noticed?  Then it really isn't service.  Hear what Jesus had to say on this topic in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew Chapter 6, verses 1-4: "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." 

            This passage from the Sermon on the Mount contains some very hard-hitting words: "They have their reward."  For if those people who are only seeking earthly fame and glory have their reward now, then there is no heavenly reward for them later.  The reward of faith does not exist where faith itself does not exist.  And that's not easy to hear.

            When it comes to being servants, we all have to admit that we have failed time and again in this task.  We have sought glory according to the world's standards.  But even though we are arrogant and self-righteous, God still wants to rescue us.  He still wants us to be part of his family.  He still wants to rescue us from our own arrogance and all our other sins.  That is why he sent his only begotten Son to take on human flesh and become one of us in this world.

            God sent his Son to be the servant we could never be.  Listen to the words God caused to be recorded by the Prophet Isaiah, first in Chapter 52, Verse 13: "Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted."  And then in Chapter 53, Verses 3-6 we read:  "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

            Through faith alone, we are born again through the blood of Christ Jesus.  Through faith alone, we know Jesus as the servant who came to pay the price for our sins by laying down his life in loving service to us.  As our Saviour, Jesus is the greatest thing in our lives; and so out of love for him, we look at things through his eyes according to his terms of reference, and not the way the world sees things.

            This morning, I began by talking about a few of the places my dad journeyed in his travels.  He witnessed a lot of places where people were hurting and in need.  I know that a lot of the things he saw influenced him as he encouraged others to share their faith by serving others.  Through his slide presentations, he took every opportunity he could to make these needs known so God's people could make a difference by serving.

            But I don't think anything could have prepared him for what he saw in Calcutta.  He certainly came away with a much deeper appreciation for what Mother Teresa had been doing in her mission work.

            So here are some questions for you today:  Do you think that Mother Teresa's work in Calcutta has guaranteed a place for her in heaven?  Do you think that her life amongst the poorest of the poor has earned God's favor?  Do you think her citizenship in India translated into a citizenship in heaven?

            The answer is a resounding "no."  If Mother Teresa had been doing her work to become great in heaven, she would be very disappointed.  That would be attempting greatness according to the way the world sees things.

            Mother Teresa's eternal salvation was dependant only upon her faith in Jesus Christ her Saviour, and nothing else.  None of her good work could count as a substitute for faith.  And that holds true for everybody in this world.

            Mission work like Mother Teresa's has to be done out of love for Jesus, and out of a thankful heart for what he has done for us.  Our individual and personal missions aren't measured on the size of mission, but the faith within our hearts.  It's like Jesus reminds us in Matthew Chapter 10, Verse 42:  "And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward."

            In our Gospel Lesson for today, we can see where it unfolds like a three-part drama.  We can see where Jesus was coming from, where the disciples were coming from, and the example that Jesus uses of the child in their midst.  A lot depends on how you look at things.  If you see greatness according to the world's standards, then those things are meaningless.  But if you look at greatness according to God's standards, then our love for humanity will naturally flow from us as God's loyal servants in our concern for the physical and spiritual welfare of all people, regardless of who they are, or irrespective any worldly fame.