Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 20B (9/20/2009)

Greatness

 

Lessons:     Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom 1:16 – 2:1, 12-22     Psalm 54 (4)     James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a     St. Mark 9:30-37     Semicontinuous Series         Proverbs 31:10-31         Psalm 1 (3)

Prayer of the Day     O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 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." 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.  33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."


St. Mark 9:30-37 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

How many of us would love to be great at what we do? I once had dreams of being an accomplished golfer. There was one problem: every time I'd take a club out of my bag I'd wind up, wack it a mile, and it would slice off out of bounds to the right. Some of my friends who didn't hit the ball as long as I did used to worry about hitting their shots into ponds -- I worried a lot more about the swimming pools of those course-side homes. Eventually, I gave up all hope of being a great golfer, and began to concentrate on other things.

I wonder how many of us want to be great at something -- great at some sport like golf or basketball or baseball; great at some hobby or pastime; great at our job, or at our daily responsibilities; great as parents, or husbands or wives, or friends. In one or another of the aspects of our lives, I'll bet almost every one of us wishes to be great at something.

It is natural to want to be among the great ones. And that natural inclination, of course, is what gets the disciples into trouble in this week's Gospel lesson. Jesus has just finished explaining to them that the Messiah's role is to be rejected, and to suffer, and to die before rising to victory. He had just explained to them that their role, as his disciples, would be to pick up their cross and follow him. They responded by arguing with one another about which of them was the greatest. So Jesus said to them, "Do you want to be great? Then you must be last; you must be a servant; you must welcome these little ones into your midst with all of your heart."

Hearing his words puts my thoughts in check -- and makes me think about what it really means to be great. I realize that it has nothing to do with being admired for athletic ability or personal accomplishments or parental wisdom. It has, instead, to do with our willingness to live as servants in this world. It has, instead, to do with our ability to embrace the youngest, the weakest, the most vulnerable ones in our midst, and fully welcome them into our fellowship. That's a whole different measure of greatness, isn't it?

With that in mind, how many of us would still love to be among the great ones? How many of us would love to excel at serving the needs of those around us? How many of us would love to excel at embracing the younger ones in our midst? How many of us would love to excel at modeling our lives after the life of Jesus?

We quickly see that what our world thinks of as great is worlds apart from what Jesus thinks of as great. And it is clear that if we direct our thoughts and actions towards these areas of greatness we may well not receive the acclamations of our peers. But we will receive the sense of meaning and accomplishment that comes from enriching another's life, and living in a way that is faithful to the Lord.

It is, indeed, a different kind of greatness to which Jesus calls us this week. May we excel at those things which are pleasing to him!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. What do you think the disciples thought of when they considered greatness?
  2. What was Jesus' definition of greatness?
  3. What later stories (from the Book of Acts, perhaps) indicate that some of them eventually figured it out?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. In what areas of life do I excel?
  2. How gifted am I as living in a way that serves others?
  3. How might I grow in my ability to sense the needs that surround me, and find ways to meet them?