Devotional Message: The 18th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 20B (9/23/2018)


Jeremiah 11:18-20
or Wisdom 1:16 – 2:1, 12-22
Psalm 54
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
St. Mark 9:30-37

Semicontinuous Series

Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1

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.

Text for This Sunday

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 8:27-38, New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: The Greatest

Last week I began my devotional message attempting to make an honest confession: I want to save my life. This week I find myself thinking in a similar manner: I want to experience greatness. I enjoy being near greatness. When Nolan Arenado makes a diving catch followed by an impossible throw to first, when Derek Trucks slides his way into an e-minor pentatonic guitar solo, when Eugene Peterson translates a Bible passage in a way that helps me see it from a completely new perspective, when Neil deGrasse Tyson makes me think I can actually understand astrophysics, when Penn & Teller complete a performance that absolutely defies explanation… I love it! And when, despite my own considerable weaknesses, a sermon or a Bible study (or a devotional message!) or a pastoral conversation or a private confession or a ministry team meeting goes above and beyond expectations… I love it! Any of us who have ever dedicated ourselves to a craft or an occupation or a goal — truly dedicated ourselves — will at least occasionally experience a glimpse of greatness, and it is exhilarating. It is no wonder that so many people throughout history have dedicated their whole lives to the pursuit of greatness.

So the disciples of Jesus are making their way with Jesus to the city of Capernaum. He has just shared with them that he will be betrayed into human hands, and will be killed, and three days after being killed, will rise again. Earlier in chapter 8 (which we studied a week ago) he made the same claim and then said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” And what are they talking about as they walk along? They are arguing with one another which of them is the greatest! When the kingdom that Jesus envisions comes into being, who will be seated at his right hand? In fact, by the time we get to chapter ten (verses 35-45), at least a couple of them are still fixed on this.

Jesus, of course, has a different notion of what greatness is all about. It doesn’t have to do with sitting at the right hand of power. It has to do, instead, with showing mercy and compassion and kindness to the least among us. He takes a little child into his arms, and shows his disciples what true greatness is all about. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

We live in a world where greatness is understood to be closely connected with achievement and power and influence and success and prosperity and fame. Yet we follow a Lord who declares that greatness has to do with compassion and kindness and service and generosity. Can you imagine what the world would be like if more of us (myself included!) strove for greatness in showing compassion, extending kindness, serving one another, and living generously? It would be a pretty good world. In fact: it would be a pretty great world!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What might the disciples have been thinking (and arguing!) about greatness?

  2. How does Jesus’ vision of greatness contrast with what usually stands for human greatness?

  3. What stories about Jesus remind us of his unique approach to greatness?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When have I been aware of greatness in someone I have known or experienced?

  2. To what sorts of greatness have I aspired in my life?

  3. What is the greatest possible shape my Christian faithfulness could take?